When fourteen Australian kayakers approached us wanting a voyage of adventure into the unknowns of Raja Ampat, all we could do was smile with excitement and begin searching for a place we had not been, a place where no one had kayaked. We looked for a place of great beauty, wildness, and secret- hard to find places.
We found a place that promised all of the above and in the end, was more than we could have even dreamed. Sixteen kayakers headed into the far southern reaches of Raja Ampat on an overnight journey aboard the comforts of a livaboard boat. We slept the night away as the ships crew took turns at the helm, watching for logs, other boats, and the weather as the boat took us steadily southward.
I awoke at 530 in the morning to light streaming through my porthole window. I felt like a kid at Christmas, eager to see what sort of fantasy land I had awoken to in this new place. As I left the confines of the lower decks, my eyes grew wide and energy surged through my body as I took in the sight before me. The sun was rising admist thunderclouds on the horizon, the light shone on a long spine of limestone islands, topped with thick, lush jungle. The azul waters gave way to rich reefs surrounding these islands. I was in paradise.
For the next week, we were in constant awe of this Island Chain coming off of Misool. Each paddling excursion greeted us with endless nooks and crannies to explore. We paddled below 300 m limestone sinusoidal cliffs that gave way to rich coral reefs just feet below our kayaks. We paddled into perfectly circular lagoons where the shallow reefs gave way to deep cordera’s below us.
One day, we paddled into a perfectly round lagoon and at one end found a narrow channel through a mangrove forest that opened up into an even more perfect circular lagoon with towering cliffs all around. As we entered the second lagoon, we all fell silent with awe. We slowly circumnavigated this second lagoon, and saw something rather curious. There was a rough-hewn ladder leading from shallow waters, up a short cliff and into the jungle. Our curiosity peaked, we tied our kayaks and followed this ladder into the unknown. We journeyed into a cave and followed the perfectly sized corridor, which led us in a big circle, through a couple of squeezes, and back to the entrance of the cave. We were amazed at this secret find that few outsiders have probably ever explored.
On every kayak outing the perfect white sand beaches gave way to the most incredible snorkelling any of us had ever experienced. Hundreds of species of fish surrounded us as we snorkelled along steep drop offs. Florescent pink coral, anemones of every color and size, and plate coral meters in diameter kept us all enthralled for hours. Black tipped Reef sharks lazily swam past us, green turtles gracefully swam by, bright blue sting rays with yellow spots darted from the sandy shallows as our shadows passed over them. A plethora of multi colored nudibranchs were hard to find admist the colors all around them, but find them we did. Spanish dancers of deep reds and greens mesmerized us with their intricate dances amongst the coral. Upon completion of every snorkel experience we were like an excited group of children comparing stories and sights of the marine environment.
One of the most amazing things I have ever explored was a particular cave in Misool. On Paddle Boards and with Snorkel gear, we found the entrance to a rumoured cave. From afar, we could see a massive indent in the limestone cliff, complete with massive stalactites, vines growing down the cliffs face, and birds swirling around. We found an entrance that our SUP’s just fit through, and entered into a Wilderness Cathedral. As we paddled deeper into the cave, the darkness became complete. As we continued, one shaft of light in the centre of the cave shone strongly from an opening in the ceiling. This highlighted the size of the cave. Five hundred meters long and four stories high, huge stalactites hung from the ceiling of the cave, stalagmites from the deep created small islands within the cave. Halfway along we found a tiny squeeze, only suitable for swimmers. The brave few squeezed through and found another grand cathedral with an alternate exit. We were astounded, humbled and mystified at this behemoth of a cave. We all agreed this was the most amazing cave we had ever explored.
“The Thousand Temple Islets” was the most awe-inspiring paddle we had during the trip. Thousands of narrow limestone islands, running north to south, with an astounding array of spires were the highlights of this area. We spent hours exploring these islands, paddling past hundreds of spires of all shapes and sizes. Finding secret passageways that led from one channel, through an island and into the next channel. Everyone settled into a quiet, meditative state, inspired by the incredible beauty around us.
During our week trip in Misool, we saw no other ships, no other kayakers, no other snorkelers. It was as if this island archipelago existed only for our exploration and amazement. We felt as if we were the only people in existence. This may very well be the most beautiful place I have ever and will ever have the privilege to explore.
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