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Paradise Found

Raja Ampat Islands: The last Paradise?

If you were to make a list of every tropical cliche you can think of, the Raja Ampat Islands would tick most of them off.

  • Soft white sand
  • Empty beaches
  • Uninhabited Islands
  • Palm trees
  • Jungle
  • Blue seas
  • Coral gardens
  • Tropical birds
  • Tropical fish
  • Dazzling sunshine

Ok I could’ve added dolphins, birds of paradise, thatched bamboo huts, fisher-folk, and passing schooners but you get my drift.

The purpose of my trip was to dive and snorkel the reefs with the aim of finding and photographing wild turtles, mantas, and sharks, plus anything else that came my way.

I managed to see all three which included a fantastic shark encounter while I was snorkeling.

I was also privileged to encounter a friendly cuscus – twice. Not sure what that is? Stick around and find out.

Raja Ampat is often described as the epicentre of the coral triangle, the most bio-diverse reef system on the planet.

I’m no biologist but if there is a place on Earth that tops Raja Ampat I wanna see it.

The sealife in some parts of the archipelago is insane. You can’t quite believe your eyes

There’s something for everyone..

# Big fish# Macro life# The weird and wonderful# Amazing coral# Huge shoals of fish.

It’s all there.

The islands are thickly forested and remain largely undeveloped, with perfect sandy coves, palm trees and empty beaches.

Raja Ampat Islands: The Last Paradise?

Before you ask, yes it’s really paradise. Well very nearly.If you were to make a list of every tropical cliche you can think of, Raja Ampat would tick off most of them.

How about the top ten ticks?

1   White soft sand,2   Empty beaches,3   Uninhabited islands4   Palm trees,5   Jungle,6   Blue seas,7   Coral gardens,8   Colourful fish,9   Tropical birds10 Dazzling sunshine.

I left out dolphins, birds of paradise, thatched bamboo huts, fisherfolk, passing schooners … you get my point.

The purpose of my trip was to dive and snorkel the reefs with the aim of finding and photographing wild turtles, mantas, and sharks, plus anything else that came my way.

I managed to see all three which included a fantastic shark encounter while I was snorkeling.

I was also privileged to encounter a friendly cuscus – twice. Not sure what that is? Stick around and find out.

Raja Ampat is often described as the epicentre of the coral triangle, the most bio-diverse reef system on the planet.

I’m no biologist but if there is a place on Earth that tops Raja Ampat I wanna see it.

The sealife in some parts of the archipelago is insane. You can’t quite believe your eyes

There’s something for everyone..

# Big fish# Macro life# The weird and wonderful# Amazing coral# Huge shoals of fish.

It’s all there.

The islands are thickly forested and remain largely undeveloped, with perfect sandy coves, palm trees and empty beaches.

Gam island beachThe islands are alive with exotic birdsong, there are parrots and cockatoos.

Birds of paradise display in chosen trees, eagles glide by, and fish leap for their lives.

If you’re very lucky might see dolphins, or even dugongs (like a manatee)

And all of this is accessible without being rich.

I don’t do posh

To keep costs down I brought my own snorkeling gear and fins. I even met a few people pitching tents.

In this environment, a tent is hardly roughing it.

For most people, including myself, a palm-thatched bamboo bungalow makes the perfect home.

What else do you need to be happy? A clean comfy mattress, a sheet, and a pillow. A mossy net, a small table and chairs, and a few hooks.

If there isn’t any crime there’s no need for locks. What locks? You don’t need ’em.

Showers are fresh water so you can rinse off after a swim.

How luxurious is that?

Set meals are communal so you can meet the other guests and exchange tips and stories.

I really didn’t want to leave.

Friwan island beach in Raja AmpatThe islands are a divers dream but I saw almost as much marine life just snorkeling.

In fact, my best snorkel outshone all my dives. I swam through clouds of fish, one shoal after another, all twisting and turning in shimmering patterns.

Giant Trevallies patrolled the drop-off, schools of barracudas glided in and out of the blue, and reef sharks would appear and be gone again before I could get the camera in focus.

Turtles grazed the reef and would fly gently along, surfacing occasionally for air in slow motion.

I saw schools of huge bumphead parrotfish biting off great chunks of coral and leaving trails of sand in their wake. Napoleon fish also cruised by looking sideways while at the same time managing to appear slightly bewildered.

Sighting any one of these glamour fish on a dive would be a talking point but to see them all within a couple of hours just snorkeling is unreal.

But I could be picky. Nothing in this world is truly pristine.

Much of the shallow coral is dead or dying. Bomb and anchor damage is common and bleaching is evident on some reefs.

And the locals? Are they unfriendly? Not at all.Are they friendly then? er… No, not really.

They come across as mostly stoney-faced and indifferent which is perplexing in Paradise.

The Islanders are distant. I like to think of them as shy, I hope so, but I’m not sure.

Papua is part of Indonesia but it is occupied territory. Papuans have little in common with the rest of the country.

Ethnically the Papuans are Melanesian, and as different from Indonesians as they are to Dutchmen.

It’s little wonder then that culturally they behave differently.

Greetings are not always forthcoming, smiles are not automatic. Eye contact is often avoided.

It’s such a contrast to the near-celebrity status a westerner acquires elsewhere in Indonesia, being blanked-off regularly comes as quite a shock.

If you want privacy it’s yours, if you want a chat, maybe not.

I was in Raja Ampat primarily for the sealife and swimming with Manta Rays is almost guaranteed.

There is an island called Arborek which is nothing more than a pile of sand with a village on top.

It’s the access point to a nearby reef well known as a Manta Ray cleaning station.

I had an amazing encounter with several rays circling around me all at once.

They were twisting and turning in slow motion always just out of reach.

It was whilst on a dive on a famous reef called ‘Blue Magic’ that I encountered the biggest Manta I’ve ever seen.

A huge black oceanic giant Manta glided over us which must’ve been 5m across!

As if the sealife isn’t enough, there are two species of Birds of Paradise unique to the islands and I saw both.

The red bird of Paradise displays at locally known sites at predictable times of the day.

They dance in a dead tree, zig-zagging up and down the branches and flipping over to fan out their brilliant red plumage.

Even more amazing is Wilson’s Bird of Paradise.

It has an extraordinary featherless bright blue cap, yellow neck, red body and two spiraling iridescent tail feathers.

It’s almost neon.

This stunning little bird clears a small patch of forest floor as a display area and the locals set up rudimentary hides.

I was not more than 2 meters away!

If all this floats your boat but you think it’s out of reach, think again.

Check out this website and you’ll discover how affordable it can be.

www.stayrajaampat.com

You may be shocked.

 

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