Scuba Diving LOB in Raja Ampat for my Birthday

I love scuba diving and Raja Ampat on the far eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago has always one of my dream locations to scuba dive in. Sometime in 2018, my friends started seriously planning a Live on Board (LOB) scuba diving trip to Raja Ampat and in 2019 about a week before my actual birthday in March, we found ourselves descending into the blue depths of Raja Ampat’s waters. I thought I’d share a little bit about my scuba diving LOB experience in Raja Ampat for anyone looking to check out this amazing destination.

Raja Ampat Kurabesi Explorer Boat Back
Pick a good dive boat with good guides and safety record because you’ll be spending a lot of time on that boat.

Getting to Raja Ampat

Raja Ampat (translated as the Four Kings) is located on the far eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago in the province of West Papua. It actually refers to a collection of islands and is well known for its pristine waters and some of the largest diversity of marine life.

When I first started scuba diving, Raja Ampat was one of those dream destinations that always popped up, but the hassle and costs of getting there always made it more of a dream than reality. Now with more experience under my belt and more spending power, it was time to make this dream come true.

Raja Ampat Piaynemo Sunrise Pano
Love the colours of this pano shot – These rocks have become a representative shot of Raja Ampat

Flying from Singapore to Sorong

Getting to Raja Ampat is a bit of an adventure in itself, here’s how I did it:

  1. Singapore to Jakarta via Garuda Airlines 2020-2115hrs (roughly 2 hours)
  2. Jakarta to Sorong via Garuda Airlines 0030-0635hrs (roughly 4 hours)
  3. From the Sorong airport, a 10-min car ride to the Jetty

Unfortunately because of stormy weather in the region, our diving boat would only arrive later and we could only get on the boat the following day. So we had to endure another 2 hour ferry ride from Sorong to Waisai to do our checkout dives and stay in a dive resort overnight, before we finally got on the boat the next day.

Looking for other spots to scuba dive in Indonesia? Check out my dives in Flores and Manado which are much easier to get to from Singapore.

Raja Ampat Plane View Sunrise
Looking out the plane window as we come into land at Sorong Airport as the sun rises >_<

Raja Ampat Dive Sites

I clocked a total of 21 dives over 7 scuba diving days, and while most of the dives were great, some were more special or just more interesting than others. What you see when scuba diving is really a matter of luck and circumstance – whether the weather is good, your timing is fortuitous or the critters just happen to be in the mood, but I’ll highlight some of my favourite dives from this trip as well as my favourite photos.

Things to look out for in Raja Ampat include oceanic manta rays, epaulette sharks, wobbegong sharks, giant schools of larger fish like trevally, jacks, barracuda, sweet lips as well schools of tinier fish like fusiliers, lots of coral… the running joke was that every single dive we did had ‘large groups of schooling fish’, which may not be common elsewhere but you do take it for granted when you see that in all your dives.

  • Day 1 – South Waigeo
    • Gurara Jetty
    • Night dive at Saonek Jetty
  • Day 2 – Kri Island/South Waigeo
    • Blue Magic
    • Mioskon Reef
    • Night dive at Saporkren
  • Day 3 – Mansuar Island/Dampier Strait
    • Cape Kri
    • Yenbuba
    • Sawandarek Jetty
  • Day 4 – Wayag/Waigeo
    • Aljui Bay (Mangrove)
    • Eagle Rock 1
    • Eagle Rock 2
    • Night dive at Pearl Farm
  • Day 5
    • Aljui Channel
    • Dontracastoc Cave (I honestly have no idea if I spelt this right, but that’s what the guide wrote on the dive board)
    • South Wofoh
  • Day 6 – Piaynemo/Fam Islands
    • My Reef (Penemu Islands)
    • Keruo Channel
    • Melissa’s Garden
  • Day 7
    • Citrus Ridge
    • Manta Ridge
    • Manta Sandy

Sadly on this trip we had to miss out on South Raja Ampat aka Misool because of the weather, but that’s just more reason to go back again in future.


Cape Kri

Raja Ampat Diving Whale Shark Kri
First sighting of the whale shark as it swam up from behind the group

The major highlight from this dive: Whale Shark! We really lucked out spotting this whale shark on the tail end of our dive. We had split into 2 groups – the first group had decided to turn back around while we kept going on. Suddenly I heard some pretty excited clanging and when I looked over my right shoulder, a giant shadow loomed from the deep blue – a whale shark was swimming right alongside our group! As we frantically finned to keep up and pointed our cameras at it, it made a U-turn and came back towards us for a bit, before finally swimming away.

Raja Ampat Diving Whale Shark Diver Kri
Here’s a screenshot of the video I took when it swam ahead of our group, turned around and came back towards us. That’s one of our guides I think, but also to give you a sense of the size of the whale shark and how close it was to us (no zoom!).

The last time I saw whale sharks was back in 2013 when I did a Maldives scuba diving LOB and we spent a day in known whale shark haunts, but this particular encounter in Raja Ampat was totally unexpected, which is what made it more special. The other group was pretty bitter about missing out on the whale shark :P

We saw schools of passing barracuda as well, but the other highlight here was the huge schools of yellow sweetlips on the ocean floor. We would see them in several dive spots, but this was one of the bigger schools snaking through the coral.

Raja Ampat Diving Sweetlips Photog Kri
Again with a diver in it to give you a sense of scale, this is just one portion of the schooling fish we saw
Raja Ampat Diving Sweetlips School Kri
The colours are more vibrant here because I hovered behind the diver photographer in the shot above and used his awesome strobe to light my photo instead of my dinky camera flash

Melissa’s Garden

Raja Ampat Diving YellowSpotted Trevally Melissa
Yellow spotted trevally at Melissa’s Garden. You cannot imagine how much time I spent doing fish ID when I was editing my photos so I could label them properly

Melissa’s Garden was quite an unusual sight as it felt like the entire ocean floor was covered with Antipora and Montipora coral and it really did feel like a garden of sorts. The photos don’t do it justice as it looks much more impressive in person, like a massive field of coral covering the ocean floor all around you.

Raja Ampat Diving Coral Antipora Melissa
Antipora coral, what I refer to as the corally-coral
Raja Ampat Diving Coral Montipora Melissa
Montipora coral, or what I call the cabbage coral

Lots of fish life teeming amidst the corals, and another favourite shot from this dive is of the Pikachu nudibranch that I managed to snap.

Raja Ampat Diving Nudibranch Pikachu Melissa
Pikachu is such a good name for this nudibranch. I borrowed my friend’s macro lens so the photo came out pretty clear, but alas my flash was not strong enough for the longer lens so you can see how the light is actually brighter further away

Citrus Ridge

Raja Ampat Diving Seafan Diver Citrus
Here’s a secret – most photographers do this depth of field shot with huge ass coral fans, but since my camera was dinky, I cheated and used one which was really about the size of my hand, but I think it turned out quite well?

Some of my favourite photos from this trip came from Citrus Ridge. We saw a pretty good mix of macro and larger pelagic creatures here – the barracuda and trevally schools in particular were pretty cool.

Raja Ampat Diving Nudibranch Clear Pink Frills Citrus
Such a pretty frilly nudibranch. I love taking photos of them because they don’t move so much and have such interesting colours
Raja Ampat Diving Barracuda Photog Citrus
My current desktop wallpaper is taking my diver photographer friend in the water above me shooting a small ball of barracuda
Raja Ampat Diving Trevally School Citrus
These trevally were swimming up from the seafloor, I just like how shiny they look in this shot

Aljui Bay

Raja Ampat Diving Mangrove Surface
The mangrove forests around us before we descended

Aljui Bay was unusual because this was located below mangrove forests. The visibility is not so high and everything was a bit greener, but the landscape is quite different from your typical oceanic sites.

Raja Ampat Diving Coral Diver Mangrove
You can’t really tell from here, but this was an entire wall covered with corals
Raja Ampat Diving Mantis Shrimp Mangrove
Here’s something fun – a colourful peacock mantis shrimp before it hid away from us

Dontracasroc Cave

Raja Ampat Diving Wobbegong Shark Front Dontra
Wobbegong shark trying to blend in – love its old man whiskers

I’d never seen a Wobbegong shark in the wild but I remember reading about them in books as a child. They are pretty common in Raja Ampat and as bottom feeders, they are pretty chill most of the time, definitely not too scary.

Raja Ampat Diving Wobbegong Shark Head Dontra
Here’s a side view – its eyes are weird though

Wofoh

Raja Ampat Diving Fusilier Swarms Wofoh
Those are all little fish, now imagine that all around you and beyond

What was significant about this dive is that so far we had mostly encountered schools of larger fish, but these fusilier were pretty tiny, maybe about the length of your pinky finger at most? And there were literal THOUSANDS of silvery bodies swarming in the water, almost like how I imagine a Biblical locust infestation to be like. So thick that they almost block out the light from above.

Raja Ampat Diving Fusilier Closeup Wofoh
Tried for a close-up shot – the fish are pretty transparent

Another thing we were all looking for were pygmy seahorses – the Denise pygmy is the more rare one and harder to find, but my camera really isn’t good enough for that sort of close-up shot. I contented myself with the bumpy purple ones. There was a sea fan where I found 7 (!) of them on various different branches, it was pretty amazing.

Raja Ampat Diving Pygmy Seahorse Pair Wofoh
Two pygmy seahorses just hanging out. They are maybe half the length of your thumb at most

Sawandarek Jetty

Raja Ampat Diving Jetty Pylons Sawandarek
I just kinda like how the colours came out of this under-jetty shot

Sawandarek Jetty was a pretty shallow site. It’s not too deep so the large schools of sweet lips and batfish were pretty well-lit, and they let you come surprisingly close to take pictures. They also had an underwater coral garden where they are growing coral in various plots like a farm but just underwater.

Raja Ampat Diving Sweetlips Batfish Sawandarek
Sweetlips and batfish hanging out together
Raja Ampat Diving Sweetlips Closeup Sawandarek
#nozoom

Others

Here’s a look at some of my other favourite shots from this trip. Editing these pictures really make me wanna go diving again right away…

Raja Ampat Diving Turtle Coral Yenbuba
Yenbuba was a site where we saw quite a lot of turtles and pretty huge ones at that

Raja Ampat Diving Ornate Ghost Pipefish Keruo
Again with the shitty lighting, but the macro lens captured this ornate ghost pipefish so clearly that I love this shot anyway. Seconds after this was taken, someone in the dive group finned a little too hard and swept my ghost pipe out of frame >_<
Raja Ampat Diving Clownfish Pair Mioskon
How funny is this pair of clownfish living together in the same anemone at Mioskon? One is a more traditional clown colouring while the other has a cool mohawk stripe
Raja Ampat Diving Nudibranch Nembrotha Purpur Aljui
This nufdibranch is the Nembrotha Purpur but in my head I call it the turnip nudi because it looks kinda crunchy. Doesn’t this one look so earnest like a dog somehow?
Raja Ampat Diving Manta Ridge
SO. Oceanic mantas are one of the other highlights in Raja Ampat and we were hoping so hard to see them, but unfortunately our sightings weren’t great. Manta Ridge currents were strong and the mantas didn’t come too close, while at Manta Sandy (our last dive), the mantas were just NOT THERE, which was a super disappointing way to end the trip

Other activities

We spent most of our time diving, but in between dives besides chilling out on the boat and napping, we did a couple of fun things as well.

Atlas Pearl Farm

We visited one of the Atlas Pearl Farms in Aljui (or Alyui, there isn’t a lot of spelling consistency) on Day 5 in between the first and second dives. It’s always kinda weird being on solid ground after all those days of bobbing up and down. This is the oldest Atlas Pearl Farm and it was pretty cool seeing how they harvest the pearls, graded them by hand and ultimately how they wound up on a necklace for sale.

Raja Ampat Pearl Farm Shell Drying
Drying the oyster shells on the dock when we arrive. That black patch in the water to the left? That’s actually a whole bunch of fish (!)
Raja Ampat Pearl Farm Sorting
Removing the oysters from the nets and opening them. The pearls and the meat are removed and sorted.
Raja Ampat Pearl Farm Pearl Picking
I didn’t want to disturb the lady too much, but she is basically peering at various pearls grading them by quality
Raja Ampat Pearl Farm Pearl Necklaces
These necklaces are not cheap stuff – they sell for hundreds and thousands of dollars, even out here in the sea! They have armed guards looking after the place as well

PIaynemo Lookout

The classic Raja Ampat photo that everybody has seen and loves is from the Piaynemo Lookout point. This cluster of rock islands in the middle of the ocean have become iconic sights of Raja Ampat, and we decided to visit during sunrise. We took a dinghy to the island while it was dark, and made a short climb (20-30 mins) up some wooden boardwalk stairs and reached the lookout point just before 5am to catch the sunrise.

Raja Ampat Piaynemo Sign
Geosite Piaynemo from a distance. There are a bunch of little islands and lookout points here. We were the only ones at our lookout point but we spotted others in the surrounding islands.
Raja Ampat Piaynemo Lookout Sign
Here’s what the lookout looked like
Raja Ampat Piaynemo Blue Water
Look how clear the water is!
Raja Ampat Piaynemo Lookout Hill
Looking back as we were heading back to the boat – our lookout point was somewhere up in those hills

Doing epic travel things for my birthday is a recent tradition that I’m hoping to keep up. Here’s what I’ve done in previous years for those who are looking for some bucket list ideas. Does anyone have ideas for what I should do in future years?

Or check out my other scuba diving posts to see more pix of weird underwater creatures

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