The waters of this unspoilt Indonesian archipelago are teeming with life.
Dipping your head below the warm waters of Raja Ampat is to gaze into a marine wonderland.
It seems that wherever you go in the archipelago there are wonders just waiting to be marvelled at.
The 1500 islands and surrounding waters play host to more than 1000 species of fish, 700 molluscs and 500 types of coral, both soft and hard.
It is a diver’s paradise with the most diverse collection anywhere in the world.
On the big end, it’s common to see whales, orcas, dolphins, manta rays, turtles, tuna and hammerhead sharks. At the small end of the scale nudibranchs and other invertebrates, tiny pygmy seahorses, and shrimp.
And the great thing is you don’t need a dive ticket to experience it. Simply slipping on a mask, snorkel and fins will open up this world to you.
Pulling up to Friwen island we jump into the water for a drift snorkel, gently pushed along by the current, literally watching reef life glide by.
Just a couple of metres under the surface, the reef teems with life. Soft corals in pinks, green and reds are populated by thousands of fish.
The reef wall drops off into the depths below but just being a metre or two under the water allows us to see little clownfish pop in and out of pink anemones, tiny iridescent blue fish and parrot fish which dart out to protect their territory.
Soft corals in pink, red, orange, green and blue hues cling to the reef wall and sway gently in the current.
The water temperature hovers between 29C and 30C, allowing us to spend hours in the water without feeling cold and giving us the opportunity to really explore at our leisure.
Below us the bubbles of the divers at the bottom of the 15m wall push upwards like silver balls and diving down to see them opens up another world as the reef changes.
But hanging at the top few metres provides most of the crew with enough amazement and “GoPro” opportunities to keep everyone amazed.
Farther out from our base is Manta Sandy, a cleaning station where the massive creatures come to have small fish pick parasites from their body and clean dead and infected skin from them.
From about 12m above we watch the mantas glide in and circle the rocky underwater outcrop.
Their giant mouths agape, the cleaner fish dart in and out, picking at the rays before retreating to the safety of the rock and spearing out again.
For about 30 minutes we marvel at their majesty as the mantas slowly circle and weave their way through the depths, turning around and retracing their paths in the opposite direction.
The massive “wings” of the rays can reach up to 7m across and the grace and elegance of their
movements enthrals us as we dive down to gain a better view.
The beauty of the region is that jumping under almost any jetty will amaze people with the amount and diversity of fish.
One small jetty provided us with more than an hour of entertainment as schools of snapper hovered by wooden struts, flighty butterfly and angel fish nipped in and out of rocks, and a clutch of five clownfish shyly poked their heads out of an anemone.
Raja Ampat has been on the world diving agenda for years and a variety of low-key lodges and “resorts” have sprung up on the archipelago catering for the international diver who wants to experience one of the world’s premiere locations.
And slowly it is becoming better known, allowing seasoned travellers to enjoy the region’s natural bounty with just a mask and snorkel.