When you visit a place like Raja Ampat over 11 days you really have a lot to talk about. The biodiversity and landscape of the region are inspiring and this is why it’s taken me three blog articles to explain how wonderful this experience was. If you haven’t had the chance already to read the previous two blogs, you can find them here: Part 1 and Part 2.
After a crossing of around 14 hours – quicker due to a southerly current working with the boat – we found ourselves in Farondi diving Razorback Rock, Anchovy, Nudi Rock (yes, it looks like a nudibranch) and a night dive at Yilliet Slope. I have to admit, it was the south and around Misool that I was really looking forward to on the trip, but it didn’t really get off to the best start and never lived up to the high standards further north had set. To be frank, this was more down to the weather really and the visibility wasn’t brilliant.
A storm meant the dives were pretty dark and in fact, the dive at Anchovy in particular was more like a night dive than a day dive. Unfortunately, we can’t control the weather and on other days these sites could have delivered a lot more. The sea fans on each dive were equally as impressive as further north, and I’d probably say more abundant. The dark atmosphere did mean I could try some fun and different shots with clownfish in anemones but I probably should have switched to macro quicker that day. There are always fun critters to find on every dive site and Nudi Rock showed just that, with a few sea fans being infested with skeleton shrimp. While I’ve seen skeleton shrimp before, I’d never seen anything like this; every bit of the fan was covered. There must have been thousands and it was quite fitting that it was actually Halloween as well.
After a moody day, where I’m guessing the weather gods were celebrating Halloween, I finally switched to macro on the night dive and my photography was rewarded for it. An elusive pygmy squid started the dive but didn’t allow me to get a photo with its tricky movements. Still fun to watch and see, before once again, nudibranch were the stars of the show. A free swimming black and orange flatworm mesmerised mid-water, but it was a super tiny nudibranch of only around a centimetre long that I admired most and took some time to photograph. Then it was the turn of crustaceans once again. A couple of different types of decorator crab, a couple of lobster species and a whip coral shrimp finished off the dive after the sea slug starter.
The next day, the wide-angle opportunities improved drastically. Although, rather annoyingly, I stuck with macro on the first dive at Neptune’s Fan Sea. I hadn’t seen a Denise pygmy seahorse before and was desperate to get a shot of one before the trip was over. This site was a great opportunity. It was sea fan heaven, but that does mean there’s a lot more places to look. The topography was incredible on the dive, a cliff of sea fans greeted us and made wide angle a good option. It was such a relaxing dive with a small school of bumphead parrotfish making the occasional pass, and the soft coral formations continued in huge numbers and were so impressive. I did manage a couple of nice nudibranch shots but the seahorse remained elusive for our group.
I decided to switch back to wide angle for Four Kings and that was certainly the right choice. A swarm of jellyfish greeted us on the dive and made it one of the most memorable of the trip. There was so much life around the pinnacles as the fish life danced a merry dance. The game of dodge the jellyfish entertained throughout and it was interesting to see as they’d get trapped on the sea fans. Something I’d never experienced before on such an incredible dive site. Barracuda point finished off the day’s diving in relaxing style, with a stunning top reef. Yes, I saw my first two Denise pygmy seahorses here, but no, I had my wide angle on. It was a great site for photographing lionfish though and there was a small school of barracuda giving the site its name.
Although “The Jellyfish Dive” was an amazing highlight of the day, it wasn’t actually diving that finished the day in style. A sunset cruise in Wayilbatan delivered those feels. You know the ones, when you’re in a beautiful place, at a beautiful time and with only a handful of people. You get that completely content feeling and just forget all your worries and live for that moment. It was a spontaneous trip out as well, as the itinerary was to trek to Love Lagoon. However, the guests on the trip before advised it would probably be best to take it off the itinerary for a bit. Unfortunately, with a forced Covid break and lack of maintenance care, the stairs have become slightly dangerous for trekking. The alternative didn’t disappoint and in fact excelled. An exploratory journey, where even the crew didn’t really know where we were going, took us to some breathtaking views with an amazing sunset backdrop. The glass like sea provided the perfect stage with its mirror like reflections. Then in the shallows we could see every bit of coral and life we passed, before tilting your head and following the cliff face up to amazing limestone islands covered in lush green rainforest. Just beautiful!!
With only two days and six dives left, one of my main goals was to photograph a Denise pygmy seahorse. I was in a catch 22 though, there were some memorable wide-angle dives to come. Starting with Boo Window and the arch swim through creating a dramatic image with a diver. I was happy with those wide-angle photos, but guess what? We did see a pygmy again. Still, I wasn’t to be defeated and we also had the friendliest hawksbill turtle on the dive too.
Next up was Shadow Reef (a.k.a Magic Mountain), in the hope to see the majestic Oceanic manta rays. We entered through a concentrated section of bad visibility and then the weather also changed with a storm passing over while we were below. It went dark underwater once more and unfortunately there were no mantas to be seen during the dive. It was still such a special dive site with schooling jackfish, a small school of batfish, another friendly hawksbill, Napoleon wrasse and my first whitetip reef sharks of the trip.
I had to switch to macro and hope for a pygmy at Whale Rock. No such luck unfortunately, but it was an amazing macro dive with numerous crustaceans and my favourite photos of whip coral shrimp. A Pikachu nudibranch was another great nudibranch find by one of my dive buddies. There might have been no seahorse due to skeleton shrimp infesting all the sea fans, but I was really happy with the macro photography success on this dive.
The night dive at Romeo carried on with the magnificent macro theme. We were there to try and see a walking shark again but unfortunately it remained elusive on this dive. Typical, when I have all my equipment working! However, a friendly cuttlefish, some pygmy squid and more crustaceans made the dive memorable still. Can I get to photograph a Denise pygmy with only two dives left?? I really hope so…
We finished our diving in Raja Ampat at Tank Rock and Boo West. I was advised both dives would be preferably wide angle. I knew I needed to stick to macro though, with seeing three Denise pygmies previously while shooting wide angle. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity before I left Raja Ampat. Then, as the dive started, I began to lose hope once again. Skeleton shrimp filled the sea fans once more and I thought that would be enough to scare any seahorse to another site. BUT!! It wasn’t long before my guide Aghi worked his magic and found a beautiful little Denise pygmy seahorse for me to photograph. Phew!!! The pressure was off for the dive early on, but now I just needed to get a photo of these difficult to photograph critters. Skeleton shrimp were still sharing the sea fan with the seahorse and parts of them tended to get in the way but without a nice composition of both. I did manage to get some decent in focus shots and my diving in Raja Ampat was complete. Mission successful for another new species for me. An orangutan crab and some nice photos of the skeleton shrimp completed the dive before a switch back to wide angle for Boo West.
While the visibility wasn’t great (but not terrible) for the final dive, it was another stunning dive in paradise, with once again amazing sea fans littering the reef wall in pristine condition. Then came my favourite schooling fish to see, as what must have been around a hundred batfish/spadefish were seen cruising in the current. Such an amazing sight, with a couple of blacktip reef sharks also coming to say goodbye. The real surprise and the memorable moment of the dive came from a tiny cuttlefish that was just bobbing around in the blue away from the reef. I really wasn’t expecting to see it there, as I caught it in the corner of my eye. It took me a second to confirm I wasn’t seeing things but sure enough it was there. It was super friendly and came right up to my mask and I can only hope it stayed safe away from the protection of the reef once we left.
I’d been desperate to visit Raja Ampat for so long and thankfully it didn’t disappoint. La Galigo was the perfect vessel, with the perfect hosts to explore the area with that really made my time extra special. It’s certainly a place I won’t just want to visit once. I could see myself returning again and again and still being amazed by all the things I’d see. I ticked off so many new species in this biodiversity hotspot and took countless photos.
I now had a long journey home of two days, with 22 hours in Jakarta airport. I wasn’t fazed though, as I had so many photos to go through to keep me entertained and those memories kept me smiling throughout the journey. I’d recommend everyone (not just divers) to put Raja Ampat on your travel bucket list. It really is a true paradise and I can perfectly understand where the nickname – “The Last Paradise” comes from.
For more information about diving in Raja Ampat:
Whatsapp: +62 812 2000 2025
A Welcome Return (Part 2)
I’m hoping by now you would have read Part 1 of my ‘A Welcome Return’, all about joining La Galigo Liveaboard once again, but this time exploring the delights of Komodo National Park.
The trip was really starting to hot up, with great scenery above the water and great encounters underwater. It was the little critters that were stealing the show and it was about to get even better. Here is how the rest of the trip panned out…
I was more than psyched for day 3. With a dive full of life to start with at ‘Castle Rock,’ followed by what should be an adrenaline-fuelled drift at ‘The Cauldron’ aka ‘Shotgun’, It was sure to be an adventure. Sure enough, once we descended along the pinnacle at ‘Castle Rock’ to around 25 metres, we were surrounded by an abundance of fish life. Numerous banner fish, schools of fusilier and surgeonfish swam in unison, while the odd friendly batfish would come to check each diver out. A distant school of jackfish were joined by the odd tuna and a circling whitetip reef shark to add the predators to the list of life. It was such fun floating amongst the amount of life before letting the current take us onto the reef. A few macro delights were waiting, as a blue ribbon eel and leaffish were spotted, alongside a friendly hawksbill turtle. This was certainly a dive that didn’t disappoint.
It was time for ‘The Cauldron,’ a notorious dive that struck fear into the hearts of some and was legendary to others. Tales of masks flying off in the current made for a little nerves before descending, but excitement from others about how the drift can shoot you through the channel between Gili Lawa Laut and Gili Lawa Darat. However, it was a little different for my dive and the current was fairly mild in comparison to what I expected. It still had enough current for a nice push through the channel and also provided some great marine life encounters. Another new shark species for me was a major highlight, as I finally got to see and photograph a bamboo shark. It was also the site for our only manta ray encounter of the trip. Unfortunately, the manta had passed my group before we saw it and we only got the tail end as it glided through the current away from us. A smaller mobula ray was also spotted at a distance, and a small school of bigeye trevally before… you guessed it… yet another friendly hawksbill on the safety stop.
Day 3 was becoming the best diving day so far and I’d say the next dive at ‘Golden Passage’ was my favourite wide angle dive of the trip. I just love cephalopods and am a big fan of cuttlefish. Three rather large broadclub cuttlefish at the very start of the dive were more than welcome and provided great photography opportunities. We then had an amazing drift along the passage with a bit more oomph than ‘Shotgun’. More hawksbill turtles along the way, a sleeping bamboo shark in the overhangs, and a dancing school of fusiliers provided extra marine life joys. We finished the diving day with a night dive at ‘Gili Lawa Darat Bay’. Wow!!!! Once again, critters stole the show, along with a rather successful bobtail squid snooted photography shoot for me. Devil scorpionfish, nudibranch, flatworms, shrimps, squat lobsters and juvenile harlequin sweetlips made sure every single minute was interesting.
After a short documentary about Komodo dragons on the evening of day 3 to get us excited for seeing them, I was definitely more than excited! Day 4 was a day of giving it our best shot to get some great manta ray action. We started with another beautiful pinnacle reef around ‘Crystal Rock’. Small school of batfish, Napoleon wrasse, whitetip reef sharks, a blacktip reef shark and lion fish greeted us, before we moved on to try for mantas once again. Back to ‘Karang Makassar’ and a drift along the sand and rubble, passing small sections of coral formations that would act as cleaning stations. Unfortunately, we were once again unlucky with our manta ray sightings but this dive did deliver more interesting encounters: A bamboo shark resting out in the open before swimming off, green sea turtles, hawksbill turtles and, once again, a large broadclub cuttlefish.
A final day dive at ‘Mauan’ in the hope of seeing mantas wasn’t much to write home about in this instance. We gave it our best shot with the mantas and that’s all we can ask of the accommodating crew onboard. Unfortunately, wildlife doesn’t always play ball and on another trip you could have some of the best manta ray action of your life. However, the final night dive of the trip more than made up for it. Wow, wow, wow!!! What a dive! With some of the most unique critters you can find. So much so, I have been asked to keep the dive site quiet in fear of the information getting to the wrong people and bad practice being at play. A shame it has to be that way but a necessity at times. While numerous species of nudibranch were spotted on the dive, it was the elusive ghost melibe that stole the show. A transparent nudibranch made up of white lines, giving it a skeletal appearance that was hard to photograph but soooo exciting to see!
The unique critters didn’t stop there, as another highlight macro critter – the paddle flap scorpionfish – was spotted to the excitement of the guides and cruise director Fareez, who screamed and danced (with excitement!) underwater. Definitely a sought-after critter in the underwater photography world, and we had two join us for the dive. There was a lot of sand and sediment in the water, making it difficult for photography and I wasn’t completely ecstatic with the shots I got, but loved to see another new-to-me species. But guess what? The fun didn’t stop there, as a black frogfish was sitting under some broken coral just next to the scorpionfish. WHAT A DIVE!!!!!!
After such an incredible final night dive, the final day also finished the trip in incredible fashion, ensuring the need to return was firmly there. Starting with a first dive at Pengah, where a banded sea krait hunting throughout the reef was a great start, and more colourful coral formations around the pinnacle, with amazing hard coral just below the surface. It was a dive for wide angle and macro, as ladybugs, different nudibranch, and a leaf scorpionfish were found. As well as a large octopus working its way through the reef before hiding when we locked eyes. The final dive really put the icing on the cake. It was a macro dive amongst sand and rubble: numerous nudibranch again dazzled, with the ‘Pikachu’ nudi my favourite. Peacock mantis shrimp, spearing mantis shrimp, longhorn cowfish, orangutan crab, squat lobster and shrimp ensured a special dive before the grand finale – a thorny seahorse. What a dive and what diving for my five days in Komodo National Park.
Well, the diving might have been over, but the trip certainly wasn’t. In fact, it was time for one of the tours I’d been looking forward to the most. Time to see Komodo dragons on Rinca Island. As much as I love liveaboards, it’s always nice to get back on land. A jetty led us onto a boardwalk path, where within minutes we laid our eyes on our first dragon, before getting closer to the information centre and seeing the big male that commands the area. Sprawled out on the floor, his size was immense. A great start but I longed for those close encounters and not looking down from a platform.
We were soon through the information centre and onto the wild ground to start our very short trek. We didn’t need to go far at all as a resting large female was just next to the information centre, followed by a small juvenile who came running through stealing all the attention. It was a little cutie and fun to see and photograph. Being a photographer, you always have images in mind before you go somewhere. I was desperate to get a large dragon postured up facing or walking to the camera. I quickly realised that these were lazy animals in the midday sun (as am I). It’s too hot and they risk overheating if they’re too active. I began to lose hope for the shot I wanted, as we trekked a short while up the hill and found another resting female. Amazing to see once again before it was all too soon ready to leave. I could have trekked so much more of the island.
As we waited around the outside seating area of the information centre, I was going through my shots with Fareez and explaining the shots I was hoping for. He said maybe I would get lucky while we waited for the others to explore the gift shop. I knew I didn’t have long. Suddenly, some commotion back outside on the wild ground caught my attention. DOUBLE JACKPOT!!! I went flying out of the gate and there was a dragon walking directly towards me. Postured up, showing off its muscles, only made better by the fact that it was the huge male that swaggered into his arena. Showing off to his adoring crowd. I was completely made up and thankfully got some shots I was happy with. He slowly walked around using his tongue to taste all the flavours, before finally slumping on the ground, sprawled out in the shade.
My trip was now complete, or so I thought. I got what I wanted and was happy to return to my family completely content (apart from losing my drone that is!) That was until the grand finale, the little extra I didn’t know I needed, but it’s always those moments that separate a great trip from an unbelievably fantastic trip. The little extras that make you long to return.
Moored up at Pulau Kalong under an amazing sunset, we waited for the show to start. A spectacle that only nature can deliver soon ensued, as thousands upon thousands of flying foxes left their daytime roost on the island. Engulfing the orange sky with black silhouettes akin to the batman sign. They just kept coming and coming for the next hour or so before we enjoyed an amazing BBQ dinner on the top deck and an incredible show of songs and dance from the amazing crew. Another fantastic trip onboard La Galigo and I can only hope I’ll be back soon.
For more information about diving in Komodo:
Sean Chinn Instagram: @greatwhitesean
Whatsapp: +62 812 2000 2025
A Welcome Return (Part 1)
After an incredibly successful trip onboard La Galigo last October exploring Raja Ampat, I was so happy to jump back onboard. This time exploring another bucket list destination – Komodo National Park.
Strangely, it’s not the underwater world around Komodo that makes it such a bucket list destination for me. Growing up fascinated with the biggest species of each animal, the Komodo dragon has been a lifelong ambition for me to see. I was so excited to now get the opportunity, while also knowing the diving around the National Park would be way more than an added bonus. In my mind, Komodo was synonymous with crazy currents, mantas and some suspect visibility at times. I was expecting really tricky adventurous diving. What I found, was actually very surprising to me and left me with a very pleasant content feeling after the trip. Let’s find out what La Galigo’s Jurassic Komodo trip had in store…
I was on a much shorter trip this time (6D/5N) compared to my Raja trip last year. Now, I’m going to try hard not to compare Komodo with Raja Ampat, but it is hard not to, after doing both trips relatively close in time to each other. However, what I found were two places that complimented each other so well. Their differences are part of their charm and the reason why both are must-do trips. This was evident in the contrasting landscape while exploring the islands around Komodo. The drier climate creating stunning rugged savannah islands rising from the clear blue waters. Covered in a mixture of yellow and green grass, creating a beautiful golden glow at sunrise and sunset. With isolated trees creating a focal point and hillsides leading into idyllic white sand beaches. Another breathtaking area to explore and no better way than to sail from island to island.
11 guests were onboard for my trip and diving was split into three groups, no more than four divers with each dive guide. A spacious dive deck plenty big enough for the number of guests onboard and two speedboats transporting us to each dive site. An extremely helpful crew providing a comfortable journey and making sure we barely had to lift a finger. The food onboard was again super delicious, with the Soto Ayam being a highlight, while the beef rendang again had my mouth watering. With spacious rooms throughout and comfortable beds and pillows, another relaxing stay was on the agenda between dives. Speaking of dives, let’s see what underwater had in store…
Apologies!! I am going to compare Komodo and Raja Ampat one last time, this time in relation to the check dive. In my mind, before I had dived both, I had Komodo as the place with crazy currents and sometimes poorer visibility, with Raja as the opposite. My check dives couldn’t have been further from what I had imagined. While my dive in Raja was limited vis and a relatively strong current, diving in Komodo started super relaxed, with next to no current and some amazing visibility at ‘Sebayor Kecil’. Such a pleasant start to my Komodo trip with beautiful reefs full of healthy hard and soft coral. Yellow snapper swimming in unison, lion fish, crocodile fish and a blue spotted stingray welcoming me nicely to life underwater in Komodo.
Following on from such a relaxed dive, I soon realised it was the little critters that were going to steal the show in this beautiful paradise. The first night dive at ‘Sebayor Besar’ showed me what treats I had in store for the trip. With a very small red octopus only few centimetres in size, followed by a larger reef octopus. Nudibranch, peacock mantis shrimp, crabs and more made sure every minute of the dive was enjoyed before getting back onboard. The night wasn’t finished, as a fun game of ‘Cards Against Humanity’ broke the ice with everyone onboard and was the perfect example of why I love liveaboards so much. Meeting people from all walks of life while confined to life onboard broadens your horizons. It was a great laugh with a great group.
The next day followed on with some more beautiful reefs full of life. ‘Tarawa Besar’ and the magical ‘Batu Balong’ were the dive sites of choice. A mixture of stunning hard coral formations and vibrant soft coral dazzled like a Van Gogh painting full of colour. It was also the introduction of some friendly turtles, in particular a number of hawksbill that quite happily swam between divers and allowed for close interactions. A grumpy green sea turtle was the highlight for me, as it rested amongst the coral in the final moments of ‘Tarawa Besar’. I just love their patterned shell.
Whitetip reef sharks, scorpionfish, a giant pufferfish, moray eels and more made sure it wasn’t all about the turtles. And, to be honest, the dancing anthias on top of ‘Batu Balong’ amongst the pristine hard coral provided the bliss on the safety stop. A delightful end before disappointedly, I finally got unlucky with manta rays on dive three. We were at ‘Karang Makassar’ in the hope of drifting along the rubble and sand to get lucky with a moment with some majestic mantas. I’m normally quite lucky with manta rays and have had some pretty wild encounters around the world over my diving life. However, this time nature unfortunately didn’t play ball. Fingers crossed for next time!!
Thankfully it didn’t take away from what was another amazing day in Komodo. A sunset trek on Gili Lawa Darat got us back on land and we enjoyed the amazing scenery. Incredible views over the bay and the island resembling a snake head were made even more enjoyable by yet another gorgeous sunset. With deer roaming free, it was a great mini adventure, getting a close-up view of these rugged savannah islands before another fantastic night dive at Komodo Bay.
Numerous nudibranch were spotted and even a flatworm working its way over a scorpionfish’s head and eye provided some funny entertainment. I’m a sucker for a cuttlefish, so getting the chance to see and photograph a small one is always special. However, the most unique critter was the Lembeh sea dragon. Such a cute and surreal-looking creature that unfortunately wasn’t in a great position for photography. Hopefully I’ll get another chance one day and capture its unique beauty.
What a great start to life in Komodo onboard La Galigo. Be sure to stay tuned for part 2 and see what delights awaited us.
For more information about diving in Komodo:
Sean Chinn Instagram: @greatwhitesean
Whatsapp: +62 812 2000 2025