Divers group photo from Misool, Raja Ampat

This is my log book of our Raja Ampat dives whilst exploring the Misool area on our recent Off the Chart Expedition on the liveaboard MV Panunee. Our dive guide was Hangky who has worked with the MV Panunee for years, our dive group Lizzie, Roy, Caro, Peter, Boots and myself Ric.

Dive One Farondi Slope

07:33

Time In

23.9 m

Max Depth

56 minutes

Dive Time

30°C

Water Temperature

Farondi Slope, Raja Ampat Dive Site Map

Farondi Slope, Raja Ampat Dive Site Map

First dive of the trip and it’s a really easy one. It’s fairly standard liveaboard practice to choose such a site to get things started, it’s nice if you haven’t dived in a while and it’s also opportunity for the guides get the measure of the divers in their group. It could be said it was also our chance to measure the worth of our guides. They certainly did not disappoint as we were shown a bounty of pygmy seahorses.

The site was a sloping coral reef situated in a small bay, starting at around 5m and gently sloping down to the sandy sea bed at around 25m. Even though the site had been briefed as not a “true Raja coral site” it was still a pretty impressive start to our expedition. Majestic angelfish and Six-banded angelfish were the most noticeable fish for me, mainly because I had never seen them before. Was nice to see some Harlequin sweetlips too, I only know these fish from Koh Tachai Pinnacle in Thailand.

Dive Two Farondi Cave

11:26

Time In

31.5 m

Max Depth

55 minutes

Dive Time

30°C

Water Temperature

We started the dive swimming under a large overhang underwater and then descending down a wide swim through. Hangky our guide was thorough scanning the surrounding walls, finding a couple of cool green nudibranches (sorry that is about as detailed as my nudi taxonomy goes, especially in unknown lands). Without realising we hit 31.5m depth exiting the swim through. Good work team, dive two of the trip and we were already breaking rules.

Stunning topside scenery around Farondi

Stunning topside scenery around Farondi

Encountering another group as we shallowed slightly we all looked up to spot around 12 Mobula rays whizzing about overhead. The rest of the dive was along a pretty wall with a lot of nice corals. Shallowing further we ended the dive back under the overhang. The overhang and sunlit holes in the limestone rocks created a nice mix of light and shadow. Back near the entrance to the swim through there were hundreds of thousands of glassfish, their movement and balling in the interesting lighting was quite mesmerising. Nice end to the dive.

Dive Three Three Sisters

15:37

Time In

25 m

Max Depth

56 minutes

Dive Time

29°C

Water Temperature

Raja Ampat dive guide Hangky

Our dive guide – Hangky

I do not have many notes about this dive. The current was significantly stronger and the water visibility somewhat reduced from what we had experienced so far. Hangky pointed out several more pygmy seahorses, which I couldn’t see, so I politely attempted some photographs before moving on. We encountered two turtles, one small and one much larger. There were plenty of tube sponges on the dive site. There we go.

Dive Four Farondi Slope

No dive data for this one sorry, I opted for sundowners instead.

Dive One Farondi Cave

06:45

Time In

30.5 m

Max Depth

58 minutes

Dive Time

30°C

Water Temperature

Back to Farondi Cave for our first dive of day two. We followed the same route as the previous day, presumably this is way it’s always done. There was a large Humphead parrotfish above the reef on top of the cave entrance. A few more appeared as we descended down into the swim through. After a brief stop to check out our two green nudi’s we exited the cave turning left. It proved to be a bit crap so we turned around and headed the other way which was a lot better.

Around Farondi in Misool, Raja Ampat

Around Farondi in Misool, Raja Ampat

There seemed to be a lot more action as we approached a large overhang. There were hundreds of Robust fusiliers hanging around in the shadows, along with a shy octopus and a few Baramundi. I have only ever seen one Baramundi before whilst diving in Myanmar. Boots and I hung around underwater a little longer after our safety stop, with the rest of the group already on the surface, a huge school of trevally appeared swimming fast over the shallow reef. There were hundreds of them, resembling giant trevally but not quite as large. They past all around us before disappearing over the reef. Possibly heading to harass the schools of fusiliers we’d spotted earlier.

Dive Two Batu Tenga

10:21

Time In

24.1 m

Max Depth

60 minutes

Dive Time

30°C

Water Temperature

Batu Tengah, Raja Ampat Dive Site Map

Batu Tengah, Raja Ampat Dive Site Map

Batu Tenga is a small rocky islet with steep walls underwater. Jutting off one side of there is a flat plateau at around 24m. The corals were quite patchy in areas but heading over to the end of the plateau we found one really lively pinnacle covered in dense sea fans and surrounded by thousands of reef fish. Heading back to the main rock there was large overhang at around 20m under which were plenty of corals and fish. We shallowed up around the main rock and encountered a Bumphead parrotfish.

Day one had been a pleasant introduction to diving the Misool area of Raja Ampat but already knowing we were not yet into the really good areas it really felt like we should be moving on after this dive. It was nice, but not great and we were in need of some great dives now.

Dive Three Two Tree Island

14:23

Time In

26.5 m

Max Depth

57 minutes

Dive Time

30°C

Water Temperature

One of the numerous Misool Seafans

One of the numerous Misool Seafans

Dive three was around a small limestone island, not surprisingly, topped by two trees. It was a very nice dive featuring a lot of sea fans, lots of reef fish and lots of underwater life in general. I tried my macro camera on this dive, attempting to photograph one of the numerous pygmy seahorses we’d been shown so far. Think I will leave the pygmy’s for John. We saw a turtle too.

We had finally moved the boat to reach this dive site and it showed with the improvement underwater. Things were hotting up now. With renewed excitement I was contemplating a fourth dive of the day.

Dive Four Two Lego Island

17:44

Time In

15.9 m

Max Depth

57 minutes

Dive Time

30°C

Water Temperature

Lego Island can be translated to mean Resting Island, as in a sheltered spot to rest overnight whilst on a boat. Boots and I planned to keep this as a short sunset dive as we pestered Hangky to jump a little earlier. The dive site was absolutely amazing with pristine hard corals starting at a shallow depth of around 5m. It reminded me a little of some of the pristine hard coral sites in Myanmar, before the 2010 coral bleaching struck.

Panunee Yacht

Panunee Yacht

Descending a little deeper there were more sandy patches where we spotted a couple of rays and some nice nudis. Shallowing up there was plenty of lively sunset action with reef fish whizzing about looking for their night’s refuge, very nice.

Dive One Boo West

06:57

Time In

30.5 m

Max Depth

59 minutes

Dive Time

30°C

Water Temperature

Wow, now we are really diving! Boo West, one small island and a further submerged pinnacle reaching up to 8m depth. Whilst descening we were greeted by a grey reef shark cruising by. There were loads of seafans, loads of soft and hard corals. Big diversity and healthy diversity too.

Shallower there were a couple of blacktips, a large Napoleon and a juvenile Napoleon wrasse. There was really plenty of everything and everything was in great shape, swimming amongst Robust fusiliers, groupers, damselfish, angelfish, Clown triggerfish and Redtooth triggerfish.. This was much more what was expected of the region. Unfortunately my strobe woes continued throughout this dive.

Dive Two Nudi Rock

10:25

Time In

30.2 m

Max Depth

59 minutes

Dive Time

30°C

Water Temperature

Nudi Rock, Raja Ampat Dive Site Map

Nudi Rock, Raja Ampat Dive Site Map

The rock that looks like a nudibranch from the surface, not that there’s a lot of nudis on the site, but there are some to be found here!

Very nice dive site, just never ending fans and corals. Descending down we passed a huge Napoleon in a hole getting a good clean. There were impressive coral structure after coral structure and a lot of Napoleon wrasse. A few 42 stitch barracuda lurked out off to the right in the blue. What a really nice reef. After an encounter with a turtle we shallowed up to a lovely area with loads more pristine corals, great! There was just about everything coral and fish-wise.

Nudi Rock in Misool, Raja Ampat

The aptly named Nudi Rock

The site was mostly a wall dive. Steph’s group saw four reef mantas, Gerald bagged two ID’s. Boots signalled to me that round every corner, looking up and down was perfection, then he swam round the corner straight into a Napoleon wrasse, case closed 🙂

Dive Three Tank Rock

14:27

Time In

28.4 m

Max Depth

59 minutes

Dive Time

30°C

Water Temperature

Though a small (tank-like) rock above the surface, the site was large underwater. The visibility had dropped somewhat for this dive, just as I finally managed to get my camera working. The dive felt a bit more exciting as the current had picked up more. There were some sharks out in the murky blue. We witnessed yet more perfection as we drifted along another wall site.

Boots and his Blue Fins

Boots and his Blue Fins

We shallowed up on top of the rock at around 10m depth into fairly moderate current. Many different types of trevally and snapper created some action along with a Blacktip reef shark. A good dive, more exciting and I noticed another new fish I hadn’t seen before, a blue and gold angelfish. However the dive will ever be remembered as the dive Boots had to dive with replacement baby blue Gull fins, hahahaha.

Dive Four Romeo

No dive data for this one sorry, I opted for sundowners instead.

Dive One Boo Window

06:48

Time In

29.6 m

Max Depth

57 minutes

Dive Time

30°C

Water Temperature

Boo Window, Raja Dive Site Map

Boo Window, Raja Dive Site Map

We descended down the West side of the rock, shadowed from the rising sun. Looking up at Boo Window was spectacular with the early morning light pouring through the large hole in the rock. Coral life seemed a little more sporadic but the corals we did see where impressive enough.

A large Spanish Mackerel cruised back and forth out in the blue, occasionally coming closer seemingly to check us out. Two grey reef sharks also patrolled the blue just off the dive site.

Boots and Misool Corals

Boots and Misool Corals

We drifted along in a very mild current until hitting a more exposed point where the currents picked up, a few strong kicks and we were able to keep next to the impressive wall. The corals and fans were much denser in this area. I found a nice rock with a hole through it where a small seafan had made its home. I tried quite a few different photos here with Boots, my gangly model.

Turtle chomping on some soft corals

Turtle chomping on some soft corals

I carried along the wall burning air a little more than usual. We encountered a few Barramundi and a turtle but by this stage my camera had fogged. Possibly I’d been overdoing it trying in vain to get a decent photo of a Blue and gold angelfish, one of the many beautiful fish I had never seen before. I had at last managed to get a decent photo of a Six-banded angelfish by this stage though.

Like previous dives, again it was very, very nice in the shallows. Have to remember to shallow up earlier next time. Great start to the day.

Dive Two Juliet Point

10:23

Time In

27.7 m

Max Depth

61 minutes

Dive Time

30°C

Water Temperature

Juliet Point, Raja Ampat Dive Site Map

Juliet Point, Raja Ampat Dive Site Map

During our dive briefing this site was described as ‘not as good as this morning’s site’. Not the best build up ever but a dive even half as good as our early morning dive had potential to be a cracker.

Sweetlips hiding amongst corals

Sweetlips hiding amongst corals

We began, as usual drifting along a wall. I tried to take a photo of a pregnant Pygmy seahorse I couldn’t even see. There was a small pinnacle and channel just off the main wall with great potential for some photos. Once I’d lined myself up the fish, mainly sweetlips had shied away. Talking of shy fish, I still didn’t manage to get close to and photograph the elusive Blue and gold angelfish.

Wobbegong shark in Misool

Peter’s favourite, a Wobbegong

Finally this dive I remembered to shallow up a little earlier. There was a flat Burma Bank-esque plateau with plenty of activity. I almost swam into a Wobbegong hiding in it’s hole whilst ascending. I remember a lot of large longfin batfish cleaned and large schools of Robust fusiliers stalked by a couple of large giant trevally near the surface.

Alas we did not see any of the Delphinidae family scratching it’s butt on any type of Subergorgiidae but we did see a mad looking Mirror fairy basslet, a very purple, vivid PlayStation fish we recalled after the dive.

Dive Three Magic Mountain

14:07

Time In

25 m

Max Depth

56 minutes

Dive Time

30°C

Water Temperature

Magic Mountain map and Raja Ampat dive guide

Cheeky Magic Mountain

Magic Mountain starts at around 6m with a circular plateau that slopes sharply down to deeper depths. A single ridge juts out from the sloping side at around 22m. The ridge was family long, long enough to almost put you into deco swimming to its end and back.

This is THE DIVE SITE, the Black Rock of our Raja Expedition. Against a moderate current we descended down to around 16m depth and made our way around the slope to the ridge. A melanistic Manta appeared on top of the plateau right underneath group three as they entered the water. Heading for the ridge a couple of whitetip reef sharks cruised by above us.

Snapper stetching it's jaw

Snapper stetching it’s jaw

The ridge I can best describe as being like Koh Bon Ridge on acid. There was loads of corals, the usual Raja scene and a tonne of fish. Everything was feeding in the moderate current. Fusiliers, many Robust species but other species too were everywhere along with Redtooth triggerfish and Black snappers. Many types of trevallies patrolled the blue accompanied by an odd juvenile Grey reef shark here and there. It was fish soup, like Koh Tachai, but also on acid.

Napoleon wrasse and a Bluefin trevally

An odd hunting pair, Napoleon wrasse and a Bluefin trevally

We made it to the end of the ridge and turned to head back to the main pinnacle, a bit quicker this time as NDL’s we’re getting tight. Shallowing up towards the plateau there were a lot of batfish getting cleaned and many Napoleon wrasse hanging around. A Reef manta swam over Caro, amazingly she didn’t see it as it skimmed her head. Later there was a large leucistic Manta but I missed it. I didn’t hear Hangky banging his tank.

Selfie of divers underwater in Raja Ampat

Still found time for some selfies

We ended the dive in the strong current on top of the plateau. GREAT DIVE. Plenty of excitement and plenty of excited banter after the dive both on the surface and back on the MV Panunee. I saw a lot of Black snapper on this dive which is worth a mention as I do not see many of this species in Thailand. There seems to plenty around Misool. Also saw some pyramid butterflyfish which is the first time I have seen them since my only other dive trip outside Thailand to Layang Layang.

Diver on dingy in Raja Ampat

Peter !

Peter got an ID of the manta Caro missed and Gerald bagged another ID shot too. The extra bit of good news, we had arranged dive four for the same place 🙂

MANTA HISTORY

On this dive Steph ID’d a female, 4m melanistic reef manta named Salad Fingers. This manta was first seen n March 2015 at Manta Sandy in the Dampier Straights in central Raja Ampat. It is the 2nd documented case of a reef manta crossing from central to south Raja.

Another great discovery for Off the Chart Expeditions 🙂

Dive Four Magic Mountain

17:37

Time In

20 m

Max Depth

45 minutes

Dive Time

29°C

Water Temperature

Bluefin trevally hunting glassfish

Bluefin trevally hunting glassfish

We jumped in to more or the same as dive three. The plan was not to dive the ridge as it’s a little too deep for the fourth dive, so we would circle the slopes around the plateau instead. As the light faded, at around 16m depth we found some really nice, dense coral structures with huge seafans. Black snapper were everywhere along with a few types of sweetlips. Huge trevally patrolled the shallows stamping their authority  on the site at sunset. Ascended to 5m, time for a beer.

Dive One Magic Mountain

05:55

Time In

24.7 m

Max Depth

61 minutes

Dive Time

29°C

Water Temperature

Dive of the trip! Enough said.

But if I have to say more it would go something like this.

Melanistic Manta Ray seen at Magic Mountain in Misool

Melanistic Manta Ray, pretty chuffed with this photo 🙂

Iwan had bagged us an extra dive at Magic Mountain but it was an early slot on the site meaning a ungöttlich wake up call at 5:23am. It was still dark apart from a slightly lighter area of dark blue where there was a slim sliver of the dark moon, hovering over the spot where the sun was to rise.

I had some ear issues so descent was awkward whilst being pushed off the plateau in the strong current. A few bar lighter I made it to the protection of the slope. We headed round to and then along the ridge. There was plenty of fish again, fusiliers and their predators, snapper and trevally. A lone whitetip swam back and forth along the ridge. It was a bit dark and murky and we could do little more than hang on to a rock in the current.

So we headed back to the plateau. Then it got much better. More whitetips were swimming above us in this area. Just as we were getting used to the change in scenery Caro and Hangky started tank banging furiously. They’d spotted a melanistic manta on a cleaning station, flanked by a couple of giant trevallies, just hanging there. Though seemingly effortless, the current current gradually pushed the Manta off the station. As she circled back into position I finally managed to get a decent ID shot and probably my best photo of the trip. Day five and it all comes good.

I was pretty low on air by now so I left the group and ascended. High up off the slope I spotted a large leucistic manta. I banged my tank but by now I’d lost site of the group. Safety stop alone and back in the dingy.

After the dive we headed back to the area around Nudi and Tank Rock for dive two.

Dive Two Whale Rock

09:11

Time In

25.9 m

Max Depth

59 minutes

Dive Time

30°C

Water Temperature

Whale Rock, Raja Ampat Dive Site Map

Whale Rock, Raja Ampat Dive Site Map

Whale Rock is a large rock above the water that, surprisingly resembles a whale. Underwater we found the usual shallow coral laden plateaus with steep sloping walls. We drifted along the wall, entertained by a cuttlefish till we came to two large coral structures. Bommies in Australian. They were beautiful, covered in dense seafans, soft corals, sponges and hard corals. Spotted a very large Napoleon wrasse and plenty of trevally. We circled the structures then headed back the way we’d come. Around the spot where we had entered the water a small blacktip cruised by.

Dive Three Puri Pinnacle Bon Jovi

13:23

Time In

30.2 m

Max Depth

62 minutes

Dive Time

30°C

Water Temperature

Puri Pinnacle, Raja Ampat Dive Site Map

Puri Pinnacle, Raja Ampat Dive Site Map

One large submerged pinnacle starting at 8m depth with a wall down to 30+m and a further deeper pinnacle. A fair few jellyfish accompanied our descent. Though small the jellyfish packed a noticeable sting. Small anchovies covered the sides of the site, there were millions of them. Huge giant trevally and another type of trevally I was unfamiliar with constantly harassed the glassfish which balled and darted all over the place.

School of hunting trevally

School of hunting trevally

Around the deeper pinnacle I spotted another new fish I’d never seen before, a Yellowfin grouper, very big and very menacing. The dive started with a few mobulae spotted out in the blue and towards the end of the dive plenty more small mobulae joined the feeding frenzy.

Despite multiple jellyfish stings this was an amazing dive. Mesmerising über schools of anchovies and nonstop big fish action and nice mobulae sightings. Libby’s ‘stop itch’ cream in highly recommended for jellyfish stings, thanks Libby for soothing the boat.

Dive Four Boo Window

16:44

Time In

27.1 m

Max Depth

53 minutes

Dive Time

30°C

Water Temperature

Boo Window as seen underwater

Boo Window as seen underwater

Wow, what a dive, what an end to the day. I thought I was getting used to the biodiversity, the pristine corals and all the rest but this one was amazing. Like an aquarium would be an understatement. Nowhere in the world would be able to afford to stock an aquarium that immense. Impressive from start to finish with a few blacktips thrown into the mix and a safety stop through the window.

I could write more but think we all agree there’s no need, this one was perfection, the icing on the cake of an epic day. A real smorgasbord as John would say.

Dive One Warna Berwarna (Colour in Colour) Durham area

07:29

Time In

25.3 m

Max Depth

55 minutes

Dive Time

29°C

Water Temperature

Warna Bewarna, Raja Ampat Dive Site Map

Warna Berwarna, Raja Ampat Dive Site Map

One small limestone rock with a few bushes on top surrounded by a flat plateau at around 5m depth, then sloping off into a wall all around to 30+m depth.

It was a cloudy, overcast day so it was quite dark underwater. We saw plenty more anchovy action out in the murky blue with some big trevally. There was moderate current on certain sides of the site. Otherwise this dive was just the usual abundance of healthy corals and reef fish life. With better visibility I am sure this site would be a cracker. No mobulae this time but one of the other groups may have seen a whitetip or two.

Dive Two Andiamo Durham area

10:24

Time In

26.8 m

Max Depth

62 minutes

Dive Time

30°C

Water Temperature

Andiamo, Raja Ampat Dive Site Map

Andiamo, Raja Ampat Dive Site Map

Again, diving around a small rocky island, this one with some interesting topography, the usual shallow coral plateau and then a further submerged pinnacle and a long ridge that descended down to around 24m.

Butterflyfish amongst corals in Raja Ampat

Butterflyfish amongst corals

The sun was brighter for this dive and the visibility had improved somewhat. On the ridge there was noticeably more snapper, especially bigeye snapper that were hanging around in large schools. There was a lot of anchovies but less action this time.

This site had some really nice coral structures and was a beautiful dive to end on, very typical of the sites we’d dived along the way nothing short of spectacular 🙂

Now time for some beers 🙂