Indonesian Trip Report
After arriving safely in Manado, North Sulawesi, with only one bag missing, the group settled in at Murex Resort, www.murexdive.com, for two nights with one lovely day of diving in Bunaken Marine Park. What a wonderful way to start our diving adventure! Harlequin ghost pipefish, blennies & gobies galore, nudibranchs & sheer walls with schools of curious fish and incredible visibility and blue water. Sadly, one day of diving is not enough, but it was time to move on!
After a Lions Air flight from Manado to Sorong, we were met by old friends from the M/Y Pelagian, pelagian.wakatobi.com, our floating home for the next ten nights! Raja Ampat is Four Kings in Indonesia and after Capt. Peter Manz introduced the crew and we were given an orientation & safety briefing, our proposed itinerary was reviewed. Winds/waves/weather in the southern portion of Raja were going to make it impossible to travel/dive the Misool region, however our intended destination was the island of Waigeo and the many tiny islands surrounding it.
Diving in Raja Ampat is varied based on currents, tides and both the abilities of the divers and their diving interests. We had a boatload of photographers so unique critters and striking formations were at the top of our lists! Many of the dive sites are along tiny rock outcroppings such as Little Button & Big Button. Some of them were open ocean ridges such as Chicken Reef & Sardine Reef. Some of my personal favorites were Cape Kri where over 238 different species of fish were recorded in ONE dive; Melissas Garden which was absolutely gorgeous and had a fabulous overhang with thousands of blue/gold fusilers and beautiful soft corals in all colors; Dedes Delight where we searched to no avail for a wonderpus but found hundreds of various nudibranchs & pygmy seahorses in lots of seafans; Nudibranch Banyak which lived up to its name (Many Nudibranchs) and Halimeda Wall where one of our dive guides, Dede, found us a halimeda ghost pipefish at 70. Hes been guiding dives for over ten years and it was HIS first sighting so it was fun to watch him find something new!
Unusual critters found in Raja included various pipefish, loads of nudibranchs, wobbegong sharks in great abundance, schools and schools of large/medium & small fish, Napolean Wrasse, lots of different-sized frogfish, lots & lots of different varieties of pygmy seahorses, epaulette sharks, hard & soft corals in previously unseen quantities along with the usual suspects ..lionfish, cardinalfish, gobies, blennies, crabs, octopi and schools of different colored anthias. Lots and lots of juveniles of every species were present at every dive. Visibility on a lot of the dives was not the best due to great amounts of plankton in the water but the reefs are teeming with life. Macro photographers had plenty of subjects to shoot; some of the wide-angle opportunities were not the best due to the visibility but the sheer size of the seafans and corals were stunning.
The topside landscape was equally stunning. The islands we moored near were all covered with vegetation and the weather was absolutely gorgeous. We were able to tour a Pearl Farm and learn all about pearl cultivation .fascinating!
The crew aboard the Pelagian was outstanding, as usual! Capt. Peter and his First Mate, Glenn, know the divesites and weather patterns intimately and guided us to the best sites during the course of the week with the minimal amount of travel required. The new chef, Nyomen, was a wonder! In addition to the usual daily fare well balanced between Indonesian and good-ole American food, were the afternoon snacks prepared by Ari & Rina as well as the wonderful celebration cakes for my birthday and for one of the guests 200th dive. Yummy is the best word to describe the food. Tender drivers Henke & Basri are amazing as well. No matter where each diver surfaced, a smiling face was there to pick you up within moments! Dede & Erwin, our two dive guides, kept us constantly identifying new critters and creatures.
The Pelagian has a crew of ten with a maximum guest capacity of 12; there were 11 of us aboard for that charter so everyone became well acquainted with the word service! We learned to count to twenty in Indonesian, learned all about local customs and spent many hours in between dives learning about their lives and their country. There isnt anything they wont do to make your stay aboard one of the most enjoyable experiences youve ever had.
Every great adventure has to end and after a return to the Sorong Harbour, we were treated to an Indonesian dining experience! Water taxies were ordered by Capt. Peter to take us into Sorong and we then walked from the harbour to a local restaurant (a small area with metal poles & a steel roof & tarps on the sides!) Our dining choices for the evening were chicken, squid, mud crab, grilled fish or three types of shrimp. Accompanying your entrée was white rice and some local vegetables. Indonesian-style dining is accomplished with ones fingers .no silverware! The food was absolutely fabulous! Spicy, moderate to heavy depending on the entrée, but fabulous! It was quite an experience watching them grill or stir-fry our fresh entrees and we made a mess of ourselves but a great time was had by all.
Early the next morning we headed back to the airport for our flight back to Manado. Five of the group headed directly to Singapore and the remaining six of us continued our adventure.
Those of us who opted to extend our Indonesia holiday were met by a Lembeh Resort staff member at Manado Airport. After a trip across the peninsula to the east coast of Manado, we had a short boat ride across the Lembeh Straits to Lembeh Resort, www.lembehresort.com, our home for the next four nights. The resort is built into the hillside on Lembeh Island and all rooms are individual cottages that overlook the Straits. Views are fabulous and so are the cottages. Grounds are lushly landscaped and every cottage feels like youre in a private garden. Bathrooms in all the cottages feature outdoor tubs and/or showers as well as air-conditioned sleeping areas. Each cottage has its own verandah.
The dive operation at Lembeh is run by the Murex Dive staff. Four boat dives are offered daily plus a night boat dive and/or a dusk shore dive. Purchase of at least two boat dives per day allows you a shore dive on the house reef included in your package. The dusk Mandarin Fish dive is a guided dive which you can book for an additional charge. The mating mandarinfish are a sight to see!
Diving in Lembeh Straits is popularly known as muck diving. Its not pretty; its mostly black sand with few coral outcroppings and some trash/litter on the sand, but you dont dare move anything because it is housing some exotic creature! Common sightings in the Lembeh Straits are ghost pipefish, flamboyant cuttlefish, mimic octopus, nudibranchs of all shapes and colors, juveniles of every species, mantis shrimp, Banggai cardinalfish, crabs and shrimps in various colors and more frogfish than Ive seen anywhere else in the world! Hairy frogfish, warty frogfish, giant frogfish, clown frogfish and on and on. Reportedly they have a dive site where rhinopias can be found but, unfortunately, we were not lucky enough to see any during our brief visit.
We made 12 dives in four days and every dive was an OMG dive! I told someone that I felt like a bobblehead during each and every dive! We had two diveguides for the six divers and they were constantly pointing out critters! We played with a mimic octopus for over 15 minutes, it was in NO hurry to avoid us! He changed colors & shapes and allowed all of us ample opportunity to capture his beauty with our cameras! Our dusk dive on the house reef watching mating mandarinfish was fantastic! One of the group members made the comment, Its pretty interesting to have to move the potato chip bag that was underneath the Harlequin Ghost Pipefish in order to compose a better photo! Bottles, bottle tops, coconut shells everything on the sand formed a refuge for something living. One of the coconut shells housed flamboyant cuttlefish eggs. An empty brown bottle housed a cute yellow blenny and another was the home of a tiny octopus. Its NOT pretty but it sure is exciting!
The dive guides at Lembeh are extremely well trained and all have many years experience diving in the Straits and other parts of Indonesia. They know the habitats of the creatures theyre looking for and are very successful in accommodating divers wishes. They are also lots of fun to dive with! They carry long metal pointers to help you spot the things theyre showing you as well as slates to write the creatures I.D. on for you. Some of the things they were pointing out were _ or smaller so you needed to know WHAT you looking for in order to spot it yourself!
Meals are included in the Lembeh dive package and orders are taken for individual choices based on the days offerings. They were well prepared and attractively served. Staff at the resort was friendly.
The dive centre is located near the waters edge and dive gear is housed in a covered area in individual lockers. The operation is geared for photographers with an extremely well organized camera room. Each photographer has an individual station with shelves underneath for storage and electrical outlets in both 110v and 220v configurations. Cameras were handled very well by the dive staff
Four nights and twelve dives were not enough at Lembeh there are 43 dive sites and we needed lots more time to explore them! Bunaken Marine Park & Bangka also deserve many more dives. Guess well just have to go back again .come and join us or let me help YOU get there!