Indonesian Expedition – Komodo To Raja Ampat

Raja Ampat, Komodo, Alor, Banda Islands. No, this is not a bucket list of destinations I would like to dive over the next few years. It is, however, just some of the amazing places I visited during my 19 days on board Wicked Diving’s traditional phinisi-style liveaboard, the KLM Jaya.

Our epic 1,300-mile journey began in Komodo and finished in Raja Ampat. Along the way was an erupting volcano, an island seething with sea snakes, dragons, hammerhead sharks, manta rays, huge pods of dolphins, dramatic wall dives, spectacular reefs, beautiful deserted beaches and historical colonial towns. The expedition is broken down into three legs; the first is from Komodo to Alor.

Photographs by Adrian Stacey
Photographs by Adrian Stacey

The second section takes the Jaya across the Banda Sea from Alor to the beautiful Banda Islands. The final stage of the voyage took us from the Banda Islands to the legendary Raja Ampat. For the majority of the expedition, we were the only boat in the area, some of the sites had been visited on previous trips or by other liveaboards, while others had possibly never been dived before. It promised to be a once-in-a-lifetime trip.Advertisements

First leg: Komodo to A lor

With so many places to visit and such vast distances to cover, we could only afford to spend two full days in the Komodo National Park. This is nowhere near long enough to fully appreciate this magnificent mecca of diving, so it was important to make the most of our time here. Komodo is renowned for its strong currents and a dive site called Batu Bolong is an excellent place to witness their ferocious force, especially when dived just after a full moon as we did.

The sea took on the complexion of a raging river as our dingy battled to get to the drop point through the churning, boiling, onslaught of water. Beneath us, even the giant trevallies were experiencing some difficulties. This tiny rock pokes mere metres above sea level, its barren features giving no hint of the stunning coral gardens teeming with life that lay beneath the surface.

Photographs by Adrian Stacey
Photographs by Adrian Stacey

As the falling tide hit the north side of the rock, it fanned out creating a lea side on the south – this is where we would be diving. Schools of sergeant majors inhabit the shallows and a blizzard of anthias sometimes made it hard to see the pristine hard coral gardens that cover every inch of the site. A huge school of fusiliers had also sought refuge out of the punishing current; they in turn had attracted the attention of whitetip and grey reef sharks. Giant trevallies and rainbow runners added to the melee.

The rest of the dives in Komodo were equally spectacular. Manta Point lived up to its name, with a procession of mantas cruising along the rubble-strewn reef, feeding in the plankton-rich water, hovering over sporadic coral bommies to get cleaned or forming acrobatic mating trains. Castle Rock, a large undersea mount, was covered in a seemingly endless school of yellow-masked surgeonfish. Advertisements

Schooling batfish, fusiliers and yellow-lined snapper added some variety. Huge giant trevallies, schools of blue-finned trevallies and numerous whitetip reef sharks provided the adrenaline. The Cauldron, another of the area’s signature dive sites, is both unique and beautiful.

The strong currents that rage through a narrow channel between two islands have carved out a huge bowl, hence the name. Leading up to this bowl is a gentle sandy slope scattered with glassfish-covered bommies. Once in the Cauldron a brisk current pulled us across its length, past whitetip reef sharks and schooling snapper, to an area affectionately known as ‘the shotgun’.

Photographs by Adrian Stacey
Photographs by Adrian Stacey

The reef gets much shallower here and the currents pick up – after hurtling through at a rate of knots we were finally spat out into a stunning coral garden where we were joined by several feeding mantas. Finally, no visit to the area would be complete without going to see the famous Komodo dragons, the largest lizard in the world and endemic to the area.

After an exhilarating start to the voyage, the fourth day was considerably more relaxed. We spent our time cruising along the north coast of Flores; with only two dives planned, we had plenty of time to enjoy the scenery. Unlike the savanna-like landscape of Komodo, northern Flores is covered in forest and lined with beautiful sandy beaches punctuated by the occasional small village. Advertisements

In the true spirit of exploration, two random places along the lush coastline were chosen for the dives; while not quite as spectacular as Komodo, the dives were very pleasant. Later that afternoon we made an impromptu visit to a small village. The hospitality was overwhelming, but this might have had something to do with the fact that this was where the ship’s cook Yunis was born, and where his parents still lived.