ISLANDS NORTHWEST OF NEW GUINEA
The thinly-populated, far-flung islands that dot the waters between the Banda Islands, Timor and West Papua (New Guinea), which are part of Maluka Province. Including three main island groups — Tanimbar, Aru and Kai (Kei) — and smaller islands like Babar, Leti, Wetsar. Romang, Lunag-Sermata, Damr and Kirar. Inhabitants on Teun, Nula and Serua were forcibly removed to Seram, ostensibly to protect them from volcanic activity.
Maybe 300,000 people live on these islands. About half are Protestant Christians and a quarter each are Muslim and Roman Catholics. A variety of languages are spoken. Most people are farmers and fishermen. Pearls are cultured on Dobo in the Aru Islands. Tamimbar is known for its women weavers. The region is definitely out of the loop both economically and culturally and has been little studied by anthropologists or visited by tourists.
Kei Island (400 kilometers southeast of Ambon) is a island group with 287 islands, The main islands of Palau Keri Kecil and Palau Dullah are connected by bridge. Accommodation is available in both places. Flights are available form Ambon. Pelni boats stop here. The main attraction of the islands are the stunning white sand beaches, coral reefs and lack of tourists. The three kilometer-long beach at Pasir Oanjang is regarded as one of Indonesia’s finest. The sand is as fine as flour and the beach is lined big coconut palms. Palay Kei Besar is one of the most beautiful places in the Moluccas and hardly ever visited by tourists.
Hunting Leatherback Sea Turtles on the Kei Islands of Indonesia
In the Kei Islands of Indonesia, villagers have traditionally harpooned leatherback sea turtles and brought them ashore and butchered them on the beach. Leatherbacks have long been an important source of protein for the island communities. Kei Islanders and few other coastal communities are allowed to hunt them. [Source: Craig Welch, National Geographic, October 2019]
The Kei Islands are located southwest of New Guinea in the Maluku province of Indonesia (5 43'S, 132 50'E). The archipelago was historically renowned for its natural diversity and beauty , but has been subjected to intensive timber harvest. Many of the islands have been deforested, and local inhabitants subsist primarily on agriculture and marine resources, including turtles. Of the five species of sea turtles found in the waters of Maluku, the olive ridley and the loggerhead are encountered least often. Green turtles and hawksbills nest within the archipelago, but their numbers have been severely reduced due to poaching of nesting females, incidental capture in gill nets, take by skin-divers using treble hooks, and the collection of eggs. Leatherbacks do not nest on the islands, but are hunted in the open sea. [Source: “A Traditional Fishery of Leatherback Turtles in Maluku, Indonesia” by Martha Suarez and Christopher Starbird, 12801 Graton Road, Sebastopol, California 95472, Marine Turtle Newsletter-Online, USA, Marine Turtle Newsletter 68:15-18, 1995]
Leatherbacks frequent the waters (200-3000 m depth) off the southwestern coast of Kei Kecil throughout the year. We watched them feeding on abundant surface scyphomedusae, and six necropsies conducted during our study suggest these to be their main prey. . In an effort to describe the traditional leatherback fishery, which has existed in this area for centuries, we interviewed fishermen, village chiefs and elders in eight villages on Kei Kecil and the adjacent islands of Ur, Warbal and Tanimbar during 2 October-13 November 1994.. Interviews were standardized to determine the number of leatherbacks killed annually, traditional beliefs associated with the fishery, and hunting methods and sites.
Approximately 200 leatherbacks are harpooned southwest of Kei Kecil from October to December, the local oceanic calm period. Eight villages participate in the hunt using traditional harpoons and dugout sailboats. Five villages (Ohoidertutu, Matwaer, Ohoidertom, Somlain, Ohoiren) are located on the southwestern coast of Kei Kecil; the others (Warbal, Ur, Tanimbar Kei) are on offshore islands. Eight to ten men sail a dugout boat to an area approximately 5 km from shore, and perform a ceremonial chant which is believed to attract the turtles to the boat. Once a leatherback is sighted, the sails are dropped and all men on board row towards it. A man on the bow harpoons the turtle through the carapace or neck, sometimes several times. The turtle is then pulled to the boat with a rope and clubbed over the head.
The Tanimbar Islands (between the Aru and Kei Islands to the east of Timor Island) embrace 65 small islands which form part of the province of Maluku (Moluccas). Some of the named ones are Fordate, Larat, Molu, Maru, Wotap, Wuliaru, Selu, Sera, Selaru, and the largest one is Yamdena.
Sailing from Darwin, Australia towards the Banda Sea with Banda Neira or Ambon as your main destination, then Saumlaki on the densely wooded Island of Yamdena, is your first stop in the Indonesian waters to process your Immigration and Customs formalities, and to refresh your stamina. Saumlaki is the largest town in the Tanimbars. The town is growing where Christian missionaries’ influences can be found everywhere.
Past travelers have warned that the locals are less hospitable than those on Maluku. As a near isolated region of Maluku, the Tanimbars still push themselves to improve their limited facilities and services. The town of Saumlaki itself is built around a single main street flanked by Chinese shophouses.
Visited by the Dutch in 1629 and claimed in 1639 under the right of discovery, the Tanimbars are, nonetheless, less influenced by colonialism, except by persistent missionaries. Although the islands do not have many attractions, yet adventurers may find them historically interesting.
Saumlaki in in the the Tanimbar Islands
The port of Saumlaki is on the south coast of Yamdena. The western part of the island is still swampy and less hilly compared to its east side. Layers of coastal houses look peaceful as a towering large façade of the town’s church stands among lush trees. Two thirds of Tanimbarese are Catholics and Protestants. The remainder are Muslims, Buddhists, and animism believers.
There are not many places to stay at Saumlaki, but if you must, there are no more than five of them. None of them have telephone numbers, but it is said that accommodations on Saumlaki, and in the Tanimbars in general, are the most expensive. There is the Pantai Indah, accommodation equipped with fans, but is expensive for a non-air conditioned hotel. Penginapan Ratulel is clean and simple, but bathrooms are shared. Warungs — or roadside stalls - are the best bet in the Tanimbars, and even with their limited offering, they still charge twice as much compared to eating in Ambon or Tual in the Kei Islands.
There are several places of interest that can inspire you while you visit the islands. 1) In the Olilit Village located toward the Olilit Airport is Kristus Raja, a direct translation of Christ the King. This is Yamdena’s main Catholic church. A statue of Jesus stands on top of the building, but was planned to be replaced with a new and improved version since some have criticized it as being rather comical. 2) On the way to Olilit Village, take a turn to the coast and you will find Weluan Beach. The beach is clean and peaceful when deserted during weekdays. 3) Rent a boat in Weluan Beach and find an island with some unusual rock formations right off shore. 4) Tumbur Village is at the southwestern coast of Yamdena toward the Larat region up in the northeast coast. Here, people do woodcarving as their main profession. Discover the vivid artistic distinctions between modern woodcarvings, the older, and the ancient woodcarvings.
5.) The best that Yamdena has to offer is probably the megalithic stone formation at Sangliat Dol. Right at the center of the village is a stone boat left behind by the first inhabitants of the island. Going up from the village is a stone stairway that leads to another stone boat. 6) Around 12 kilometers from Sangliat Dol is another form of stone boat, but differently formed. Find it at the Arui Bab Village.
Aru Islands (between West Papua and the Moluccas) is group of malaria-infested islands that are home to a shrinking number of glorious golden-tailed greater Bird of Paradise. During the mating season male birds show off their plumage in special 'dancing trees" for about ten minutes at sunset and dawn that are about a three-hike in the rain forest from the nearest villages.
The animals found in the Aru Island are more similar to this found in New Guinea and Australia than those found in further west in Indonesia. They include wallabies, cassowaries, palm cockatoos and crocodiles. The Arus are also famous for their tree-dwelling kangaroos which are sometimes kept as pets. Chinese residents in the Aru islands feast on giant Cassowary claws, antler-marrow stew, and shark-fin soup. Along the trails you can see shells of different sizes left behind by arboreal tree hermit crabs.
Islanders make a living by harvesting mother or pearl oysters, exotic sea shells, and sea slugs (a delicacy in Korea and China) with diving equipment almost a hundred years old. Fisherman catch sharks, manta rays, sawfish, tropical fish and even crocodiles with special traps that filter out their catch with the coming and going of the tides.
The Aru islands are quite difficult to reach. Among the obstacles that the Blair brothers encountered on their voyage from Celebes to the Aru islands were the Krander whirlpools, which sometimes swallow smaller ships; the Tanakeke islands, with its notorious pirates that routinely kill everyone on board ships to get a hold of the cargo. [Source: "Ring of Fire" by Lawrence and Lorne Blair, Bantam Books, New York]
Raja Ampat Islands
Raja Ampat Islands (just off northeast of the birdhead of New Guinea) are regarded by many as the world’ best diving. The variety and rarity of coral and tropical fish in unequaled. What is more, it that it has only recently been discovered and is still largley untouched with plenty places rarely visited by anyone. Raja Ampat means ‘Four Kings’, the four rajas granted rule here by a sultan of the Spice Islands.. The four major islands found here are Waigeo, Misool (which is home to ancient rock paintings), Salawati, and Batanta.
The Raja Ampat Islands were nominated to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005. (subway Line, Station) “The Raja Ampat Islands, situated near the Northwest coast of Papua, consists of about 1,500 islands, including several large, mountainous islands, the largest being Waigeo, Batanta, Salawati and Misool. The land and surrounding sea occupy approximately 46,000 square kilometers or about 4.6 million ha. Raja Ampat was declared as a new regency or district on 8 May 2003 and consists of 10 sub-districts with a total of 85 villages spread out in over approximately 6 percent of the islands in the regency. The census in 2001 showed that total population in Raja Ampat was 47,771 with an average increase rate of 0.32 percent (Pemda Raja Ampat, 2002). [Source: Ministry of Environment]
“The islands are located in a region on the western boarder of the equatorial Pacific Ocean and at the Northeastern ‘entrance’ of the Indonesian Throughflow from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean. The vast majority of the archipelago rests on the Sahul shelf. The wide distribution of small islands across the shelf edge creates a strong gradient from clear water, open oceanic conditions to sheltered and turbid bays, surrounded by krast limestone formations.”
Sights and Activities in the Raja Ampat Islands
The Raja Ampat islands are a truly natural phenomenon with enormous biological diversity. However with Raja Ampat’s natural conditions, high endemic level of land, sea biodiversity, coastal ecology, and local culture & tradition the islands means there is a whole lot to discover, including wreck diving, sailing, kayaking, exploring the islands by boat, viewing the red bird of paradise, enjoying the karst islands around Wayag island, exploring bat caves, fishing using traditional Papuan techniques, trekking to discover waterfalls, feeding couscous, snorkeling, and watching The Sea Ghost.
On North and West Waigeo, you can see a traditional bamboo flute (suling tambur) performance. This traditional performance usually takes place during religious festival, on Independence Day (August 17th), and during visits from important officials or leaders. In East Waigeo, particularly in front of Urbinasopen and Yesner villages, there is a very interesting and unique natural phenomenon, which can only be seen towards the end of the year: a light comes out from the ocean and wanders around on its surface for about 10 — 18 minutes. After that, it disappears and can only be seen again around the same time next year. Local inhabitants in both villages call this phenomenon the “Sea Ghost”.
In Tomolol, you can see ancient cave paintings of huge human palms and animals. On North Waigeo, you can visit World War II caves where the Dutch and the Japanese army built bunkers. The locals there will sometimes perform a war dance. In Salawati, there is beautiful waterfall. In addition, there are also exotic locations such as the Ayau islands consisting of small islands on a very large atoll. Many islands in this archipelago have white sands with a large seabed connecting one island to another. But there are also islands with unique sands that the local community calls “zandplaat”, which are a unique habitat for local vegetation. On these islands, mothers and children of local tribes collectively catch sea-worms (insonem).
For diving enthusiasts the favorite destination is usually South Waigeo. But if you made the effort to come halfway around the world to come to Raja Ampat you should also check out Kabui Bay with many karst islands, goa tengkorak (cave of skulls), and the historical sites of Raja Ampat in Kali Raja. You can see a variety of birds in Yenwaupnor and Sawinggrai village, the Salay dance in Saonek, and plaited handicrafts in Arborek. In Arborek, visitors can dive and watch groups of stingrays. In Sawandarek, there's a white sand beach with sea ducks and beautiful corals. In addition, there is a traditional village that you are welcome to explore. You can also dive in West Waigeo, Batanta, and Kofiau.
Sorong: Gateway to Raja Ampat
Sorong (located on the “beak” of the Bird’s Head Peninsula in West Papua) is the departure point for visiting the Raja Ampat islands and marine park ans checking out places in West Papua. The word “Sorong” is said to originate from the local Soreri language meaning “deep and turbulent seas”. Mountains, hills, lowlands, and protected forests securely surround the town. As a port, its inhabitants come from multi-ethnic descent.
Sorong is a city of 220,000 and is not a particularly nice place but it offers to some good snorkeling, diving, swimming and trekking nearby and has access to places that offer these activities. Fafak was the first successful Dutch settlement on Papua and the site of some fierce World War II fighting. Nearby are the remains of World War II cannons, tunnels and shipwrecks.
Sorong has long been one of the busiest harbors of West Papua, owing to the oil reserves found in the region. Oil was found here in 1932 but little is left today. The once productive oil fields off Sorong were one of the reasons why the former Dutch colonialists hung on to Irian (former name of Papua) even after the independence of the Indonesian archipelago.
Today, the oil industry is still very much alive. Timber is second, with logs usually directly shipped overseas. Nowadays, government regulations require that milling and processing take place locally. Therefore, plywood factories and such are being built in Sorong. The seas around Sorong are rich in tuna and shrimp, which are also major export commodities. On Kabra island, there is a Japanese farm for cultured pearls, while shark fins and trepang are shipped to Hong Kong, Taiwan and China.
Some useful addresses in Sorong: 1) Sorong Regent Office, Jl. Basuki Rahmat 24, (62-951) 21004, 21006; 2) Police Station, Jl. Basuki Rahmat, Remu, (62-951) 23210; 3) Tourism Office, Jl. Burung Mambruk Remu, (62-951) 23070, 23560; 4) Post Office, Jend. A. Yani, Klademak I, (62-951) 21078, 21718; 5) Immigration Office, Jl. Mesjid Raya, Hbm, (62-951) 21393, 21915; 6) Bdn (Bank Dagang Negara), Jl. Jend. Basuki Rahmat, (62-951) 22436, 22798; 7) Bank Export Import (Bank Exim), Jl. Arfak, Kampung Baru, (62-951) 21620, 21981; 8) Bii (Bank International Indonesia), Jl. Jend. Basuki Rahmat 11, (62-951) 23985, 21412; 9) Bpd (local Development Bank), Jl. Merpati 4, (62-951) 22048, 23987; 10) Bri (Bank Rakyat Indonesia), Jl. Jend. A. Yani, (62-951) 21525, 22085,
Compared to other cities in Indonesian Papua, Sorong is a bustling fastest growing town. It is dynamic and tolerably safe. Getting around in Sorong is possible by taxi, chartered van, and also becak for shorter distances. Angkot are also available and you are recommended to always make sure you know where you are going. Best ask the friendly staff at the hotel you are staying before traveling around town. If you cannot remember the number of the Angkot you are taking, take a note and ask around when possible.
Birds of Paradise and Sights in Sorong
In Sorong, on a hill overlooking the town, is a war memorial to the Japanese dead, known as the Tugu Arfak. The complex includes an obelisk, a bronze Shinto deity and long, thin memorial plaques. During World War II, American aircrafts bombed the airfield on Jefman Island, originally built by the Japanese. The airport has now been moved from Jefman Island to Sorong, and is called the Domine Eduard Osok, or better known as DEO airport.
To see the birds of paradise and other endemic birds of Papua take a motorboat to Batanta Island, some three to four hours motoring. For a better view of the fabulous bird of paradise (Cendrawasih), take a trip to Waigeo Island, some five to six hours by motorboat. In Sawinggrai Village, for instance, you can observe four species of Cendrawasih. To stay overnight on Waigeo or Sawinggrai, you need to take your own tent or sleep in local huts.
For a unique tour, one of the tour companies is Papua Expeditions [www.papuaexpeditions.com] that has personal guides who speak English, French, and Dutch. The company has a good reputation and will you to see birds of paradise
Accommodation and Restaurants in Sorong and Raja Ampat
Sorong has a number of starred hotels including the Sahid Mariat, the JE Meridien, and the Grand Pacific: 1) Hotel Sahid Mariat, Jl. A.yani No.1, Tel. +62 951 23535, fax: +62 951 23431 Sorong, West Papua, Indonesia; 2) The Grand Pacific Hotel, Tel. +62 951 22632, fax: +62 951 23643, Jalan Raja Ampat no 105, Sorong, West Papua, Indonesia; 3) Royal Mamberamo Hotel, Tel. +62 951 325666/+62 951 325667, Jl. Dr. Sam Ratulangi 35, Sorong, West Papua, Indonesia
4) Hotel JE Meridien Sorong is exclusively designed, and well equipped with JE Meridien's Restaurant, EL Coffee Shop and Karaoke. The Hotel is located at the shopping center and market. It takes 5 minutes from and to the airport and 30 minutes to Sorong harbor. It has 55 rooms, divided into 5 types of rooms; Standard, Superior, Deluxe, Executive Suite and JE Meridien Suite. http://hoteljemeridiensorong.blogspot.com/, Jalan Basuki Rahmat kilometers. 7.5 (Across DEO Airport), Tel. +62 951 327999, fax: +62 951 329121 Sorong, West Papua, Indonesia
And even though Raja Ampat islands have only few visitors, there are already hotels and homestays on Saonek, Mansuar, and Yenwaupnor islands. Presently on Saonek Monde, a Tourist Center and harbor are being constructed. In the near future there are plans for three resorts to be built on Nyandebabo, and Batbitiem, Waiwo, and Waigeo Selatan Islands. But in the meantime, you can choose from the alternatives below: 1) Sorido Bay Resort, which is famous for the house reef; 2) Kri Eco Resort, a traditional resort built over the water; 3) Island camp; 4) Boathouse (most diving agents provide this service)
Many diver stay in live-boards.
Since Sorong the town is a multi-ethnic region in West Papua, food has become very diverse and quite similar to what other regions in the western part of Indonesia offer. Restaurants and cafes are available, especially food stalls and kiosks are everywhere in Sorong to Teminabuan. Bakso and Pangsit Solo offers noodle soup and meatballs in various sizes, plus icy, sweet milky syrup with mixed fruit called Es Teler. Most hotels, which are located in downtown Sorong and its outskirts, have in-house restaurants and you are most welcome to visit any time. Large hotels are very much accustomed to welcoming international visitors, and hence, have a wide array of menus written in English.
On the live-boards or on diving package tours, dining services are provided by the diving organizer, and range from an international menu to fresh traditional food made by the local people. Naturally, there will be a variety of seafood dishes. Do try the fish soup. There's a local specialty called Sup Ikan Kuning (Yellow Fish Soup), served with local spices.
Getting to Raja Ampat
Sorong, the gateway to the Raja Ampat Islands, is well-connected to the rest of Indonesia. . There are plenty of air connections available: over 40 domestic flights per week to Sorong. If you are flying from Jakarta, you can take a six hour flight to Sorong with a stopover in Manado. Alternatively, you can join a diving tour in Bali and fly from there. You will find Sorong just like any other city where you can get almost everything, although prices are higher due to its remote location. Usually only divers come to Raja Ampat, so you will not find many other tourists around. Joining a tour is the most common practice when visiting Raja Ampat. You do not have to be a professional diver to join a tour, as tour operators sell tours ranging for both for divers and non-divers.
Flying from Jakarta/ Bali to Sorong, with connecting flights in Makassar or Manado are offered by: 1) Merpati, 2) Express Air, 3) Batavia Air, 4) Lion Air, 5) Wings Air, 6) Silk Air, 7) Garuda Indonesia, 8) Pelita Air.
Although most of inter-island passenger and cargo traffic is by boat, there are a number of flights to Sorong. Batavia Air now operates B737-200 aircrafts between Jakarta-Makassar- Domine Eduard Osok (DEO) Airport at Sorong. Another longer route will be via Manado, served by SilkAir from Singapore, Garuda Indonesia, Pelita Air and Merpati, then take a connection flight to Sorong. In Sorong, there is another airport called Sorong Airport (SOQ), which is also called Jefman Airport, in addition to Domine Eduard Osok (DEO) Airport. The following is the flight alternatives that may suit your agenda:
A) Denpasar — Makassar — Sorong: 1) Garuda flies several times daily from Denpasar to Makassar; 2) Express Air (Flight XN 800) daily from Makassar to Sorong. B) Merpati Airlines (Flight MZ 806) daily from Makassar to Sorong. C) Sorong — Makassar/ Ambon — Denpasar; 1). Express Air flies daily from Sorong to Makassar; 2) Merpati Airline flies daily from Sorong to Makassar.
D) Garuda flies daily from Makassar to Denpasar; E) Lion Air operates Sorong to Ambon. and from Ambon to Makassar, then from Makassar to Denpasar. F) Manado — Sorong: 1) Lion Air flies from Manado to Sorong. 2) Express Air flies from Mando to Sorong. Sorong — Manado is available from similar airlnes.
G) Jakarta — Sorong: 1) Express Air flies daily from Jakarta to Sorong via Makassar; 2) Merpati Airlines flies daily from Jakarta to Sorong via Makassarl 3) Batavia Airlines flies from Jakarta to Sorong via Makassar. When overnight transit in Makassar, it is recommended to stay at Hotel Imperial Aryaduta as it is close to the airport and easier to catch the next flight.
Schedules are subject to change and you are highly recommended to always double check available flights. There are 12 flights per week using small aircrafts from Sorong. The smallest commercial aircraft flying out of Sorong is an ATR with 46 seats. Sorong has 16 medium sized aircraft departing each week. There are 8 nonstop flights per week departing from Sorong. The shortest flight out of Sorong is 159 miles. There are over 3 long haul flights per week from Sorong. There are 4 airlines operating out of Sorong.
There are daily ferries available between Sorong and Waisai, capital of the Raja Ampat district on the island of Waigeo. Ferries leave Sorong at 13.00 hrs and the journey takes between 1.5 to 2 hours. The return ferry from Waisai to Sorong leaves around 11.00 am. There are also speedboats for rent at Sorong.
Sawinggrai Bird of Paradise Village
Sawinggrai village is located in the Meos Mansar district, Raja Ampat. This village has 36 families and it is prominent for the Cenderawasih, the Bird of Paradise, the icon of Papua raised in this village. The Red Bird of Paradise is the special icon of the village of Sawinggrai. There are four species of Cenderawasih reared in this village, namely the Red Bird of Paradise, the Wilson’s Bird of Paradise, the Lesser Bird of Paradise, and the Greater Bird of Paradise. Some of the birds perform movements that resemble a unique dance.
The nearest accommodations here are The Kri Eco Resort and The Sorido Bay Resort managed by Papua Diving. In Yenbuba, there is also one owned by Dedy Mayor. If you are interested in living in an eco resort, try to visit Misool Eco Resort, where cottages are almost totally built from salvaged wood. Here you will find colorful fish and reef in shallow water, just right across your eco-friendly. No restaurants and food stalls are available here, but you can find shops selling food supplies in Waisai or Sorong. If you wish to find more variety of food other than seafood on the menu, it is best to go to Sorong.
To reach Sawinggrai Village take a motorboat from the Sorong Fishery Port to Waisai, capital city of the Raja Ampat district. From Waisai, you can continue your journey by longboat to Sawinggrai. To reach the Cenderawasih observation site, you must climb up Manjai Hill behind the village for about 30 minutes. If you wish to see the birds dancing (usually in the morning or afternoon), avoid coming between December and February because the birds lay eggs during this period.
In this village, you can see dancing Cenderawasih in the mornings and afternoons. These birds of paradise usually perform in the morning (6.30-7.30am local time), and in the afternoon (4.30-6.00pm). It is important to arrive on time to see these birds dancing. Tourists usually arrive at the location 30 minutes before the ‘dancing show’. In addition, feeding the fish is also an interesting activity. Fish at this pier are very friendly. They will swim to get their food from our hand. While to reach the cultured fish-feeding site, you need to walk only about 100 meters from the village to the pier.
Waigeo Island in Raja Ampat
Waigeo is the largest of the four main islands in the Raja Ampat Islands. Also known as Amberi, or Waigiu, it located in the West Papua province near the town of Sorong, which is on the West Papua mainland. The three other largest islands in this cluster are Salawati, Batanta and Misool. On Waigeo is the town of Wasai, capital of the Raja Ampat regency, located in the west of the island.
Waigeo is home to a wide range of attractions. It is also the easiest island to reach by public transport, though exploring its full diversity still remains a challenge. Pulau Waigeo offers diving, rock islands, scenic bays walled in by towering cliffs, a jungle interior offering good birdwatching, and the cheapest accommodation options in all of Raja Ampat. It is a good place to start your exploration of Raja Ampat.
Waigeo has a wild and jungly interior, much of which is still largely unexplored and inaccessible. There is a large variety of animal species which have made their homes in these jungles. The world renowned crimson Bird-of-Paradise is found here, together with opossums, snakes, tortoises, frilled and giant monitor lizards, plumed herons, and honeyeaters.
One of the most popular attractions in Raja Ampat is the deep sea diving and snorkeling as this is a location with an astonishing amount of marine life. Dive in and swim among the colorful fish groups along the coral reefs. At a depth of approximately 30 meters along the Waiwo Beach, you may get the chance to see white tip reef sharks as well as the black tip reef sharks that are commonly spotted sleeping and sometimes patrolling the blue waters’ depths.
Aside from diving, Pulau Waigeo has also been bragged as a place for excellent underwater photography due to its bio-diversity and exotic sea creatures. The list of species spotted include a huge variety of nudibranch species, sea dragons, blue-striped flagtail pipefish, pygmy sea horses, green sea turtles, giant napoleon wrasse, and Indian lionfish. There is also an abundant growth of corals and sea fans here that serve as homes for large groups of small fish.
Waisai, Main Town in Raja Ampat
Waisai is the capital of the Raja Ampat Regency and its largest town but still it is a small, laid back place with an untouched feel to it and was only established as the regency’s capital several years ago. While the initial impressions may be that it isn’t much, Waisai does offer travelers the widest range of accommodation options in Raja Ampat, at reasonably low prices, plus it has a good range of budget places to eat. Available here are also places to arrange boat charters for touring other islands within Raja Ampat. If you eat here and there and shop a little bit and use local guides and boats, your tourism money is more widely distributed among locals than it would be if you stayed at a fancy resort.
A short drive to the west of Waisai, you will find Waiwo Beach. There are rental motorbikes available from Waisai to take you to this beach. This is the easiest excursion from the town as it is the closest and very easily accessible. There is good snorkeling off the long pier here, as well as lots of fish which are very accustomed to human interaction so they will swim right up to your hand if you are offering food. There's also a good resort for overnight stays with very reasonable prices. Diving gear can also be rented at the tourism office in the resort. If you have more time and are looking to further explore the Raja Ampat cluster, Waiwo is an excellent starting point. For a quick look about the surrounding jungles, you can hire rental motorbikes to take you up one of the 2 roads that penetrate the hills west of Waiwo, though these roads are not in very smooth condition and walking might be a better option.
Sauwandarek Tourism Village is located in the western part of Waisai, The village is part of Meos Mansar district and is home to 46 families with about 180 population have original leaf roofs. In this village, women, particularly mothers, produce hats and bags made of sea pandan leaf. This village is famous for its beautiful corals. In addition, there is a salty lake locally called Telaga Yenauwyau, which is located behind the village. The longboat ride from Waisai to Sauwandarek takes about four hours.
Accommodation and Getting to Waigeo Island in Raja Ampat
There are some hotel resorts and many home-stays available at Pulau Waigeo, many of which are located directly on the beach. Listed below are some options: 1) Waiwo Dive Resort, Contact number: Iwan 0852 432 96230 OR Berto 0853 4451 5123, E mail: email@example.com OR firstname.lastname@example.org; 2) Penginapan Najwa Indah, Jl. Abdul Samad, Tel. 085244653444, 081344601345, 081248444441; 3) Waisai Indah, Tel. 0852 441 55204; 4) Marcy, Tel. 0812 181 07800; 5) Maras Risen Hotel, Tel. 0852 441 51010; 6) Acrophora Cottage, Tel. 0812 444 5379.
The easiest way to get to Raja Ampat is to fly to Sorong from Jakarta or Bali with transit in Makassar or fly by SilkAir from Singapore to Manado and on to Sorong. Domestic Travelers can also fly via Makassar or Manado. Regular flights from Manado to Sorong are offered by Lion Air and Merpati. From Jakarta or Bali, Merpati, Express Air and Wings Air operate daily flights with stopovers in Makassar and/or Manado.
From the Jefman Airport in Sorong you can rent transportation to take you to the Sorong port where you will find several boat options available to take you to Waisai on Pulau Waigeo. The boat ride should take approximately 2 - 3 hours to reach Pulau Waigeo. There are two alternative ships from Sorong to Waisai. First, using speed boat for about two hours, or second, using local government’s ship for four hours journey. Motorboat leave from the Sorong Fishery Port. From Pulau Waigeo there you can hire a motorbike or take an ojek (motorcycle taxi) to take you to your homestay or hotel.
Sights and Activities on Waigeo Island in Raja Ampat
Although small in size, Pulau Waigeo has lots of adventures and fun excursions such as 1) Pulau Saonek is a small, just south of Waiwo, which was the main town of the South Waigeo region before Waisai was established. Nowadays it is a very quiet and peaceful place, but retains the slight feel of a colonial atmosphere with its old traditional houses. There's also good snorkeling off its wharf. 2) Saonek Munde. west of Pulau Saonek and close to Waisai's harbour, is the smaller, uninhabited island of Saonek Munde. It has a nice little beach and a paved hiking trail leading to a monument on the island's forest-covered "peak".
3) Waterfalls: About an hour east of Waisai by rental motorbike, you will find 2 waterfalls in a small patch of protected forest. The closer one is visible from the roadside, but the more interesting, multi-tiered one lies a few kilometers deeper into the forest and requires some local knowledge to locate. The fresh water pools here offer a refreshing alternative from swimming in the salty sea water. If you happen to come after the heavy rainy season the waters here are likely to be higher and the falls fuller while during the long dry period this waterfall is at times reduced to as little as a small trickle.
4) Mayalibit Bay s a large, narrow bay with towering cliffs and looks uniquely different to most of the other bays on Pulau Waigeo or even in the Raja Ampat area due to its great size.This rich, mangrove-lined bay has long been known as a feeding, breeding and nursery ground for fish and home to a school of unidentified species of white dolphin. The area is also an important cultural and spiritual area for the indigenous Mayans of Raja Ampat. In order to fully explore this bay and take in its full experience, it is recommended to hire a boat which will come with an experienced guide to take you around and explain the sites. There are many small islets, cliff burial sites and several villages as well, which will be difficult to find and explore without someone who knows the area and its history.
5) Kabui Bay in southwestern Waigeo is the closest place to Waisai where you will be able to catch a glimpse of those amazingly shaped rock islands which Raja Ampat is famous for. They are scattered right around the bay, and come in an amazing variety of shapes and sizes. Kayakers could spend days exploring this bay, while if you are only here for the day it is also a complete rewarding outing in itself. 6) Aljui Bay is a long is located in the west of Pulau Waigeo. Like Mayalibit Bay, it has towering cliffs on its side and it also has a cliff burial site. Deeper inside the bay a is a huge pearl farm that can be visited. This bay offers secure protected waters for the oysters to mature until the pearls are developed. Sel Pele Bay is also located at Waigeo Island.
7) Birdwatching and Hiking: Waigeo is probably the most interesting island in Raja Ampat for birders, as it is home to both endemic species of the Bird of Paradise, and to the recently rediscovered brush turkey. For the first two, the easiest place for a sighting is to head to the village of Saukorem betwen Waiwo and Kabui Bay. As for the brush turkey, it is usually seen in the hills east of Mayalibit Bay. If you are going bird-watching you will invariably be doing some hiking as well, including up rather steep hills. Local guides could lead you further up into the mountains too if you would like to venture further off the beaten path. Trails in the area are, for the most part, quite narrow and considerably steep, so it is advisable to have a guide, or someone who has a pretty good knowledge of the area.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: Indonesia Tourism website ( indonesia.travel ), Indonesia government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Updated in August 2020