We heard about Cenderawasih when we made our first trip to Raja Ampat in 2014 on board the Dewi Nusentara. See my write up of that trip to find out what a fantastic boat this is. Cenderawasih Bay is on the other side of West Papua's Bird's Head peninsular - see 'about' page for a map. Much more remote and less visited it offered the chance to dive with fish and corals that are rarer than those found elsewhere and also to see the whale sharks that frequent the locals' fishing platforms or bagans in the south of the bay.
We started our 2018 trip in Sarong - where we had started the Raja Ampat trip. This is one of Indonesia's most remote towns, reached by a flight from Jakarta to Macassar, Suluwesi, then another to West Papua. We are so far East that we are two time zones away from Jakarta - equivalent to half way across Australia. Because the boat has been in Sarong for maintenance there are two quite long sea crossings on the first two days to get to Manokwari from where most trips around the bay start. From here we travel south stopping by islands and bays to dive. Our most southerly point is the bagans to see the whale sharks after which we head north again, making our way back to Manokwari via more dive sites.
Cenderawasih Bay has been cut off several times by tectonic plate movements over the past 14 million years. As a result many of its species have evolved from their relatives outside the bay. For example the long nosed butterfly fish (above) has a yellow neck band and a greyer body than those found elsewhere. You also find fish that live at much shallower depths than in other seas as well as an amazing variety of corals. Cenderawasih has over 500 species of hard coral. We dive in some amazing coral gardens - particularly in the straits between the island of Roon and the mainland. Manokwari was also a Japanese stronghold in World War II and as a result there are some interesting wrecks of ships and aircraft. Because of local rules we take a ranger on board (who we never see) and ask permission from local villages before diving. The boat crew have this very well organized and it does not interfere with our routine.
Some of the other guests on our trip have come specifically to see the whale sharks. Fishermen fishing for baitfish and squid are used to whale sharks visiting their platforms and have fed them small amounts of their catches to bring good luck. Recently they have allowed divers to swim with the sharks. We see four juvenile sharks feeding - a larger adult visits at the end of our stay. Although not fully grown these fish are still massive and it is amazing to watch them swim around us, even if the circumstances are not as natural as finding them in the wild.
We are warmly received in the two villages that we visit. At the first there has been a festival and the locals put on a dance show for us. This is a simple place with many of the houses built on stilts over the water. Vicky is excited to see that several have raised beds growing vegetables. Despite the remoteness the first village has two very imposing churches. This was one of the first places that missionaries landed - commemorated with a large cross on the hillside. At the second village we find another large church as well as a big school - although only one of the buildings appeared to have desks and chairs. A lot for a community of only 50 families. From the sea it is hard to see how these small communities survive. We only see the occasional village between miles of hillside covered in tropical forest. See Vicky's blog for more about these village visits.
Life on board is as comfortable as ever. The crew is wonderful, cabins and living area spacious and comfortable, and the food is excellent. We have an almost full boat with 17 guests but it does not feel crowded, either on board or diving from the boat's two tenders. The long approach to Manokwari as well as rough seas on our last day mean that we can't do quite as many dives as planned but nevertheless it has been a great introduction to the area and we are already thinking about when we might be able to come back on this wonderful boat again. Select the buttons above on the left for more about the diving, and photos of the trip.