On March 31 I left for a 10 day dive/photo trip to Raja Ampat on the liveaboard Arenui. Raja Ampat, or the Four Kings, is an archipelago comprising over 1,500 small islands, cays, and shoals surrounding the four main islands of Misool, Salawati, Batanta, and Waigeo, and the smaller island of Kofiau.
After a long and tiresome journey we arrived at the airport in Sorong and was picked up by two of the crew members of Arenui, and taken to the harbor where a tender was waiting to take us out to Arenui. Upon arriving on the Arenui we where welcomed with a refreshing tropical fruit drink and a hot towel to clean our self’s a bit. The Arenui is a classical Indonesian wooden sailing vessel looking like an old-fashioned pirate ship (but with all mod-cons), that takes 16 passengers and has a crew of 20, that do what they can to make you stay as best as possible. The cabins are exceptionally spacious and have been luxuriously furnished in a sophisticated and tasteful manner, and all cabins' individual themes and styles were inspired by handicrafts from each of the Indonesian provinces. Each cabin has a private en-suite bathroom and individual air conditioning. During the 11 day trip we stayed in the cabin Garuda, named after a large mythical bird-like creature found in both Hindu and Buddhist mythology, and also the national symbol of Indonesia.The diving
Coming to Raja Ampat I had no special expectations on what to see regarding marine life and the underwater landscape. I had heard that the diving should be great and that there would be lots of life, but what met me on the first dive blew my mind, the diversity of fish, corals and other stuff was just a underwater photographer's dream.
Our first dive was at a site called Boo Windows, which is one of the better known dive sites in the Misool area of Raja Ampat. The dive here was so good that we actually asked if we could have another dive here instead of going to the next site that was nearby, and that we could. So Lill Haugen, Todd Winner and me where drop at the windows and enjoyed an hour photographing the windows and the marine life and enjoying our self’s. We had two more dives this day both at two beautiful sites with lots of colors and life.
We spent the next three days diving the Misool area. I shot a lot of wide angle on these dives but also got some dives shooting macro. On our last day in the Misool area we did a dive at a site called Baby Rock, and we where told that there where a good chance we would see schools of bathfish. And boy where they right, when we jumped in an ascended into the current that was around the Island we where met by a big group of batfish swimming effortlessly in the current. The plan for the dive was to stay a short will with the batfish and swim around the island, and look at all the other stuff that lives there, but Lill, Todd and me decided to stay with the batfish, and I don't regret that decision at all. We spent an hour in the same spot, enjoying the sight and trying to get the image we had in our mind, sometimes fighting the current or just flowing with it. After an hour or so it was time to come up and leave the batfish alone.
The last dive in the Misool are was at a dive site called Two Three Rock, on this dive I set-up my camera for macro as I felt that I hadn't been doing that much macro diving so far on the trip, as we where encouraged to do wide-angle in most places, except the sites where we did the night dives. So I went for my 40mm lens which I hadn't used that much, in hope of finding some clown fish in anemones and get the picture I had in my head. Unfortunately the clown fish weren't that cooperative and was coming in and out of hiding all the time making it had to get the picture I wanted, maybe next time. Our divemaster pointed out some beautiful macro stuff that was way to small for my 40mm lens, making me regret my choice of lens. At the end of the dive we came upon a beautiful sea snake that was out looking for food, it was quite fascinating to watch the snake swimming under rocks and into cracks in the reef while looking for food. After a while it has to go up for air and it comes straight back down continuing it's search. Watching the snake close up was a great way of ending the dives in Misool. The rest of the day and the better part of the night was spent traveling to our next destination in Dampier Strait.
The second dive at Manta Sandy was as good as the first one if not even better. Coming down to the line we see three mantas circling the cleaning station. At the most there where four or five mantas circling the station, swimming past us or doing fly overs in a line. One of the smaller mantas boys, was chasing one of the bigger females doing loops up towards the surface, getting up real an personal with it. It was quite funny to see how this horny little manta was trying to court the lady. We had a couple of “fly over” and one of them was so close that you could almost touch the belly of the manta if you reach out your hand. After about 60 minutes Lill and me where the only one left with the mantas but we had to call it quites after about 70 minutes as the air ran out, but what a great dive it was.The Mangroves
After Manta Sandy we headed over to a dive site called Citrus Ridge outside the Mangroves. Some of us wanted to do a dive in the Mangroves, even though the place is known to be the home of saltwater crocodiles. So Lill, Torgeir, Todd, Jerry and me went for a dive in Mangroves, with one of the tender's staying and looking out for crocs. The dive was a nice calm and shallow one, with lots of small fish swimming between the three roots and three trunks that had fallen to the sea bed. Unfortunately none of my images from that dive did the dive site any justice. But luckily we got the opportunity to do another dive here at a later time, more about that later.
After a nice night dive we traveled to the northern part of Raja Ampat where we hoped to see some Wobbegong sharks. On the first dive for the day we dive at a site called Black Forrest, as we descend down a wall our dive guide finds a Wobbegong shark laying on a shelf on the wall, and what a beauty it is, bur unfortunately for me I had made a bad choice of lens for this dive as I went for my 40mm macro on this dive. Even though I obviously made wrong choice with the lens, it gave me the opportunity to take some detail shots of the of Wobbegong and other critters that I found during the dive.
Our next dive was at the Pearl farm jetty, and this time I went with my fish-eye lens as we where told that there was a big chance of seeing the Wobbegong at this site, and they where right. We saw about 4-5 Wobbegongs on the dive, but none of them where very cooperative, just when you where ready to take the shot they turned away. I got a couple of shots that where OK but Wobbegongs weren't the only thing to photograph here, schools of Smooth-tailed trevally, Batfish, scorpion fish among other.
Blue ringed octopus
The Mangroves Revisited
The next stop on our journey was at the famous Arborek Jetty. This site is well know for its colorful softcorals on the jetty pillars and the kids jumping in the sea in front of the camera and smiling, and it stood up to it's expactations. The pillars was draped with beautiful pink soft corals and gorgonian corals of all sizes, and the kids where jumping in all over the place. It was no easy task photographing the kids, as you never knew where they would come, and if they where jumping in in-front of you or one of the other photographers. But it was fun nonetheless, after spending sometime trying to get a good shot of the kids, which I didn't, I spent a good time photographing the soft corals and the juvenile bat fish that was hanging around under the jetty.
After the dive we had the opportunity to visit the Arobrek village or do another dive at the jetty, Lill, Todd and me chose the latter. This time we jumped in at the south end of the jetty, as there was a giant clam there that we wanted to see. Lill did some modeling for me at it and I got a couple of shots that I'm happy with. After the clam we went back to the jetty and once again had a great time here.
Lembeh Seadragon - Kyonemichthys ruamengani
The Arenui and its crew.