Incorporating the Andaman Sea, Gulf of Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia… and more

Southeast Asia Pilot by Bill O’Leary & Andy Dowden

Indonesia Raja Ampat

A combination of captivating scenery, outstanding diving and exuberant nature has made Raja Ampat an increasingly popular destination amongst cruisers in the past decade.

Its name translates as “The Four Kings” in Bahasa Indonesia, referring to the four main islands of Waigeo, Batanta, Salawati and Misool. Myriad smaller limestone karst spires − similar to those found in Thailand’s Phang Nga Bay or Palau − lay scattered around the major ones, all together hosting vast expanses of mangroves, powder white sand beaches and lush tropical reefs. It’s also a cetacean thoroughfare, with several species of whales and dolphins being commonly spotted in its waters.

The Four Kings (AKA R4) cover an area of 50,000 square kilometres and have mountainous interiors, with the highest peaks reaching 1,000 metres in North Waigeo and Batanta.

Conveniently positioned at the threshold of the Pacific and straddling the equator, Raja Ampat lays at the western end of West Papua, Indonesia’s 26th province, widely known as the Bird’s Head Peninsula because of its shape. Just outside the western tip (right by the ‘beak’) is Sorong, the main port of entry.

The town has all the basic facilities to supply any visiting vessel and the closest airport to Raja Ampat with several daily flights connecting to other parts of Indonesia.

Raja Ampat remains sparsely populated, with the majority of its 35,000 inhabitants distributed amongst less than a hundred villages. They are mostly located around the coast in houses built on stilts over the reefs and beaches.

Diving Raja Ampat - Photo by Paul Johnson

Descendants of intermarriages between Papuans and Indonesians, and with marked Melanesian features, the people here live in a subsistence economy based on a fish-protein diet, taro (the main staple food made from a root starch) and a few fruits and vegetables. Copra (dry coconut flesh) is also a common product.

The entire area is becoming increasingly popular with each year’s season heralding the opening of new resorts and homestays for international visitors. More new and restored Phinisi liveaboard dive vessels arrive to operate commercially year round or seasonally charter during the best-weather months.

Apart from diving there are reasonable surf breaks on the north coast of Waigeo, many scenic spots for kayaking and interesting land tours, including short hikes to view birds of paradise, which are endemic to the area.

The equatorial climate of Raja Ampat is hot and humid all year around. The best time to visit is from October to May, during the northwest monsoon, when the winds tend to be less severe. Because of this, many of our favourite anchorages are on the south side of the islands.

The dry season from June to September is less popular and typified by strong southerlies. Tropical rains are fairly common throughout the year, generally short-lived heavy showers followed by long sunny periods. Longer ground swells rolling down from the west Pacific are common in the northern region, around Wayag, Kawe and north Waigeo.

Diving Raja Ampat - Photo by Paul Johnson

Most of the best diving anchorages are deep and exposed to at least one quadrant. All visiting yachts should be prepared to anchor in 40-50 metres well outside the fast-rising fringing reef edge. The local government requests that all vessels anchor in no less than 40 metres and at least 300 metres away from the more popular dive spots. Moorings have been laid at some diving spots and can usually accommodate vessels up to the same tonnage as the liveaboard dive boats in the area. If occupied it usually means divers are down in the immediate vicinity so exercise care and keep a watch for bubbles. In light conditions it’s acceptable to ask if you can tie up to the stern of a dive vessel already on the mooring.

In an effort to protect the delicate underwater ecosystem, the local government has designated seven Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) within the region. Vessels must obtain a special permit before entering any of these protected areas. For details of these areas, go to: The Raja Ampat Marine Protected Areas.

Permits are issued at the Raja Ampat Conservation & Tourism Information Centre at Waisai on Pulau Waigeo or applied for beforehand to environmentalfee.r4@gmail.com. In addition to the vessel fee every visitor must pay an individual ‘tag fee’ of (at the time of writing) Indonesian RP1,000,000 (US$77 approx). This Marine Park Entry Tag or PIN has been recently increased and renamed the ‘Tariff to Support Environmental Services in Raja Ampat’. These waterproof plastic tags can also be purchased at the Government Centre at Waisai. More information at www.diverajaampat.org

Pulau Misool - Photo by Ricard Buxo
Pulau Misool - Photo by Ricard Buxo
Diving Raja Ampat - Photo by Paul Johnson
Diving Raja Ampat - Photo by Paul Johnson
Diving Raja Ampat - Photo by Paul Johnson
Diving Raja Ampat - Photo by Paul Johnson
Diving Raja Ampat - Photo by Paul Johnson
Diving Raja Ampat - Photo by Paul Johnson
Diving Raja Ampat - Photo by Paul Johnson
Diving Raja Ampat - Photo by Paul Johnson

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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