IS­LANDS FOR AD­VEN­TUR­OUS AT HEART

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Escape - - WHEN TO BOOK INDONESIA - CE­LESTE MITCHELL

Its tree-cov­ered karsts thrust out of oth­er­worldly turquoise pools, grouped to­gether like an “X marks the spot” for Jac­ques Cousteau wannabes and bona fide yachties. Divers have been onto the un­der­wa­ter riches of Raja Am­pat for years but Miriam Tulevski from Visit In­done­sia Tourism Of­fice says the ar­chi­pel­ago of about 1000 is­lands, lo­cated in West Pa­pua, is In­done­sia’s hid­den gem and in­ter­est from Aus­tralians is on the rise.

“Peo­ple are go­ing to Raja Am­pat be­cause it is stun­ning, un­de­vel­oped and undis­cov­ered,” she says. “Lo­cated in the Coral Tri­an­gle, Raja Am­pat has among the high­est ma­rine bio­di­ver­sity in the world. Trav­ellers en­thuse about whale sharks, walls of fish and myr­iad coloured sea life.”

It also calls out to the ad­ven­tur­ous at heart, who don’t mind the jour­ney to reach the is­lands, and go­ing even fur­ther for the money shot. “The most pop­u­lar In­sta­gram karst – Wayag Is­land – takes four to eight hours to ac­cess by boat,” Tulevski says.

WHY VISIT

While it may be fa­mous for div­ing, the wildlife en­coun­ters in Raja Am­pat go far be­yond what you can see while breath­ing through a reg­u­la­tor. “This is an ex­traor­di­nary area for whales and dol­phins (the largest toothed preda­tor that ever lived on Earth, the sperm whale, is found here) and there are en­demic mam­mals such as Waigeo cus­cus and birds like Wil­son’s and Red birds of par­adise found only on these is­lands,” Tulevski says.

Home to In­done­sia’s largest ma­rine na­tional park, Raja Am­pat en­com­passes more than 40,000sq km of pic­ture-per­fect land and sea, and is best ex­plored by boat. “Bou­tique cruis­ing is a lux­u­ri­ous and co­cooned way to ex­plore Raja Am­pat. Bou­tique ex­pe­di­tion com­pa­nies like True North Ad­ven­ture Cruises and Po­nant are in­clud­ing Raja Am­pat in their itineraries,” she says.

Al­ter­na­tively, you can join a div­ing live­aboard ves­sel or char­ter a Bugis Schooner and chart your own course.

“Tra­di­tion­ally made in South Su­lawesi, it’s un­clear whether the ori­gins of these wooden ves­sels are Chi­nese, Dutch or In­done­sian. Per­haps a mix of all three. Var­i­ous stan­dards are avail­able and a lux­ury op­tion is the Alila Pur­nama Phin­isi.”

WHEN TO VISIT

Shar­ing such close quar­ters with the equa­tor, tem­per­a­tures in Raja Am­pat – es­pe­cially in the wa­ter – re­main fairly con­stant through­out the year. How­ever, most peo­ple visit be­tween Oc­to­ber and May.

“Tra­di­tion­ally, mid-June to Septem­ber is wet and windy,” Tulevski says. “If your fo­cus is on wildlife and, in par­tic­u­lar, birds of par­adise, Fe­bru­ary on­wards is best. By late Oc­to­ber the birds are moult­ing and males lose their plumage and stop dis­play­ing.

“If you’re div­ing, it doesn’t mat­ter what time of year you go. There are a di­ver­sity of cur­rents and these move around all the time, which means vis­i­bil­ity changes con­stantly. There is al­ways some­where to go that’s spec­tac­u­lar.”

WHEN TO BOOK

“Raja Am­pat can be both a dif­fi­cult and ex­pen­sive place to ac­cess,” Tulevski says. “Dif­fi­cult be­cause there are no di­rect in­ter­na­tional flights and ex­pen­sive be­cause of the re­mote­ness.” To get there you need to fly to Sorong, on the west end of the Bird’s Head Penin­sula in West Pa­pua. From Bali you’ll go via Makas­sar or from Jakarta, via Manado, Am­bon or Makas­sar.

“Most of the live­aboard ves­sels leave for other re­gions dur­ing the windier months,” Tulevski says. “Book­ing in ad­vance is wise as most of these ves­sels take fewer than 20 guests. Book­ing with a travel agent or us­ing a sin­gle air­line car­rier through­out is prefer­able in the event of lo­cal air­line sched­ule changes. Pre­pare your­self for an overnight trip to get there ... but know that it’s worth it!”

PIC­TURE: ISTOCK

The stun­ning scenery from Wayag Is­land’s high­est peak, Pin­dito, on the north of Raja Am­pat. RAJA AM­PAT

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