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Dive Review of Komodo Alor Safari (also known as Grand Komodo)/Putri Pupua in
Indonesia/Raja Ampat Islands

Komodo Alor Safari (also known as Grand Komodo)/Putri Pupua, Nov, 2007,

by Lee Thé, CA, USA (Reviewer Reviewer 6 reports). Report 4139.

Reporter and Travel

Dive Experience 251-500 dives
Where else diving Indonesia (Komodo, Wakatobi, Bali); Philippines (Puerto Galera); Hawaii (Big Island, Maui); Baja California (Sea of Cortez, Cabo San Lucas); Caribbean (Exumas in the Bahamas, Cayman Brac & Little Cayman, Cozumel, British Virgin Islands); California (Monterey Bay, Catalina Island); Canada (Vancouver Island); Florida (West Palm Beach)
Closest Airport Getting There

Dive Conditions

Weather sunny, windy, rainy, cloudy Seas calm, currents
Water Temp 80 to 84 Fahrenheit Wetsuit Thickness 5
Water Visibility 20 to 40 Feet

Dive Policy

Dive own profile yes
Enforced diving restrictions Don't drain your tank--that's about it. Grand Komodo won't let newbies on its Raja Ampat liveaboards; they assume you're an experienced diver. If you want help they'll give it; if you don't they'll pretty much leave you alone.
Liveaboard? yes Nitrox Available? N/A

What I Saw

Sharks Lots Mantas None
Dolphins None Whale Sharks None
Turtles > 2 Whales None
Corals 5 stars Tropical Fish 5 stars
Small Critters 5 stars Large Fish 4 stars
Large Pelagics 2 stars

Underwater Photography 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Subject Matter 5 stars Boat Facilities 3 stars
Overall rating for UWP's 4 stars Shore Facilities N/A
UW Photo Comments For skilled divers this is the photographic motherlode. Grand Komodo's dive guides are all locals, and they will bust their humps to find whatever you're looking for--and I've got the shots of pygmy seahorses, ghost pipefish, huge cuttlefish, sea moths etc. to prove it. The boat has plenty of outlets to charge your batteries (including one in each camera, plus some 110V outlets in the lounge to complement the normal 240V outlets everywhere else), a fresh water rinse tank just for cameras, and a large, pretty dry camera table on the dive deck. The lounge has a TV you can plug your camera into to share your shots Also, our boat, the Putri Pupua, only carries 8-9 divers, and the crew of 8 includes two dive guides. So you're likely to get your shot instead of having to wait while a dozen other photographers strobe the teeny brains out of some poor pygmy seahorse. Other boats won't bother you either. The Raja Ampats seem almost devoid of human life—quite a change from, say, Cozumel, or Puerto Galera. Fewer divers = better UW photography!

Ratings and Overall Comments 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Accommodations 3 stars Food 3 stars
Service and Attitude 4 stars Environmental Sensitivity N/A
Dive Operation 4 stars Shore Diving 1 stars
Snorkeling N/A
Value for $$ N/A
Beginners 1 stars
Advanced 4 stars
Comments The Raja Ampats may well boast the richest amount/variety of life on Earth; and you can enjoy it if you're up for the sometimes swift currents and warm, murky water. Don't get bent, though. Medical help is far, far away.

But for skilled, prudent divers this is the motherlode (though Komodo Island comes close). Grand Komodo's dive guides are all locals, and excel at finding interesting critters. Also, our boat, the Putri Pupua, only carries 8-9 divers in four cabins, and the crew of 8 includes two dive guides. So you get a lot of personal attention.

Think of the Raja Ampats as New Guinea diving for half the cost, since you're flying in via Bali instead of Australia. Now think of using Grand Komodo as doing it for $1,500 less per person than the other Raja Ampat boats charge. That's because you're paying Indonesian prices, for which you get an Indonesian boat owned and operated by Indonesians, with Indonesian dive guides, and Indonesian food (which is wonderful food, heavy on the rice and the fish, and not too spicy.

The boat ain't luxurious but we still had a full bathroom and decent AC in our reasonably roomy cabin, as did the others. At least one of the dive guides speaks English, but what counts most is their ability to find you what you're looking for underwater, and they excel at that. And the chase boat driver excelled at finding divers—once I got blown off a reef into the open ocean by myself and he found me right away.

This was our third trip with Grand Komodo, and we've come to appreciate how their agents shepherd us from the airport in Bali through all the intermediate stops required to get to the Raja Ampats. This is especially important because the airlines are starting to really stick you for that big heavy bag of dive gear; yet our Grand Komodo agents worked with us to get the surcharge down to about $25 each for the round trip from Bali through Makassar (on Sulawesi) to Sorong (on West Papua). It could have been ten times that.

However you get to the Raja Ampats, make sure you have help like we got from Grand Komodo.

The Putri Papua is about 80 feet long, sturdy, with squeaky-clean compressors. You rig your BC with a tank and it stays there for the rest of the trip. They fill the tanks in place. And we always got clean, ample fills. Sorry, no nitrox. Mostly we dove from the chase boat, which looked like an inflatable someone had coated with fiberglas to make it rigid—which is exactly how they did it. A decent ladder made entry/exit easy.

The crew was quite friendly. You could mix with them or not, as you choose. We mixed. Passengers have a lounge on the deck with a sun deck (covered with an awning) above it. We didn't make much use of the roof deck, though, due to a pair of chain-smoking Austrians. The boat doesn't make its own water; they buy water from tenders here and there, plus using one onshore faucet on one of the Raja Ampats. For drinking we had plenty of bottled water. Overall the boat was clean and sufficient. We did get a leak in our cabin during an evening downpour—right over our bunk. But they fixed it in a few hours and got us dry sheets.

The Raja Ampats comprise a huge number of mostly uninhabited islands, many quite small. Typical dives would drop us into the lee of a small island; we'd have to make sure not to get caught in the current whooshing around the island. We generally did four dives a day including a night dive at 7pm before dinner. Out of all the dives we did only one was a bust—they docked in a small bay one evening and had us go in within the bay instead of going around the corner in the chase boat, and the interior of the bay was close to lifeless. But all the other dives made up for this annoyance.

I noticed more large reef fish—many a meter or longer—than in most tropical dives we've done. On the other hand, 90% of Raja Ampat's reefs have been bombed. But because the conditions here foster reef growth so much, that hasn't put much of a dent in the local populations, and some critters like the kind of rubble you get after bombing. That said, we saw some of the most magnificent underwater landscapes I've ever seen anywhere, and there was a lot of vigorous apres-bombing reef growth. I got the impression the bombers only sweep through once in a while.

It is a national park, and the more divers go there, the more incentive the locals and the Indonesian government have to make it diver-friendly. The dive guides tend to do whatever it takes to get photographers their shot, but hopefully as time goes on they'll learn to dial it down a bit and go a little easier on the wildlife.

As for the creatures we saw—we came back from every dive (with that one exception) with our heads spinning. It's too much to take in, really. Not just new species but new kinds of critters (like pleurobranchs, which resemble living frisbees). And even when it was something more common, like a trumpetfish or a goatfish, it would be a new species that might or might not be in the huge three-volume book set on Indonesian fish that's stored in the Putri Pupua's lounge.

Night dives were equally spectacular.

Biggest fish I saw were some two-meter wobegong sharks. Smallest were several species of pygmy seahorse. Possibly the most interesting were the cuttlefish, often a meter long. Most frustrating was a dive just to see mandarinfish, when I only caught a glimpse of one.

After the Raja Ampats, anywhere in the Caribbean is about as interesting as an Indiana quarry.
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Note: The information here was reported by the author above, but has NOT been reviewed nor edited by Undercurrent prior to posting on our website. Please report any major problems by writing to us and referencing the report number above.

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