What a sensational week.
I know I usually say that after all our trips away, but this one truly took the cake.
From the moment we arrived in Sorong after our bouncing around in planes, the Papua Explorers team too the utmost care to make our trip as memorable as possible. What a success that was!
Almost every building at Papua Explorers is sited above the shallows, with cooling breezes blowing through to keep the humidity at bay. Our group occupied the furtherest 3 bungalows from the resort, which while already a quiet place, meant we felt it was almost our own private resort! Our own verandahs, sun lounges, hammock, en-suite all in a private ‘Pondock’ – created and built in the local Papuan style, by the locals.
With all the food you could possibly eat served three times a day, with morning and afternoon tea after your dives, we didn’t need to worry about paying a big bill at the end – all meals included, and all except soft drinks & alcohol (and souvenirs of course!) included in the tariff!
So the diving. We split our 8 divers into 2 vessels, leaving lots of room for cameras, and any extra goodies. analyzing our tanks before departing our drivers whisk us away to sites within 45minutes of ‘Papex’.
Photos’ don’t do any of this justice. The dive sites are amazing, with super clear water, warm temperatures and huge amounts of marine life in all directions.
Our guides Novrits and Frengky were so attentive and made sure we saw all of the special, tiny creatures our unaccustomed eyes would never have spotted. Ghost Pipefish, Pygmy Seahorses, Tint Decorator and Sponge Crabs, Leaf-fish, oh the list goes on and on…. Up to four dives a day we squeezed in, with two morning dives and an afternoon dive on the boats, and then either a Night Dive, Fluoro-Dive or Mandarinfish dive at night.
The night dives are held from the DiveShop Jetty, and truly hold some amazing sights. The macro life is simply superb, an explorers dream. Diving with a local guide is absolutely the way to go. If not for Frengky, Novrits or Tommi, I’m sure we would not have seen a quarter of the critters on offer.
Between the morning two dives, we picnicked on beaches and islands all over, with fresh tropical fruit, biscuits and tea, hot chocolate or the local ‘Hapi- Kopi’ – “Happy Coffee”. Try it at least once. But you need to strain it with your teeth as the grounds are fresh and stay in the cup! Many of the team ended up with ‘Hapi-Kopi-Moka’ by the end of the week, adding powdered chocolate to the thick mix! After returning to Papex, the dive crew looked after our gear prepping for the afternoon, while we meandered up for lunch and a siesta.
After the afternoon boat dives and night jetty dives, sweet treats are ready to go for the divers, with tea, coffee and hot chocolate on offer.
A personal favourite memory, and a sign of the care and attention the Papex team had for us – after our first day diving – I was a little chilly after the fourth 1 hour dive, so prepped a hot chocolate and drank it under the freshwater outdoor jetty shower – looking back at the twinkling lights of the pondocks onshore…… saying something to the tune of ‘Nowhere better in the world than right here, right now’ – after every night dive that week, a crew member handed me a hot chocolate and herded me to the shower.
Some truly jaw dropping dive sites – photos cant describe you have to see it for yourself!
Our lowest visibility for the trip at about 10-15m, but the lush growth and marine life more than made up for it! Hawksbill Turtle feeding enthusiastically on crustaceans, paying no attention or bother to Chris or I as we happily filmed and snapped away. Up in the shallows a massive school of massive Bump-Headed Parrotfish feeding in clouds of falling sands.
Dropping into crystal clear water, swimming over wide fields of lettuce coral on the way to the no-go area of Manta Sandy. This is where the mantas come to the cleaning stations, and unmolested by divers getting too close, swim around the bommies being cleaned by the local wrasses.
Ott’Dima – “Where is Otto?”
The saying goes that while searching for new dive sites, a dive guide jumped over the side of the boat as it was motoring along, without anyone knowing – to discover this amazing shallow reef. It wasn’t till a short time later he was discovered missing, hence the name “Where’s Otto?” (Yes the boat turned around and picked him up again!!)
My absolute favourite site. Starting deeper Frengky led us to a small coral bommie with an overhang absolutely stuffed with Glassfish – so many that it is is sometimes hard to see the beautiful school of lined sweetlip hiding in the underhang. A stunning spot for photos. Moray Eels hiding in crevices, Waspfish, and in the shallows, undulating field of unblemished pristine Staghorn coral, with schools of fish crisscrossing in all directions. Different species of anemonefish and their hosts all over the place. Magic.
This is the location where the truly massive Oceanic Mantarays, with over 5m wingspan, often come to be cleaned. While we were not lucky enough to see one on this trip, we swam through schools of barracuda, Surgeonfish and Trevally in the deep blue light.
A fantastic day trip, scooting to the opposite side of Gam island, to drift through between the islands on the flowing tide. The water here is quite shallow, and our guides crossed us back and over to each side, visiting not only a cavern with filtered light from the mangroves above, sweeping and huge Gorgonian Fans, Turtles and Mobula Rays. This is not a dive to bring the big cameras, but one to enjoy the swift water rush as you scream along behind your guide! So. Much. Fun! (Sorry we got left behind Frengky – Rod & I were having to much fun!)
Fish soup – the only way to describe it. Fish, fish, fish, clear water, bright colours, healthy coral everywhere, more fish. Amazing!!!!!
Do. Not. Miss. This. Macro life central. Everything from Flame File Shells, Toadfish, massive Mantis Shrimp, Teeny Weeny crabs, so small you question what you are seeing! Lionfish, Basket-stars, Tubastrea(daisy) coral, huge Tasseled Wobbegongs, Mandarinfish. Follow your guide. Tommi was absolutely amazing finding the tiniest things!
I cannot recommend Papua Explorers and their awesome team higher. Even the night I had a big delay after a fall, the kitchen team stayed long after they should have left, to make sure i had a good meal. Amazing place, Amazing people. Even better news is it is now easier to get there also, with direct flights to Sorong from Bali, without needing a stopover in Makassar. Truly, I cannot wait to return.