Raja Ampat is located off the north west peninsula on the island of New Guinea or newly named West Papua province of Indonesia. Raja Ampat means "the Four Kings" and consists of the islands of Misoool, Salawati, Batanta, and Wiageo which are surrounded by over 1,500 small islands. Raja Ampat is possibly one of the best diving sites in the world for healthy coral reefs. It certainly has the most diverse marine life with recorded fish, coral and other species than anywhere else. I had never seen such healthy coral on every dive. There were also lots of schools of fish, Manta Rays and many small creatures.
MV Raja Ampat Explorer was the liveaboard boat that I stayed on for 9 days and 8 nights and I did 26 dives with a group of divers from Thailand. The liveaboard cost US$ 2300.- which included: accommodation, all meals, water, tea, coffee, snacks, national park fee, dive guide, tanks and weights.
This trip was from 9-18 April 2011. I flew with Garuda Airlines for the first time from Sydney to Jakarta where I waited for 5 hours for the connecting flight to Makassar (Ujung Pandang) and stayed overnight there. The next morning I flew with Lion Air to Sorong which took about 3 hours. After I arrived in Sorong the liveaboard staff came and greeted us and looked after our diving gear and bags and we went by car for 10 minutes drive to the pier where the liveaboard left from.
MV Raja Ampat Explorer is a traditional Indonesian style wooden boat 33.5 meters long. It had a sun deck for relaxing after diving, 7 air-conditioned cabins for 14 persons with ensuite bathrooms, hot shower and toilet. Also, an air-conditioned lounge with dining seating, TV, CD / DVD player, camera work-station, dive platform with shower and 2 tanks for rinsing camera gear. The meals were very tasty with European and Indonesian style food.
After a light breakfast we started our first dive at 7:30am then, had a big breakfast after the dive. The second dive started at 11am, followed by lunch after which we could relax and wait for the third dive at 3:30pm. The night dive started at 7:00pm then dinner followed by a movie, relaxing or looking at the day's photos.
Each dive was around 45-60 minutes, starting from the liveaboard or dingy and most of the time when I finished, the dingy picked me up. Basically, the first two dives will be wide angle lens dives for manta rays, wobbegong sharks, many different schools of fish, big sea fans and beautiful healthy coral everywhere. It was one of the best coral reefs I had ever seen. Then the third dive and the night dive will be macro dives for nudibranchs, pygmy seahorses, cowries, sea shells, eels, soft coral crabs, shrimps and octopuses.
My highlight was spending an entire dive at the manta ray cleaning station where I saw about 9 manta rays in one dive. Also on the second last dive, two manta rays were swimming around me and very close for 15 minutes.
In my opinion, if you want to go diving in Raja Ampat, I strongly recommend that you have enough diving experience at least an advanced diver. A lot of dives had a very strong current, sometimes I had to hold my mask or hide on the big coral. Also try to dive close to your buddies and check your air all the time as the visibility was very good and you can be deep without really knowing it.
Another option to dive in Raja Ampat is to stay on some of the islands which I found very interesting too. We dived close to some of the islands twice and saw a lot richer marine life than other places we dived at and also less current. But the problem is if you want to stay on an island you will not be able to travel very far to other dive sites like you can by staying on a liveaboard. I believe the coral reefs are more beautiful and healthier than staying on an island base.