Trip Report : Raja Ampat aboard Indo Siren
I last dived Raja Ampat in May 2011, but having only visited the northern area around Waigeo and the Dampier Strait, I jumped at the chance to join some photography buddies aboard the Indo Siren for a 10 night trip that would take in both the north and the southern islands around Misool. Jo was our group leader and she communicated the groups needs with the cruise director who was very flexible about the schedule. Being group of photographers from the UK we were looking for sites that would offer fabulous corals, good viz and plenty of critters – pygmy seahorses were on everyone’s wish list. Plus we wanted to spend an evening celebrating a 50th birthday on the beach and have an afternoon in the shallow mangroves for some split shots. All of our wishes were accommodated and we ended up with 6 days of diving around Misool followed by 2.5 days of diving around Mansour, Arborek, Yangeffo and Kri.
The following is a list of the daily dives offered, marine life sightings and general trip impressions…
Day 1 – Flight from Jakarta to Sorong with Lion Air (Wings) via Ambon, taking off at 1.30am arriving approx 8am. We were met at the airport by Inyo, one of the guides, and brought to the boat. We had the full day on board in the harbor (waiting for clearance from the port authority) with lunch and dinner provided. This gave us time to catch up on some sleep, set up our kit and cameras and generally settle in before we began the overnight cruise to Daram
Day 2 – Daram Islands (blue water, temp 29C, viz25m)
Candy Store; Andiamo; Living Colours - three small islands where the pinnacles drop to approx40m, we stuck at a max of 25m to allow for better light. Each had colourful soft corals, large seafans, black coral bushes and barrel sponges.
Marine Life: black tip reef shark, Severnsi, Misool and Denise pygmy seahorses, long nosed hawkfish, orangutan crab, octopus, bubble coral shrimps, commensal shrimps with anemone, nudibranchs (notodoris, chromodoris, flabellina, shield head slug), yellow lined snapper, mantis shrimp, scorpion fish
Day 3 –Warakarate & Yellit (blue water, temp 28C, viz 20m)
Magic Mountain – Submerged pinnacle with plateau. Current splits midway and this is the point we began our dive hoping to see manta rays. Sadly no luck but we did see plenty of other large pelagic including barracuda, white tip reef sharks and giant trevally. Steep reef covered with tree corals, sponges and a hard coral garden tops the pinnacle at around 10-5m. Marine Life wobbegong shark, juvenile white tips, barramundi cod, Napoleon wrasse, moray eel
Boo Windows – large “windows” cut into the reef at just 3-5m. given that everyone was hoping to capture a shot of a diver inside the window we split the groups between the main and the smaller pinnacle to allow everyone plenty of time. Lovely soft corals and fans with a slight current running through the windows and around, with warm thermocline. Marine life: black tip reef shark, notodoris nudibranchs and Napoleon wrasse
Yellit Kecil – Sloping plateau with a steep wall covered with fans and soft corals. We spent time on the steep wall then came up to a stunning coral garden. Marine Life: bannerfish, skeleton shrimps, Misool pygmy seahorses, bargibanti pygmy seahorses, chevron barracuda, angel fish, butterfly fish, masked puffer fish
Yellit Besar(night)–shallow slope with mini wall mainly hard corals with some soft corals in the overhangs. Marine Life: Candy crab, orangutan crab, spider crabs, banded coral shrimps, decorator crabs
Day 4 – Fiabacet Islands (blue water, temp 29C, viz 15-20m)
Boo West – small island with a steep reef wall covered with huge seafans, soft corals, whip corals, black coral bushes and barrel sponges. One of my favourite dives in the south. Marine Life: wobbegong shark, black tip reef shark, blue fin trevally, short tooth emperor fish school, pom pom crab, hairy shrimp.
Whale Rock ; Nudi Rock; Similar in topography to each other each had sloping reef walls and plateaus. Whale Rock has an attaching pinnacle where current can run through, whist nudi rock has a lovely overhang and shallow plateau to end the dive on. We had some current on each of these dives – nothing too fast but enough for a gentle drift. Marine Life: long nosed hawkfish, nembrotha nudis, Denise and Misool pygmy seahorses, chevron barracuda, black tip reef shark, angel fish, coral groupers, network pipefish.
Whale Rock (Night) – Staying on the shallow slopes we found candy crabs, decorator crabs, nembrotha and chromodoris nudibranchs, feather stars with cling fish
Day 5 – Wayilbatan (blue water, temp 29C, viz 15-20m)
Barracuda Rock ; Wedding Cake – So called for its many layers and overhangs of soft corals. Dunya Kecil
Barracuda Rock ( Night). Steeper reef walls hanging with soft corals, tree corals and black coral bushes. Marine Life: plenty of nudibranch varieties from flabellina to thecacera, winged pipefish, anemonefish, neon fusiliers,barramundi
Day 6 – Wayilbatan (blue water, temp 29C, viz 15-20m)
Four Kings – 4 submerged pinnacles grouped together. We dropped in at our buoy where the reef top was about 5m but other pinnacles were deeper. Steep walls with corals and fans. Quite a strong current and a wicked down current caught 2 of our group unawares but our cruise director helped them out. I ended the dive clinging on to our guide who was holding on a bare spot of reef at 5m. Lovely dive despite the currents! Marine Life – neon fusiliers, blue fin trevally hunting, silversides, denise pygmy seahorses, leaf fish, batfish, pipefish,
Gorgonian Passage (twice)- passage formed by 2 islands the Wayilbatan side being the best with the most fans. Pinnacle full of corals at 25-30m then continue along the sandy bottom to the main island reef wall. So many gorgonian fans – and really huge! Overhang at the end of the dive full of orange soft corals. Marine Life: Misool, bargibanti and Denise pygmy seahorses, oriental sweetlips, rabbit fish, neon fusiliers
Sunset beach party.
Day 7 – Farondi (blue water, temp 29C, viz 15-30m)
Anti-Chovey – Submerged pinnacle with shallow reef top Marine Life: Napoleon Wrasse, blue fin trevally, denise pygmy seahorse, nembrotha nudis, stone fish (30m viz here)
Two Tree Island - stunning overhang at the beginning of our dive full of corals and sponges, then steep wall and shallow plateau. I didn’t make it as far around the island as the rest as the overhang had me somewhat captivated! Marine Life: bumphead parrotfish, batfish, trevally hunting, fusiliers, yellow fin barracuda, spiny lobster, nudibranchs
Baby Rock – Steep reef wall with corals and a few overhangs and fissures in the reef in the shallows. The rock is small enough to go around during the dive but there was a bit of downcurrent and surge so we ended up congregated on the leaward side to end the dive. Marine Life: Bargibanti & Misool pygmy seahorses, neon fusiliers, pom pom crab, batfish, oriental sweetlips, rabbitfish, Napoleon wrasse, nembrotha and chromodoris nudis.
Day 8 – Dampier Strait (blue water, temp 28C, viz 15m)
Manta Sandy (twice)Sandy area with 2 coral bommies where mantas come to be cleaned. We were lucky with 1 large black manta and another white manta. The black manta hung around for at least 30 minutes of each dive. Marine Life: Pontohi pygmy seahorses, wasp fish, snake eel, flabellina nudi, Pegasus seamoths, shrimps and gobies.
Arborek Pier (afternoon and night) the old jetty’s wooden structure is covered with soft corals, fans and sponges and is a haven for batfish and silversides but also hunting lionfish. Marine Life: Long fin batfish schools, lionfish, candy crabs, epaulette sharks, toad fish, box crab, flatworms & headshield slugs, pipefish, giant clam, spearing mantis shrimp, decorator crabs.
Day 9 – Dampier Strait & Yangeffo (blue water, temp 28C, viz 15m)
Lalosi – Submerged reef with nice current for a gentle drift all along the reef edge. Hard corals, table corals, and soft corals. Marine Life: pinate batfish, wobbegong shark, fusiliers, reef squid, wahoo, blue fin trevally, orangutan crab,s keleton shrimp.
Mangroves– the group went out for a long dive in the shallow mangroves, spreading out and practicing split shots. Lots of juvenile fish and also plenty of archer fish
Citrus Ridge – submerged ridge covered in citrus coloured soft corals. We had quite a strong current so not much chance to stop and enjoy the corals but was a good dive (definitely needed my smb). Marine Life: hawksbill turtle, batfish, wobbegong shark, chevron barracuda, blue fin trevally, hundreds of anthias. And someone managed to find a bargibanti pygmy seahorse (must have been before the current picked up!)
Mangrove Ridge ( night) – Toadfish, mandarin fish, slipper lobster
Day 10 – Dampier Strait (blue water, water temp 29C, viz 15-20m)
Mioskon –gentle current over a lovely plateau with coral bommies. Marine Life: schools of yellow lined snapper, wobbegong sharks, anemone fish, oriental sweetlips, batfish, glass fish, peacock mantis shrimp,
Cape Kri – reef wall and plateau with hard corals, bommies and lots of fish! We had quite a speedy current as we dropped in and as I was trying to stay shallow due to having to fly early the next morning so I was unable to escape the current and ran out of reef after 20 minutes! But the dive itself had so much to see – Marine Life: schools of barracuda, batfish, triggerfish, red and midnight snapper, neon fusiliers, glass fish over pinnacles, white tip, black tip and grey reef sharks, dog tooth tuna, Spanish mackerel, octopus and wahoo.
I was sleeping up on deck but the cabins looked much the same as my last visit
Dive Deck – I picked the starboard side corner which I think was a good spot – no one nudging past and close to the rinse tanks. There is loads of room and plenty of personal storage. Fresh deck towels were provided daily with extra in the lounge for use on the sundeck if you needed.
Sun Deck – used daily after breakfast and in the late afternoon/ evening. Comfy loungers and the addition of the sunsail for shade was very welcome. Some guests opted to have there massage here instead of in the diving area
Dining Area – like all Siren yachts, comfy, functional and good for group chatting. Outdoor TV screen is great for briefings but the evening meals were a little hampered by the poor lighting. There was a mistake with the fairy lights which were very yellow and almost street lamp like in the colour they gave out – they will be changed back very soon I am assured
Lounge / bar – same same but slightly different… 2-seater couches, still don’t like these but glad to know they will be changing back to 3-seaters this summer. A/cs worked very well as most people crowded into the lounge in the evenings to edit photos. No one watched anything on the large screens except for photo competition at the end of the trip.
Camera Area – With so many with large cameras I was pleased to see how well it worked, 1 table was primarily charging, and the other 2 for set up and then mats on the floor for ready cameras.
The Food – Breakfast was typical of Siren yachts – bacon, eggs to order, fresh fruit, yoghurts but the chefs always made something extra whether it was noodles, fried rice or porridge.
Lunch & dinner were a mix of Indonesian and Western with pasta, burgers, fried chicken, bbq and always lots of choice and plenty of sides. We even got fresh wahoo sashimi and king prawns. We had a couple of gluten /lacto free guests and they always had separate choices. Desserts were pretty good – especially the choc volcano and cheesecake.
Overall – the boat looked a little “tired’ in the 8 months since I was last aboard. Some of the wood work needs replacing or varnishing particularly in the lounge area, there was a minor leak into cabin 7 during the thunder storm (as the crew didn’t manage to get the rain shutters down in time). A few of the cabin a/cs drip and there were some creaking doors that may need adjusting but overall she is in good shape with a dry dock planned in May I’m sure those issues (along with the couches!) will be attended to.
The Crew – If it was possible I think the crew has improved since my time in Komodo in 2014. Most of us noted how they all seemed to work very well together and there was lots of laughter going on.
Cruise Director Thomas – well I’m biased as he is my husband, but he did a great job!
Dive guides Inyo, Errol and Ken are all excellent spotters and know the reefs very well. I think they could pay a little more attention to the guests on the dives – especially in currents with cameras but overall very impressive.
Deckhands & Dinghy drivers were friendly, courteous and helpful – carrying tanks to the dinghy, helping with gear, making sure the cameras and correct fins were in the dinghy for us. Captain jerry was great at assisting our octogenarian and ensuring the groups got off in good time.My tank fills were never below200bar and nitrox was always 31.2-32.3 %
Chefs – Andri (formerly of Mandarin and Palau Sirens was back aboard!) dinner briefings were his usual fun and the food as excellent quality. No meal was repeated.
Host / Housekeeper – Joe & Ane very attentive and great at fixing some tasty after dive beverages- particularly the avocaco smoothie! All interior areas very clean and well kept
Captain & Engineer– Jerry, Hasbia & Ruslan No engine, water maker or generator issues. All other minor issues seemed to be fixed very quickly. We had calm water so very smooth sailings. Only 1 night on anchor when a storm came up and there was some random banging (maybe the dinghies tied onto the dive platform??)
I’ve always said that I preferred Komodo to Raja Ampat but now having seen the extent of what the southern sites can offer I am swayed towards Raja being the favourite, but I’m still a critter lover at heart and I think Komodo has better critter spotting opportunities and our manta dives were better there. But Raja has such stunning corals and soooo many pygmy seahorses that it should be on anyone’s dive list.