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Waisai – Palau Waigeo

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WAISAI – PULAU WAIGEO

38 miles from Sorong

WAISAI. 0°26.229S, 130°46.330E

Waisai, the capital of the Raja Ampat District is a relatively new town developed on the south coast of Pulau Waiego, the largest island in the group.

There are dozens of potential safe anchorages in 25-45 metres off the fringing reef, as well as beaches and homestays along this coast. They’re all open to the south so only good during the northerly season. Our recommended spot is at Waiwo Bay inside the small indent two miles northwest of Pulau Saonek Besar, the former administrative island capital of this region.

Anchor in 25-30 metres in the centre of this quarter-mile cul-de-sac on mud and sand. Ashore are several homestays where visits to see the birds of paradise can be arranged.

To the east at the Waiwo Dive resort or from the conservation centre jetties a bemo can be arranged to drive the five-kilometre journey to town on the only road in the region. At the main port is the Harbour Master’s office where vessel check-in is mandatory. Issued here are temporary vessel permits to cruise and individual Marine Park entry Tags.

Waisai town is less than a decade old and has that real frontier feel about it. It offers the widest range and lowest prices for rustic accommodations in Raja Ampat. A few local restaurants offer reasonable fare and a daily fresh market purveys a limited array of fresh seafood and local vegetable produce. From the main dock, ferry services connect to Sorong; the crossing takes about four hours.

There is a less attractive anchorage near town on black sand and mud in 10-12 metres. It’s a half mile past the Pantai WTC Monument concrete pier in front of a mangrove estuary opening at 0°25.772S,130°49.620E. On approach keep a quarter mile clear of the west rocks and reef until the Pantai pier is abeam before turning in. Town is close and the mangrove river is an interesting dinghy excursion.

The best snorkelling and swimming beaches are to the west of our Waiwo Bay anchorage. Pulau Mios Kon (AKA Bat Island) is six miles southwest and boasts great diving and a massive colony of flying foxes or giant fruit bats.

Pulau Saonek Besar is the developed island just two miles south. It’s well worth a day visit because it was the former capital before Waisai was established. As such, it retains much of its original colonial feel. The walk ashore is nostalgic and snorkelling off the historic wharf is excellent. To the west, and closer to Waisai town port, is the smaller and uninhabited Pulau Saonek Munde with a paved hiking trail to the monument on its peak. Waisai is fast becoming the new heart of Raja Ampat.

‘Salties’

Some areas within the Raja Ampat are home to small colonies of saltwater crocodiles. There have been two attacks involving tourists over the past decade. The non-fatal attack on a diver in 2009 was regarded as a freak incident. The March 2016 fatal attack on a tourist swimming near a resort in West Waigeo is more disturbing because it happened off a coral reef in clear open water.

Lone swimmers and snorkellers on the surface are at higher risk than submerged scuba divers. All visitors should be aware of the dangers and practise precautionary measures.

Wet garbage is best dumped underway and preferably not in the same place twice. Don’t clean fish on the transom at water level and avoid swimming alone, especially in areas adjacent to mangroves and swamps.

Keep vigilant watch during dinghy transfers and other activities around the waters’ edge. Crocodiles are agile opportunistic hunters well camouflaged to patiently capitalise on repeated behaviours.

Birds of paradise

Waigeo is regarded as the most reliable spot for finding both the red and the Wilson’s birds of paradise (BOP) as both are endemic to the island.

Excellent English-speaking guides depart daily with small groups on short treks from Saukormem village between Waiwo and Kabui Bay. The red BOP tour costs about $10 per person and involves a short one-kilometre hike to the best viewing spots. The Wilson’s BOP tour costs $20 and is a longer more difficult two-kilometre trek.

Most guides offer to show the two together on the same hike for $30. All tours start well before dawn (around 4am) and are over by about 10am.

During the mating seasons, the males perform their famous dancing rituals to impress the females. Before his dance the male clears the ground of leaves and other obstacles that may disrupt his audacious display.

The famous British naturalist, Richard Attenborough, managed to film this unusual behaviour in 1996 by placing leaves in front of the male bird to provoke a reaction to someone ‘messing’ with his stuff.

Only when his dance floor is ready he struts and hops around like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, puffing out his breast, bouncing his colourful head, fluffing his tail feathers and showing the inner part of his mouth.

He produces specific calls and sings during the courtship. When he’s won a mate and copulates, she builds the nest and alone takes care of the eggs.

These hikes are short and not too arduous – so don’t miss the show.

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While every effort has been made to ensure that the information contained in this book is accurate, the charts of anchorages are based on personal experience and satellite imagery and are intended as a guide only. They should not be used for navigation. Please refer to Official Hydrographic Charts of the respective countries.

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