Everything’s better down where it’s wetter

Liveaboard dive boats are our favourite ways to dive, and a long trip to Indonesia wouldn’t be complete without some time on one. Liveaboards are boats specifically set up for scuba diving, and typically accommodate between 14 and 20 divers. The two main advantages over normal land-based diving are:

1. Liveaboards can more easily reach remote and unusual locations, which also normally means less crowded dives; and

2. You can comfortably do 3 or 4 (and occasionally 5) dives a day because a lot of the tiring pre- and post-dive hassles (such as setting up kit, long boat rides, tricky shore entries etc) that you have with land based diving are largely absent.

We decided to go on the Raja Ampat Aggressor, a 16 sleeper boat that is part of the large Aggressor fleet and which normally spends its time in the diving mecca of Raja Ampat in north eastern Indonesia (https://www.aggressor.com/rajaampat.php). The Aggressor boats are fairly high end and are normally outside of our price range, but when we saw that they were giving a 32% discount on all their trips and had availability on a trip we’d been wanting to do, it was an offer too good to refuse. This was our second time on an Aggressor boat – see here for our trip to Palau.

Our trusty liveaboard
Our fellow guests and amazing crew
Everyone paying close attention to the briefing
A special cake for my birthday!

This particular trip was one of the occasional ‘crossing’ trips that many of the liveaboards stationed in Raja Ampat do. Originally they were offered when the boats crossed from Komodo to Raja Ampat (and vice versa) at the changing of the seasons, stopping at various remote and difficult to reach places along the way. They are longer than a normal trip, with ours being 10 nights and 32 dives, and usually have a variety of different types of dives to experience. Their huge popularity has meant an increase in the number and variety of the trips offered, and places a bit off the usual routes are being visited. One of these places is Triton Bay, which has only recently opened up to diving, and had recently been added to our ‘must visit’ list of dive spots. The Raja Ampat Aggressor only visits there once a year, and fortunately for us this fitted in perfectedly with our travel plans. One thing to be aware of when looking at a crossing trip is that these trips are typically a bit more exploratory compared to normal trips, as many of the dive sites are only visited a handful of times, and so some places can be a bit-and-miss. On our trip the big schools of hammerhead sharks seen on previous trips were nowhere to be found, but then we were fortunate to find two rare wobbegong sharks.

The sunsets on the trip were spectacular – this is just one of the many that we had

The trip started in Ambon, an island that has become a famous spot for muck diving, with one of the better connected airports in the area (there are several cheap flights a day from Bali, Manado and Jakarta). You can read up more about muck diving here, but if you love muck diving then we recommend getting here a few days earlier as the liveaboards tend to only do one or two dives here as it is not everyone’s cup of tea. We had a nice time pottering around the main town for a day, but there’s not a huge amount of things to do other than diving. We stayed in a nice comfortable low end hotel, Hero Hotel Ambon (https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g608477-d3785197-Reviews-Citihub_Hero_Hotel_Ambon-Ambon_Maluku_Islands.html), which is great if you aren’t planning on diving, but unfortunately a long drive from the dive operations.

A rare and strangely beautiful paddleflap scorpionfish – an Ambon speciality
A friendly hermit crab
A beautiful and difficult to spot ornate ghost pipefish

The next main dive area was the Banda Islands, a very remote group of volcanic islands that were part of the Spice Islands. Up until the 19th century they were the scene of a lot of conflict between the colonial powers seeking to control the incredibly lucrative trade in nutmeg, which was thought (incorrectly) to cure plague. One of the small islands was even given to the Dutch by Great Britain in exchange for Manhattan! The islands rise out of a four to six kilometer deep ocean and so are a magnet for large pelagic see creatures. The lack of large rivers also mean that the underwater visibility is generally amazing. Unfortunately the hammerheads did not play ball, but we did see a few barracuda and tuna whizzing passed us in the blue, and did some incredible wall dives. After leaving the islands for our next stop we even spotted a small pod of orcas – something which I didn’t realize you got in these waters.

Some beautiful hard coral
One of several sea snakes we saw hunting on the reefs
Scuba Dave enjoying the crystal clear water
A tiny little hairy squat lobster sharing his barrel sponge home with a couple of gobies
There were times when it almost felt like there were TOO many fish…
A giant trevally passing overhead

The final dive area was the very remote Triton Bay. Your only options for diving here are to stay at a newly opened 4 room dive lodge or on one of the few liveaboards that occasionally stop here. There is only one flight a day into the main town Kaimane (from Ambon), so you are in for a bit of a trip if you want to do a land based stay. The diving here feels a lot wilder than elsewhere, and our boat picked up a park ranger to help negotiate with the locals to let us dive near their villages. The only other boats you see are the occasional long boats used by the villagers. The visibility when we were there wasn’t great, but we did some great dives with a nice combination of large and tiny creatures to find. We also got to experience some crazy currents in the channels between the small islands, which always makes for exciting dives!

A pregnant wobbegong shark
Our eagle-eyed dive guide taught us how to find a variety of tiny cowry shells, including this one on a whip coral
A tiny imperial shrimp that we found on sea cucumber
Two nudibranchs about to start making many more nudibranchs
Three tiny whip coral shrimp trying their best to blend in

One of the highlights of the trip was a chance to dive with whale sharks on the last day. They hang around fishing boats known as bagans and are thought to bring good luck to the fisherman, who occasionally toss them some small fish. The sharks don’t actually digest the fish as they are filter feeders, but seem to enjoy the experience and so regularly stop by. We were lucky to have two in the area, a small one about 4 or 5 meters long and a really large one about 9 meters long. The visibility was not great (only around 5 – 8 meters), which meant the sharks would suddenly appear out the the murk, occasionally heading straight for you (I even got a gentle tap on the hand from the tail of the big one as it swept passed me). You really need to look around the whole time to make sure you don’t miss out – on several occasions we saw sharks pass within a meter of someone while they were looking in the opposite direction. All-in-all a fabulouse experience!

A whale shark emerging from the murk!
As you can see, we got VERY close

We highly recommend this trip and we were really happy with the Raja Ampat Aggressor, including the food, comfort and the quality of the guides. If you’ve never been on a liveaboard before I’d suggest you try a shorter trip first to make sure that you enjoy the experience, but for experienced divers looking to head somewhere a bit unusual then this is a great option, with all different types of dives, healthy corals and excellent diversity.

You can find more pictures from our trip here. All underwater photos were taken using our trusty Canon D30 compact camera and a Sea&Sea YS01 strobe. The Canon is waterproof to 25m without a separate underwater housing, which makes it great for travel. Above ground photos were taken using an iPhone 5S.

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