After many years of failed attempts of trying to grab a glimpse of the illusive whale sharks in the Maldives, the name Cenderawasih Bay kept popping up over and over again.
Cenderawasih Bay a.k.a Bird of Paradise Bay, is the only place in the world where it is possible to see huge gatherings of up to 10 whale sharks in one encounter. In this post I'm going to share all of the details about my encounter with not one but seven, 12m whale sharks, how to get to Cenderawasih & what else there is to see.
Where is Cenderawasih Bay?
Cenderawasih Bay makes up part of the Bird’s Head Seascape, the biggest marine protected area in Indonesia, located just off the coast of West Papua which is the Indonesian side of New Guinea. The closest airport is Manokwari which is around 6-8hrs from Jakarta.
Why is Cenderawashi Famous for Whale Sharks?
Cenderawashi Bay is the best place to see whale sharks in Indonesia and quite possibly the world! The sharks have been attracted to the area since the 1940s as they like to feed from the fishing nets that hang from the Bagans (traditional fishing platforms). Using their incredible strength and filter feeding technique, the sharks suck on the bottom of the nets releasing the delicious tiny fish into their giant mouths.
The fishermen believe there is a spiritual connection between them and continue to feed the whale sharks from their catch for good luck. It's because of this and their feeding habits that diving and swimming with whale sharks in Cenderawasih is almost guaranteed.
Cenderawasih Bay Liveaboard
As Cenderawasih Bay is incredibly remote the only way to truly experience it is by Liveaboard. The Dewi Nusantara was our home for 12days in Indonesia, which is like staying on a 5star luxury floating resort, with VIP access to all of the best dive sites.
After a warm welcome from the Dewi Nusantara rep at Manokwari airport we were swiftly whisked off to the boat of wonders. With a cocktail in hand and reciting my best "I am Moana" impression we set sail to embark on our schedule of eat, sleep, dive with whale shark, repeat.
Scuba Diving with Whale Sharks
To be in with a chance to spot these gentle giants, which really isn't that difficult out here, you need to be up at the crack of dawn and in the tender boat by 6am.
We were given the option to either snorkel or dive with the whale sharks. We chose the later, as although most of the action does happen at the surface, you get a far more intimate experience watching below the waves and you get to watch them rise towards you from the depths of the ocean.
We jumped into the water at 7am and there were already four huge whale sharks swimming around Bagans.
After two hours with these magical creatures, most of the guests returned to the boat for breakfast but I didn't want to miss one second with these magical creatures so I stayed behind and I'm so glad I did!
Once everyone left the dive site, it wasn't long before 3 more gigantic whale sharks suddenly appeared right out of the blue! We were surrounded by not 4 but 7 magnificent gentle giants ranging from 10-12 meters!
Diving alone with seven whale sharks is one of the most amazing experiences of my life and I'll never quite forget how the shark in the photo above came to look me or maybe my neon fins straight in the eye! Was I overwhelmed with emotion.... Yes! Did I cry... 100%!
Diving Cenderawashi Tips
Warmer Wetsuit: The average water temperature is 30°C (86°F) so you'll be fine in a thinner wetsuit, however, I dived in a 5 mm and still had to add a shortie on top! Your core temp can really go down when diving 4 times a time!
A Camera! A wide angle lens is best but before you splurge we still managed to get some great shots with our Cannon G7x.
Torch - It's always good to have your own flashlight for night dives
Whale Shark Diving Season
Diving with whale sharks in Cenderawasih bay is pretty much guaranteed all year around and mainly depends on the schedule of the liveaboard you choose to stay with. Our trip was in mid august and the conditions were beyond perfect!
Other Marine Life to See in Cenderawashi Bay
Aside from the incredible Whale Sharks, the trip had so much more to offer with plenty of critters and rare endemic fish only found in Cenderawasih. You can expect to see crocodile fish, bobtail squid, nudibranch, The Waltons Flasher Wrasse, The Cenderawasih Fairy Wrasse, Randalls Anthias and Cenderawasih Long Nose Butterfly just to name a few.
How to get to Cenderawashi Bay, Indonesia
Domestic flight : Jakarta to Manokwari approx 6hrs+
Cenderawashi Bay is such a remote location in Indonesia, that the only way to reach it is by liveaboard. There are many different liveaboards for every budget but if you are looking for a luxury 5star liveaboard check out the Dewi Nusantara. I've joined them on 3 different cruises around Indonesia and their service and attention to detail is unrivalled.
To get to Cenderawashi Bay you'll need to take a domestic flight from Jakarta to Manokwari, West Papua.
Other Things To Do in Cenderawashi Bay
A Visit to Yende Village
As our diving took us into the local waters of Yende Village, the Chief invited us onto "Soon Island" and wow did we receive an overwhelming welcome! We were greeted by traditional dance and music performed by some of the most beautiful tribal children I have ever seen, some of which looked like they were straight off the front cover of National Geographic.
The tribe live a very simple yet beautiful life within the tiny remote village built from stilt huts directly on the water. Walking around the village, is a reminder of how Indonesia truly is country of immense cultural diversity.
Not being one to leave without saying thank you, I roped in two other guests to teach the children the Macarena! If you visit Yende Village and you get greeted by the Macarena, you have me to blame!
Video Credits: Simone @Dewi Nusantara
Visiting Yende village is a memory that will stay with me forever and is a reminder that peace and happiness comes from within and not possessions.