Aboard Bigkanu, our aim is to show you all the best Raja Ampat has to offer. So we kick off, from the Raja Ampat islands themselves. Most flights arrive at Sorong early in the morning, after a night flight. With a 9am departure of the fast ferry from Sorong (8 Euro and 3km from the airport), you can be in the islands to meet us at Waisai, before lunch.
We depart Waisai a few hours after your ferry's Sunday arrival. We return the next Saturday morning to get everyone on the 0900 ferry back to Sorong, ready for the mid afternoon return flights to Bali or Jakarta.
Raja Ampat is hard to top as the most amazing waterway in Asia, and you need a special boat to access the lagoons and inland jungle canals that only Bigkanu can enter, with its alloy, shallow draft hull. Many of the places we venture, are rarely seen by the dive boats, and we want to get up close and personal, in the villages, over the best coral gardens, under the canopy, or stepping of the stern onto the beach.
DAY 1 Our crew will greet you on the ferry wharf in Waisai, at around 1130 on a Sunday, as you arrive from Sorong. Bigkanu will be moored about 100m from the ferry. This fast ferry leg, leap-frogs you from the mainland to to the calmer island waters, in a couple of hours, and saves you a day wasted, crossing open-ocean.
If you have just flown in overnight, you often arriving before 0800, and it's 3km from airport to ferry port, with no need to book, so buy a ferry ticket in the white warehouse at the start of the pier, then flop into an airconditioned ferry seat (€8), and grab a nap (2 hours).
On arrival in Waisai, we have a few hours getting settled into cabins and having lunch, allowing us the few hours needed to deal with all the port clearance issues, park fee payments, and entry card printing that's needed to allow us to depart.
It's a Sunday afternoon, in a Christian community, where officials tend to wander off to Church at odd times, so please relax aboard, while we chase down the many officials. Waisai harbour is small, and remains a construction work in progress, without much appeal, so get ready to leave mankind's mess behind.
If you want to chill out a few days near Waisai, there is a coastline running 10km westwards, which has a range of jungle-meets-beach homestays and resorts, that you dan access by taxi, rather than doing long boat trips into the islands. Is 2021, we will have our own floating accommodation in a lagoon where Alfred Wallace once set up camp, if you need a, room.
In the mid Sunday afternoon, (or as early as officials allow), we head off to either Friwen Island, or Kabui Bay. Just to explain, the trip of about 270km does a loop, and at times we go clockwise, and at other times, anti-clockwise, depending on currents and breezes. Please forgive us, if the itinerary you read here, is done in reverse, and regardless of direction, it's the same fabulous trip.
We usually head first into Kabui Bay, on a 20km leg that goes deep into the beautiful and mysterious Kabui Bay, and at the end of this bay, dozens of limestone karst islets pop out of the deep green, with their undercut waterlines, and a hairdo of jungle of madness.
I recall the first time I saw it, (and I am a big fan of natural wonder), and judging by the smiling expletives on my old Go Pro's sound track, I was indeed impressed. Serene waters, amazing geology, and being that are we are in a cyclone free zone, the tropical forests are free to grow some truly magnificent and eccentric specimens.
We often stop for a first refreshing swim along the way, to cool off, and at the end of the day, we pull into a gorgeous little wharf, with a few thatched stilt homes along the dock. Here the limestone mountain stream feeds us fresh water, as we explore the bay, climb the nearby peak, swim off the boat, or just unwind, 'sittin on the dock of the bay, wastin' time".
Kabui Bay is either our start or our finish point, and few if any liveaboards enter this bay, as you must have a shallow draft, to exit the bay via an incredible coral canal, winding through a jungle gorge.
We often find ourselves dining alongside the boat, on the dock, or on the beach, as we believe the best experience of Raja, is not moored 500m from shore, when the real beauty in under the canopy, along the coral edge, and feeling that white powdery sand between the toes.
Me? I love to be able to jump overboard, being close to shore, in calm clear waters so I can explore, free of tour group clamps.
The deep green of Kabui, is a bit misleading, because it's on the second day that we really see the gin clear, aqua marine of the open waters.
The first morning, waking in a sculpture park of karst islets, is indeed a time to take in some great beauty with your coffee. The occasional hornbill and sea eagle, feign disinterest in their noisier parrot neighbours. Little towers of limestone seem to melt like candle wax, down the cliff faces and islets of Kabui Bay.
But prepared for a spectacular breakfast, and assuming you were never aboard the African Queen, but have done the Disney river caves, get ready for the real thing.
We squeeze our 12m beam multihull down a coral river, cut clean through the jungle, concentrating to keep control as currents swirl and surge. Taking in this wonderful vista from the cabin top, while eased into the lounges under the awning, adds a sprinkle of excitement to everyone's breakfast.
There are not many places on earth, where you will be in a flowing river of coral, draped in pristine jungle.
Bigkanu is the biggest boat to navigate the canal between the island of Gam and Waigeo, and while most boats do not venture much past the Dampier Straight, the Bigkanu wonderlust soon leaves the dive boats way behind, as folks, the North western islands of Raja Ampat are where it's at.
9 months of the year see winds and currents set us on a North South path that heads us to the beautiful Wagag Island lagoons, and in July, August, September we get treated to an east west trip that takes in the iconic Pianynemo and Fam islands.
There are a series of Maldivian style atolls in the sheltered waters on the west side of Waigeo. An island called Mutus makes lovely stop off, showing off life in the village slow lane. These villages are very chilled, with hoards of playful kids doing backflips off the jetty.
If you are curious to see some the lifestyles inside these quaint Christian village, take a wander with our onboard guide, a loveable local, and you will witness one of the most wonderful Melanesian style lifestyles, still surviving in an otherwise mad world.
You are in Indonesia, but no one looks Asian, ukuleles and Bibles abound, there are cute Lutheran spires in every village, where the roads are white sand, and the occasional canoe is still hewn out of a single log. Personally, I love it, and it feels deeper into relaxed harmony, than the many sea gypsy villages of SE Asia.
If you ever reincarnate here, you will be very poor, but at the same time, rich in natural beauty and fully connected to your welcoming place of family bonds, and calm responsibilities.
On the north south trips, we often spend the night at a distant village called Sepelle, half way to Wayag, or sometimes nearby, deep inside the canyon bays, at the entrances to Alyui Bay. On the way to Alyui, we often stop at picture postcard, wedding cake island, (like Wofo) , with its gorgeous coral gardens, fish everywhere, and white sand beaches.
Raja Ampat has the most marine diverse ecosystem on Earth, as you may have already read, so we all spend hours snorkeling about the comfortably warm waters, just soaking it all in. Sometimes we jump in off the back wet deck, and at other times, we lower our tenders, and or paddle boards, and get a lift to the best coral beds.
Raja Ampat does not have the macro underwater canyons of the Australian Barrier Reef, but it has a lot more life, mostly in the top 10m. We regularly run into cruisy Mantas, bow jumping dolphins, the occasional whale, and if you like swimming with a million silvery schooling friends, be prepared for the sheer massive mass of bait fish that will engulf you.
The guest that spends the most time exploring, gets gifted the biggest underwater surprises, and whilst we are not a scuba dive boat, you are not going to miss much if you can freedive down 5 to 10m.
Day 3 gets close to peak natural beauty. This is when we slip Bigkanu into either Wayag, or Piaynemo. We visit Piaynemo in July, August and September, and Wayag for all other months, as weather dictates.
Both these island sets are likely to be the ones you have may have seen in the poster promos, with cone shaped islets popping out of aqua lagoons.
Of all the beautiful karst islands on earth, including those off Phuket, in North Vietnam, and Palawan, these Raja Ampat islands are arguably the most spectacular in Asia.
Wayag, in the eyes of world sailors like us, is often deemed the most beautiful lagoon set in Asia.
To explain, both Wayag and Piayneno comprise a dozens of small limestone karst islands, set inside a series of shallow lagoons, and the juxtaposition of sand bottoms in aquamarine tones, set against a totally eccentric tropical forest, is enough to make any drone spin with excitement, (so much so, our drones die of adventurous overdose regularly, ha ha).
Not many boats make it out to Wayag, and no liveaboards dare enter Piaynemo, that is only something Bigkanu can manage, and once inside, everybody is on deck filming away, with a dropped jaw.
The beauty of these places is quite a phenomena, and we spent decades in the Indian, Pacific an Carribbean islands, trying to find something as beautiful as this, and while we love all our travels, it feels a bit awkward to say it, but on a good day, we have not seen anything better, anywhere.
In Wayag there is a lot of beauty to see, and Bigkanu is designed to back onto the white powdery beaches, so you can step ashore via a gangplank, as we light fires, set up dining tables, and add music.
In Piaynemo we tie bow and stern to the craggy karst islets, tucked into a bay, all to ourselves. There there are 3 staircase climbs to the summit, and from there, the view is one of those National Geo moments, enjoy.
The nearby island of Fam, has gorgeous white sand beaches, and is only accessible , on its lee side, in July, August and September. This is off peak season for Piaynemo , so we often get it all to ourself.
At all these islands, we need take tender to the outer edge coral , about 500m away, to get the best coral gardens.
Wayag enjoys an oceanic, flow through current, and one back lagoon has a short but fun tidal rush swim, so go bump into a few bump head parrot fish as you get swept into a white sand, wonderland.
The most iconic summit climb in Indonesia is found in Wayag, and while only a 25 minute hike, with a steep last 30m being with an all-fours scramble, we love to record the shocked amazement when each person gets their first view of a panorama out over Wayag lagoons and it's karst craziness. I have not seen better.
To dine on a long table, on the beaches of these islands, is quite a treat.
Raja Ampat attracts really interesting travellers, it's a place for the genuine, nature based thrill seeker, so expect a really interesting group aboard.
If you are up for it, we can keep you pretty busy in exploration heaven, but if you are feeling lazy, you can flop or float off the back of the boat, to stand on a white sand bottom, and sip a beer.
We stay two nights in Wayag, and on the Piaynemo run, we are one night inside Piaynemo, and the second night on Fam's gorgeous back beach.
On this trip, we are in sheltered water for 85% of the trip, and we rarely get sea sickness, noting Bigkanu at 12m wide, is a ridiculously stable platform, where for example, the tall refrigerator, stands unsupported, so we rock, but never roll. If you are worried about sea sickness, we have a pulsating wrist band, that stop nausea, but it really only the way to Wayag that it can be bumpy.
Getting back from Wayag is quite a haul, as it's 4 or 5 hours sailing time to Sepelle, plus, another 3hours to get to a destination we call Tanjung Putus . If we are returning from Fam, it's only 2 or 3 hours away, which gives us more play time.
At Tanjung Putus, we are back at the west end of Dampier Straight, where we will once again start to see the dive boats, and those divers love the current swept coral gardens in this leafy Tanjung Putus, lined channel, flanked by forest, and full of every living thing, both flying above, and wiggling below the waves. We arrive in the later part of the day here, and get snorkeling around the edges on arrival, and/or the next morning.
Dampier Straight is a passage about 8nm wide, full of reefs, villages, homestays and dive boats, and 90% of travellers to Raja Ampat are restricted mainly to this beautiful area, but it's a shame they never see the rest. We often do the trip in a clockwise loop, where Dampier Straight our first leg, and with its strong currents, it's full of life. Please excuse us if we do not go to the one or two spots where the Instagram crowd go chasing mantas, as the experience is poor, and the mantas too deep. We prefer random natural surprises by our lovely manta mates, including the white one we spotted attracting 30 million views.
There is a very pretty little island called Friwen in Dampier Straight, and we keep a floating base in the nearby Yenbesser lagoon. Friwen has the prettiest swim beach in Raja, and very quaint village life, with a few thatched beach cafes selling fried banana, reminiscent of what Phi Phi was like in 1985.
Nearby is the Friwen Wall, a 400m drifting snorkel ride at the base of a cliff, that continues down into the deep. All sorts of odd things like to live here. In the evening, to hire out a beach cafe, and we pay the locals to cook our fish on the coals, so our first ( or last night) is sitting close to the white sand's watery edge, and under the tree canopy, inna sand floor warung.
We do not pretend to be a super luxury trip, as we are focused on the absolute luxury of such pristine nature, and we like to prefer exploration, more than idle drinking, so please be comfortable that we are in the most remote part of Asia, with no marinas, and not one western service back up, and so there are times on a adventure tour, when things get adventurous, such as anchors getting stuck, or machinery needing tinkering, or officials delaying clearance.
We are part of a small pioneering, marine tour community, and this is not Bali or Phuket. As only the second, non-scuba boat in Raja Ampat, we ask you to enjoy the frontier nature of the area, and expect the unexpected.
The fast ferry needs to get you back to Sorong by 1130 on the last day, a Saturday. This way you can avoid a Saturday night hotel stay, if you so chose, and fly back to Bali or Jakarta on the mid afternoon, a daytime flight, getting to say Bali, post sunset.
So on day 7, we head to Waisai in time to get to the 0900 ferry back to Sorong. For anyone staying on a bit longer in Raja Ampat, it's best to make you next pickup rendezvous, in Waisai, as attempts to get your long boat taxi to arrive on time mid trip, often causes messy errors. Some guests stay and freshen up a night in Sorong, and others fly straight out.
By the end of a week aboard, we hope our fabulous food makes you feel fresher, and we can assure you, that a deep immersion in nature's finest, is always a soul polishing experience.
As millions now overload all the main stream Asian tourist trails, there remains one truely gorgeous distant frontier.
And when it comes to Raja Ampat, it sure is cool that the world has left us the best surprise, till last.
SCHEDULE TOURS OF 7 Days AND 6 Nights €1090
BIGKANU Raja Ampat Tour Dates
Starting at midday, on a Sunday, from Waisai ferry wharf, returning 8am the following Saturday to Waisai to suit flights and ferry times.
January 7-13, 2023 (this one trip starts Saturday)
February 5-11, 2023
March 5-11, 2023
April 9-15, 2023
May 7-13, 2023
June 25- July 1, 2023
July 9-15, 2023
August 20-26, 2023
September 17-23, 2023
October 8-16, 2023
November 12-18, 2023
December 24-30, 2023
January 7-13, 2024
January 21-27, 2024
February 11-17, 2024
March 3-9, 2024