KM Black Manta Trip Reports

Jan 13, 2013

Raja Ampat - Underwater Paradise

Raja Ampat has been on my bucket list for many years. Given the cost, hassle and time to get there, I have to put this trip of a lifetime on hold for a very long time. On the 6th January 2013, this has been officially struck off my list. I have finally made it to what many has described as the Final Frontier of diving and surely it does live up to its name.

I was with 14 other lucky ScubaSG member that managed to get onboard this Black Manta trip. For those who didn’t manage to get on this trip, don’t worry. We are seriously considering organizing another trip. This is our first Raja Ampat trip and definitely will not be the last.

The trip began with a check out dive at Lampu Merah near Sorong, before the boat set sail to Misol. Mostly forgetable macro stuff but we did manage to see a Wobbegong Shark on this dive. Our dive guide Stanny told us there’s no Wobbegong Shark around Sorong prior to the dive but to actually see one send everyone in high-spirit.

Our first dive was at Boo Windows, the famous short swim through that is on every brochure of Raja Ampat. There’s a yellow pygmy seahorses here that Stanny, our guide is raving about prior to the dive but when I descended, I totally lose interest in it . I was too captivated by the colours and intensity of sea life to actually be bothered by a single seahorse.

The soft corals and topograhy of this site will take your breath away. The colours are intense underwater graced with never-ending gardens and flowery-like soft corals. There are curtains of schooling Barracudas, Fusiliers, Jacks, Bumphead Parrotfish, Spanish Mackerels, Sweetlips and many more. It’s unreal! In fact, I soon realised that this is the reason why diving in Raja Ampat is legendary. 

The rest of the dives are as colourful and hypnotizing as the first so I don’t see a point trying to describe every dive sites. I have never seen colour so intense and beauty so overwhelming that no amount of descriptions will ever do justice to the beauty of Raja Ampat. This is a place that every diver needs to experience at least once in his or her lifetime to appreciate the true beauty of mothernature.

We saw one Manta on the first dive and three cruising on the next dive at Magic Mountain. The three dive sites are somewhat similar in it offerings - soft corals and endless stream of schooling reef fish and sensational topography. I have to mention though that in Nudi Rock, the soft coral actually looks like a Sakura garden underwater, it weird and wonderful at the same time.

I missed the entire second day probably due to over-excitement that quickly translate into a fever but based on what others said, Goa Farondi was one of the most interesting dives of the trip. An interesting cave with a 20 metre long swim through tunnel, filled with sponges and soft corals. During the night dive, they even saw the famous walking shark, which I have totally missed during this trip.

On the third day, we dive the Citrus Ridge, a fascinating site where you can shoot macro while admiring the passing pelagics. Again, Barracudda, Sharks, Sweetlips, Bumpheads, Wobbegong and the usual reef residents but I do notice the difference in the corals. The soft corals are still as colourful but wasn’t as beautiful as the one in Missol but the densitiy of fish are higher here. Eveything come in bigger schools and they are big - Big Barracuda, Big Bumpheads, Big Snappers, Big Trevally, Big Spanish Makerral, Big Everything! 

Following the dives at Citrus Ridge, I did a short excursion of the mangroves that line the edges of one of the island. In the Mangroves the light angles beautifully for the camera and there are small residence fish swimming around. It was a short but an interesting little excursion that I wish could lasted a little longer. Due to time constrain, we have to make our way to Manta Sandy.

We did two dives at Manta Sandy, the famous manta cleaning station in Raja Ampat. There’s an ingenious system that only one boat can go at time so whichever boat reach first will dive while the others wait. When its our turn to dive, it didn’t take long for the Mantas to appear. We could see even see them from the surface before we descend. There’s a line made of rocks and dead coral behind the cleaning station to prevent anyone getting to close to the cleaning station or harassing the Mantas. While everyone was properly positioned behind the line, the Manta gracefully took turns showing off its move in front of us. I lost count of the Mantas but there are probalby more than 10 of them. If you ever watch an animal show at the zoo, this is the pretty much the same experience except that its underwater and the Mantas are 4 meters huge!

On the fourth day, we dive the Sardine Reef. I was actually expecting a sardine run of sort but to my surprise, there’s no sardine here. I’ve learned that the site’s name is actually derived from the abundant of fishes that they look like they have been packed like sardines! I can’t help but wonder if all the dive sites in Raja Ampat should all be call Sardine Reef because in every single dive, there are probably millions of fish swimming in all different directions in the precious underwater real estate of Raja Ampat. Nevertheless, this reef does contain a very high biomass compared to the other sites. It is packed with massive schools of Oceanic Triggerfish, Bannerfish, Rainbow Runners, Unicornfish, Fussiler, Surgeonfish Snapper etc. The are constant hunting and feeding action by the resident predators comprising of Dogtooth Tuna, Giant Trevally, Spanish Mackeral, Blue Fin Trevally.

We did two dives at Blue Magic and as the name suggest, it’s magical but then again so does Sardine Reef and every other dive sites in Raja Ampat. Anyway, this small pinnacle has a reef top of 8 metres with a slope to 25 metres. It’s a beautiful reef that has everything from the tiny Denise Pygmy Seahorses to Wobbegong sharks to schooling Sweetlip, Bigeye Trevally, Sea Snake, Greytip Sharks, Bluering Octopus etc. There’s a lot of hunting and feeding action here as well, just above the pinnacle. What’s special about this place is that Stanny told me he saw the biggest Manta in Raja Ampat here, about 6 meters. We didn’t see it on the first dive but did saw Manta breaching out of the water the next day while gearing up but unfortunately didn’t see it underwater. Surprisingly, no one seems to be dissapointed at all.

After the dive at Mioskan, we sailed back to Sorong in time for the firework at the pier. What a great ending to the trip! I came with great expectation and I leave with all my expectation blown out of the water. Despite below than average visibility when we were there, Raja Ampat still blew me away. It’s truly the ultimate Mecca of diving and the true underwater paradise like all the books has described. A friend of mine, Lance even has a better way to sum it up - Diving in Raja Ampat is like diving in a fish guide book and see all the pages at once!

Needless to say, I will definitely come back again to Raja Ampat soon. Lastly, thanks to the great hospitality of the good crew of Black Manta. As always and expected, top notch service from great people! Next, we will be organizing a special Ring of Fire exploration trip that include diving with thousands of sea snakes and schoolings hammerheads! This is another trip that I am sooo looking forward to.