Island-hopping on the extraordinary Prana by Atzaro in Raja Ampat, Indonesia
Made up of more than 1500 wild isles over an enormous 40,000sq-km area, Raja Ampat straddles the equator where the north-western tip of the Papua province meets the most easterly point of Indonesia. Antonia Black explores this glorious archipelago onboard the Prana by Atzaro.
It has long been a dream of mine to travel to Indonesia’s far-flung cluster of islands, Raja Ampat – an unassuming natural paradise with a rich biodiversity and remoteness beyond your imagination. Made up of more than 1,500 wild isles over an enormous 40,000sq-km area, the archipelago straddles the equator where the north-western tip of the Papua province meets the most easterly point of Indonesia. This has to be one of the most unspoilt locations in Indonesia. Home to striking landscapes, unrivalled marine life and curious locals, Raja Ampat makes for a truly epic trip.
I was recently fortunate enough to discover this secluded haven for myself on a five-day journey like no other. Naturally, somewhere as beautiful as this is not the easiest place to reach. Flying to Jakarta, and then the length and breadth of Indonesia to the sleepy harbour town of Sorong, is an adventure in itself, although this really just adds to the anticipation of the wonders to come. After 30-odd hours of travelling, I finally found my feet in Papua, and it wasn’t long before we were whisked away to the port, where we found two gleaming speedboats.
In the distance lay our home for the week: Prana by Atzaro. Never had I felt so immediately relaxed than when we stepped onboard, welcomed by an 18-strong crew armed with lemongrass-scented towels and fresh papaya and pineapple juice. Just the ticket. This palatial, teak-and-ironwood phinisi super-yacht, spanning an impressive 55m, is a recent addition to Indonesia’s growing fleet of luxury vessels. It is one of a kind. Designed to reflect the country’s traditional sailboats, it has been entirely handcrafted and the attention to detail across all four expansive decks and nine cabins is superb.
While a double-masted beauty, I found that ‘sailing’ was a term used loosely among the crew. During our voyage, the engine was predominantly used as the power of the winds alone was not usually sufficient. The trade-off, however, was that, with this greater speed, you could squeeze far more into an itinerary than you would if you were sailing in the true sense of the word.
We wearily dispersed into our cabins – so opulent and comfortable that when my head hit the pillow, I was immediately transported into a vivid world of dreams, full of exciting expectations for our first afternoon.
We began near Mioskon Island, where clear skies and tranquil waters awaited us and our first glimpse of the magnificent scenery to come. The cruise director briefed us on the ins and outs of the boat and the adventure ahead, charting our course on maritime maps, and then I eagerly leapt off the back to see this hotly anticipated underwater universe for myself. The cobalt-blue waters were home to marine life more incredible than I could have ever envisaged. Having reacquainted ourselves with our scuba skills, we became obsessed with the thrill of new discoveries on each dive. From manta rays to blacktip reef sharks, pygmy seahorses and much more, these waters very much lived up to the fact that Raja Ampat is one of the most biodiverse marine habitat on the planet.
Climbing back onboard is no hard feat when you’re greeted by fresh fruit juices and cold towels, and before long, we were craving our next delicious Indonesian feast prepared by the brilliant Chef Fazul and his small team. The creations that emerged from the tiny kitchen, day after day, never ceased to amaze me. From satay and fresh garden salads peppered with roasted cauliflower to grilled salmon and lime sorbet with red berry compote, there was always something delicious making its way onto the table.
At first light the following day, the gentle creaking of the boat stopped and butterflies of excitement kicked in. Eager to catch the sunrise, I quietly made my way up to the top deck, where the morning light gradually revealed the most stunning scene of the entire trip – the seascape around Wayag Island. The rooftop provided the perfect spot for some improv yoga.
After a quick breakfast, we grabbed our trainers for a hike up one of the isle’s craggy limestone peaks, Mount Pindito. Not for the faint-hearted, the vertical ascent was a challenge, scrabbling for the next best place to put our feet. But oh, was it worth it! Reaching the summit, we were rewarded with breathtaking 360Â° views.
Few places live up to the hype as well as Raja Ampat, and we were bowled over by Wayag, the poster child of the archipelago. Later that morning, we were whisked away to a secluded alcove nearby, where a fantastic surprise lunch awaited us. Powdery-white sand, teak tables, white linen and tassled umbrellas lured us onto the shore, where we feasted on barbecued lobster, steak and endless platters of salads, overlooking the peaceful lagoon. Wayag is not only known for its immense vistas and diving but also for its water sports, such as kayaking, waterskiing and wakeboarding. After trying my hand at waterskiing, and before returning to the boat, we headed around to the Ranger Station, known for its blacktip reef sharks. Here, we swam with them along the shoreline – a surreal experience that’s great fun for kids of all ages.
Before we set sail the next morning, I took one last opportunity to immerse myself in the tropical surroundings and rugged karst cliffs, and set out on the stand-up paddleboard in the vast, silent lagoon. There is no better place to do this in Raja Ampat.
Later, as we set sail for Wofo, we waved goodbye to one nirvana, only to be greeted a few hours later by another, this time 10m below sea level at Black Rock dive site. Shoals of blue fish and yellow sweetlips shimmered around us, the labyrinth of beautiful corals and textures so mesmerising. That evening, our crew had arranged a cocktail party on the top deck – and what a spot for it, particularly at sunset. When the winds die down and the waters are calm enough, this is the ultimate place for an outdoor cinema set-up.
Our final morning took us to the sleepy village of Saporkrem in South Waigeo, where at 5am, beneath an almost-full moon, we set out with head torches in search of the elusive birds of paradise. Our guide led the way, as we began trekking through the criss-cross of jungle foliage, following the mating call to the peak of the hill. As the sun eventually broke through the huge trees, we caught sight of these exotic birds’ daily mating ritual. We watched as they hopped from branch to branch and spread their golden-red wings, performing their ceremonial dance.
Raja Ampat is not just a divers’ paradise but also a birders’ heaven. On our way back down to the village, we saw other treetop birds, such as the hornbill and the palm cockatoo. Incidentally, one of my favourite memories will certainly be our walk through Saporkrem itself, where inquisitive locals approached us with curiosity and charm.
This trip inspired me with countless ideas of how this boat could work for many of our clients, particularly keen divers, multi-generational families and groups of friends looking to get off the beaten path. These islands are magical, captivating and addictively beautiful. They are so idyllic and far removed from reality that a boat journey here makes the most extraordinary holiday. I would urge any intrepid traveller to go to this enticing corner of the globe sooner rather than later. It will not disappoint.