Sunday, February 1, 2015

Coral Raja Ampat

An emerging island Eden in Indonesia

Executive summary by darmansjah

Raja Ampat has been dubbed the Amazon of the Oceans. Is that hyperbole? Not really. There are single reefs here containing more species than the entire Caribbean. A mini-archipelago of rain-forest-clad islands, cays, mangroves, and pearlescent beaches off the coast of West Papua, Indonesia, this marine frontier brims with life. Expect close encounters with recent discoveries such as Raja Ampat’s walking shark and pygmy seahorse, along with more familiar creatures—manta rays, leatherback turtles, and bumphead parrotfish. Not to mention three-quarters of all known coral species.

The scenery proves just as spectacular above the surface. On Wayag, steep limestone karsts drenched in jungle bisect a cobalt lagoon. Tree canopies filled with rare birds offer lofty theater. It’s well worth rising at 3 a.m. to witness the amorous, flamenco-like mating dance of the endemic red bird of paradise.
Remote doesn’t mean rough here. Cruise the region aboard an upscale conversion of a traditional phinisi schooner or stay at a hideaway such as Misool Eco Resort, with its swanky overwater bungalows. Diving is the draw, but kayaking and trekking are picking up. This is nature at its most vivid, above and below the water. —Johnny Langenheim

Travel Tips

When to Go: Late September through early June. Be aware that mid-June through mid-September is monsoon season, with rains typically contained to the afternoon.

Where to Stay: Exclusive Misool Eco Resort is a secluded tropical hideaway on the remote, private island of Batbitim. Book your personal water cottage-on-stilts (veranda stairs lead directly into the translucent lagoon) to snorkel and dive in one of the world’s most biologically diverse marine environments.

How to Get Around: Travel by boat from Sarong to Wasai. Longboats, speedboats, motorboats, and dive boats connect Wasai to other islands. Outside the resorts, on island travel is primarily by foot or ojek (motorcycle taxi).

Where to Eat or Drink: If you’re not staying in an all-inclusive resort or on a dive boat, Raja Ampat dining options are limited to the small stores, outdoor markets, and warungs (family-run cafés/stores) in Wasai, Raja Ampat’s capital. Another option is to stock up in Sarong before traveling to Wasai.

What to Buy: In the established tourism villages Arborek and Sauwandarek local women make and sell wood and orchid bark nokens (string bags), pandan leaf hats and bags, and wood or banana fiber skirts.

What to Read Before You Go: Raja Ampat Through the Lens Of, by the Raja Ampat Research & Conservation Centre (2009).This coffee table hardcover is a 288-photo journey above and through the Realm of the Four Kings. Proceeds support local conservation efforts.

Fun Fact: On Raja Ampat’s Um Island, bats circle the blue skies by day and seagulls take flight at night. The compact island (one lap around takes about 15 minutes) is dotted with caves, home to the diurnal bats that feast on ripe fruit.

Helpful Links: Indonesian Tourism

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