After many years of unsuccessful 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, especially in David Attenborough documentaries. Cenderawasih Bay makes up part of the Bird’s Head Seascape, the biggest marine protected area in Indonesia, located in the northern province of Papua and West Papua, New Guinea.
It is the only place in the world where it is possible to see such a large gathering of whale sharks in one encounter. The whale sharks have been attracted to the area since the 1940’s to feed on the fishing nets which hang from Bagans, a floating traditional fishing platform.
The fishermen believe there is a spiritual connection between them and continue to feed the whale sharks for good luck.
As Cenderawasih Bay is so remote the only way to get the best experience is to join a Liveaboard. The Dewi Nusantara would be our home for the next 12days and to reach the boat we took an international flight via Dubai and an internal flight to Manokwari. See below full travel details. We received a warm welcome from a Dewi Nusantara rep whom swiftly whisked us off to the boat. With a cocktail in hand and reciting my best "I am Moana" impression we soon set sail into the open ocean to embark on our schedule of eat, dive, sleep, repeat.
The anchor dropped at 6am and I jumped out of bed filled with excitement and ready to gear up! Today is Whale Shark day! You are given the option to either dive or snorkel with the whale sharks depending on the type of experience you prefer. I highly recommend putting your gear on and diving, as you get a far more intimate experience with these magnificent creatures.
We jump into the water at 7am and there are already four whale sharks swimming and feeding around the Bagan. After two hours in the water the rest of the guests return to the main boat for breakfast, but us hardcore divers don’t have time for breakfast and stay in the water.
Now that it’s only the two of us we take the time to savour the moment and before long we realise there are more shadows approaching from the deep. We are soon greeted by not four but seven whale sharks ranging from 7-10meters!
One of them became my friend and was so intrigued by my pink dive accessories that he kept coming within inches of me to get a closer look. As he gracefully swam passed me, I looked into the majestic creatures’ eyes and I was so overcome with emotion, that my mask filled with tears.
Diving alone with seven whale sharks is one of the most amazing experiences of my life! That evening whilst sipping a cocktail and star gazing from our hammock we received a surprise visit from a whale shark that swam around the boat for several hours! Paradise doesn’t get much better than this!
Aside from the most incredible Whale Shark encounters, the trip had so much more to offer with plenty of critters and rare endemic fish only found in Cenderawasih. The Cenderawasih Fairy Wrasse, Waltons Flasher Wrasse, Randalls Anthias and Cenderawasih Long Nose Butterfly are just some of the endemic's you can expect to see.
"Peace and happiness comes from within and not possessions"
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 children I have ever seen, some of which looked like they were straight off the front cover of National Geographic.
On walking around the village, I realised how simple yet beautiful life was here and that the spiritual influence and history of the missionaries was still very evident.
Not being one to leave without saying thank you, I roped in two other guests to perform and teach the children the Macarena ! I think it’s safe to say that anyone visiting Yende Village in the near future might be treated to a Macarena Papua mash up.
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.
There are many different options to dive in Indonesia, however as Cenderawashi Bay is such a remote location the only true way would be to join a liveaboard. There are many different liveaboards for every budget but my all-time favourite which has been my second home every summer for the past three years is the Dewi Nusantara.
Getting to Dewi Nusantara
International flight : London via Dubai to Jakarta
Domestic flight : Garuda Airlines : Jakarta to Manokwari
Arrive to a warm welcome at Manokwari airport by Dewi Rep and before being whisked off in a taxi to the Dewi Nusantara.
Average Water Temp: 30c
No flash photography during Whale Shark Encounter.
Although the water was an average 30c, I dived in my 5.4.3 Mares Flexa suit and an additional 2mm Scubapro shorty as an extra layer on top. I get very cold after diving 4 times a day however some divers are just as happy in a 2mm or even shorts and a rash vest. It all depends on your personal preference but I would rather be too warm and flush my suit than be shivering and have to end the dive early.