Sunday, 23 September, 2018

Triton Bay of Kaimana – West Papua – Indonesia

Triton Bay is the name given to the coastal region east of Kaimana, a small harbour town on the southwest coast of West Papua.

It is the next frontier in Indonesian diving and although Kaimana is now served by passenger flights it is still remote. From Bali it took us five internal flights and 15 hours of travelling before we touched down in one of Express Air’s glitzy new turbo-prop Dornier 328s on the tarmac of a small airport carved out of the jungle.

We were the only arrivals, having shed travelling companions along the way at previous stops in Ambon, Sorong and Fak-Fak, leaving three local folk on the plane for its final hop to Nabire to the north.

At the port, while we are waiting for the tender to the ship that will our home for the next few days, we are entertained by a group of naked brown children who have recycled crushed plastic water bottles into tiny sleds that they were using to ride down the sloping concrete harbour wall, catapulting themselves into the water at the bottom. It looks like a lot of fun!

We set off, darkness falls quickly and, exhausted by the journey we turn in early and are lulled into a deep, dreamless sleep by the combination of the throb of the engine and the big, comfortable bed in our big comfortable cabin.

There is a storm in the night that does not disturb us but in the morning we wake to the mystical sight of clouds it has left behind which hang over the islands at tree level creating a series of mist-falls, waterfalls of suspended moisture, tumbling through the jungle towards the sea.

The coast line south of Kaimana is dotted with perfect palm-fringed white sand beaches lapped by crystal clear, bottle-green waters, each more idyllic than the last. Most are deserted and accessible only from the sea as the forest-covered limestone cliffs rise steeply behind. In places where there is a larger strip of beach and the cliff line slopes a little more gently you see the occasional small village. Often these have been built in locations where offshore limestone outcrops create a natural barrier protecting the village from the sea.

The fact that this is still largely unknown territory is emphasised on the third morning when we enter a promising bay we have not visited before and find every other beach occupied by what look like pearl farms. A small boat approaches and advises us to report to the head village, which we do obediently. We explain what we are doing but fail completely to get them to understand that anyone would want to dive just for fun, just to sight-see, so in the end they say they will refer our request to dive in their waters to their elders and we retreat to dive elsewhere for now.

The Diving
The area offers a microcosm of some of the best diving Indonesia has to offer: exposed rocks and seamounts boasting large schools of fish; current-swept corners alive with hunting reef as well as pelagic fish; soft coral gardens that are second to none; large forests of white gorgonians and black coral; and, gentle slopes over shallow, sandy bottoms, alive with a full array of macro subjects.

The waters around Irian Jaya hold the world record for species diversity, so it is hardly surprising that every dive is very fishy with an impressive collection of marine life in abundance. Things that are very difficult to find in other places are commonplace. The waters are a warm 29 degrees C, we rarely go deeper than 20 metres and the average dive lasts 70 to 80 minutes. On every dive you have the sensation that just about anything can happen and you start to expect the unexpected. One day the first dive produces an encounter with a leopard shark, the second a couple of solar-powered nudibranchs and three ultra-rare yellow pigmy seahorses, the third several wobbegong sharks and a large school of barracuda.

We do a number of dives inside a large inlet at the tip of a long peninsula, where a group of tiny tree and bush covered limestone islands are reminiscent of the Rock Islands of Palau. We split into small groups so we can cover more ground. There are some gorgeous pinnacles, covered in soft coral and glass sweepers, particularly in the shallows where the mid-morning sun shining through the clear water and reflecting off white sand brings the colours to life.

The night diving is spectacular with every other patch of weed the hiding place for a dwarf scorpion-fish, a sea moth, a ghost pipe fish, a bob-tail squid. It’s astonishing how many exotic animals we find and an hour flies by quickly. We spot a titanic moray eel (it wasn’t hard!), a giant blue map puffer-fish and in one area there are a dozen pleurobranchs scattered like large round autumn leaves on the seabed. There is no moon on the first two nights we are there so our dive lights cause havoc among small fish and other night-swimmers who bombard us in their excitement.

One dive, under a limestone outcrop named after famed Asia-Pacific photojournalist Tim Rock, sums up pretty much everything that is good about diving in this part of southwest Papua. As you drop in you are greeted by countless schooling fish, a monster potato cod the size of a small car as well as several of his junior relatives, a napoleon wrasse and a giant super-jack cruising for prey.

The profusion of soft corals covering the sea-bed distracts you briefly and you find a whole host of the small unusual creatures that Indonesia is famed for such as, dragonets, ghost pipe-fish and coral shrimp but you cannot afford to take your eye off the open ocean as every so often something incredible happens.

On one occasion we look up and see a school of over a hundred batfish cruise by, some of whom detach themselves from the group to tear apart a large pelagic jellyfish that has arrived in the wrong place at the wrong time. The batfish mob the jelly, some of them grabbing tentacles and sucking them in like spaghetti, others attacking the jelly’s fleshy head.

An few minutes later some mobula rays fly by in formation and behind them you spot some chevron barracuda hanging above the reef. You are on the point of heading over to check them out when another member of your team calls and points out a wobbegong shark sleeping partly concealed beneath an overhang, the frill around its mouth hanging in the sand like an old man’s drool, its long tail curled securely under the rock. Below, a large area of sand at around 18m is home to thousands of garden eels, swaying in the current as if charmed by some oceanic necromancer with a magic flute.
Never has an hour underwater passed so quickly!

On another morning, we drop into what can only be described as a negligently over-stocked aquarium and sit in awe on the sand for the first ten minutes as thousands of fusiliers swim past in a seemingly endless parade while red snapper and black snapper hang in large clouds above us and blue-lined snapper patrol the edge of the surrounding reef. Forests of black coral cover the seabed in places and some of the sea fans are home to whole communities of pygmy seahorses; we count ten on one fan alone.

Even when on one night dive we drop in and, unusually the site does not look particularly promising, forty minutes of fairly mundane, uneventful exploration of a hard coral slope are rewarded right at the end with discoveries of a rare epaulette shark hiding amidst some stag horn coral and an unusual toad–fish, endemic to Australian waters, that does not seem to have been identified in Indonesia before, at least according to the extensive fish spotting library on board. Debate over these two finds consumes dinnertime conversation and a dive that seemed as if it would offer very little becomes the most talked about of the week!

The Final Word
Triton Bay promises to be an exciting new destination; it offers world class diving and you are likely to have the reefs to yourselves; the remoteness is your guarantee of exclusivity. However the remote location also brings logistical problems so make sure you choose a well connected and well organised operator.

The highlight of the area, the record breaker (a couple of dozens of new species of fish, and another couple of newly found coral species…and we are just starting…), so far the star of the show is the recently found Epaulette shark, the only known shark which walks on its pectoral fins!

We have over 20 dive sites; the soft corals are as good as in Misool area. The black coral forest never seems to end and the reefs are boiling with life. All kind of colourfull fish move around, new species of wrasses and gobies fight to introduce themselves to the divers. The topography is varied, bommies, some caves and a few hard corals.

In places like Bat Cave and Little Komodo giant groupers are hiding under the rocks. In Little Komodo and 7th Heaven everything can be experienced. If Komodo is a sum up of diving in Indonesia, Little Komodo has it all in only one dive!! Do you want turtles??..Or bump heads?? Or millions of fusiliers?? Wobbegongs? Jacks??… Go for it!!!

But Triton Bay is more than that. There are more reasons to come to this remote area: the landscape is gorgeous, ancient paintings decorating caves and the village of Lobo is a friendly place surrounded by a 1000 metres high cliff…

Not enough?? What about enjoying the resident pod of pilot whales?

Yes, we know you like to take some macro shots and do some muck diving, well, here is the biggest difference with Misool, we can regularly find critters and some dives are just perfect for that: pygmies (denise and bargibanti), nudies, devil scorpion fish, wonder puss, frog fish, leaf fish, ornate ghost pipe fish…

Certainly not to be missed!

How to get there:
Flight and ship schedules to Kaimana are available only on certain days and may change every month. To reach Kaimana by air transportation, you can take Wings Air, Merpati Air, Tri M. G Airlines, or Express Air to take you to Utarum airport in Kaimana.

Flights from Sorong to Kaimana are available. If you leave from Sorong, your flight will transit in Fak-Fak and then continue its journey to Kaimana for about 1.5 hours. You can also take a flight from Ambon and transit in Fak-Fak and then to Kaimana. For sea transportation, motor ships are available. You can take the KM Ciremai ship that leaves from Jakarta or KM Tatamailau from Manado to take you to Kaimana.

To visit the Bay of Triton, the only transportation means available is sea transportation from Kaimana. A ship belonging to local government in Kaimana that transits in several villages Bay of Triton on its way to the Bay of Etna, but it only operates three tmes a month.

Alternatively, you can take a rented longboat or speedboat to go to the Bay of Triton. From Port Kaimana, it will take about three hours by longboat and about one and a half hours by speedboat to the Bay of Triton.

Filed in: Triton Bay Kaimana, West Papua