Raja Ampat: a thousand undiscovered gems floating in emerald green waters

Henry Cookson is the founder of luxury adventure travel company Cookson Adventures and is a dedicated explorer and a Guinness World Record holder for the first expedition to the Southern Pole of Inaccessibility, the exact centre of the Antarctic Continent.

Just off Western New Guinea, where the emerald green waters lie, is a little-known archipelago in Indonesia called Raja Ampat. If it is remote you are after, then this is exactly what I would recommend.

I’ve been there a couple of times, once with clients from my company and once travelling on my own. I’d return tomorrow, if I could.This beautiful collection of islands is located at the convergence of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, making its coral reefs the most abundant and splendid on earth. And herea thousand scattered, jungle-covered islets offer a serenity unparalleled in the western world.

One of my greatest passions is scuba diving. There’s something very special about the sensation; the freedom of being suspended in the vast expanse of an ocean is like flying underwater.

Creatures and plants of the Great Barrier Reef

Raja Ampat is a diver’s paradise. The rich and vibrant reefs are teeming with life. Sunken Second World War planes dot the sea bed. Every hue and texture imaginable are present amongst the kaleidoscopic corals and schools of fluorescent marine life, ranging from colourful nudibranch sea slugs to shoals of Maori wrasse to six of the world’s seven species of sea turtles.

Using our network of experts, we can give guests access to areas that others can’t. Guests can board a traditional phinisi yacht and head to the most varied snorkel and dive sites of the archipelago. We also have connections to local marine biologists and conservationists for gueststo contribute to vital conservation projects whilst exploring these protected marine areas.

A beautiful sunset silhouettes limestone islands and the bow of an Indonesian schooner in Raja Ampat, Indonesia. This remote region is known for its high marine biodiversity and fantastic scuba diving and snorkeling.

Among them is a project to combat rampant shark finning and unchecked destructive fishing which has resulted in a larger number and greater diversity of fish, coral, and molluscs than anywhere on earth. A single football field-sized patch of the region’s reefs has nearly five times the number of coral species as the entire Caribbean Sea. Its shark populations – a keystone species vital to the ecosystem’s health – have rebounded after years of persecution.

Throughout the region there are marvels to see at every turn. In the Dampier Strait, strong currents bring nutrients through this channel of water, attracting megafauna such as manta rays, reef sharks and, occasionally, even pilot whales. The shallow waters of Wayag Lagoon are the best place to swim with swirling sharks before enjoying local fish and vegetables cooked up on the beach.

Amongst the Fam Islands, guests can spot the pygmy seahorse or the wonderfully named wobbegong, also called the carpet shark. At sites like Melissa’s Garden and the Penemu Wall gorgonian sea fans grow up to three metres long and blow like trees in the currents, while small iridescent fish inspect the reef’s nooks and crannies. Around the islands of Kawe, which sits on the equator, the seas boast a spectacularly complicated underwater topography, making them a haven for snorkelers.

A snorkeler explores a healthy, shallow coral reef in Raja Ampat, Indonesia. This tropical region is home to extraordinary marine biodiversity.

For those who are truly looking to elevate their experience of Raja Ampat to the next level, I’d advise clients to add a submersible to their exploration. I’m proud to say that my company has been leading private submersible travel ever since we arranged the first ever private submersible dive in Antarctica.

Cookson’s submersible pilots have taken various vessels to different depths in some of the world’s most unexplored waters. Journeying into the unknown in this manner is unlike anything most will ever experience.

Peacock Mantis Shrimp

On land, the archipelago is dominated by four islands: Salawati, Batanta, Waigeo and Misool, collectively known as the Four Kings. Home to over 800 species, the islands offer one of Mother Nature’s greatest exhibitions. Birds of paradise such as great-billed parrots, and marbled frogmouths parade their magnificent plumage and a cacophony of birdcalls rises from the jungle. But to really see them in their natural habitats, you need one of only a few local guides.

Even a simple hike to see the iconic limestone karsts scattered across the islands’ topography can be a magical experience when you know the best views.

Raja Ampat holds some special memories for me and, despite the many parts of the world I feel are yet to explore, it’s a corner I long to return to.

Henry Cookson is the Founder of Cookson Adventures. For more information or to enquire about expedition possibilities, visit: https://cooksonadventures.com.