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During this ten-day cruise with Dr. Tony Whitten, former Regional Director Asia-Pacific for Fauna & Flora International (FFI), we will take you on a far-reaching exploration of what is without a doubt one of the least visited but most memorable adventure-destinations on our planet. You do not need to be a diver to be able to experience this global epicentre of marine diversity. Nor do you need to be a seasoned birdwatcher to see and appreciate the dazzling birdlife that brought Alfred Russel Wallace to this region over a century ago. We certainly hope to witness the curious bobbing, flapping and weaving display dance of the red bird of paradise, to hear the shrieks of the crested cockatoo and the loud whooshing wing beats of the hornbills in flight.
Marine biologists have established that Raja Ampat is home to 70 percent of the known coral species on the planet. Many of the fish, corals and crustaceans that live in these waters are found nowhere else on Earth. Yet, while the below-surface world is reminiscent of a living kaleidoscope, the above-surface views are among the most stunning that you are likely to behold in a lifetime.
The Raja Ampat archipelago lies to the west of the Bird’s Head Peninsula, straddling the equator off the extreme northwestern tip of the Papua province of Indonesia. Comprising 610 – 1,500 islands (depending on the accepted distinction between an island and a rocky outcrop), the region has been described as the ‘Last Paradise on Earth.’ The name Raja Ampat literally means ‘the Four Kings’ and dates back to the time when the islands were ruled by the North Moluccan sultanates of Ternate and Tidore – in those days each of the four larger islands in the group, Waigeo, Salawati, Batanta and Misool, used to bow to an independent ‘raja.’ The islands are distinguished by their rugged and steep limestone coastlines, covered with virgin rainforest extending right down to the water’s edge. The larger islands are lightly populated, but most are uninhabited. Until the millennium, the name Raja Ampat was completely absent from Indonesian travel brochures. Trailblazing diving expeditions, undertaken by modern-day explorers and adventurers, have since put the archipelago on the map, and today Raja Ampat is world famous as one of the most noteworthy ecological niches on the planet, on a par with the Great Barrier Reef and the Galápagos.
Note: The price of this cruise does not include any domestic airfares to and from our start and end points, however, our reservations specialists in Bali are more than happy to help arrange domestic flights on your behalf and advise on scheduling. We book hundreds of flights each year on behalf of our guests and we know the best routes to take to ensure you arrive on time. We only book with IATA-approved airlines that have met with international standards of safety and dependability. Except for Bali, transfers to and from local airports to the boat are also included. If you are booking flights by yourself, do not book any flights before checking with us first. Our first and last day programmes rely on strict time scheduling, so please confirm with us to ensure that you arrive and depart at your destination with plenty of time to spare and to avoid disruption to other guests' schedules.
Just who was Alfred Russel Wallace? Click on his portrait to find out more.
Your flight will arrive in the West Papuan port town of Sorong, the gateway to Raja Ampat. From the airport we will transfer you to the harbour where the Ombak Putih will be waiting at anchor. Once settled into your cabin, your cruise director will familiarise you with the vessel’s facilities and safety procedures. Ready to start our adventure, we will weigh anchor and set a southerly course for the Misool Archipelago, stopping for a refreshing swim along the way. We will then dine alfresco on the main deck while meeting the other passengers and crew and watching the sun set on our first day at sea.
A swim through Tomolol’s mysterious dome-topped cave is undoubtedly one of Raja Ampat’s most memorable activities. After an early breakfast, our tenders will take us into the heart of the bay to see this partially submerged cave where it is possible to swim, snorkel or simply float while gazing up at the cavernous grotto adorned with astonishing stalactites. The more adventurous can swim or paddle through the dark waters to the other mouth of the cave. We will then move on to the peculiar jellyfish lake and swim amongst the many thousands of stingless animals, which have living algae within their bodies that, just like plants, photosynthesise in sunlight. The algae produce what is essentially a form of sugar, which the jellyfish metabolise, and this is how they gain the energy to propel and migrate through the water, grow and reproduce. After returning to the ship, we will use our tenders to explore more of this impressive maze of karst islands, both above and below the surface, complete with mystifying skull cairns in sea-cave cemeteries, and prehistoric cave paintings, estimated to be anything between 3,000 to 5,000 years old and depicting various human figures and huge human palms, fish, flowers and plants, tools and vessels. Overnight we will have moved offshore of Kapatcol on the south side of Misool.
Today we will try our best to see not one, but two beautiful birds of paradise in the wild, an unforgettable experience for anyone lucky enough to see them. We will rise around 4am and have a quick breakfast go ashore at Kapatcol, where local guides will be waiting for us to take us through the forest to hopefully see the Lesser and possibly the King birds of paradise as they dance around in their ‘lekking’ trees. We can make no guarantees, however, as we do not have them on a leash. We will have time for a look around the village and possibly a visit to the school and to learn about the way Nature Conservency is working with the village to empower with local women with a fishing practice called sasi. We will weigh anchor and head west to the village of Aduwey, having lunch along the way, where we hope to make a rare sighting of the local dugongs and have a snorkel. Mid-afternoon we will set off to the north of Raja Ampat to the beautiful island chain of Wayag, perhaps stopping off for a snorkel along the way.
Few areas of Indonesia can compare to the sheer beauty of the Wayag Island chain. The beauty of these picturesque karst spires is perhaps equalled only by the brilliant colours and vibrancy of the reefs and the marine life that flourishes below. Nature has carved these islands into a series of coves and lagoons, narrow channels and inlets, caves, jagged rocks and shaded, sandy beaches, and we will spend the day snorkelling and playing on the beach. For those who dare (and only for the sure-footed), there are some spectacular but nearly vertical climbs that are rewarded with magnificent panoramas. We will spend a quiet night here at anchor.
The Wayag islands are Raja Ampat’s best, and we will make the most of this unique region for one more morning, navigating the maze of mushroom-shaped islands, and stopping for swimming and snorkelling. In the afternoon, we will set our compasses to return to the southern hemisphere for a swim on the Equator.
Another full day of adventure awaits us along the convoluted western coast of Waigeo. We will begin the morning by exploring Wofoh, three island gems linked together by stretches of pristine coral reef. You can use the tenders or kayaks to navigate the islands, or put your newly-acquired fish identification skills to use in exploring this vibrant reef. Or you may prefer to simply just relax on the beach. In the afternoon we will move northwards to Aljui Bay, home to the Cendanda Pearl Farm, one of the larger producers of high quality seawater pearls in the region. Pearling is an important industry throughout Indonesia and a number of farms can be seen in the waters of Raja Ampat, where the farmers may grant us permission to visit their facilities and receive an explanation of the pearling processes that we have seen during our voyage. We will cruise off over night to the village of Yebensar.
After waking up off before dawn, we will follow in the footsteps of the famous naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace in a pre-dawn quest to spot the remarkable Red Bird of Paradise, one of the species that Wallace was most anxious to collect. We hope that the efforts of our trek through the forest will pay off, enabling us to catch a rare and privileged sight of the bird’s elaborate courtship dance as the day breaks over the forest canopy. Whether we spot the birds or not, for sure we will experience a wonderful trek. Afterwards, we will turn our attention from the sky to the sea. We hope to snorkel among some of the larger reef fish attracted to edges of the nutrient-rich Dampier Strait.
We start our morning in the bay of Yengeffo where myriad birds will welcome us in the trees above while we explore the wonders of the marine world below. After a paddle and lunch, we will make our way back through the Dampier Strait for a snorkel in one of the best snorkel sites in the park. With a bit of luck, we hope to swim among some of the larger specimens of marine life attracted to the strait’s nutrient-rich currents.
After our days of marine exploration, the jungle-clad island of Batanta offers us a change of scenery and a chance to stretch our legs on an adventurous trek into the island’s interior. We anchor at the foot of Arefi Village, nestled on the north coast of the island, where we will find local guides to escort us through the mangrove waters to the start point of our trek. A short walk along the riverbed brings us to the first of two jungle waterfalls complete with a refreshing pool for cooling off. The fit and adventurous may choose to continue the uphill climb along the rocks to where a second, larger cascade awaits. We will then enjoy a Farewell Dinner and party with the captain and crew.
After a quick stop for a last swim and refreshments on one of the nearby islands, we will make our way back to the harbour of Sorong. Here we will bid farewell to the ship and her crew. Our tenders will take you ashore for your transfer to the airport for your onward travel.
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Dr. Tony Whitten
Dr. Tony Whitten was trained as a wildlife biologist and since late 2010 he is the former Regional Director for Asia-Pacific at Fauna & Flora International, the world’s oldest international conservation organization. The subject of his PhD at Cambridge University was on the endangered gibbon on a remote and primitive island west of Sumatra in the mid 1970s. After this Tony worked at the University of North Sumatra where he initiated production of a major and innovative series of books on the ecology of the several regions of Indonesia, writing three of them himself, each taking about three years. During a two-year spell in the UK, he was employed by the British government’s conservation agency to write its Recovery Plan for Protected Species – covering sea anemones to wild cats. He joined the World Bank in 1995 and supported a broad range of activities and projects until he left in 2010: he advised on habitat and species protection issues as part of infrastructure projects, started various region-wide and global activities (e.g. on the forgotten biodiversity of caves and karst), ran a programme which produced 111 volumes of local language field guides to all manner of plants and animals, and was responsible for a suite of conservation projects in Mongolia, China, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Vietnam and elsewhere in the region. He has an in-depth and broad knowledge of biodiversity and has published on a wide variety of topics.