Raja Ampat, an
archipelago of some 1500 islands, in the West Papua province of
Indonesia. A marine ecology long renowned to divers the world over, but
how to Kayak this area?
Research showed it could be done as Alex
Vogel (WalkaboutAlex) and Halim (Deceased) of Sumatra Savages, had
blogs on the internet. This led me to kayaks4conservation, a not for
profit organisation, run in conjunction with Raja Ampat Research
Conservation Centre (RARCC) and Conservation International.
aims to end shark finning and explosive fishing by the locals by
helping them set up homestay and tourism related businesses. 8 Kaskazi
sea kayaks built locally are used. http://kayak4conservation.com
to circumnavigate Pulau Gam, and arming myself with all the information
about tides, currents and winds I left Perth for Jakarta on the 21
October then onto Sorong when I purchased food supplies from the 2
supermarkets. With no availability of methylated spirit or gas
canisters, my tea light candle stove trialled in Albany was required
for making tea & coffee. A multi fuel stove using unleaded
is the other option.
Oct 24 I ferried to Waisai, transferred to
RARCC on Pulau Kri where I met Tertius the manager of the initiative
and liaison between the park and scientists who do research in the
area. Collecting boat, equipment and necessary safety items
including a spot tracker I was nearly ready to go.
dinner with Tertius and a group of marine scientists, my first test, 2
nights in the Water Cottage (a basic hut built of pandana’s leaf and
mangrove pole with no toilet facilities or fresh water) on the little
island of Pulau Koh, 1.3kms away. Imagine a flat calm sea illuminated
by the phosphorescence of numerous marine creatures giving the
appearance it was lit by fairy lights, a taste of what was to come.
Dawn” Water Cottage Pulau Koh.
my kayak on the sliver of beach not covered by the tide, I slung my
Hennessy Hammock, bought before I left, to ensure I was well away from
scorpions, venomous spiders and adders and other nasty critters.
comfortably in the diagonal, I was almost flat in my hammock; I fell
asleep to the sound of the lapping water and marine life. Peace and
tranquillity at last!!!! A cacophony of birds at dawn ensuring I did
not miss sunrise. Paradise.
I took the time to sort what gear I
needed for the 10 days (unsupported) paddling, I paddled my spare
clothes and large backpack to RARCC for safekeeping and then down the
coast of Kri to familiarise myself with the kayak.
day I crossed to Kri, collected supplied drinking water and a guide
(Haja) to assist me with my journey, particularly language.
crossed Selat Dampier and entered the maze like blue mangroves of Gam,
a stretch of water consisting of inlets and channels with brilliant
corals and fish life, the clarity of the water meant I could enjoy all
this from the kayak. Exiting into the open sea we made our way to the
first homestay at Yendebabo.
Homestay Pulau Gam
homestays are very basic. They supply a mattress, pillow and mosquito
net, a bucket bath and squat toilet, some have 12 volt solar
systems, others generators for a few hours in the evening, a thermos of
boiling water is provided with tea or coffee.
The following day
we headed to the islands of Friwinbonda and Friwin, the crystal clear
waters providing great viewing of the corals and aquatic life under the
kayak. We pulled up onto a beach at Friwin, where Haja
disappeared returning a short time later with 10 lengths of thin
bamboo, which he stripped of foliage, soaked in the sea then tied them
to the deck of his kayak.
A group of inquisitive
children came by in a traditional dugout, one paddling, the rest
bailing. My kayak was more watertight than their dugout.
pushed on to “Five Rocks” where there is a small concrete plinth and
plaque honouring the Japanese from the 2nd world war; paddling with a
pod of dolphin until lunch, which was eaten on a beach on the island of
Ura before heading to the homestay ‘Yenbesir Paradise’ hidden between
numerous limestone karst islets.
Village” Pulau Gam
The homestays on the East and
north coasts are pole houses built over the water, backed by jungle or
mangroves and to my surprise ‘Yenbesir’ provided a crisp white sheet,
pillowcase and a towel that smelt “lemon fresh” straight from the
Watching my hosts' children fishing and Haja build a
bow and arrows from his collected bamboo filled in the afternoon. The
bow and arrow were for hunting wild pig on his home island of
Dinner was freshly caught snapper, with rice
and noodles. For dessert a packet of coffee crème biscuits with the
thermos of boiling water. It was off to bed to the sound of fish
jumping, birds, night insects and the call of a buffalo in the
Monday the 27th of October, the sun lit up this
magnificent bay, the birds were active particularly the local butcher
birds that called constantly as did a resident heron.
and then onto Teluk Kaboi near the “Passage” the narrow channel between
the islands of Gam and Waigeo, renowned for its drift diving, on the
surface depending upon the tides it can be a millpond or a white-water
After repairing a broken rudder cable we continued
across Kaboi Bay to our destination, the water changing from brilliant
turquoise and blue to dark green. Approaching the “Passage”
Teluk Kaboi we paddled amongst the islets to the homestay at Teluk
Kaboi. The potential for this homestay is amazing with it
tucked into the side of a cliff, built over water with a permanent
water supply from a cave above. Unfortunately it was also the
most basic and not for the faint hearted. A Pinisi live-aboard Dive
boat was anchored in the bay.
Tuesday we headed for the entrance
to ‘The Passage’, it was almost slack tide and as it was a neap cycle
the currents were not as strong. Rounding the point we
into ‘The Passage’, less than 20 metres at its narrowest.
several narrow turns we broke out into the wider channel where the
current was non-existent. We set to crossing Warparim Bay for
“Hidden Bays of Pef”. Midway the rain started, the wind
creating a wind wave, we pressed on. The first clap of thunder was far
off, there was no lightning, within minutes the storm was overhead,
thunder crashed and the first of many lightning bolts hit the water, we
needed to get off the water, our options were limited. Run for the
mangroves 3.5 km away or to a permanently moored fishing vessel about
2km distant. We chose the fishing boat.
We clambered up
the sides of the outriggers and negotiated planks and stays to reach
the main hull, where we were offered food and tea by the crew. A local
in an outboard powered outrigger canoe arrived seeking sanctuary.
Rain” The Passage.
storm passed, we paddled on to the hidden bays, a myriad of inlets,
fingers and channels, where we passed a group of divers and a partially
completed homestay, my guide would not venture at all into the bays to
our left stating there were crocodiles; we drifted on the currents
taking in our surroundings.
From the hidden bays we continued
toward the island of Pef, where we planned to camp. Reporting to the
Police at the Indo Pearls pearl farm (an Australian venture staffed by
Japanese) and registering the duration of our stay in the area as
We continued to Pef where Haja advised a ‘saltie’
had been seen in the area we would camp, instead we would camp at the
rear of the Raja for Divers resort. Paddling into the black water
lagoon at the rear of the resort surrounded by mangroves, it looked a
perfect habitat for crocs. I discovered people dived here to see pygmy
sea dragon and nudibranch.
Discovering Haja had friends working at the resort, I wondered if the
croc story was true!
the 29th I was awoken with roosters crowing and the generator at
0500hrs. We paddled to Airborek arriving around lunchtime, washed away
the salt, clothing was hung out to dry and boats opened up to let air
and sun into them to dry them out, they had taken water the
The afternoon was spent snorkelling on the nearby
reef with barracuda, black tip shark, turtles, rays and numerous other
species. A walk around this little islet took about
minutes. As the sun set it was a good opportunity for
photographs. The staple diet of the islands, rice and fish, for dinner.
“Mushroom Coral” Pulau Airboraik.
Airborek, like many small islands in the Pacific is barely a metre
above sea level and there is evidence of increased erosion, with global
warming rising sea levels will see it inundated in the future, houses
are already built on stumps about a metre high for the not too
infrequent high tides that occur and flood the immediate coastal area.
began with the birds and barking dogs, a late start was planned to
avoid the outgoing tide, with a short paddle to the homestay near
Sawingrai village on Gam. A broken rudder cable along the way made the
paddle that much harder.
My cottage was a few feet from the
water’s edge and provided great views of the sunset. It was
of the few facilities with a tiled floor, but the generator in the
toilet was somewhat off-putting. The bucket bath was always a welcome
event at the end of the day; however water conservation was an issue as
the women had to obtain water from a well some distance away.
another magnificent sunset I went to bed to the sound of the generator,
coconuts falling from the trees and other unidentified night sounds.
at first light I watched as the open wood fire was lit in the lean-to
kitchen. Breakfast a plate of hot fish cutlets cooked in a
sauce and 6 small bright green pancakes filled with fresh coconut and
sugar started the day.
A short 3 - 4 hour paddle to Besir Bay,
the rumour of a ‘saltie’ near the mouth meant we scanned the shoreline
and our surroundings closely, every piece of timber on the surface
given added attention.
“Besir Bay” Pulau Gam.
We headed for a limestone tunnel that at
low tide allowed you to enter another lagoon, and wandered among the
islands and fingers, investigated a cave inhabited by fruit bats and
continued to the tunnel carved through the limestone karst, with the
tide out we paddled through and into the lagoon, the water however was
murky and surrounded by mangroves it was not inviting.
the tunnel we continued further before a stop was made at a limestone
outcrop in the middle of the bay, where we climbed a rustic wooden
ladder up the side of the formation to higher ground to get a
magnificent view of the bay and its islets.
Back onshore it
was time for lunch, we then walked to Sawingrai village to find a guide
to take us into the mountains in search of Wallace’s Red Bird of
Paradise (named after the naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace). We
entered the jungle and then waited, the guide pointed into the tree
canopy above, there were about four of these magnificent
We sat and watched as they preened, sang and flew through the canopy. A
photo cannot do them justice.
“Besir Bay” Pulau Gam.
Saturday 1st November the
day started at sunrise, up and about and packed in preparation for the
last leg to Pulau Kri. Having had a breakfast of cassava
dipped in batter then deep fried with a cup of sweet black tea, we
headed up the coast of Gam toward Kormansiwin village, the tide was
still running out rapidly, my guide suggested crossing the Dampier
Strait immediately but I chose to paddle along the coast instead until
the tide was spent, then cross.
We stopped on a beach for a
brief stretch and drink then resumed our paddle up the coast until the
current had eased then turned east to make the crossing to Pulau
Mansoear and the village of Yenbuba 7kms distant.
Yenbuba we pulled up on the beach, got out the lunchboxes as the rain
and thunder started yet again, we ate in silence watching the
rainstorms roll up the Dampier Strait over Pulau Mansoear and continue
to Gam and Waigeo in the distance.
“Rainstorm” Pulau Mansoear.
Lunch over we crossed the
channel between Mansoear and Kri, and then followed the shoreline of
Kri to Sorido Bay Resort and RARCC where the paddle would end.
for the last night was luxurious, an air-conditioned room, with a hot
shower, a real toilet and a comfortable bed. Lunch at Sorido
comprised a huge variety of dishes, salads, eggs and chicken the first
I had seen in over 10 days and was taken with divers from all around
the globe enjoying the underwater delights of the area. I was known as
Kayakman and introduced as such.
After lunch I packed gear and
then sat in the waterside gazebo watching a school of black-tip reef
sharks patrolling along the beach. I dined with the other
and had just a single celebratory Bintang beer which was enough to send
me off to bed.
My final day in the “Four Kings” I opted for
the late transfer to get a last snorkel on the house reef, it was
memorable, brilliant red starfish, angel fish, clown fish, huge
bump-head parrot fish, black-tip reef sharks and turtle the list went
on. It was a fitting end to what had been a magnificent 10 days around
“Red Starfish” Sorido House Reef.
The boat to Sorong arrived at midday and I headed
off on the homeward leg of my adventure vowing to return to see and do
more of the area before it is destroyed by mass tourism and
consumerism. (Haja my
guide spent the days collecting floating debris in an effort to
preserve the environment).
go to Halim (aka Georg Jackstadt) from Sumatra Savages for setting me
on this path, sadly I couldn’t tell him I did it, he passed away from
Black fever* in March. Alexander Vogel (Walkabout Alex) who has done
area twice by kayak and intends to go back, his knowledge and advice
was invaluable and lastly Tertius Kammeyer for all his help and
assistance. Planning for stage two has already begun.
who considers travel to this area without the necessary prophylaxis for
Malaria and injections for Japanese Encephalitis, Typhoid and Hepatitis
A should reconsider their plans, expensive as they are, it is worth
remembering these diseases can kill or maim you.
Kayak hire USD $520.00 for 10 days.
Boat Transfers USD $185.00.
Sorido Bay Accommodation USD $180.00.
Guide USD $240.00 for 8 days.
Homestays USD $280.00 (7 nights) inclusive of 3 meals per day.
Airfares, Accommodation and Sundries. USD $1800.
Fever (Visceral leishmaniasis) is a disease borne by the female
sand-fly and the second-largest parasitic killer in the world (after
malaria), responsible for an estimated 500,000 infections each year
worldwide. The parasite migrates to the internal organs such as liver,
spleen, and bone marrow if left untreated it will almost always result
in the death of the host.
in Albany where he runs his own business, he has been paddling on and
off over the years and joined the Sea Kayak Club in 2011. Previous
expeditions have included the Gulf of Thailand and Koh Chang Islands
Group. He prefers to paddle solo for the solitude or with 2 to 3 other
© Adrian Gawned 2013