Pulau Gam and Pulau Jerief, Raja Ampat Islands
I’m close to heaven in the warm waters and afternoon sun
Map of the region showing our heading - Google map linkOur destination today takes us from Mapia Atoll, southwest across the top of the “birdhead” to an island called Pulau Gam in the Raja Ampat, or “Four Kings” archipelago. The archipelago encompasses more than 3.6 million hectares of land and sea off the north-western tip of Indonesia’s West Papua Province.Located in the Coral Triangle, the heart of the world’s coral reef biodiversity, the seas around Raja Ampat possibly hold the richest variety of marine species in the world.
Orion arrives at a small village called Yenwabnor around 08:00 in the morning and the expedition team take off to check on the local conditions and find a good landing spot for the zodiacs.By about 08:30 we have all gathered at the Delphinus Café ready to board the zodiacs for the short trip to the village. It’s another beautiful morning with bright sunshine and clear skies.Approaching the Village
The village is nestled at the base of a large hill, on the shores of a small bay. In the early morning light it looks idyllic and as we head to our landing we pass a welcoming sign out in the bay.Welcome to Kampung YenwaupnorAs the zodiacs approach the shore we pass a couple of huts at the end of a long jetty. We find out later these are the visitors huts and that Justin stayed here during his scouting trip.Visitor HutAfter we wet land from the zodiacs young girls welcom us and presented us with flowers. We are ushered through a decorated arch to an open area where we take our seats and wait for the welcome ceremony to begin.Waiting for the welcomeA few minutes after we are all settled we hear the sound of flutes and drums. This is quite different from other welcomes as we haven’t seen any flute players before.Flute PlayerAs the music gets louder there is a long procession past where we are seated, lead by a number of the flute players and drummers.Young drummerIn the body of the procession are a young couple and we find that part of the welcome is a wedding ceremony. I'm not sure if it's the real thing or not!The wedding coupleAccompanying them are their friends and relatives who have come to be a part of the ceremony.Young girl taking part in the ceremonyAfter the wedding has been performed it’s time for the feast and the women of the village have a fire pit hot and ready for the meat and vegetables to be added to it. Once they have been added palm leaves are placed over it and water poured on to create the steam to help in the cooking.Adding to the feastWhile that’s cooking we head off to look around the village. Mike is taking a group up the mountain so we head off with him. Unfortunately I’m wearing a pair of crocs, hmmm not the best things for climbing mountains and I come a cropper about 5 minutes into the hike. Once again I’ve got my large 50-500mm lens of the camera so I’m in a bit of a bad shape as I land pretty hard on some rocky ground. The crocs are toast and I’ve got a few scrapes but I laugh it off and tell them I’ll wait for them to come back.Local boy with crocs wondering what’s wrong with me!I spend the time getting over the fall and working on my tan. After that I head down to the village itself and spend a little time walking some of the laneways between the houses. Along a main avenue I spot this local man with a his unique headdress.One of the localsMeanwhile Kelly has successfully climbed the mountain and is on the way back. Moomoo has also been on the climb and Kelly got this shot of her looking back over the village.MoomooThe village is really neat and laid out in a clearly defined grid, there are chickens and roosters running about and the kids are cautious but definitely interested in you.Young islanderAs you walk through the village it’s not hard to spot the Orion anchored just off shore.Local water transport vs. the OrionThere are kids playing and fishing from the wharf and life seems pretty good in the village.Woman fishing from the wharfAt the end of town is a small shop selling pretty much anything. I take a look inside and there’s a young man tending shop, playing his guitar and singing between customers.ShopkeeperI catch up with Kelly and Moomoo and we head back to the landing spot. We have few bites of the pork from the fire pit and then it’s onto the last zodiac and back to the ship. In a couple of hours, after lunch, Captain Frank is going to reposition Orion near Jerief island where we are going to spend the afternoon swimming and snorkelling.After lunch the anchors are lifted and we move a few kilometres away from Yenwaupnor toward Pulau Jerief.Pulau JeriefI’ll never forget how beautiful and unspoilt it is around New Guinea and Jerief island is no exception. From the ship we can clearly see the long white beach and the thick jungle. Running along parallel to the beach is the reef. Rather than swimming to it from the shore the zodiacs will drop us off at the far right on the ocean side of the reef and we will swim back toward the centre of it.We may be last back in the zodiacs but when it comes to snorkelling we try and beat the crowd so we find ourselves one of the first groups to make it to the reef. Kelly and I go in from the zodiac and without a doubt this has to be one of the most colourful, densely populated reefs we have seen. One of the first inhabitants we see is a sea turtle but he’s gone before I get a decent picture of him.Sea TurtleWe are lucky to be with Mick and we watch him as he does his thing and dives to the bottom, anchors himself and waits for the perfect shot. I don’t know how he holds his breath for so long.Mick shooting on the reefKelly and head off up the reef and it’s amazing. I’ve got the Canon D10 underwater camera and I try to emulate Micks, dive, hold, shoot strategy and I manage to get a few shots. I wish Mick was here to tell me what fishes they are.Green fishCoral LeafCoral FanSea anemoneAs we swim further up the reef we can really feel the tug of the tide pulling us back. Just at that moment a huge Angel fish swims by and I turn to get a picture of him. As I turn the current picks me up and without having to swim I’m floating along right next to him. So for the next five minutes it’s just the two of us being pulled along by the current and I manage to get a couple of good picturesAngel FishI turn back and head back and as I approach the centre of the reef the current gets much stronger and its sweeping the water, the fish everything back and forward. It’s like being in some giant washing machine in the middle of the cycle. It’s as though two currents are converging at the one spot. It’s very cool.Converging currents sweeping back and forthUnfortunately for some of the passenger the current is a bit strong and they are having trouble swimming against it while they get into position to climb aboard the zodiac. I get into a position near the small ladder, attached to the side, and help them get their goggles and flippers off so they can climb aboard. A couple of the guys from the kitchen staff have come to lend a hand too.Donni to the rescueAfter about 15 minutes everyone is aboard and accounted for and we are dropped off at the beach for a cool drink and a bit of shore time. There’s a wonderful spot where the water is shallow and warm and we just sit and spend the afternoon in a little corner of paradise.Kelly kicking back in the shallowsBefore we are ready to leave, it’s time to go and the expedition staff almost have to drag us off the island and back into the zodiacs. Oh well, tomorrow is another day and hopefully another island.Crystal clear waters of Jerief islandAround about 17:00 Orion weighs anchor and we set a course for the McClure Gulf. Justin’s giving a presentation on the wonderful world of the Betel Nut, but I’ve been there and tried it before, bloody awful. So Kelly and I sit up on the deck watching the sunset as we sail away.