Journey to Raja Ampat

Photos and story by Cameron Dueck

Most people come to Raja Ampat to be underwater. We came to float and paddle above the water, but we strapped our snorkel gear to our kayak decks just in case.

This remote island archipelago in the Indonesian state of West Papua is home to the greatest marine biodiversity on the planet and has long been a mecca for live-aboard scuba diving trips, but now it is also becoming a unique kayaking destination.

More than 1,500 islands and one of the world’s greatest coral reef systems offer plenty of itinerary options, and a network of rustic family-run home-stays add an eye-opening cultural aspect to your kayak trip in case you can’t find a beach to camp on.

The Papua-owned and operated home-stays bridge the life on the sea that is so central to their culture and the wild, forested islands that provide them with wood, food and fresh water. The home-stays are simple structures of bamboo and palm fronds built on stilts above the water, with meals served family-style.

At Manta Sandy, a sandbar where mantas come to feed on rich plankton and allow fish to clean them of parasites, we slip on our snorkel gear and roll out of our kayaks for a closer look. Within moments mantas with wing spans of several meters appear out of the blue, effortlessly cruising through the water, passing within an arms length of us.

Raja Ampat abounds in wildlife. Within two days of paddling we stop pointing out dolphins every time we see them — they’re just too common. Sharks, turtles and a plethora of colourful fish are visible from the kayak cockpit, while parrots and hornbills fly overhead. It is home to the rare Wilson Bird of Paradise, a red and blue beauty that can be spotted on a morning hike in the jungle. At night glow worms flicker bright green in the sea as they produce bioluminescence as part of their mating display.

Raja Ampat features karst topography, with small islets so undercut by waves they look like mushrooms. Erosion has also created many interesting caves and narrow passages to explore. While some islands do have beaches, there are long stretches of coastline where landing is only possible at low tide.

It’s warm and sunny nearly all year-around, but the sea becomes rough from June through August, making long crossings more difficult. Read more tips on traveling to paddle in this beautiful and fragile eco-system, as well as information on the Raja Ampat Research and Conservation Center, which helps facilitate community development and tours in the archipelago.