On April 23, eight of us from Hong Kong travelled from Hong Kong to Cenderawasih Bay, Papua, Indonesia is search of a newly discovered hotspot where whale sharks congregate for hours in shallow waters searching for food.
Months before the trip, we read trip reports about divers swimming with up to five whale sharks over a two-hour timeframe. Iíve gone diving for whale sharks in the Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia; Wolf/Darwin Islands in the Galapagos Islands; the Maldives; and the Philippines but at these world renowned dive destinations you would be lucky if you saw one whale shark on a dive for a few minutes. I was really excited about Cenderawasih Bay and couldnít wait to get there.
Although Indonesia is located within the region, there are no direct international flights from Hong Kong or any large international city serving Papua. We flew from Hong Kong to Jakarta and then took three other domestic flights before arriving in Nabire, Papua twenty-four hours later.
Our resort, Ahe Dive Resort, is located about 30 minutes by boat from Nabire. Ahe is a small island which mainly served as a rest stop for fisherman until the local government built a dive resort in 2010.
Ahe Resort is managed by a Dutch sales manager and an experienced Indonesian divemaster from Manado.
The resort is very basic, there is no running water but they provide western-style toilets and solar shower bags. Electricity is powered by generator but you only get a few hours of electricity in the evening. The resort meals are very basic with daily offerings of fish, rice, chicken, vegetables and fried noodles. There is only one point on the island where you can get access to a mobile telephone signal.
The dive crew and resort housekeeping staff are former fisherman from the nearby islands who have recently given up fishing to work for the operation. The dive crew and housekeeping staff speak very little English and we all had to either ask the divemaster to translate or make do with my Indonesian phrasebook.
Apart from shore diving in the house reef we travelled in a perahu (dugout canoe) with side riggers to the dive sites.
The dive sites around Ahe are largely unexplored because divers started coming to this area only about a year ago. On the afternoon of our arrival we completed a check dive in the house reef. The reef seemed healthy and there was very little trash you would normally find in a house reef near a resort.
On our second and third days we explored Here Island and Roine Island and found large healthy gorgonian sea fans dotted along the reef. Some areas were dotted with hard table or staghorn coral but the reefs were devoid of large schools of fish. We also completed a couple of dives in the house reef in the afternoon and found a small school of bat fish, a frogfish and nudibranchs underneath the jetty.
On our fourth day we left the resort at 5am and travelled three hours by perahu to a concentration of fourteen floats frequented by whale sharks. The trip was quite uncomfortable because although the perahu was sheltered with a small hut all eight of us were crammed inside and it got either really windy or sweltering hot inside.
The floats house fishing nets holding the fishermenís catch of the day. The whale sharks are attracted to small fish trapped in the fishing nets. Once we arrived at our first float, we got in the water with our dive gear and found two whale sharks. Since the whale sharks were busy eating the small fish near the nets they would swim in a circle around us and return for more fish. The two whale sharks stayed with us for over an hour! I was really excited and took photos close up, something you couldnít do at other world class dive destinations frequented by whale sharks.
On the fifth day half of us stayed near Ahe while the other half travelled the distance out to the floats. Those of us who stayed near Ahe continued to explore the reefs as well as the mangroves of Hariti Island.
On the sixth day my group travelled the long distance out to the floats in search of the whale sharks again. We spent an hour diving with four whale sharks who couldnít get enough fish for their meal. The largest of the four whale sharks was over fifteen feet long and there was even a smaller whale shark that followed the three adult ones along to the float!
On the final day of diving our whole group returned to the floats and spent two hours diving with the whale sharks. We swam first with two whale sharks, when they were done with their meal one of them suddenly twisted and turned its body. Suddenly, we realized it was having a big poo! After the two whale sharks left the float two new ones arrived and the fisherman manning the float frantically fed them from the surface with small finger sized fish.
Now that Iím back in Hong Kong, with running water, constant electricity, air-conditioning and internet connection, my trip seems surreal. I hope that due to the remoteness of this location the whale sharks will remain relatively untouched. If youíre interested in my photos, they have been uploaded at www.flickr.com/wudai.
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