Because a video can tell more than words.
Have a look on board during one of our latest trips in Raja Ampat.
Because a video can tell more than words.
Because a video can tell more than words.
Have a look on board during one of our latest trips in Raja Ampat.
With some of the most epic and well documented diving in the world, Indonesia has become a popular destination for travellers looking to indulge in the wonders of the sea. But serious divers face a choice upon arrival: to locate themselves on the shores of various islands and travel by land, or to fully indulge in the adventure lifestyle by booking a luxurious cabin on an Indonesian liveaboard dive boat that will do the travelling for you.
But, there are some important factors you should consider when making the decision about chartering a liveaboard in Indonesia. After all, no one wants to be out to sea eating poor quality food on a trip with people they don’t like, or worse, find themselves under the not so experienced care of a Dive Instructor who doesn’t know the area. To make sure you choose the right boat and have the experience of a lifetime in Indonesia, we’ve put together this checklist to ensure you know what to ask about when you’re planning your Indonesian liveaboard experience.
In Indonesia there are many incredible dive sites but of those, the best two are undoubtedly the region of Raja Ampat and the protected areas of the Komodo National Park. It’s more than possible to include both of these areas on a liveaboard journey, so make sure you ask any companies you are considering whether they’ll do so. Then make sure you’re clear about where the boat will launch. Boats commonly depart from Labuan Bajo in Flores, or from Sorong in West Papua. It’s also important to make sure you ask about the weather and timing of your trip. Both of these areas are welcoming to tourists, but you should know that West Papua requires an extra day of travel from Denpasar.
If you’re an experienced diver you’ve likely got some, or all of your own equipment, but make sure the boat you’re considering has ‘top notch’ gear anyway. Ask them what kind of equipment they have, look for reputable brands and ask them if the gear is regularly serviced. Some Indonesian operations skimp on this vital factor and the result is equipment that is aged or damaged. Ask them if they have spare parts, if they can carry out unexpected repairs on board, and even how many tanks they’re operating. They’ll need to have an air compressor on board but these machines can be noisy, so make sure there are enough tanks to get you and your dive buddies through the day before the machine is switched on. Also, double check that the company has DAN insurance, and oxygen on board in case of emergency.
Whether you’re sharing a twin cabin or planning to book your own, really look at the photos and make sure there’s enough space for you to catch a decent night’s sleep. A common mistake friends make is trying to squeeze three into a room that was built for two people. Unless you’re chartering a super yacht, the cabins on any boat are built to be compact, so ensure that there’s enough storage, that the beds are comfortable and that there are enough bathrooms to accommodate you.
Don’t hesitate to ask about the crew who’ll be on board with you. Are they experienced, have they been working together for some time, or are they newly assembled. It’s especially important to ensure your Dive Instructor or Dive Master knows the area well and if they are trained in first aid. Also ask the company if there are other certified divers in the crew, and what languages they speak. It’s always reassuring to feel as if you can communicate your needs to at least one of the crewmembers. A good boat in Indonesia will have someone who can speak English, Italian, Indonesian, French, Spanish and Portuguese.
As a paying customer the team should be ready to assist you with anything you may need and that means you can expect them to keep up a professional standard of service throughout the whole trip. So ask about the service, is there a cabin boy to clean your room and wash clothes? Does a waiter attend the meals and can someone make you a coffee in the morning? Indonesia’s beautiful environment needs protecting so ask the company what they do with the rubbish and also whether you’ll have access to a TV, DVD player and sound system should the weather turn and require a movie night.
Food and beverages are an important part of your liveaboard experience. There’s nothing nicer than sitting back watching the sunset and enjoying a gorgeous meal after a day in the water! Before you choose your company, check to see if the chef has been professionally trained. If you’re on a longer trip, you can expect there will be times between ports where fresh food gets a little low, so ask about what’s served when that happens. Also, ask about what drinks are on board, can you bring your own wine or do they accept requests to stock spirits of your choice? Be aware that in Indonesia, the supply of alcohol is often limited, this is due to the largely Muslim population in many areas of the archipelago, so make sure your demands are reasonable but also that you feel accommodated.
Some companies run the same trips over and over and have no flexibility about routes and schedules. This can be disappointing if you find a sweet spot that you want to dive again or if the weather turns. Make sure you ask the team whether they are willing to be fluid with the schedule? Depending on the length of your charter you’ll always sacrifice one stop for another, but ask if they’re willing to do this should you desire it. There’s nothing worse than finding a diving mecca and having to pull anchor when you want to spend more time exploring!
Though diving may be your main motivation consider a company who also offers adventures above the water. Indonesia is rich with many experiences on land as well as in the sea. Whether it’s island hopping in search of unique cultural experiences, mountain climbing, fishing, sea kayaking, water skiing or even exploratory trips into unchartered areas. Further to this, does the boat have a qualified PADI or SSI instructor so you can up skill on your diving? If so consider becoming an advanced or rescue diver while on board and using the time to better your underwater skills.
Many liveabords run large operations where you’ll find yourself on board with 15-20 people! Think about how this will impact your serenity and sense of freedom. While there are benefits to meeting lots of others, consider smaller boats with a higher level of luxury and service. The lovely thing about a smaller group is that you get to know each other intimately. You share in moments of joy and beauty together and it’s a bespoke experience. The main factor to consider is comfort, boats have limited space so do yourself a favour and make sure you don’t get caught out by a ‘cookie cutter’ type of charter where you’ll feel like just another cog in the factory line.
This is the one area where most people go wrong. You need to consider that you’re not just paying for your diving; you’re also paying for all of your food, accommodation and entertainment for the period of your trip. So make sure you weigh this up when you’re making cost decisions. If you choose to see this beautiful country by land you’d be paying added expenses anyway but a liveabaord trip is generally all-inclusive.
If you’re looking for a boat trip that ticks everything on this list then consider Mantra Dive and Sail. The company offer bespoke liveaboard experiences throughout Indonesia with everything from 2-day to 25-day trips available. You can book the whole boat for a journey of your choice or just a private cabin on one of the trips they already have planned. Liveabord is the best way to dive the archipelago of Indonesia so ensure you’re getting what you pay for with a quality company! Click here for more information and start planning the trip of a lifetime.
All over the globe, there are divers and adventurers who are completely obsessed with sharks. They’re the ones avidly watching shark videos and writing ‘swimming with sharks’ as an item on their bucket lists. They’re the ones researching tropical destinations, chartering boats to shark-infested waters, booking tours to see baby sharks, and they’re most often recognised dropping into the ocean with the hopes and dreams of encountering these eerie, powerful beasts one on one.
Sharks, more than any other creature, completely polarise their audience. They’re an obsession for some – while they repulse others. But there’s something incredible about coming face to snout with any type of shark. It triggers in divers the most base of emotions. A prehistoric feeling that every sentient being experiences at some time during life; that humbling moment when our position on the food chain shifts and we sense ourselves as prey.
Even with those species of sharks classified as ‘non dangerous’ there’s a touch of fear, excitement and nervousness as you jump in to meet the hunters in their own environment. Your heart rate increases and your air use goes up. Some people freeze, some get reckless, some panic and others just watch, minds blown at the beauty, the grace and the sleek muscled speed of these creatures.
Despite the fanfare, the truth about diving with sharks is that you learn to set aside everything you once knew about yourself. If you were unlucky enough to be ruined by watching a certain infamous shark movie as a youngster, you learn to put aside the irrational fear that there’s a giant in the water ‘out to get you’.
If you’re a surfer who has seen the damage to others’ boards and bodies from ill-fated and unlucky attacks – you’ll learn that the experience is totally different from 30 meters under the water.
And, if you’re an intrepid traveller or adventure junkie, you’ll learn that one shark is never enough. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself travelling the tropics in search of bigger sharks, different species and more close encounters.
This is partly how I found myself on The Mantra; a luxury Indonesian live-aboard with two fellow shark obsessives, and the lofty goal of encountering Scalloped Hammerheads. We journeyed through Raja Ampat and Maluku then over the Banda and Flores Sea. During our three weeks on board we were diving every day, and were lucky enough to experience some ‘up close and personal’ encounters with sharks of all sizes. However, there was one morning I’ll never forget. Check out the video below and you’ll see what I mean.
For days, we were earnestly searching the Banda Islands for Hammerhead sharks, which are famous for their mallet shaped head and wide set eyes. There was a spot renowned for their presence, a deep dive that our computers protested, but we visited twice anyway without joy. Of course, nothing is guaranteed in the deep blue sea, so I wasn’t too upset. After all, we were regularly coming across white tips, black tips and the occasional grey shark, so I was getting in some fin time and improving my diving skills regardless. Over my short shark-diving career I’ve learned to relax more and more. The dives on the Mantra were an extension of that progress. Their excellent instructor had me using less weight, less air and having more fun than ever before.
Two days after these initial investigative deep dives we reached the third in a small series of volcanic islands. We anchored just after dawn and as the crew began to prepare breakfast, a boat of local fisherman came out to the Mantra for a visit. We’d been impressed by the previous day’s sighting of venomous sea snakes in the sulfur-ridden coral, but I had let go of the idea of seeing Hammerheads. Despite my doubts, the locals insisted that this island was rich with the species, so our Dive Instructor made the decision to jump before eating breakfast. We took the dingy and the three of us kitted out with cameras and dark glasses to block out the glare of the early morning sun which shone directly down upon us, illuminating the clear water and welcoming us into the tenth day of our trip.
We jumped and headed down to about thirty meters; the reef at this site was the opposite from the previous day’s post apocalyptic landscape. It was stunning – as it had been through most of the region. The area was rich with a variety of reef and pelagic fish plus a range of healthy corals. The sun was a bright globe above the surface giving us a well-lit visibility of about 15-20 meters and beaming light directly onto us as we saw the first of three schools of Scalloped Hammerhead sharks approach.
In popular culture, sharks are often said to swim in packs, but this really was a school. They were all sizes, males, pregnant females and even the occasional juvenile. Three groups with at least twenty Hammerheads per group lazily swam above us. They were going about their business as if a trio of mesmerised divers were not hovering just ten meters beneath them.
Some broke off from the pack to check us out with the sharp rudder-like movement that their heads allow. Their eye placement offers panoramic vision, so I knew they could see us, just as well as we could see them, but I didn’t feel fear. Instead I felt wonder at the beauty of these animals passing by so casually. They were taking their time in a migration to the next spot and nothing was going to hurry them along.
Hammerhead Sharks tend to hunt alone at night but often travel in packs or schools during the day, and while it was the first time for me, this was the largest number of sharks the others had seen at one time too. This is notable as unlike me, they are veterans with 5,000 dives between them.
But of course, like every experience, it had to come to an end. After shooting video and literally beaming into our regulators we surfaced grinning and went back to the beautiful Mantra with our minds blown and our tummies hungry for hot coffee and fresh fruit.
An Internet search will uncover pages of species and extinction information – it’s enough to keep you busy all day, so here are a few interesting facts about Hammerhead Sharks to whet your appetite. Yes, by now you can tell I’m a shark nerd of the worst type.
I can’t emphasise enough how incredible my experience with Hammerheads and Mantra Dive and Sail was, so make sure you snap up every opportunity to see these beautiful creatures in the flesh. For me, the Mantra was the perfect boat to host my trip. Everything from the diving and the island adventures was top notch. Luckily, their team regularly takes out private charters, or you can book a double cabin on a scheduled trip. Get in touch with the guys at the links above.
Thanks in part to divers, sharks in Raja Ampat are protected. In 2013, the government of Raja Ampat created the first shark sanctuary in the Coral Triangle. Mantra Dive and Sail helps the government collect funds for the vast protected area. Shark fishing is banned in all 46,000 square kilometers of Raja Ampat’s marine territory.
Simply by spending money in the economy, divers provided strong support for this initiative. Non-government ecological organizations were able to show a live shark has more economic value than a dead one. Recognizing the value of their unique environment, the people of Indonesia have chosen to protect it here in Raja Ampat. Today we will focus on seven shark species that are thriving thanks in part to this protection.
Three species of reef shark, black tip reef sharks, white tip reef sharks, and grey reef sharks, sit atop the food chain and feast in these fecund protected waters. Lurking on the bottom, four more species, whimsical walking sharks, wiggle and waddle through the muck munching on the weird critters in the substrate.
These medium sized sharks rarely exceed 1.6 meters and are easily distinguished by the dark black tips of their caudal and dorsal fins, contrasting with their lighter grey body. They do not range far, living out most of their lives on a favorite corner of reef in an area as small as half a square kilometer. Sometimes they cooperate to herd smaller fish. They are timid and will flee if approached. Perhaps they are nervous because they know they may end up a meal for a grey reef shark or another larger black tip shark. They are among the most commonly seen sharks in Raja Ampat.
The white tip reef sharks, unlike other members of the requiem family, can pump water over their gills so they can breathe without swimming. They often spend the day hiding in caves or overhangs. You can identify them by their narrow bodies with incongruously large broad heads with skin flaps on the sides of their snouts. They are curious and may investigate you, but are not know to attack humans. They hunt at night, primarily by wriggling into cracks to catch the critters hiding in the reef.
Grey reef sharks in Raja Ampat congregate in groups of 5 to 20 in the shallow water of reefs near drop offs. These sharks are generally under 2 meters long, and very fast and agile swimmers. You can identify them by the white tip on the first dorsal fin and dark tips of the other fins. You may also be able to identify them by their aggressive threat display if you get to close to them. When grey sharks feel threatened they will adopt a hunched posture and make an exaggerated side to side motion with their body. Avoid this spectacle by giving them a wide berth, and if one does start to display, back away while keeping them in view.
Both wobbegong sharks and epaulette sharks in Raja Ampat live and hunt in the fertile sediment on the sea floor near reefs. They can swim or move along the bottom by walking on their pectoral fins.
There are two species of wobbegong walking sharks in Raja Ampat – the tasselled wobbegong and the ornate wobbegong. The tasselled variety is alone in its genus, and individuals lead solitary lives. They can get quite large, reaching up to 1.8 meters long, but they are well camouflaged. Beard-like dermal lobes hang from its head and barbels surround the nose. The name “wobbegong” comes from Australian aboriginal language for “shaggy beard.” The ornate wobbegong also has barbels dermal lobes but is considerably smaller, rarely exceeding 1 meter. Both specices are nocturnal bottom dwellers. They can ‘walk’ on their pectoral fins. Avoid getting to close to them. They may bite people if they feel threatened.
Epaulette sharks have a large black spot on each side behind their pectoral fins that some say makes them look like military epaulettes, hence the name. These bottom dwelling nocturnal sharks often wriggle their bodies and push with their pectoral fins to ‘walk’ along the sea floor, so they are also called “walking sharks.”
Epaulette sharks are often stranded in tide pools in the reef when the tide goes out. The sharks and other creatures in the pool use up the oxygen, reducing concentrations by up to 80%. To cope with these deadly hypoxic conditions, the epaulette shark is able to regulate its cardio vascular system dramatically. Blood pressure and heart rate drop by half and blood vessels in the body constrict, concentrating oxygen in the brain. This allows these amazing creatures to survive for hours with very little oxygen.
Recently, in 2013, marine biologists discovered a new species of hemiscyllium – the epaulette shark genus – and named it Hemiscyllium halmahera after Halmahera island in Raja Ampat. There are 1,000s of species of fish and invertebrates thriving in the protected waters of Raja Ampat, teeming over reefs containing 3/4ths of all living coral species. The seas are full of breath taking underwater sights and abundant life.
Come join us on a cabin booking liveaboard dive trip in Raja Ampat and discover this amazing underwater world for yourself. We also offer private dive charters in Raja Ampat. Experience the incredible bio-diversity at the protected heart of the Coral Triangle. Perhaps you can even discover a new species!