29 December 2019

Submitted by: John Hicks

In these challenging times of a world disrupted by COVID-19 I feel compelled to write about one stand-out day from my recent voyage on Coral Adventurer to the Spice Islands and Raja Ampat, Indonesia. I do this not to boast but to share an uplifting reflection on the great beauty that exists in our world.

My chosen day is but one from a totally magnificent 13-day expedition from Darwin to Biak spanning Christmas – New Year 2019-2020. It started with the anticipation created by Expedition Leader Jamie in his briefing over sundown drinks the evening before. “Folks,” he said “tomorrow you have the opportunity to climb to the top of Mt Pindito for breathtaking views over Wayag. But the trail up the hill through the rainforest is steep and narrow and traverses sharp, jagged limestone rock. At times you will be on all fours, making your way up and down.” Yahoo, I thought, this sounds really special.

The next morning, I joined the first shore party aboard the Xplorer landing craft and we made our way across crystal clear waters to a stunning white sand beach at the foot of Mt Pindito. We started our 30-minute ascent. Jamie’s briefing was completely accurate, as usual. The shady forest trail was steep, sharp and uneven. But with care, patience and the helpful guidance of our expedition crew it was safe. At the summit, we were rewarded with sublime, 360-degree views over the Wayag lagoon and its many jungle-clad, beehive islands. Far below the shallow jade waters bursting with vibrant, healthy coral reef transitioned to the inky blue hues of deep water at the drop-off. It was one of those achingly beautiful sights where you know you must take the time just to ‘suck it in’ and imbed the vista in your memory. The return hike to the beach was literally the reverse of the ascent as I found it easier in most places to face the hill and descend as if on a ladder, using all four points of contact for stability.

At the beach it was time for a refreshing snorkel to view the amazing coral and fish. The scenic grandeur underwater was a fitting match for that above. Not far off the beach a group of tall-finned ‘angel’ fish swam slowly past my wife and I, unconcerned by our presence. I had never seen this species before. It was wonderful to observe their grossly exaggerated, sail-like fins and ponder what adaptive advantage this bestowed (I am still pondering). Apart from the overall vibrancy of this fringing reef one memory that really endures is the underwater light show I witnessed that morning. In the shallow clear waters, the right combination of gentle wind and surface ripples was producing moving hexagons of focussed sunlight on the seabed. When I snorkelled over a big thicket of staghorn coral these bright beams were racing up and down the branches creating a mesmerising spectacle. I watched enthralled for a few minutes and then the show ended. A transient event, but a lasting memory from a morning in paradise.

But there was more to come. After another bountiful lunch we departed on the Explorer for a leisurely cruise of the Wayag lagoon and its numerous beehive islands. It is an astounding aquatic arena punctuated with numerous undercut beehive islands, some with imposing cliffs, that seem to float like green and grey icebergs on the still clear waters. Closer approaches to some islands highlighted delicate pink and mauve flowers of orchids thriving on the limestone. By mid-afternoon the heat of the day was starting to dissipate and our two Explorer craft headed for a deserted sandy spit and swimming beach in the sheltered lee of an island. A relaxing float in the shaded, inviting waters was followed by a very civilised afternoon tea with cool drinks, cheese and crackers.

All too soon it was time to return to Coral Adventurer for a shower and sundown drinks on the vista deck – a time to reflect on an unforgettable day while watching fluffy pink clouds drift over Wayag’s enchanting islands.

Submitted by: John Hicks, 17 April 2020