The world’s richest reefs are located in Papua Barat/West Papua, formerly known as Irian Jaya. This area is part of Indonesia, and shares the main island of Papua with neighboring Papua New Guinea. Consisting of a group of more than 600 islands, this is a majestic realm more varied and colorful than you can ever imagine. The Marine Conservancy called it the most biologically diverse coral reefs in the world after their 2003 expedition. “This reef should be protected at all cost because it represents a baseline to which all other reefs in the world may be compared” according to world renowned fish biologist Dr. Gerald Allen.
As there is still relatively hard to find information in travel guides and dive portals on this area, Dive Global compiled as much information as possible for you to be able to visit this stunning and pristine part of the world.
Irian Jaya harbors some of the most remote and untamed territory left on earth. Equally remote in their natural habitat are the indigenous people here, many of whom still pursue an aboriginal existence in the vast rainforests like they have for many generations. As a result, much of the jungle, and the extensive fringing reef system, are still to be found in a relatively pure and unspoiled condition
Still relatively few divers visit the Western side of the Papua island and the ones that do mostly tour the Raja Ampat Islands by liveaboard. It is in this area that renowned marine author Dr. G. Allen recorded a record of 283 fish species in one single dive! Since then the area is know among divers as the destination that holds the world record for the most fish species ever recorded in a single dive.
The list of marine life that can be found in this area is endless, with a recent fish count of over 3000 species. Critters include Rhinopias, pygmy seahorses, ghostpipe fish, seahorses, inimicus and much more. Whales, manta rays, sharks, giant groupers and larger pelagic species are found in the dive sites with higher currents. Potentially over 300 scleractinian (reef building) coral species from 100 genera reside within the Raja Empat area. Dolphins, Hawksbill turtles, Green turtles and the Great Leatherback turtles are common. Leatherback and Hawksbill turtles nest in the Raja Empat region. Occasionally whales & Kararus are spotted, possibly during their regular migration through the area. The night diving is also spectacular with the most amazing critters making their appearances.
Best Diving Destinations in Irian Jaya
Central to this dive site is a WW II vintage airplane wreck. Lying upside down in about 80 feet of water, this U.S. fighter plane is now host to a sizable agglomeration of soft corals and marine life. The surrounding reef is also quite nice. There was minor evidence of fish bombing, but in most areas a lush reef comes to within a foot of the surface. Well known photo pro, James Watt, found this a fine location place to produce some of his celebrated underwater shots.
Kri is home to Irian Diving’s basic dive camp and the newer Sorido Bay Resort. When conditions are right, the nearby dive sites are nothing short of excellent. Marine life includes bumphead parrotfish, large barracudas, and spanish mackerels. There are also octopus, cuttlefish, numerous batfish, and all sorts of puffers and wobbegong sharks. But it doesn’t stop there, you will encounter frogfish in nicely painted colors. On dive sites like Sardine Reef, Cape Kri, and the aptly named Koteka, you can enjoy some of the very finest wide-angle photo opportunities imaginable. Beautiful hard coral bommies are host to dazzling soft corals and rainbow-colored crinoids with a foreground of oriental sweet lips or coral trout, a swirl of glassfish and anthias, and a background of schooling surgeonfish, jacks, and the occasional tuna. When the visibility is right, this can be an underwater photographer’s heaven. The night diving around Kri Island is also excellent with lots of muck diving creatures to be seen. Expect to see some species you’ve never encountered before!
Waigeo Island is the largest of the Raja Ampat group. It is home to a commercial Pearl Farm where you can purchase raw pearls. Waigo dive sites included Yellow Wall, Tunicate Wall, and Magic Log. Yellow Wall is a memorably brisk drift along a sharp vertical drop-off.
Kawe straddles the equator. You can have your vessel, your home away from home, anchored in the southern hemisphere, while you dive just north of the Meridian. Prominent dive site feature a towering seamount covered in reef fish and macro subjects, and an inshore site with a sizable cavern.
Framed by colorful soft corals and crinoid encrusted sea fans, large coral heads swarm with thousands of glassy sweepers, anthias, and smaller fry. Above circled large schools of jack, rainbow runners, and fusiliers, with the occasional kingfish or big tuna zooming through this fish soup on a feeding run.
Some of the best critter diving, offering up wobbegong sharks, excellent nudibranchs, periclimenes shrimp in carpet anemone and more.
There are a number of liveaboard to choose from. We’ve outlined the better known ones below but have noticed new ones springing up as the area becomes more known:
Other early scuba diving explorers of Irian Jaya are the Swiss brothers Edi and Robert Frommenwiler. With their handcrafted, Pinissi-style motor sailor, the M/Y Pindito, they offer three or more dives per day in the Raja Ampat area. Thus far they have been catering to a predominantly European clientele as well. While previously based in Ambon, and then for a time in Komodo, Pindito makes Sorong its base of operations as well.
A relative new addition to these waters is Kararu Dive’s new luxury liveaboard M/Y Voyages; a Bali-based live-aboard operation that makes a series of Irian cruises each spring during the best weather season.
The Voyager is a fully equipped luxury floating hotel and scuba diving platform. This fully equipped liveaboard offers individually air-conditioned cabins and staterooms, spacious saloons, e-mail access, a reading library and sundecks. You won’t be lacking for luxury and amenities on this vessel!
The Voyager is a fully equipped luxury floating hotel and scuba diving platform. This fully equipped liveaboard offers individually air-conditioned cabins and staterooms, spacious saloons, e-mail access, a reading library and sundecks.
Sorido Bay Resort
In late 2004, Max Ammers opened his second, more luxurious Sorido Bay Resort on Kri Island. This dive/eco resort allows you to experience more Western style comforts in a Papuan setting. Located on a beautiful deep lagoon and white sand beach on Kri Island, the dive resort is only a stone’s throw away from one of the most spectacular dive sites in Raja Ampat, Cape Kri. And if that is not enough, there are the Manokwari wreck dives. These are WW II wrecks which were only discovered relatively recently. Since diving in this region is still in it’s infancy, the wrecks have not been plundered as in Truk Lagoon, PNG, the Solomons, Vanuatu and other well-known wreck diving areas. By special arrangement, Papua Diving can schedule to dive wrecks in the Manokwari area (on the east side of the bird’s head). There are many wild birds flying around the resort grounds, including parrots and cockatoos. Some of these exotic birds were kept as free-flying pets at the resort. Meanwhile, in the shallow water baby sharks can be seen chasing after prey.
When to Visit Irian Jaya
The average air temperature in the Western Irian Jaya region ranges from 25 –32° Celsius ( 77-82° Fahrenheit). Best time to visit is probably March. You’ll encounter generally warm tropical waters all year round. The temperature range can vary between 26-32° Celsius (78-89° Fahrenheit). 3-5 mm suits with hoods are recommended. The water visibility is seasonal and ranges between 10 – 40 meters (45 – 120 feet). The dive sites with the best visibility are located in the Northern Raja Ampat Islands area.
Getting to Irian Jaya
The trek to Irian Jaya begins with air travel to either Bali or Manado, Indonesia. These cities are served by Garuda Indonesia, Singapore Airlines, Silk Air, Malaysia Airlines, and Continental Airlines. From Bali or Manado, one or a series of domestic flights are then required to reach the far-flung city of Sorong on the southern shores of West Papua. Arriving finally at the rustic Sorong airport on Jefman Island (SOQ). Most liveaboards like the Pindito will be anchored right in the harbor by the airstrip.
Foreign visitors not flying through Indonesia may be able to travel on the weekly charter flightoperating between Timika and Darwin (Australia) as an alternative route to Papua. There is also a regular bus service (and irregular light aircraft flights) between Jayapura and Vanimo in neighboring Papua New Guinea. For these international connections travelers must obtain appropriate visas (which can prove difficult). More detailed information for such travel is available from the Papua New Guinea Embassy, the Australian Embassy in Indonesia, the Indonesian Embassy in Canberra , Darwin-based travel agencies like Northern Gateway or PNG-based tour companies like MTS can also help.
This is very much an area where you want to take your vaccinations serious: Typhoid, Paratyphoid, Tetanus, Cholera, Polio, and Hepatitis A are recommended. Malaria is endemic in Irian Jaya so anti malaria medication is recommended is advisable as well. Please make note that you will be traveling to a very remote area and should consider your packing list carefully to make sure you have everything you need. You will be hard pressed to have high speed internet access or even telephone in this area.