When I arrived at Papua Paradise Eco Resort, I’d read about Arborek Jetty, Fam and Cape Kri. When I asked which places were good to go to however, I kept getting the response: “everywhere is great” from both guests at the resort and the staff. They were correct – we never, ever had a boring dive and we did almost 20 during our one week stay. Here are our favourites (not in any order):
The coral gardens such as at Melissa’s Garden are in very good condition, colourful and full of fish. These healthy reefs are a playground for all kinds of shark: blacktip (the most common), whitetip (often seen resting on the sandy bottom) and grey (very shy and mostly observed swimming away into the blue). There are also very interesting wobbegong sharks, one which we viewed lying in full view on top of a giant plate coral.
If you have a good guide, he or she will point out tiny and beautiful things such as pygmy seahorses, shrimp, flatworms, nudibranchs and so on. PLEASE, please don’t touch anything or stress out the marine life. We heard horrible stories from the other divers of tiny pygmy seahorses such as the two shown below dying from stress due to photographers’ intense strobe lights or having their delicate sea fans destroyed by careless scuba divers. These animals live only on a single fan, and are eaten by virtually every kind of reef fish so please be extra careful when viewing them. The fans also take decades to grow.
Just before lunch, you are taken to the Pianemo jetty for that obligatory climb to a viewpoint that offers iconic view of Fam – seen in travel brochures everywhere. Lots of non-diver tourists from Indonesia (mainly) and other countries visit this spot so expect the boardwalk to be relatively busy compared to the rest of the region and for curious locals to want to take photos with you!
Pro tip #1: Bring shoes – the boardwalk can be very hot. Also a hat, sunnies and something to cover bare shoulders. It’s a long uphill walk even on the new boardwalk – however, you can just dive into the water after!
I loved, loved, loved this full day dive tour where we visited three jetties – Arborek, Sawandarek and Yenbuba. There are heaps of green turtles, astounding numbers of fish and friendly villagers in idyllic seaside hamlets to visit. Around the base of the jetties are giant clams, showy corals and also plenty of giant sweetlips.
We shared our morning tea with the kids, aged between three and twelve (all proficient swimmers) who broke swimming records between the beach and our boat when they realised chocolate doughnuts were to be had.
They played with coconut shells, “boats” made of driftwood tied to long poles and huge floating lumps of discarded polystyrene (which unfortunately left white balls of plastic all over the reef). It’s hard to imagine a more idyllic childhood.
Pro tip #2: Help keep the reef clean – there is plastic EVERYWHERE. On the surface, underwater, stuck in the coral – pick up any floating rubbish (as marine life have not yet made a home in it), ask the crew to dispose of it or start a fire and burn it. We did this at many places as there was so much garbage we couldn’t possibly have taken it with us. Smoking is ubiquitous so ask your crew for a lighter.
So I hear this place is best dived in strong current – as currents attract fish, and Cape Kri is famous for being a living gallery of regional fish species. However, as we were relative novices, our guide Ezra chose us a spot that wasn’t too wild and we saw mantas. A LOT OF MANTAS. Huge oceanic ones – distinguished by white markings on their head – spanning 4m across who were all too keen to get a close look at us.
Ezra told us that mantas could recognise divers and I have no doubt they are intelligent – as they swooped around in what our friend Jo called a “manta ballet”, trying to look at us and dispersing schools of terrified jacks for fun.
On our third dive that day at Cape Kri, it seemed that the one manta we saw went to alert his friends – so in the end there were four curious manta rays circling our group of five divers until we created our own tight “school”.
There was also plenty else to look at while the mantas did their dance.
Pro Tip #3: Bring a reef hook – one per diver! Where there are mantas, there is usually current and to conserve your oxygen, it’s best to stay still. ALWAYS hook onto a non-living part of the reef and don’t break the coral! PADI has this useful infographic on how you should use a reef hook and why.
Many dive guides recommend Manta Sandy for manta rays, but Papua Paradise has its own local “cleaning station” at Pulau Wai (Wai Island) just 10 minutes by boat from the resort and apparently much less busy, so we just went there for more manta action.
BIRIE ISLAND LOCAL SITES
All around Papua Paradise, which is located on Pulau Birie (Birie Island), was outstanding reef, and we explored some on dusk dives, after dark with torchlights and also during the day. You can expect to find everything from the big – rays, turtles, barracuda, sweetlips – to the very small: baby cuttlefish, tiny walking sharks, upside down jellyfish and harlequin shrimp.
Pro tip #4: Bring your own marine life guidebook. I brought this one along and it was basic but helpful with identifying what we saw – Diving & Snorkelling Guide to Tropical Marine Life of the Indo-Pacific
To find out more about how to get to Raja Ampat, read this post:
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