Imagine to paddle here ! : RAJA AMPAT, an archipelago of more than 600 islands stretched out on an area of 250 x 350 km in Papua, the most eastern province of Indonesia ( former IRIAN JAYA ).
" I have never seen a more spectacular place ! " ( Roger Steene, author of 13 books )
" Reefs on Steroids "
" Heart of the Coral Triangle "
You might think You are flying over PANDORA , the fantastic jungle in the AVATAR movie if You take a passenger flight in Max Ammer's Ultra Lite airplane...
I live since 20 years in Indonesia now and have never seen such an amazing landscape ! I felt like I on another planet...
... with alien 'spaceships' ( a group of MANTAS )...
...and even a Na'vi warrior princess ! ...well, Sweena got the long legs of an AVATAR ....
....but persistently rejected blue make up...
'PANDORA Rocks' ...
The mushroom shape is characteristic for this area - a result of Karst morphology, the particular weathering process of limestone or carbonate stone. Similar 'surrealistic' landscapes with jagged steep rocks and caves are famous from PALU or the PHANG NGA Bay in Southwest Thailand...
... BUT different from the above mentioned 'tourist' places - this area is untouched - during one week of paddling we only passed by two small villages and met just a handful of fisherboats !!!
We saw MANTAS and SEATURTLES from the kayaks , STINGRAYS and BABYSHARKS under our bungalows.
I caught an endemic epaulette shark with my hands.
RAJA AMPAT is worldfamous among Scuba divers and bird watchers, but still untouched by seakayakers...
So WHAT IS THE PROBLEM ?
THE PROBLEM : seakayaks are extremely expensive in Indonesia due to an idiotic tax policy - in fact, there is no shop or company actually SELLING seakayaks in Indonesia. Therefore no operators !
THE SOLUTION : MAX AMMER said " Then we build them ourselves ! - bring us Your kayak around so we have an idea how it looks like - and we will improve it ! "
THE CONCEPT : Max Ammer is involved with Conservation International and other projects benefitting the environment. Now our idea about Seakayaking is that local people run ecofriendly kayaktours through the archipelago and maintain a couple of homestays for overnight stays. Max Ammer is not taking any profit out of this project - it will be entirely for the benefit of the local community.
The project is now supported by KASKAZI kayaks , Southafrica who will supply moulds and demonstrate technical skills to the local fiberglass experts.
There is still a long way to go - here the start : Rudolf Peter and Max doing some itchy fiberglass work...
For our local guide PAULUS we created the 'AMMER HAMMER' : a 'state of the axe' heavy - duty Murder Paddle that will be handed on from generation to generation of Papua Paddlers - strong, heavy, undestructable over the centuries. One could dig out a treasure with that paddle ... or decapitate savage enemies... or...
PAULUS will certainly become a Papua legend as the the first man ever to handle the ' AMMER HAMMER '...
above: PAULUS showing off in front of a cave ... He is basically a funny guy always telling jokes and singing Papua songs but when You point a camera at him he puts up a macho face - or could it be he's NOT HAPPY WITH THE PADDLE ?!?!
below : that's more like him: proving his skills as outdoor chef... cooking KETUPAT at a Paddeltour !!!A local guide is great help as he knows places to stay overnight, where to get fresh water and helpful socializing if You are visiting a village - so You don't end up on the menu list...
Location of RAJA AMPAT in Indonesia and my seajourney ( red ) from MEDAN ( Sumatra ) to RAJA AMPAT (Papua) - about 4000 km, I crossed three timezones - takes 8 - 9 days with PELNI , a true once-in-a-lifetime-experience , especially if you go in economy class...
We paddled around GAM Island one week covering distances between 12 - 35 km / day ...along this route and inside the KABUI BAY the first homestays are now under construction.
We started from KRI RESORT to the north -. Camps will be soon replaced by simple homestays which makes logistics of tours easier.
The entire distance of the tour was about 100 km ( including detours into bays with those bizarre mushroom rocks and jungle clad hills ) - OF COURSE, I can see dedicated marathon machos moaning now... YES, can be paddled in 3 days, but WHY ...
...we enjoyed a slow pace with 2 rest days for snorkeling, swimming and fishing...
We found fast Sit-on-tops ideal for such a tour - one can jump off the boat whenever he feels like it, go snorkeling right from the boat or do a swim, relax muscles, cool down...then climb on top again and continue. Papua is TROPICS after all, where an eskimo design has hardly any advantage !
below: traditional houses on Raja Ampat on stilts above the water -
Same style and natural material is incorporated for the homestays. Located above the water and exposed to the breeze of the ocean this means a cooler lofty living environment, less mosquitoes and easy access to the water for a swim or fishing
" GOT ONE ! "
" OK, guys , enough relaxed - long day ahead ! "
Northern shore of GAM island -
RAJA AMPAT is technically a safe place to paddle - even for beginners - as there are hardly any waves ( the islands protect each other from wind and waves ) and the distances between the islands are rather close.
However, there ARE some crocs at some places - another reason why You should take a guide with You - he knows where crocs usually hang out -and in case of an attack he reduces the risk statistically by one person...
On day 4 at noon we had some waves and we decided to skip the northern part of KABUI bay - instead we chose to do an entire circle of GAM and explore some smaller bays on the way...
This bay exactly in the north of GAM was stunning beautiful - we spend a lot of time paddling in the jagged landscape of PAPUA's PANDORA....
Early afternoon sunlight in between limestone rocks reflected by crystal clear water : a perfect lightshow created by God in his masterpiece NATURE !!!
Having a break in the shade ... come on PAULUS, at least TRY a SMILE for the camera !
We spent a bit too much time in that Bay. We didn't know exactly how far to go - it turned out 35 km which is too much when You paddle with stomache cramps...
PAULUS: " Sweena, where is Your head ? Can't stop here, crocodiles - but no worries - NOT FAR ANYMORE !"
SWEENA: " Hey, You told THAT already 2 hrs ago...!!!
below: Camp 3: Paulus managed a construction folding the plastic DOUBLE as it had many holes and it rained almost every night ( tropics after all )
- palmleafs : not for camouflage but to keep wind, rain and mossies out - well, it worked OK against the wind and the rain but the mossies...
On the 6th day my Kayak companions relaxed at the beach - I went alone into another bay with endless channels, waterways, caves ... there is supposed to be a lake somewhere with jellyfish that doesn't sting.. but in the labyrinth of waterways I didn't find it... I realized how important a good local guide is.
LAST DAY ( 7 ) : " OK , LET'S GO HOME ! "
last meters approaching KRI RESORT: " fresh water, shower and COLD drinks !!!!!"
DONE ! - - Best seakayak tour of my life, - Sweena's first : " Hey Halim, but You could have told me about the CROCODILES !!!" --" Yaya, sorry, I forgot but ...um...You made it, You SURVIVED !!! "
above: Back at KRI RESORT
below: male 'Eclectus Parrot' and female 'Bird of Paradise Manadonensis'
Thanks a lot to Rudolf and Max Ammer for the invitation to Paradise and all Your support, - to Sweena for the good company, modelling and the energetic spirit. God bless You all, hope to see You again !
"Hey PAULUS... why are You not here ... aduhhh, - he disappeared again ! "
- scubadiving / snorkelling / expeditions to Papua : www.papua-diving.com ; ( Max Ammer )
- seakayaking : firstname.lastname@example.org ( that's me ) ; mobile: + 62813 620 75875
UPDATED INFO: as I am typing these lines, seakayaks and homestays are built; guides need more training.
I will update this article according to the progress of the project SEAKAYAKING PAPUA's PANDORA !
How to get there:
From KUALA LUMPUR the cheapest way is with AIR ASIA to MAKASSAR / UJUNG PANDANG and from there with SRIWIJAYA AIR to SORONG ( about 1.500.000 rp / 170 US$ one way )
From JAKARTA with SRIWIJAYA AIR to SORONG via MAKASSAR ( 2.200.000 rp / around 250 US one way ) or via MANADO.
also check MERPATI AIR
by Abdul Halim ( Georg Jackstadt )
VIDEO ( Slideshow ) ' Kayaking Raja Ampat ' : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88cdZ3U27CU
PS : some underwater photos will follow - HOLD ON TIGHT !!!!
copyright by Scotty Graham
Some scubadivers are dying to see a Manta - In Raja Ampat one can see them from the air, when snorkeling or from the kayak ! To me they are among the most graceful and elegant creatures down there !
copyright with Scotty Graham
This here is one of my favourites : half in, half out of the water :
copyright by David Doubilet