March 11 - 25 2005 - 14 nights
Raja Ampat (Sorong), Banda Sea, Pantor (Alor Region) - Trip Report
Finally after waiting nearly 2 yrs to dive with my ol' mate Larry Smith for this very special sojourn aboard the lovely Adventure Komodo; the day had arrived.
Ten of us included old and new friends alike, a blending of great divers all keen to revel in the magic of these very prolific waters of Eastern Indonesia!
We began in the now very popular Raja Ampat region at Wai Island. Our check out dive offered us; a pair of rabbit eared nudi's (thecacerna pacifica), two Pegasus sea moths (very odd looking creatures, as though they were put together with left over body parts including a platypus!) An extraordinary find Larry had never seen before, a very juvenile round batfish! Very cool indeed. Plus the usual array of abundant unusual creatures.
*Highlight- We had a magical dinner on the island with the chief and his family. The crew prepared the food, brought the wine and set up picnic tables under the stars. Larry kept telling us about our 'surprise'..... I called it 'Fairy Magic'! The most incredible light show on earth; millions of Fire Flies in the tall trees alongside the ocean. How does one explain millions of pulsating synchronized fire fly's all around you? This was a fairy tale night, like something from Lord of the Rings.
The water is warm, in this region unlike Komodo & Rinca. Samples of some critters in this region; baramundi cod, crinoid shrimp, ghost pipe fish (found by me), twin spot gobies, wahoo, spine cheek clown fish, sting ray. Deer Island is beautifully abundant including a purple/pink frog fish, 5 large squid, nudi's everywhere, ocellaris clown fish and huge hard coral gardens! Larry took us to a Giant tradacna clam (Larry the clam) and I found 2 ghost pipe fish imitating the swaying sea grass.
*Highlight- Main town pier, Picture Dragnet's everywhere! Under the pier were clouded moray eels, harlequin ghost pipefish, banded pipefish, giant barbershop shrimp everywhere, cuttlefish & schools of fish. The night dive was OUTSTANDING with mating Picture Dragnets! The male & females meet then go apart a few times, then at precisely ten to seven p.m. the pairs come up the water column cheek to cheek like in an X shape, then in a cloud of smoke (sperm & egg), they separate! Very rare to find these fish, let alone mating!
We had a variety of gorgeous wall dives full of hard & soft coral, color & life. Coral slopes and muck dives which are always so much fun, it's like being on a hunt. Another novelty of Raja Ampat is the black crocodile fish! I have only ever seen normal sand colored; they are smaller and mostly black. Very cool!
Misool-Raja Ampat- Eddies Cave, the most beautiful wall I have seen since Wakatobi. Large fans, brilliant soft corals, huge barrel sponges and brown sponges some spawning and nudi's everywhere again.
*Highlight- 5:00pm went for a wine and cheese cruise through the beautiful limestone rock formations, eagles overhead, wild orchids and pitcher plants, ahhhh this is the life!
It was great to be back on the island of Bandenaira once again. It was 11 years ago I first dove with Larry Smith on the Cehili! Nothing has changed I am happy to say. The diving here is incredible, we stayed here for 2 days diving the Pier, the harbor (dump) and volcano sand and rock slides. We found old gin bottles from when the Dutch were here some 500 years ago. Fire urchins with coleman shrimp, and the pontoniiane shrimp that looks like a crab. Mating cromodoris nudi's with emperor shrimp on them, humpback scorpion shrimp. The beautiful Mandarin fish hang out at the steps from the town with juvenile sweetlips doing the dance. Oh and my friend Davey-o found a discarded bra that I wore over my bc as it appeared to fit me pretty well.
The hard coral gardens here at the lava flow are the most pristine and diverse I have yet seen in Indonesia. The table corals are massive and giant patches of cabbage coral.
Run Island is part of the Banda Is, was traded by the English for Manhattan Island in NYC; if they only knew what a blunder that was. There is a lot of great history here in the Spice Islands to learn about. Also this island has fabulous diving, very fishy and busy waters with 2 types of fusiliers flowing over the wall; surgeonfish, jacks and Napoleon Wrasse, what a place!
Further a field is one of Larry's favorite places. Gunung Api, 'sea snake island'. I just wonder why this place has all the sea snakes of Indonesia? Its wild! They are everywhere and every size! Several different species of sea snake and they are curious about your fins. They swim right up to you, some people are not happy about it, but I loved it! Some parts of the wall is beautiful with hard and soft coral. Hot sulphur vents as this is a very active volcanic island, Larry could cook his eggs on parts of this wall. Frigate birds, boobies and terns are prolific on this wild island.
Wow nice to know there are still some sharks left in Indonesia, we were diving Wetar Island when all of a sudden as we descended strait down the wall….. We got sharked by 2 very assertive gray reef sharks, they came right up to us rather quickly several times and this was before Larry started on his plastic bottle to call in the sharks. This place was buzzing with 3 giant Dog tooth tunas (one we figured was 6 to 8 ft long), that were also cruising the wall back and forth with the sharks.
We ended our fabulous trek through the Banda sea with diving Larry's Twilight Zone on the island of Pantar in the Alor region! We stayed here for two days and got to dive 5 times one day! Fantastic place. This place is also volcanic sand slope, which invites all the wildest critters on the planet. There is a very cute village and the children are plentiful as they approach you in their home made dug out canoes. The dive sites are the entire length of the village and then some.
Here is what we saw: blue ribbon eel, 2 white pipe fish in mushroom coral, small green frog fish camouflaged in green sponge (how did Davey-o find this, he was sooo cute), coleman shrimp in fire urchin, orangutan shrimp in bubble coral, colorful red and blue sea apples , nudi's nudi's nudi's every kind and some we never saw before, coralamorph anemones eating a blue sea star, mating and flaring tricanodis sand fish in full display.
We witnessed a special event, 2 squids laying eggs in an abandoned fish net, we got to see how they make the guey white stuff that keeps them stuck together, it was everywhere! Those really ugly Gorlock mantis shrimps, I think that is what Larry calls them, they are scary and he got one to come out when he brought fish down, they have spears! Lots of those dead (but very colorful) looking snake eels, they play dead. Several varieties of shrimps and crabs on black and other beautiful coral. A great find were 3 cockatoo wasp fish. Pegasus sea moths, (man these things are odd looking, always in pairs, one a bit bigger than the other) only about 3 inches long or less. A very small hairy yellow frog fish about 2 inches big, also a very small white hairy frog fish. (this place reminds me of hairball in Lembeh strait). We saw a small humpback scorpion fish also.
Now for the last dive, 4 of us were a ways from the rest of the group. The news traveled from boat driver to our driver who jumped off the boat and snorkeled down to Joann and told her she had to come up. So she is a doctor and thought, yikes could be a medical emergency…. Well it was an emergency all right. We made a big swim following the zodiac a long way to where the other boat driver, Ali found a sargasm frog fish in a piece of soft coral in about 15 ft of water, he saw it from the surface! How on earth Ali finds things from the surface like that is beyond me, I could barely figure it out what it was when I was 2 inches from it! Unreal!! Ok so everyone is beside themselves looking at this 2" big gorgeous frog fish when out of the corner of Larry's eye, he sees 2 ROBUST GHOST PIPE FISH! Now I thought I have all the pipefish's of the world. These guys are BIG and GREEN and hairy! I would say one was at least 6 " long and the other half the size.
That is how we ended our diving on this most extraordinary trip from Raja Ampat in Sorong, through the Banda Sea ending the diving in Pantar, disembarking in Kupang, West Timor. Larry Smith is still as excited underwater as he has been for some 30 years now. He knows habitat and where to find these amazing creatures of our under water universe!
The boat, the crew, the diving and the company of my diving friends made for one of the finest dive trips I have done yet!
Thank you everyone!