GUEST ARTICLE: Raja Ampat is an archipelago located on the northwestern tip of Indonesia in Papua, the area is well known for its rich bio-diverse marine life. It is a fairly isolated area and consists of four main islands. One in particular caught our attention called Misool, home to The Misool Eco Resort. After reading up on it we knew we had to go. Getting there would be no easy feat and a bit pricey but in the end the payoff would be far better than we could have ever imagined.
Our first step was getting in touch with Kristie (a rep) from the Misool Eco Resort. She was really helpful and gave us the complete lowdown on what it would take to get there. She recommended flights, hotels and organized airport pick-ups for us. We were coming from Australia and wanted to take a more leisurely approach to getting there so we tweaked her suggested itinerary a little.
First we decided to fly into Singapore and stayed the night at the airport transit hotel. The next day we casually hopped on a 3hr Garuda Airline flight to Makassar, Indonesia (which is located in South Sulawesi province). Once there we were met by our hotel transfer and tucked in for the night at the Aryaduta Hotel. The following morning we took an Express Air flight to an island in Raja Ampat called Sorong, located 2 hours away in the eastern Indonesian province of West Papua.
Hot muggy air assaulted our senses as we got off the plane, but that wasn’t unusual seeing as March marked the end of their wet season. As we waited for our bags we were greeted by a couple of representatives from the Misool Resort. Once we had our bags in hand they shuttled us and another lovely couple who had also just arrived to our hotel – Je Meridien located just across the road.
They do things slow in Indonesia so make sure you have your ‘patient pants’ on. It took us some time to check into our hotel and get things sorted! Our room was basic and the air conditioner really struggled in the heat. From the looks of our very modest 3rd world surroundings I was just happy we had air conditioning at all! For dinner the Misool reps picked all of us up and took us to a nice seaside restaurant located about 15 minutes away (that was a nice bonus from Misool Resort because a first night dinner wasn’t included in our package – we appreciated it). Once there we were seated at a long wooden table and then joined by a small group that had just returned from their Misool experience.
While getting acquainted with the returning group we were served an assortment of delicious Indonesian dishes. It was nice talking to the former guests because we got to pick their brains a little about what we had signed ourselves up for. It sounded really fabulous and we couldn’t wait for morning! All reports from the Resort were excellent.
Unfortunately we had a pretty bad night at the hotel and even with earplugs we still couldn’t block out the sounds of traffic (mostly motorbikes) and then the call to prayer somewhere around 4am followed by an annoying rooster that wouldn’t shut the hell up. We were going to have to stay at that hotel again on the way back so we were definitely going to have to try and sort out that situation otherwise there was going to be one sorry chicken on the menu!
Other guests had arrived during the very wee hours of the morning about 5ish after long flights from the USA. Those long hours were what we were desperately trying to avoid but after the night we had it wouldn’t have mattered. In the morning we all wearily congregated in the lobby and were taken not too far away to the boat that would take us to our final destination – The Misool Eco Resort.
I’m not great with rough waters so I made sure to take a few sea sick pills just in case. The boat was big enough to fit us all in (12 guests) fairly comfortably. Our guide said that depending on the weather it was guesstimated to take anywhere from 4-6 hours. So I popped on my headphones, turned up the tunes, and got ready for the long ride.
Luckily it wasn’t too bumpy (I’ve had worse). I’ve taken note for next time that 2 seasick pills probably weren’t the go seeing as they pretty much rendered me unconscious for the whole trip, but I at least I didn’t get sick! I’m assuming the ride wasn’t that bad because we made it in about 4 ½ hours.
Now the journey sounds like a long haul BUT in a way we were glad – with 7 billion people on earth you can’t be isolated these days without travelling a long way!
As we neared the resort’s gorgeous little island of Batbitim everything started coming together. All of those magnificent photos we had seen on the internet were now our reality for the next 7 nights. The pictures really don’t do the resort justice, it must be seen to get a true feel of how incredibly beautiful the place really is.
The staff were happily waiting for us on the dock and gave us all a very warm welcome. The water around the jetty looked like a giant aquarium teeming with fish and colorful corals. We made our way down a nice wooden walkway to the main hut/dining area situated along a white sandy beach that had gorgeous little reef sharks cruising the shore.
After a nice intro to the resort by the lovely Jenna we were shown to our water cottage (#4). The accommodation was superb and we especially liked our large wooden veranda with steps leading down into the house reef. We had some nice comfy lounges to choose from and a hammock hanging right over the water. The inside of the bungalow was beautifully decorated in Balinese design and had a cozy bed surrounded by mosquito netting made out of fine white cotton. Our bathroom had all the creature comforts and was situated in the open air so we could shower under the stars.
We didn’t waste any time getting into the water. We were aching not only to cool off but also to explore that amazing house reef. First we made sure to lather up with heaps of sunscreen and we also put on our sun shirts. The sun in Misool is super intense and we didn’t want to end up looking like a couple of lobsters or in our case it would have probably been more like burn victims with the sun sensitive Malaria meds we were on (which we would recommend just in case).
The mosquitoes in Misool weren’t too intense but every night we made sure to give ourselves a good repellant dosing (we used about a can and a half while we were there).
The crystal clear water was warm and bubbling with all kinds of colorful marine life. A massive wall surrounded the reef and every now and again we could see bigger fish like black tip reef sharks or giant barracuda cruising the shelf. The atmosphere became much livelier as we neared the jetty. A number of different schools of fish swam around us. We were so happy that we had this amazing underwater playground just outside our door!
For dinner we all wandered back to the main hut at our leisure and had a lovely assortment of fresh Indonesian dishes served buffet style from the very talented chef at Misool. I’m sorry I didn’t get his name but all I can say is the man can cook! Every day he whipped up something different and delicious, suffice it to say we all ate pretty darn well during our stay.
It was really nice getting to know the rest of the visitors and we all seemed to meld pretty well together which made the stay lots of fun. We also got to know some of the staff and the owner Andy Miners. They’re all really great people who have put some intense hours into creating this eco-friendly wonderland.
One night we were all invited to a presentation on how the resort came to be. Back in 2005 Andy Miners and two of his mates came upon this beautiful little island Batbitim and had a dream, a very big dream in fact and not without much sweat and tears created an awesome reality.
Ironically the island used to be a shark finning camp and Andy’s goal was to establish a conservation zone to help protect the area with its precious reefs and marine life. After talks with the local native Papuan village of Yellu and the government, Andy and his mates were able to secure Raja Ampat’s first marine protected area of 425 km2! Later in 2010 they were able to increase that area to a very impressive 1220 km2!!
The building of the resort started in 2006 with only a handful of people and a few skilled workers from the local village. They did hard times living in small tents on the beach and to make things worse it was during monsoon season! All of the huts, furniture and sprawling wooden walkways were built solely from driftwood that was hauled in by hand and cut using a makeshift sawmill. The result is more than impressive, and their tireless conservation efforts and working relationship with the local communities commendable.
During our stay the day would usually begin with a delicious breakfast. Then we would meet up with our “very awesome” snorkel guide Agus. After a short briefing of that day’s trip we would jump in a boat and head out to Agus’s suggested snorkeling site. Because most of the people there were divers we usually had the boat and guide to ourselves – bonus! According to Misool’s diving map there are about 50 places to choose from.
Every time we entered the water we were immersed into another world. We would spend hours in exquisite tranquility where there were beautiful beds of soft vibrant corals, impressive fans, multitudes of colorful fish darting to and fro, eels, octopus, nudi branches, giant turtles, sharks, bumpheads, giant wrasse and vast living walls teeming with life. And the best part was that the visibility and weather were excellent allowing for some memorable pics.
During the afternoons we would chill out on our deck and read, go for little swims and then just sit back and gaze at the splendorous view with its ever-changing afternoon clouds and brilliant sunsets. One night we even tried night snorkeling which was pretty cool, especially when we used the Dive Shop’s special snorkeling glasses that made certain corals stand out like brilliant florescent beacons in the dark (it reminded me of the movie Avatar).
One afternoon a small group of us we went on little excursion by boat to explore the labyrinthine of Raja Ampat’s islands. It only took us a little over an hour before we entered a spectacular maze of lush little islets. There were heaps of cool diverse rock formations and the lagoons were a fusion of gorgeous blues and turquoises.
While we were in the maze we came upon a wall that displayed ancient petroglyphs made by relatives of the Australian aboriginals dating back about 5000 years. Pictures of animals and outlines of painted hands adorned the walls. It was a fantastic sight to see! What wasn’t so fantastic was some moron marring the wall with their initials…man some people can be disrespectful idiots!
After a few more twists and turns we came upon our final sightsee for the day – The Tomolol Cave. It was very impressive with its towering ceiling and delicate stalagmite and stalactite formations. Inside we were able to swim in the cave’s cool emerald waters. The dark atmosphere was calm and small beams of light offered a glimpse of its beauty. And, like other caves, bats called it home but fortunately they were too high up to give us any bother.
After our little swim we headed back home. We couldn’t have been happier when we saw how calm the afternoon waters were, they were as smooth as glass reflecting the landscape. A pod of dolphins swam alongside us at one point having fun in our wake.
On our last night at the resort they organised a wonderful bbq and one of the best homemade coconut cakes I’ve had. The weather was perfect and the cocktails even better. It was a merry night and a fantastic way to end our stay with such great people all around us! Misool was a dream and we were sad that our time there had come to an end.
This was by far our best snorkeling experience EVER and that’s saying a lot because we’ve been to about 20 of the top rated sites in the world. Raja Ampat just seems to have it all, both big and small creatures as well as magnificent corals. And if you can do it while staying at a superb resort like Misool Eco Resort well that’s just the icing on the cake.
This travel diary has been written by Machalle Gower, a friend who enjoys taking the road less traveled!