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Exploring Raja Ampat

I am fortunate to dive and travel widely while running underwater photography workshop trips. Everyone is always excited before these trips, and when I write to groups before the workshop, I am keen for their diving expectations to be in line with reality. Not so in Raja Ampat. However ever big your dreams, Raja Ampat just delivers. I’ve been travelling to this remote corner of Indonesia for 20 years and each and every trip is fantastic. Based around a large archipelago at the western end of the island of New Guinea, it is simply such a large area with so much outstanding diving that it never disappoints.

Raja Ampat has, for me, is the best diving liveaboard itinerary you can do anywhere. Other places are definitely worth seeing for how they are different, but Raja is the king. The diving is diverse, so rich in both biodiversity and biomass and blends beautiful reefs with plentiful big animal encounters and excellent macro. You can never do it all, so every trip there is different – brilliant in different ways – and always leaves you wanting to come back. In January, I made the long journey to Sorong to join the new liveaboard Emperor Harmoni, a spacious and beautifully constructed phinisi-style boat, for my latest adventure.

The trip delivered a tonne of excellent diving, too much to cover it all in words, photos or even the holiday video I’ve attached from the workshop. We took in classic scenic reefs, fishy sites, manta cleaning stations, jetties, overhanging islands and tunnels, mangroves and even full-on muck sites. Despite coming here for 20 years, I am always keen to try new sites and mix in a bit of exploration (for me at least) into the itinerary. The classic sites here are no so famous that every liveaboard ends up doing the same ones, but as soon as you step of the beaten path, there is so much to enjoy.

Raja Ampat can have strong currents, as a photography group we try hard to avoid the strongest ones, but it is important not to hide from them completely because the current brings these reefs alive. While it might be hard work shooting in such conditions, it is also when the best images come.

The water is warm in Raja Ampat, and I spent most of this trip just diving in swimming shorts and my Thermo Guard rash vest. I wore my Magellan BC, which is just so easy to travel with, and my ultra-lightweight SXS 62X regulator in DIN configuration. As usual, I used Volo Race fins – these three items save me so much luggage weight and perform brilliantly, which allows me to pack extra camera gear. I always wear a hood, just an Ultra Skin one in these temperatures, and I used the X-Vision mask. I used my Genius dive computer, which passed 600 dives on this trip and as always is the perfect dive companion, totally dependable and with a large, clear, illuminated display. I know that people value me listing gear in these reports when planning their own trips, and I have to say it is becoming a valuable resource for me too when returning to destinations.

Raja Ampat, of course, will be a destination I would always love to return to. This trip delivered amazing reefs, packed with fish, mantas, wobbegong sharks and amazing schooling fish. I can’t wait to be back.

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