Why Indonesia’s Raja Ampat is one of the world’s best scuba-diving destinations
The Raja Ampat Islands are one of the most sought-after places to scuba-dive on the planet. Their diverse marine life, turquoise oceans and pristine corals are among some of the very best you will find. There are more species here than anywhere else in the world; and in 2012, a world record of 374 types of fish were documented in just one dive. This is an underwater paradise – which I was soon to discover for myself.
As we travelled through the night, further and further away from the tropical rains of Papua, Indonesia’s easternmost province, we awoke to Jurassic Park-like landscapes, dense tropical jungles, limestone cliffs and deep-blue seas giving away to aquamarine pockets of light. The rattle of the anchor dropping beneath us reverberated through our palatial yacht, Prana by Atzaro, and instinctively, we gathered on the deck.
Our first site was at Manta Sandy, a heaven for Raja Ampat’s manta rays. Swimming with mantas has to be up there at the top of most diving enthusiasts’ wish lists – and how amazing it was to do this on my first dive in 12 years. I soon found myself effortlessly gliding between glorious reefs that were alive with fish. Within minutes, the waters around us appeared to darken with shadows, and as I rotated towards the surface, there, just an arm’s length away, were two giant manta rays soaring above my head, dancing in the streaming frames of light. Before long, I was resting on the soft, sandy ocean floor, watching as seven of them gracefully swooped around us like birds of the sea. These safe, curious and inquisitive creatures were within touching distance of us. This was an incredibly humbling experience, and one I will remember for a long time.
I didn’t know how the rest of our dives were going to live up to this, but we weren’t disappointed. Our adventure through Raja Ampat took us to more of the world’s most renowned dive sites – the second of which was Melissa’s Garden, neighbouring Piaynemo. As our rib approached, the ever-attentive team were on hand to help, and before we knew it, we were descending into the beautiful coral garden for which this oval-shaped reef is famed.
The whirl of surreal corals surrounded us in their masses – from branching pink acropora, with antlers fluttering in the currents, to the bulging, brain-like formations swarming with the electric-blue flashes of the chromis chromis fish. It was an absolutely awe-inspiring spectacle. There were abundant Napoleon fish, barracuda, grouper and shoals of silvery-backed fish, and blacktip reef sharks looming in the shadows. The ocean was teeming with a submarine world just as impressive as that of the countless documentaries I’ve admired.
Another favourite spot was Black Rock. I had reached a point in my journey of discovery where I felt calm in the company of our excellent instructor and cruise director, Cedric Lesenechal. His patience and encouragement allowed us to plunge in with such ease and assurance. This particular dive was made so memorable when Cedric spotted a miniscule pygmy seahorse shyly curling itself around the tip of the coral. Later, I found out that this was a real rarity to see at just 10m. The sites at Black Forest off Wofo Island and Dampier Strait were equally enchanting, surprising us with sightings of the infamous carpet shark and much more.
Throughout this epic voyage, we were familiarised with some of the biggest conversation challenges facing the islands of Raja Ampat. Despite being hundreds of miles from Western civilisation, along the Dampier Strait, it was worrying to spot a discarded plastic water-bottle – a powerful reminder of the scale of single-use plastic and the lasting impact it can have on nature. Although new projects are being developed within the communities and villages in the archipelago, Prana by Atzaro is helping tackle such issues head-on by providing reusable water bottles for all it guests, and therefore, not polluting the seascapes that we were so fortunate to explore.
Raja Ampat is, without a doubt, one of the richest havens of marine biodiversity on earth and bucket-list material for anyone. Despite a 12-year break between dives, my trip to this remote corner of Indonesia allowed me to renew my love and appreciation of the magnificent underwater world; and how lucky I was to do this with the beyond-brilliant team on-board Prana by Atzaro. I cannot wait to share this amazing destination with our clients. It is the perfect place for enthusiastic divers or those who wish to relearn their marine skills in a wild, unspoilt paradise.
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