Raja Ampat, Indonesia on the Indo-Siren
Underwater photos and dive report from Misool, Manta Sandy, Dampier strait and the mangroves
Text by Scott Gietler, photos by Scott Gietler and trip guests
Raja Ampat, Indonesia - a mysterious, magical place. It brings up images of a far-away magical place filled with marine life. Is it worth the trip? What will you see? How do you get there? What is the boat like? Find out all of this and more - read on!
Raja Ampat Marine Life - What will you see?
Raja Ampat is filled with fish - lots of fish. And corals - lots of hard and soft corals. Beautiful soft corals, especially in the Misool area.
Most of our dives had fusiliers, barracuda, jacks, napoloean wrasse, bumphead parrotfish, tuna, batfish, several trevally species, sweetlips, snapper, and rainbow runners. The amount of life was fantastic. Occasional sightings included mobula rays, spotted eagle rays, and sea snakes. Turtles were seen on several dives.
Manta Sandy has lots of Manta Rays getting cleaned.
Very fat banded sea snake
Raja Ampat - life in the Mangroves
We did not do the famous "Blue-water Mangroves" at Misool, where crocodile have been seen, but we did do some great Mangrove dives in the north near the Citrus Ridge dive site. Most people really enjoyed the mangrove dives, although a couple people didn't care for them. I loved them. There was a lot of unique marine life like Archerfish, cardinal fish and many interesting juvenile fish, and some juvenile blacktip sharks.
Shooting wide-angle in the mangroves
The elusive archerfish, in the Raja Ampat mangroves. These archerfish "spit" at insects above water and knock them in the water, with surprising accuracy.
Raja Ampat macro life & night dives
The night dives at the piers had loads of macro subjects - blue ring octopus, bobtail squid, ghost pipefish, and more. In fact, I saw my first blue-ring octopus ever on this trip, on a jetty dive. Other guests saw one on a night dive at Yilliet Kecil.
Speaking of macro, there are pygmy seahorses on almost every dive site. A few sites had ornate ghost pipefish. There were squid, cuttlefish, and pygmy squid on a couple of the night dives. The night dives were much, much better at the jetties.
Raja Ampat sharks
We saw lots of Wobbegong sharks on the trip, a couple of Epaulette "walking sharks" on night dives, and a few blacktip, whitetip, and gray reef sharks when the currents picked up. Two of the sites have juvenile white tips sharks living under coral bommies, which sometimes would swim around the divers - very nice!
Triggerfish getting cleaned
Wobbegong shark swimming at Mioskon, Dampier Strait
Raja Ampat - getting there
Most Raja Ampat trips start and end in Sorong. You'll need to fly to Jakarta, Bali, or Singapore first. From Jakarta - you can take a direct 4 hour flight on Express Air. This is the fastest and easiest way. I like to stay in a hotel near the Jakarta airport - FM7 hotel is excellent.
Going through Bali takes longer, and there are no direct flights from Bali - but Bali is beautiful, a much nicer stay than Jakarta. And it has great diving!
If you go through Singapore, which is also a great place to overnight, you'll then transfer through Manado. So combining Raja with a Lembeh trip is very popular. Please note that there are often delays when transferring planes to Sorong, so for the fastest trip it is suggested to go through Jakarta. However, in general the boats will wait for you if you are delayed.
They do enforce weight limits on check-in bags on the flights to Sorong, the total weight limit is usually 20kg. You have to pay for each kg over 20kg. Our hand-carry bags were not weighed.
Raja Ampat Dive sites
Diving in Misool - the "south"
Raja Ampat is a big area. One of my favorite areas for underwater photography was near Misool - the area which included Nudie Rock, Yilliet Kecil, and Boo Windows. A photographer can easily do several dives at each of these sites - they were awesome. Lots of soft coral, lots of great fish.
I divide Raja into the "north" and the "south". The Misool area is the south, and generally has more soft coral and less current. The "north" includes the jetty dives, manta dives, and the Dampier strait dives, and general has more current, and a little better visibility.
Diving Raja in the "North"
Manta Sandy and Arborek Pier are near each other. Both are fantastic photo dives and deserve many dives.
In the Dampier strait, Mioskon was a great dive site for Wobbegong, pygmies and reef sharks. Cape Kri was a favorite dive for reef sharks, lots of fish and beautiful corals. On 2 or 3 dives, we had so much current that we really couldn't take photos. But current does bring out the fish. The best dives had enough current to bring out the fish & sharks, but not so much that we couldn't get photos.
Supposedly there are 30-40 boats in Raja Ampat. We did see a few other boats, but not as many as I thought we would see. The crew did a pretty good job of timing our dives so we rarely saw divers from other boats underwater.
Raja Ampat Currents
Sites can have strong currents, especially in the north, and when there are large tidal swings. Let your cruise director know if you won't want to dive in strong currents. Some people will advocate using reef hooks, but in my experience you won't get any photos using a reef hook, so I don't use them. Ideally on some of these sites you want a little current on some dives to bring out more fish, but not too much.
Bumphead in soft corals at Boo Windows, Misool
Manta Ray at Manta Sandy, photo by Tracy Winholt
Juvenile whitetip shark, Misool area, photo by Mike Samale, Nikon D300
Indo-Siren - about the boat
Here's the Indo-siren! With the sails up for a photo-op. Two of our dive guides are on the bow.
The outdoor eating area
This was my favorite part of the boat. Having an outdoor eating area is fantastic. It really adds to the ambience of the trip. We had all of our meals here, and it became a nice "hang-out" area. The area was covered, so it was always shady.
Speaking of meals, they had a gourmet coffee maker on board, lots of bacon & eggs for breakfast, and an endless supply of nutella. So I was happy. All meals were buffet style, with a couple different tasty indonesian dishes for lunch and dinner.
The Indo-Siren "Dive Deck"
The dive deck was awesome. Everyone has their own station, and plenty of room to suit up. The height of the bench was perfect. Everyone has a couple of drawers to put their computer, mask, etc.
Gear was well organzied, everyone's wetsuits & dome port covers had tags on them so the crew knew who's gear it was. Rinse tanks were large, and the crew washed our gear for us. Lots of towels were available.
The dive dinghies were great. There were 2 of them - they were easy to get in and out of, fast, and one was always around to pick us wherever we surfaced. Cameras were brought into the dinghy for us, and tank/weights/fins were taken care of for us after the dive. Great service! The dinghy driver even stopped and let us snorkel with feeding mantas after one dive, on the way back to the boat.
The sundeck was a large lounging area on top of the boat, good for sunbathing and reading. But most people hung out at the eating area, or the indoor lounge.
The indoor lounge
This is where people set up their camera, charged batteries, watched presentations, and hung out on couches. It was a large, comfy area. People had their own drawers, and there were plenty of charging stations. You can see the coffee maker to the left, it ground fresh beans for every cup. There were dedicated camera areas for 8-9 people, not enough for everyone on board, but still plenty.
Raja Ampat underwater photos
Cuttlefish at the Arborek Jetty. F18, 1/320th, ISO 100, dual YS-D1 strobes
Explosion of glassfish at Cape Kri. Many thanks to my dive guide Dince for being a great dive model.
Goby on soft coral, night dive, 60mm macro + 1.4 tele
Pontohi Pygmy Seahorse, photo by Eduardo Nadal, NIkon D7000, F20, 1/320th, ISO 200, Nikon 105mm VR with subsee diopter
Beautiful nudibranch, photo by Ross Makulec, Nikon D300s, F14, 1/200th, ISO 100, Nikon 105mm VR lens
"S-Curve" of fish, taken in Raja Ampat
Barracuda at Raja Ampat
Beautiful clownfish, photo by Scott Friedman, Canon 5D Mark II, F5.6, 1/100th, ISO 200, Canon 100mm macro lens
Three lionfish in Raja Ampat, near Misool, photo by Craig Rudnick, Canon G11, F8, 1/60th, ISO 80
Raja Ampat gear mishaps
- Always double-check all your gear.. one guest had forgot his ports, and no one else had his brand of housing, so he couldn't dive with his housing
- I banged my dome port up a few times... in the future I am going to bring a micro-mesh kit with me. Mid-way through the trip, I started diving with my dome port cover stuffed into the top of my wetsuit, I think I will do that going forward, in case I find myself in strong current where my port could get banked
- One diver had a fogged-up 180 degree Subal viewfinder, making it difficult for him to see through it. He didn't bring the standard viewfinder with him, so he was stuck with it throughout the trip. If you have a 180 or 45 degree viewfinder, always bring the standard viewfinder with you!
- One guest had his o-ring fall out of his Ikelite battery pack, and his 2nd Ikelite strobe flooded. Sometimes strobes can still work if the battery cap / pack is replaced, but he did not have a spare. Luckily he was able to borrow a strobe from the person who forgot their ports
- We had plenty of spare batteries and clamps for people, they were definitely used. Bring spare rechargables for others if you can. I brought a couple extra YS-D1 strobes that were put to good use by people who only had 1 strobe, and I brought an extra Sola light for people
- Our trip was relatively flood free.. good job everyone!
Raja Ampat travel tips
- Bring extra rupiah with you to pay the small airport departure fees at every Indonesia airport, or for spending in Jakarta, Bali or Sorong
- Don't bring too much luggage! Many of the dive boats have free gear rental
- I did not need any shots or special medicine for Raja Ampat
- Our boat had everything we needed! I simply brought shorts, t-shirt, camera gear, mask & sudafed.
- Get coffee on the flight to/from Sorong, it tastes great.
- Try to get direct flights to Sorong if possible, i know that Express Air offers them
- Try to get 8 hours rest in a hotel in Jakarta, Bali, or Singapore. It really helps to break up the trip, and it makes the entire journey seem shorter.
Raja ampat group photo - lots of happy divers!
Raja Ampat - is it worth the travel time?
Definitely. Getting a hotel room in Jakarta outside of the airport really helped break up the travel. Once you arrive in Sorong, 30 minutes later you are on a boat and the relaxation begins. But to be honest, the flight to Sorong was easy, so my travel really stopped the moment I landed in Jakarta.
The amount of fish I saw in Raja was amazing. You don't have the critter diversity of Anilao / Lembeh, or the sharks of Palau, but if you do the right dive sites you will get many more fish and great wide-angle scenes than you bargained for.