Raja Ampat!

Raja Ampat is located in the eastern part of Indonesia, in the province called West Papua. It is a four hours flight and two time zones away from Jakarta. On the way to Papua you fly across the Wallace line, and into a whole new world of fauna and flora. Instead of monkeys, they have tree kangaroos. And you’ll find birds and flowers you won’t find anywhere else. The Papuan people don’t look like other Indonesians, they also behave differently. Even though it’s a part of Indonesia, coming to Papua is a very different experience. 

Some stories from the sea

The Kurabesi Explorer

“Dolphins!!” That was my 6:00 alarm on the third day of the trip. I was sleeping on a bean bag on deck when someone was rightfully excited to see dolphins playing around in front of the boat. What better way to start the day? Kurabesi has very nice rooms, with aircon and private bathrooms, but sleeping under the stars and waking up to the sunrise (and dolphins) is just too nice. They served us three delicious meals per day, I didn’t feel hungry for a second. There was almost no internet or phone reception in the area, and I’ve rarely felt more connected. A week on a boat in Raja Ampat must be one of the best ways to clear your head and relax. 

The Kurabesi Explorer is a liveaboard boat operating only in the eastern parts of Indonesia. Depending on seasons, they travel in Raja Ampat, around the Banda Islands, or in Cenderawasih Bay. The owners, Bustar and his lovely wife Rani, are both proud Indonesians with big hearts and a lot of passion. In addition to fulfilling the dreams of adventurous travelers like us, they are running and participating in numerous projects to conserve the nature and culture in Papua. Traveling with them made the whole experience very special, and I can’t imagine a better way to explore Raja Ampat.

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World class diving

The enormous Pacific Ocean was on our left, sending a big open ocean swell crashing into the cliffs on our right. My pulse was already high when we flipped backward off the speedboat and into the unknown. Even our very experienced guide had never been to this spot before. We went down to 25 meters and was surrounded by what seemed like neverending emptiness. Following the pink fins of our guide, we were soon at the entrance of what would be one of the coolest experiences of my life.

We couldn’t see the top or the bottom of the giant wall in front of us, only a huge dark crack leading into the abyss. I started rethinking my career as a diver when I realized we were heading into the darkness of that crack. On the inside, we got a good sense of how small we as individuals are on this planet. I didn’t see neither the ceiling nor the floor of the grand underwater cathedral, only the contours of the walls, and a big open window letting some light in.

After spending a few minutes trying to stay cool and not use up too much air, we started paddling towards the open window. On our way through, the swell sucked us back and forth a couple of times before finally setting us free, back into the open ocean. At this point, the mix of adrenaline and nitrogen had me drooling under water. A shark swam by. The current sucked us around the corner of the island, to our exit point. Back at the surface I was relieved and excited, not only was I alive, I was living too! This was the dive that finally got me hooked, eight years after I got my SCUBA license. 

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This was my first time bringing a camera for diving, so I can’t blame it all on the equipment. I have a million things to figure out for my underwater photography. The underwater camera I brought on this trip is of a much lower quality than the rest of my cameras, so I didn’t get much help there. The pictures do not really do the diving experience in Raja Ampat justice, but you’ll get an idea. Feel free to share the work of some awesome underwater photographers with me!
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Our beautiful planet

We woke up long before the sun, got into the speedboats, and headed to an island nearby. The guide showed the way through the bushes, it was completely dark. All I could hear was birds flying above us, insects making insect sounds, and a kid or two asking why we had to get up so early to go looking for a bird. After about twenty minutes, we arrived in front of the scene where the birds of paradise perform their morning dance. High up in the treetops above us, there was a bird dancing around. On the ground the observers were also dancing, to avoid the mosquitos. We saw the dancing bird of paradise! 

If you’ve only seen one picture from Raja Ampat, chances are good that it’s a picture from the Wayag islands. After snorkeling with sharks before breakfast, we put the cameras in waterproof bags and got into the speedboats. Pretty soon we were surrounded by small pointy islands with steep green walls, our eyes got bigger the further into the maze we got. We found ourself an empty beach and spent the day enjoying life under the sun. In the afternoon we climbed to the top of one of the little hills to see the classical Raja Ampat view.

After a week of being constantly marinated in salt water, Bustar told us we were finally going to get a proper bath in a freshwater hot spring. The speedboats took us into an enormous lagoon in one of the 4 biggest islands in Raja Ampat, and then as far up a river as we could get. From there we walked through the wild and untouched rainforest until we arrived at the fresh spring. As the first of us jumped in, Bustar mumbled something about the spring not actually being hot, and he was answered by a choir of screaming swimmers, and a good laugh. Once we got used to it, the water was perfect. We swam and walked about 50 meters upstream, and got to see where the spring started. I’ve never seen anything like it, the water just comes flowing out from the ground. Cruising through the most beautiful rainforest while watching the sunset, was a great and unexpected way to end the last day of the trip through Raja Ampat.

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Before this trip, I’ve said that Flores (including Komodo) is my favorite destination in Indonesia, but now there might be a new sheriff in town. Thank you Raja Ampat, Kurabesi Explorer, Bustar, Rani, the crew, all my travel mates, and the new people I met during the trip! It was 100% amazing! Damn, I love Indonesia.

Thanks for reading,

Ronny.

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Some practical information:
You can fly either Garuda or Batik Air to Sorong. If you need to stay one night in town before heading out, Swiss-Belhotel is a good option. Book your trip with Kurabesi on their homepage.

I was extremely happy after staying for 7 nights, but I could have stayed longer.

None of us took malaria prophylaxis for the trip.

Big surprise, the sun is pretty strong on the equator.

I’ll be happy to answer any questions! Write me on IG @ronnyvalstad 

Drone photography Etc Hiking

4 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Yes! I heard that Red Island is one of the best place to surf. Really glad knowing you enjoy Indonesia. I am Indonesian, but i thought you explore Indonesia more than I do 😅

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