Over the last decade Raja Ampat has become, deservedly, one of the most desirable diving destinations in the world. The region is home to more than 1000 species of fish and over 70% of the world’s hard coral species, and perhaps of even more interest to the diving experience, some of the most breathtaking underwater scenes imaginable.
The excellent, new 146 page Diving Indonesia’s Raja Ampat by Burt Jones and Maurine Shimlock is, to date, the only diving guidebook published about the archipelago. It is an honest, respectful, engaging and sumptuously illustrated description of the diving opportunities in this unique and important region. Its packed with information too.
The cover of Diving Indonesia’s Raja Ampat.
The book has been produced in cooperation with Conservation International and starts with detailed explanations of the unique biodiversity and the reasons for it. It also introduces the holistic and considered conservation strategy for the region and its links with the local community. The majority of the pages are dedicated to the diving, sensibly dividing the archipelago into bite-sized morsels, giving a general introduction to the area’s dives before detailed site descriptions.
The book contains more than 130 dive site descriptions complete with GPS coordinates and diving directions. Dive sites are listed with both Indonesian island names and English names. It reviews all the famous sites, but Jones and Shimlock are keen to encourage us to dive the less celebrated sites as well, to fully appreciate Raja Ampat’s defining characteristic – diversity.
This publication is well timed. Until recently Raja Ampat was not well explored. Many cruise directors had their favourite route and many had not dived that widely in the islands. As recently as 2006, one “expert” advised me that my planned trip to SE Misool was a waste of time!
The last few seasons have seen a change in attitude, cruise directors have pooled their knowledge and itineraries are much more diverse. Also more boats have meant more divers and more exploration. Diving Indonesia’s Raja Ampat completes this process, accruing this knowledge for all.
A typical spread from the book, which is lavishly illustrated.
That said it is important to stress that Raja Ampat covers a massive area and will never be fully explored underwater. No book could cover it comprehensively. Sensibly, the authors encourage readers, on several occasions in the text, to keep on exploring.
I have never met the authors, but I feel they would make excellent liveaboard companions. They balance the need to provide authoritative information with a humility in their writing that gives the text a most engaging tone. They deal with the recent crocodile attack in the Nampale mangroves sensibly and sensitively.
I particularly enjoyed how quotes from famous explorers are woven into the narrative, especially where quotes are linked to places you will actually visit. Reading the one hundred and fifty year old words of British naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace about the famous Passage dive site was a real thrill. What a great way to whet the appetite for a dive there.
Photographically the book contains some excellent images, particularly wide angle, which would look even better in a larger format. However, the small size and light weight make this book a highly suitable travel companion. The wide angle photos are of a high standard and will provide some inspiration for photographers on their travels. The fish photographs are perhaps not as standout, which I believe reflects the fact that despite being home to 1320 species of our finned friends, Raja Ampat is not the best location for fish photography. The fish there are just sometimes seem a bit wild! That said the selection of images gives an excellent impression of the diversity of life and scenery.
Negatives are hard to find in a book that so accurately fulfils its brief. It would be nice if the dive sites were labelled on the maps with names, rather than just location flags. Diving depths are listed only in metres, which means a bit of mathematics for those who don’t dive metric. And it seems strange that diagrams have been included for just a handful of sites. But I am nit-picking here.
Another spread from the book, featuring some excellent images.
In summary, this is an ideal book whether you are curious about Raja Ampat, considering it seriously or have already been. Even R4 veterans will learn something and enjoy reliving old memories. The book is the perfect size to travel with and costs a very reasonable $25 USD. But the price tag should come with a warning: reading it is highly likely to cost you much more. As I turned the pages I found that the words and pictures of Jones and Shimlock left me desperate to be back amongst the wonders of Raja Ampat.