Sawandarek Village

Diving Raja Ampat

Melbourne to Raja Ampat:

The Journey To Paradise

So after a couple of dive trips to the Maldives, my partner pooh-poohed going a third time and decided he wanted to see the highly acclaimed marine life of the Coral Triangle. We first learnt to dive in this region several years ago – at Lankayan Island, off the coast of Malaysian Borneo – and we were truly spoiled.

In recent times, we’ve been hungry for adventure, favouring more obscure, off-the-beaten-track destinations for well-worn paths. Our self-driving adventure through Namibia was a case in point. Raja Ampat is somewhat akin to travelling in Africa – requiring three flights with separate carriers and a speedboat just to reach our destination. Also, relatively little information is available online and resorts take a couple of days to respond to queries due to lack of connectivity.

Pro tip #1: Bahasa Indonesia (or Malay) is a very, very handy language to have as you head east of Indonesia. Very few people I encountered spoke English – let alone the language of the much loathed colonials, the Dutch! A simple phrasebook such as this one will come in very, very handy.

To give you an idea of how to get to West Papua from Melbourne, you can fly these routes*:

  • Melbourne > Kuala Lumpur > Makassar > Sorong
  • Melbourne > Denpasar > Makassar > Sorong
  • Melbourne > Singapore > Manado > Sorong
  • Melbourne > Jakarta > Sorong

All require an overnight stay somewhere. I suggest a hotel rather than an airport!

*Update Feb 2019: Garuda now offers flights from Melbourne to Sorong via Jakarta, which is handy. We flew the route this year, spending around 7 hours in transit at FM7 Resort Hotel which is 2km from the airport, but takes more than 30 minutes to get to thanks to the crazy traffic!

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Flight options to Raja Ampat

Pro tip #2: We spent the night in Makassar, where I wish we had stayed longer. 

With our sprightly 62 year old becak (pedicab) driver, Ali, at Pantai Losari, Makassar.

From Sorong, if you have a resort organised (which we did), they arrange for you to be picked up from the airport and then, transferred by speedboat to the resort following a short wait in a local hotel.

Our destination this February was Papua Paradise Eco Resort, located on isolated Birie Island just off Bird’s Head Peninsula, West Papua. Like many lodges and campsites in Namibia, this was the kind of place you booked via email and phone, waiting at least 24 hours before somebody responded and you were never quite sure what to expect.

We chose Papua Paradise over Misool to the south for two reasons:

1. Misool is much further away from Sorong and famous sites like Fam; and

2. Papua Paradise was known to have a resident dugong. This pretty much sealed the deal for me.

You can read our review of the resort here:

Papua Paradise Eco Resort: A Review

Update: We’ve now visited Misool. Read our review of the resort and our thoughts on how Misool compared to Papua Paradise.

So what special things did we pack?

  • Reef hooks (dive sites in Raja Ampat can have pretty strong currents)
  • Wetsuits*
  • Sunscreen (of the reef-friendly variety – I like Wotnot)
  • Seasickness tablets (I’m hopeless on boats)
  • Books (because there’s very limited internet – yay!)
  • Binoculars and the big zoom lens for birds
  • A comprehensive first aid kit (because even band aids aren’t easy to find on a secluded island)

*While the water was tepid, I find diving all day can lower your body temperature quite significantly. Halfway through the trip however, I opted to go without my wetsuit – your call!

Pro tip #3: You need to notify Papua Paradise if you need BCDs, reef hooks, torches, etc prior to arriving. Their gear is good quality and the guides do almost all of the heavy lifting for you from connecting your tank to literally hoisting your stuff out of the water and onto the boat.

Papua Paradise Eco Resort
Papua Paradise Eco Resort Jetty and House Reef 1.

Papua Paradise has a great policy of limiting dive group sizes to four. For the duration of our trip, we were also assigned a dedicated guide – Ezra – who was excellent (and highly qualified, I might add). Our group only had between 10-35 dives under our belts at the start of the trip, so we were relative beginners. Ezra’s patience and experience really made our trip as he made sure we never went anywhere with too strong a current and that we were always doing our safety stops in interesting shallow spots. He also had a great eye and detailed knowledge of macro life, which led to us learning about some amazing shrimp, crab, flatworm and nudibranch species.

A teensy tiny orang utan crab – so perfectly named!

Of course, the general health of the corals and the existence of large marine species also helped make almost every single dive AMAZING. My mind virtually exploded with so much to see and so many new species to learn about. And who doesn’t love mantas???

A Raja Ampat special: the black reef manta.

On our trip, we did around 20 dives and saw both reef mantas (the Raja Ampat black and normal kind) as well as the massive oceanic mantas, which span around 4m across. I also came across the biggest green turtle I’ve ever laid eyes on. The suckerfish on its shell were almost the size of my forearm!

A gigantic green turtle at a cleaning station.

Above water, the scenery was spectacular and the Papuans warm and friendly. Tourists aren’t too common out here – let alone ones who can speak Bahasa Indonesia so we were warmly welcomed everywhere we visited.

Spirited high fives from the kids at Sawandarek.

Then, there was the birdlife. Where else can you come out of the water only to find a hornbill, or red-crested palm cockatoo swooping noisily overhead? Raja Ampat is located past the Wallace Line, so its birdlife shares some similarities with Australia – there are parrots and cockatoos, but the region also harbours hornbills and birds of paradise. It’s heaven for ornithologists and keen bird-watchers.

Like our photos? You can buy them on Shutterstock.

For our favourite dive sites, check out this post:

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