When we met Claudia & Leon at ADEX 2011 in April 11, they were promoting a new set-up location in Raja Ampat. T & I had heard so much about this premier dive destination & often spoke about saving enough money to afford this dream… The photos of the resort & the island Pulau Pef & most importantly, the diving looked wonderful & with a 20% discount for the quad share room, the price was quite reasonable (in comparison with other locations)… & to be stay & diving at a new location was very attractive to us, so we contacted our usual dive buddies – M & J who were quick to agree to let us join them on this adventure (because they could have jolly well afforded a twin share bungalow :-P). To make the airfare worthwhile, we decided to stay for 2 weeks. We paid the deposit while Claudia & Leon were still in Sg to save on the transfer fees. 😉 So we began our 8 months count-down to our trip.
M & J flew in from SFO through HK on Cathay on Thursday, then on Friday evening 25 Nov, we flew Garuda to Ujung Pandang (aka Makassar). The aircraft was a little jaded but at least 20kg of baggage each was included in airfare ($778 for 2) & air tickets were purchased online.
Departure: 19:10 Singapore, Singapore – Changi, terminal 3
Arrival: 22:20 Ujung Pandang, Indonesia – Hasanudin
Airline: Garuda Indonesia GA849, Duration: 3:10
Stayed a night at the airport hotel booked for us by the Raja4divers (R4D http://www.raja4divers.com/) team, if I am not wrong, the cost was 375,000Rp or 500,000Rp. It was ok, clean with shower stall but shared toilets outside, they have a “real” cuppacino machine which M highly recommended… But please be warned, ear plugs are a MUST here, unless you can sleep like a log! Our flight to Sorong was at 8:40am on Express Air, which was ok, baggage allowance was 15kg. Domestic flights were arranged by R4D, total cost for 2 US$740 (exchange rate 8,500 to 1 USD & 10% handling fees)
Express Air: IDR 2,518,000 (Makassar to Sorong), Lion Air: IDR 3,177,000 (Sorong to Makassar via Ambon) Total amount: IDR 5,695,000
We met Sabine, the dive intructor & the rest of the new guests at the small, dusty, Sorong airport, it reminded me of the small domestic airport at Maldives, only that it was more rundown than that… The team was very kind to bring us to use the toilet of the Je Meridien Hotel which stood opposite the Sorong Airport. We were then driven to the port for the 2hrs boat transfer on Pef I. Dolphins were spotted, the scenery was quite monotonous until we reached the Passage area, the cliffs & the rocky islets are those that frequently graced magazines…
The R4D Pef team threw us a welcome party, the coconut drink, their friendly faces, warm smiles, joyous singing & cheerful music refreshed the tired travellers. The bungalow was rustic & huge – 128sqm, about 50% bigger than our flat. No aircon, only the fan & the natural sea breeze. The patio had stairs to the sea, lizards, crabs, birds & frogs were visitors to the open air bathroom. The tide was a little low but I tried to snorkel among the seagrass, still searching for my 1st encounter with a dugong… Island time was 2 hours earlier than Sg. After watching the sunset, we proceeded to have dinner at the “restaurant” – more like the kitchen/dining – a longhouse on stilts… Dinners & lunches were casual sit-down meals at the long table, with several dishes (fish, poultry, vegetables) shared among 4 to 6 guests…
Next morning (27th Nov), we had the checkout dive at the house reef – Karang Sembilan at 10:30am, it was a wonderful introduction to Raja Ampat! School of batfish just at the jetty, pipefish, 3 species of nudibranchs, whip gobies & 2 wobbegong sharks!
The usual schedule was to meet at the jetty for dive briefing at 8am, 2 dives in the morning with snacks during the surface intervals, then return to Pef for lunch, plus the 3rd dive at 3pm. My dive buddies were quite lazy, so I only managed 2 night dives during our 2 weeks there… 😉
This is the list of the dive sites that we had visited & some notes:
27/11 – Karang Sembilan (House Reef) & Yembraimuk Utara
28/11 – Wofoh Selatan, Manare & Tanjung Gam
29/11 – Day trip to Fam Island – Fam Slope, Melissa’s Garden & Climbing to the peak of Fam Island, then afternoon dive at Fam Wall.
30/11 – Manta Sandy, Arborek (Jetty) & Apibok Wall. Lovely manta cleaning station, up to 8 mantas! Arborek Jetty was also very beautiful, great place for photography.
01/12 – The Passage x 2 & Selat Yembraimuk. *The 1st dive at The Passage was quite easy & delightful, colourful soft corals, 3 cute cuttlefishes, flatworms, nudibranchs & even a electric scallop, then we drifted until the end. For the 2nd dive, we 1st visited a cave system, when we joined the “main traffic”, the current was quite strong, it was quite hairy “flying” through the “river”. However, there was not much danger, as the area was quite shallow…
02/12 – Mandy Sandy, Batu Dalam. Last dives for B & M, they had requested to revisit Mandy Sandy & who would say no? 😉 Another wonderful dive with the beautiful reef manta rays.
03/12 – Wasrer at 11:30am & Rep Pef at 3:30pm, then night dive at 6:30pm.
04/12 – Yes Bekar, Sop Ikan & Rep Yembraimuk
05/12 – We lost a dive day due to the bad weather… It was a scary storm.
06/12 – Batu Meka, Rep Krupuk & Batu Deka East. The eye of the storm had passed but the sea was still very rough at the front, so we had to launch from the mangrove area.
07/12 – Nikson’s Garden, Rep Jembatan & Batu Kapal
08/12 – Tanjung Teening, Ref Pef & Nikson’s Garden. Night Dive at house reef. Last day of diving & it was wonderful to dive the beautiful Nikson’s Garden with the dive guide – Nikson, 1 of the 1st, if not the 1st Papuan dive guide.
Other guides we dived with laughing & singing Danci, serious Yoris & Yolda, all well trained by Sabine & Armin. Although the visibility ranged from 10 to max 20m & average at 15m, the beauty of the dive sites was unforgettable, the colours dazzling. Wobbegong sharks at most of the dives, as Armin said, just follow the glassfish. 😉 There was a school of juvenile black tip reef sharks at the shallow lagoon at Pef. We met schools of large barracudas, bumphead parrotfish, numerous large lobsters & some very large (but very shy) groupers & Napoleon wrasses [reminder to self: they were able to grow huge because they are smart & avoid humans]! Macro stuff like cute nudibranchs, pipefish, pygmy seahorses etc.
The resort & operations were well managed by Maya. Yanni & the rest of the staff from housekeeping & kitchen were always so friendly & warm. The other guests at the resort were mostly Europeans. It was a huge surprise that they hadn’t heard about the “Sound of Music”, a movie that was about Austria, the Alps, WWII (a little)… I was in the school choir & “Edelweiss” & all the songs from that show are my all-time favourite…
The staff gave us a warm send-off, most of them were also leaving for their holiday as the resort was closed for 1 week before their peak season. We stayed at the Je Meridien Hotel, Sorong for 1 night, which was quite nice… When we were boarding the very early morning flight, it was raining heavily, the work ethics of the Papuans was impressive, they tried to keep the passengers dry, although they were soaked…
Wonderful introduction to Raja Ampat, how we wish we could afford to join M & J’s 2nd trip to Pef in Nov 2012… Guess they would have another delightful fortnight at the magical island…
Cost of 2 weeks: USD 4175 (not inclusive of the 20% discount), Boat Transfer USD120, Raja Ampat Marine Park Fee IDR 500, 000. Airfares as above…
Other photos here: Photos on FB (FB account not req’d) https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150441214288052.372546.694213051&type=3
This is new! Virtual Tour of Raja4Divers Pulau Pef (22 Nov 12)