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When, how, and where Indonesia


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#1 matt215

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Posted 22 April 2012 - 11:54 AM

I've always chased big animals, but I'm looking to branch out and visit Indonesia. So I have a few questions...

When is the best time of year to go?

I want to hit raja ampat and Komodo (for the dragons). Is this possible in one trip.

I understand there are mantas. Where can they be found?

As far as little stuff goes, I want to find mandarin fish, Nemo fish, and those kelp dragon looking things. Cuttlefish would be nice too. Are these everywhere or just in certain locations?

What liveaboards can you recommend?

Thanks...
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#2 expatdiver

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Posted 22 April 2012 - 01:32 PM

You can go to Indo anytime of year, but for Raja Nov. - Apr. is probably the best time, and you'll see that most boats relocate between the major spots throughout the year. You might even be able to find a Raja & Komodo back to back trip as the boat transitions, or can just fly from Bali up to Raja, but that normally adds a wasted day en-route.

Mantas can be found just about anywhere. I've seen them in Bali (Nusa Penida), Raja Ampat, Komodo. Mandarinfish are also fairly prolific throughout the area, and any dive operator should be able to get you on a site for them. We actually just dropped in off the pier in Alor for them before heading out to sea.

Anemonefish are everywhere. You shouldn't have trouble seeing several different species at any destination. Just watch out... they bite. Also, cuttlefish are just about everywhere. Not sure what you mean by "kelp dragon looking things." If you're talking about weedy/leafy seadragons, they are down in Australia.

Personally, if I were planning a long trip from the states, and wanted to get the best of Indonesia, I would fly through Singapore to Manado, then do a few days in Lembeh, then fly off to Sorong for a Raja liveaboard plus time at Misool, then fly down to Bali (not sure if you can get from Sorong to Bima in a day) for a Komodo liveaboard. You can then add some day trips around Bali and the surrounding islands as well, for things like mants and molas.
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#3 matt215

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Posted 22 April 2012 - 01:53 PM

Ooooh. Molas too eh. I'll only have time for about 12 or 13 days. If you go to Indonesia, what's the ONE place to go? I keep hearing Raja Ampat. But being a big animal guy, I'd like to see the mantas and especially molas. A land trip to villages and Komodo dragons would be nice too. Sounds like there's a lot of island hopping involved...
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#4 expatdiver

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Posted 22 April 2012 - 04:59 PM

With only two weeks you are probably down to either Raja or Komodo, and yes there is a lot of island hopping regardless of where you go. Travel to and from Raja will eat into that time as I am pretty sure an overnight is required to get to Sorong. Either in Manado if going through Singapore, or Makassar through Bali. You might be able to shave a day by flying in through Jakarta.

I had great manta encounters at both Raja and Komodo and saw them on multiple dives at both places. The molas around Bali are seasonal. Normally they are regularly spotted from August to October, but then again the year I went in September they had been seeing them in great numbers in June.

The dragons are definitely cool, and it is the only place in the world to see such a creature in the wild.
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#5 okuma

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Posted 22 April 2012 - 07:00 PM

With at least 12-14 Indo trips, I suggest you pick one or two places and do it right.
More that that and you'll just be wasting time on planes and hotels.
I suggest a 12 day boat in Raja. This will require 14 or more days total time.

Our best trips were Banda Sea crossings from Timor to Sorong!

Edited by okuma, 22 April 2012 - 07:00 PM.

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#6 MikeVeitch

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Posted 23 April 2012 - 05:23 AM

Raja Ampat the best time to dive with a liveaboard is Dec-early April, better viz typically Feb and March. The north end can be dived all year, the south around Misool can be very rough with wind from south from June-Oct, Misool Resort closes for some months during that period.
Komodo the "high season" is May-Oct with it being warm and mainly calm in the north and cold and possibly rough in the south. However, Dec- March is mostly calm with blue warm water in the south but with possible rough water in the north. I personally like Dec as there is less diver traffic especially in the south, but all months are good.

To get to Raja from Komodo you would have to leave Labuan Bajo to Bali with a morning flight, then get on evening flight to Makassar (Lion Air at 7pm) and stay overnight in Makassar and get morning flight to Sorong. However.. i think that is a lot of flying.

Do keep in mind that most liveaboards in this area are 10-12 night trips, a few do 7 nights but that is not typical.

I would suggest one of two itineraries as you only have limited time:

Fly to Bali and join with an operator there to show you the best of Bali: Molas, the Liberty Wreck, great muck diving in the north as well as some time to enjoy the land stuff. Then fly to Labuan Bajo or Bima and join a liveaboard, (different boats do different ports) then fly back to Bali for a night or two and then home. (some liveaboards do leave from Bali to go to Komodo as well but not many)

OR

Fly to Singapore then to Manado and do 5-7 days of great Muck diving in Lembeh Strait, then head back to the airport and take a short flight to Sorong and jump on a liveaboard, then back to Manado and Singapore then home.

Let me know if you need more info

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#7 matt215

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Posted 23 April 2012 - 07:41 AM

That's a lot of good information. I may have trouble wrapping my brain around all of it. I think I need a map to start with. Any liveaboard recommendations? I hear that the Arenui is good...
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#8 Drew

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Posted 23 April 2012 - 11:08 AM

I'll half agree with Mike V. With your hit list and time frame, Lembeh and R4 are your best bets. However I'd suggest a resort vs a liveaboard for R4. Normally I'd suggest a liveaboard for R4 just to get the most out of the area. However, for species specific hit lists, a resort allows you to hit a site over and over again, while you'd have to charter the liveaboard to do the same.

There are 7 resorts in the area, most of them North of Sorong. There are several manta cleaning and aggregating sites in that area.
Here's a list
http://www.diverajaa..._operators.html

However, I've seen the Manta birostris (oceanic manta) in the south at a site called Manta Magic. In fact, the Manta Trust team are there right now trying to tag them. I'm not saying they don't go to the areas up north, but I've only seen them at this site in Indo. So if you want to get a 2fer1, MER is the place to be.

Have fun deciding!

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#9 matt215

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Posted 23 April 2012 - 02:54 PM

So are all these areas drastically different, or are they all pretty similar? I mean I know they are all pretty amazing, but how different is say, Komodo vs Raja vs Bali?
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#10 MikeVeitch

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Posted 23 April 2012 - 03:23 PM

Drew, the big Mantas are at Blue Magic in the north, close to Mioskon. Biggest ones in Raja area for sure and in my experience more reliable than Bayangan (if thats the site you are referring to...)

Matt: they are all very different. I believe Komodo has a better population of invertebrates and macro life than Raja for instance.

My list goes Komodo #1, Raja #2 just because of the invertebrates and other muck diving in the Komodo area that I "personally" feel is superior to Raja in that way.

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#11 focker

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Posted 23 April 2012 - 04:13 PM

I just got back about 5 days ago from an epic trip to Indonesia. I will write a trip report when I settle in to reality a bit more but I can try and answer any questions you may have from the perspective of our vacation.
We did 4 nights at Lembeh Resort, 11 nights on the Arenui in Raja Ampat and then 4 nights in Bali (no diving in Bali, just fun and relaxation). The Arenui is a fantastic boat with lots to see in Raja. You can see some sharks and mantas at a few places in Raja however from a liveaboard you aren't going to see big things everyday. Lembeh was certainly an great area for muck and little critters.
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#12 davichin

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Posted 23 April 2012 - 11:18 PM

Two years ago there was (and I hope there still is) a very succesful manta point at Kri.
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#13 Drew

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Posted 24 April 2012 - 01:48 AM

I have to agree with Mike that the places are pretty different in what you see and how you do it.

Komodo is very much the liveaboard destination. Diving from Labuan Bajo is an arduous affair and you probably can squeeze at the most 3 dives in at the marquee sites in the park. It's easy for tourists who want a day or 2 in Komodo but not something I'd do as a dive trip.

The best guide for R4 and Bird's Head is Burt Jones and Maureen Shimlock's books on the area. You may want to pick that up to get an idea of what is there. There is muck to dive and more sites found every day by various boats and resorts.

Bali is all shore and boat diving, but there are a few small liveaboards which occasionally dive around the island. You can stay in Lembongan/Penida and save yourself the boat ride everyday to do Mantas and molas but the islands are small (a nice diversion in Penida is the southern bird nest harvesters!) The macro on Bali itself is good but your hit list of the (I assume) lembeh pipedragon has only been seen in lembeh. There are other kinds of Syngnathiformes like dwarf pipehorses in PJ's in the grass area. I sorta like doing that in Bali, just go around hitting a species list because it's easy to do. My next trip will be concentrating on this. Much easier to do with shore dives if you know what you are looking for.

Mike, Karang Bayangan is the place. It's so much more than just a manta site though. Good life there. Then there's the Fiabacet/Boo chain of islets. Just great diving and a great counter to Lembeh and thus a compliment to an itinerary. It's a bitch to get to but once there, the diving is great.

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#14 MikeVeitch

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Posted 24 April 2012 - 04:28 AM

yes, Bayangan is a very under rated dive site, i love the spit that sticks out.. good schooling fish as well as the barracudas on the opposite side and the batfish up top :) great site

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#15 bversteegh

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Posted 24 April 2012 - 07:04 PM

I have taken seven Indo trips - 5 liveaboard and 2 resort based. I have dove the Lembeh/North Sulawesi area 3 times, Raja Ampat twice, and Komodo twice. If liveaboard prices are OK - I would recommend Komodo as your first destination. Denpassar (Bali airport) is an easy connect from the states (I use AA miles so fly on Cathay thru Hong Kong) - and is a decent airport. Manado (airport for Lembeh) is also decent, although less flight options (typically Silk Air through Singapore). Sorong (airport for Raja Ampat) is not so nice, and you are going to lose a couple more days making flight connections (one each way).
Diving - Lembeh is still my favorite for muck/critters, and has nice blue water diving North (Bangka) and on the Bunaken side (2 hour car trip). Lots of resorts here - can get the full experience shore diving and save a few scuba dollars. But Lembeh is starting to show some strain from all the people (locals and divers) - but still great diving.

Raja Ampat has gorgeous reefs, lots of fish, lots of drift diving. The mangrove diving in the passage or off Misool makes for some great wide angle opportunities that is very unique. The pier at Airborea (sp) island is awesome (giant clams, soft coral on the piers, lots of critters under the pier), and reefs at Kri are excellent. For big stuff - they have mantas, wobegong sharks, jacks and barracuda. Raja Ampat is great diving - but harder to get to and not as much muck variety as either Lembeh or Komodo.

Komodo has a great combination - gorgeous reefs, and really good muck. Both my trips to Komodo were on the Arenui (fabulous boat - highly recommended) - round trip from Bali so no puddle jumper flights required (which usually have severe weight restrictions - expect to pay for luggage if you have to fly local). Komodo has several muck sites - with unusual suspects being world class (frogfish, coleman shrimp, mimic octopus, cuttlefish, tiger shrimp, stargazers, sea moths, much more). Castle rock is a great blue water dive (white tips, jacks, turtles, great vis, drift dive) and cannibal rock and yellow wall (southern Komodo off Rinca) are two of the lushest reefs I have ever seen. And right around the corner is Manta alley - tons of Mantas and we also saw a Mola and swordfish there.

All three locations are excellent - and I would love to do the transition cruise from Komodo to Raja Ampat (up through the Spice Islands); have heard great things about that trip as well. But for a first trip with somewhat limited time - I think Komodo is your best bet. Bali is great topside, has a pretty good airport, and great variety of diving. And the Komodo dragons are very cool as well!! Check out my Flickr sight in signature block - lots of Indo pictures.
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#16 gina

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Posted 26 April 2012 - 06:38 AM

That's a lot of good information. I may have trouble wrapping my brain around all of it. I think I need a map to start with. Any liveaboard recommendations? I hear that the Arenui is good...


I was on the Arenui last summer and wrote up a review:
http://wetpixel.com/...mp;#entry288267

My next trip to Indonesia will be on the Damai:
http://www.dive-damai.com/

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#17 matt215

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Posted 26 April 2012 - 10:22 AM

I've pretty much settled on komodo. Now I'm trying to decide on a boat. The seven seas boat has available tours at a good time for me.canyone been on this boat? How about the dancer fleet? I like the looks of the Arenui but the available times are not good for me...
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#18 Drew

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Posted 26 April 2012 - 10:50 AM

7 Seas is owned and run by the pioneers of Komodo Park. Mark found many of the dive sites on the map. The only criticisms I have are the 2 rooms in the front aren't comfortable if you are over 5'7". They also charge for wine and EAN. It's not the most luxurious boat now but the indonesian crew is fantastic and the boat is very well maintained. You can't go wrong with them.

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#19 RWP0515

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Posted 04 May 2012 - 11:33 PM

The Manta scientists have arrived too late. The majority of the Giant Manta's have already left the Dampier Straight. They start to arrive in December, numbers seem to peak in February, they start leaving in April.

I counted 12 at Blue Magic one day but the viz was not great and I think there were more.

We also get the Giant Manta's at Cape Kri (Sorido Bay Resorts House Reef) and Sardines Reef. The all white Giant Manta is AMAZING. I've seen it a few times.

#20 matt215

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Posted 12 May 2012 - 05:23 AM

I ended up booking 11 days in late August on the Arenui. Bali to Komodo. now I just have to decide what lenses to use. I've never shot macro...
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