Raja Ampat Kayak / About
Raja Ampat, or the Four Kings, is made up of four main islands and hundreds of smaller ones. The 4 main Islands are Waigeo, Misool, Batanta and Salawati. The islands are found off the North West corner of the island of New Guinea. The eastern half of this Island is Papua New Guinea while the western half, formerly called Irian Jaya, has been taken over by Indonesia and is now called Papua. The Indonesians have split it into 5 provinces with West Papua being one, and Raja Ampat is located in it.
Raja Ampat is still ethnically very Papuan although there has been a mix of cultures and peoples through the millenia especially from the neighbouring Moluccan area to the west. The population of Raja Ampat is now largely Muslim or Christian both of which came from historical conquest from imperial or colonial powers. However in the last century there has also been a lot of Christian missionary work and this has succeeded in converting many of the villages in Raja Ampat to Christianity. Nearly every village has a church.
Geologically the 4 islands are predominantly karst or limestone especially in the north west. It is this karst landscape which accounts for its character today. The karst has eroded into sharp towers and cliffs and where these interact with the sea it has become even more pronounced. Away from the maritime karst features the landscape is covered in a dense tropical forest. Small rivers, often seasonal, drain the interior of the islands and have formed wide valleys between peaks which are clogged with thick forest. Where there valleys meet the sea there are extensive mangrove areas in the tidal flats. Sometimes these valleys have formed around the eroded karst towers which rise out of them as they rise out of the surrounding sea.
Apart from the remarkable geology Raja Ampat is firmly in the middle of the Coral Triangle which is the most biologically diverse marine habitat on earth. The seas around Raja Ampat are bursting with variety. The tidal currents here distribute plankton which support a huge maritime fauna and the coral reefs provide yet more nourishment to hundreds of species. It is a maritime paradise.
After I had kayaked around the Whitsunday Islands in Queensland my appetite to explore this marine environment was whetted and I started to read about other places and the name Raja Ampat always came up. However it was reasonably remote and it was difficult to find kayaks here. I thought about taking my own folding kayak, a Klepper, but it was big and cumbersome and I was worried that the sharp corals would lacerate the hull in no time rendering it useless. Then I came across an organisation called kayak4conservation.
Kayak4conservation was the brainchild of Max Ammer, a Seventh Day Adventist, who had been involved with missionary and conservation work in Raja Ampat for a few decades. He initially came to explore but soon set up various non government organisations involving the local populations, mostly Papuan, with conservation projects. These soon all came under the umbrella organisation he set up called Raja Ampat Research and Conservation Centre (RARCC). The most prominent project was Papua Diving on Kri Island. Much later in about 2010 Max added kayaking to the RARCC umbrella.
However he had no kayaks but managed to persuade the owner of the South African Kaskazi Kayaks to give him some mould to make their own fibreglass kayaks. Within a few years the local Papuans were producing high quality fibreglass kayaks at Max’s base on Kri Island. Pretty soon he had a fleet of locally produced kayaks.
The next hurdle was to set up a sustainable kayaking enterprise so he enlisted Tertius, a South African, to run it for him. Tertius built up a team of guides and a network of homestays around west Waigeo. There were about 10 homestays in all connected to Kayak4Conservarion. They all charged the same price of $40 for board and lodging with the guide in addition. The organisation was reluctant to rent kayaks out to individuals and especially commercial groups who did not use the network of associated homestays and guides. It was not a business Tertius explained but a self sustaining social and environmental project.
Although I often prefer to kayak alone and certainly never with a guide I accepted the terms and took a guide. I had read a previous report from a small group of australian kayakers and then had a guide called Sony who they liked so I asked for him and it was arranged I would take Sony for 3 weeks and paddle from Saporktren to Wayag then down to Fam and back. Sony apparently was eager to do this.
All that was left for me to do was to get to Sorong and take the ferry to Waisai on the Island of Waigeo. I would have to take a lot of dehydrated food, camping equipment, and litres and litres of water for about 10 days when we were in the remote islands to the north of the archipelago where there were no homestays or even fresh water. Tertius would meet me at Mandos homestay where he was based and we would prepare the kayaks over the next couple of days before we set off.
I could find no maps of the area other than US Air Force charts and they were at a scale of 1:500.000 so I printed off a bundle of screenshots from googlemaps in both the terrain and satellite mode and laminated them. In all I must have had about 10 laminated pages in each series covering the entire journey we planned to do and they were roughly at a scale of 1;100,000. The showed where the coral reefs and atolls were and also the outlines to the islands but they were no substitute for European 1:50,000 topographic maps