Raja Ampat: a week at Black Swiss, Barie, Batanta

The snorkeling at Black Swiss is excellent. If I had to compare it with snorkeling I’ve done everywhere else in the world except Raja Ampat, well, it’d be right up there near the top. However, if I were to redo our six weeks in Raja Ampat, I’d skip Black Swiss and slot in Meos Ambower (also don’t miss (we did) snorkeling at a mangrove reef in the Pam Islands, perhaps Mangrove Reef (?)).

Indo-Pacific Sargeant (Abudefduf vaigiensis) by bryandkeith on flickr
Orange-lined triggerfish (Balistapus undulatus) by bryandkeith on flickr
orange-lined triggerfish
20230117_104355A by bryandkeith on flickr

Looks great, doesn’t it? So what’s the complaint? Well, the only (non boat) accessible snorkeling at Black Swiss on Pulau Barie is all facing the same direction (north). We had a lot of wind from the north while we were there bringing waves and poor visibility. Everywhere else we stayed had more choice as far as exposure.

20230114_163520A by bryandkeith on flickr
Blackspotted puffer (Arothron nigropunctatus) by bryandkeith on flickr
blackspotted puffer

Blue-green chromis, now blue:

blue-green chromis by bryandkeith on flickr

now green:

20230114_162331A by bryandkeith on flickr

You can see it wasn’t always poor visibility. All those were taken straight out from the Black Swiss Homestay.

Check out this tiny lionfish, hanging out in shallow water near shore.

a tiny lionship.  Which one, I wonder? by bryandkeith on flickr
Moorish idol by bryandkeith on flickr
Moorish idol

Yorris and his wife, Megan, run Black Swiss. They only had one functional bungalow when we were there, but they were working on getting others fixed up for the (hoped for) post covid tourism recovery.

IMG_20230113_132359 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20230113_132951 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20230115_091136 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20230115_091631 by bryandkeith on flickr

Yorris’ combination of species knowledge and English made him probably the most informative local we snorkeled with. However, I think we only got in the water with him once. His snorkel gear was in Sorong for much of our stay.

I should add that Yorris screwed up (cancelled with no notice) two excursions that we had planned with him. Additionally there wasn’t quite enough food (and limited to rice and potatoes) for a couple days before he went to the market in Sorong. After that though we had some of our biggest and best meals in Raja Ampat.

IMG_20230116_122824 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20230118_124215 by bryandkeith on flickr

Yorris lives in the village of Arefi, and he took us one day to snorkel the West Arefi site which ended, not surprisingly, at the west end of the village.

20230115_103936A by bryandkeith on flickr
20230115_100855A by bryandkeith on flickr
20230115_105753A by bryandkeith on flickr
20230115_093341A by bryandkeith on flickr

Nice site. We spent a few minutes walking around the village.

IMG_20230115_113026 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20230115_113205 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20230115_114520 by bryandkeith on flickr

In the opposite direction from the homestay (to the east), passed a couple fancy “eco” resorts, Yorris took me to the fantastic snorkeling at Pulau You.

20230116_095612A by bryandkeith on flickr
20230116_095307A by bryandkeith on flickr
20230116_102514A by bryandkeith on flickr
20230116_095841A by bryandkeith on flickr
20230116_105715A by bryandkeith on flickr

Dang, that was nice! And if that wasn’t enough, I saw the only walking shark (Raja Epaulette Shark (Hemiscyllium freycineti)) that I saw during the day in Raja Ampat (I had two better sightings at night).

You can see most of it here from the tail almost to the head which is hidden under the pinkish soft coral.

Raja Epaulette Shark (Hemiscyllium freycineti) by bryandkeith on flickr

We only had good enough visibility once to head all the way over around the NW corner of Pulau Barie.

20230117_152118A by bryandkeith on flickr
20230117_111225A by bryandkeith on flickr

There it seemed to be one group of anemonefish after another, often in very shallow water. I did find one anemone hosting quite a few small translucent crabs (porcelain crabs?). It was a beautiful purple carpet anemone in about 8-10m of water — no photo. ­čÖü

20230117_155453A by bryandkeith on flickr
20230117_160212A by bryandkeith on flickr

For another excursion Yorris took us to the Ranger site, only about 1km east of the bungalow. Jens had told us it was the best coral he had seen in Raja Ampat. Unfortunately the sun wasn’t out, and the visibility wasn’t great when we were there. We did, however, get to hang out with three cuttlefish for about 20 minutes starting right when we got in the water.

20230118_103750A by bryandkeith on flickr
20230118_103550A by bryandkeith on flickr
20230118_102831A by bryandkeith on flickr
20230118_103700A by bryandkeith on flickr

That ended up being Ferda’s best cuttlefish sighting of the trip.

This might give a little idea of the coral,

20230118_105930A by bryandkeith on flickr

but it seemed to be all about the anemonefish again — a number of different species!

20230118_110541A by bryandkeith on flickr
20230118_111115A by bryandkeith on flickr
20230118_112059A by bryandkeith on flickr
20230118_112602A by bryandkeith on flickr

Since we still hadn’t seen an octopus after over a month in Raja Ampat, Yorris took us on a night snorkel to Pulau You where he could almost guarantee we’d see an octopus (over 90% of the time). Ferda and I saw cuttlefish — a different species than we had seen before — almost as soon as we got in the water. We saw another epaulette shark, a large flounder, multiple crabs including an anemone hermit crab which hosts an anemone on its shell. We didn’t find an octopus, but Ferda was absolutely thrilled with the bioluminescence (“fairy dust,” she said) as she followed me around after her light died.

Also at night just near the homestay I watched spiny lobsters out walking around. That was great since during the day, this is about all you see:

20230117_103712A by bryandkeith on flickr

On one of my last snorkeling sessions at Black Swiss I found sweepers for the only time. They were hanging out in dense groups near the reef dropoff.

Golden sweeper (Parapriacanthus ransonneti) by bryandkeith on flickr
20230118_161848A by bryandkeith on flickr

We arranged for Yorris to take us from Black Swiss to Kri, our last stop in Raja Ampat. On the way he had us snorkel at Pulau Wai. The currents were too much to fully enjoy it, but, wow, there is one incredible reef after another in Raja Ampat!

20230120_084631A by bryandkeith on flickr
20230120_090128A by bryandkeith on flickr
20230120_084407A by bryandkeith on flickr

Looking at these photos it’s hard to believe we were really complaining about Black Swiss, isn’t it?

20230118_155904A by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20230113_145734 by bryandkeith on flickr
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