Liveaboard dive boat, east Indonesian archipelago

Cenderawasih Bay

Cenderawasih bay whale sharks, West Papua, IndonesiaCenderawasih Bay is the north facing bay that separates Bird’s Head Peninsular from central Papua. It’s a massive body of water which contains a large number of islands and a rich marine environment regarded as one of the most biodiverse in the world, prompting the creation of Teluk Cenderawasih National Park in the western part of the bay. The park comprises the entire Marino Peninsular and several islands to the north including Mioswaar, Nusrowi, Roon, Rumberpon and Yoop.

In excess of 200 species of fish and 150 species of coral have been documented in the bay but it is best known for the spotted whale sharks (rhincodon typus) that frequent the bay. Elsewhere in the world, whale shark encounters usually occur on seasonal migratory routes but in Cenderawasih, the whale sharks are there all year round, a phenomenon that marine biologists don’t yet understand.

Cenderawasih whale shark, West Papua, Indonesia

Photos courtesy of Marcel Ekkel

Near Nabire at the bottom of the bay, just offshore from the village of Kwatisore, whale sharks regularly congregate by the floating fishing platforms called bagan, hoping to mop up any baitfish that spill from the nets as they’re hauled to the surface. This unique interaction between the bagan fishermen and the whale sharks is not only fascinating to watch, it also just about guarantees an up close encounter in the water with not one but several whale sharks.

Whilst the whale sharks are the star attraction, the park has an abundance of other attractions both above and below the water. Hawkesbill, green, Pacific Ridley and leatherback turtles nest on several sandy islands in the bay whilst dugong and dolphins are regularly sighted. An abundance of pristine coral gardens featuring rare black coral, vibrant blue staghorn, a huge variety of soft corals, fish and molluscs such as the giant clam and trumpet triton provide excellent diving and snorkelling opportunities. Other popular dive sites include WWII shipwrecks and the wreck of a Japanese Zero aircraft lying in the bay.

The islands of the park are well worth exploring. Mioswaar Island contains an ancient Wandau burial cave, thermal springs and waterfalls. Nearby Numfor Island has a similar burial site complete with antique plates and a carved coffin. The northern most of the islands, Rumberpon Island has some great shallow offshore reefs perfect for snorkelling, native deer and is sea bird nesting areas.

It’s easy to see why divers and wildlife enthusiasts make the effort to travel to this remote part of Indonesia. By far the most common way to travel to Cenderawasih Bay is on a liveaboard boat but with the growing buzz about the whale sharks a trickle of independent travellers are finding their way to Nabire and the locals are starting to catch on to this potential income source. Papua Pro, a local NGO recently established the charming, beachside bunglow Kali Lemon Resort at Kwatisore, which offers all inclusive airport transfers, accommodation, meals, diving and whale shark packages.

Cenderawasih bagan, West Papua, IndonesiaAlternatively, there are a number of basic hotels in Nabire and you can easily arrange to charter a local fishermen’s boat for a daytrip out to the bagan area to find the whale sharks. From Nabire, it takes 2 hours to reach the bagans and you may need to visit half a dozen or more before finding one with whale sharks under it. With the high price of fuel you can expect to pay around 4.500.000Rp (US$375) for a single day charter. Whilst we can’t verify them, we’ve also heard recent reports that some Kwatisore fishermen are now offering homestays, whale shark excursions and transport between Nabire and Kwatisore (a rough 2 hour drive) for as little as US$200 per person. You’ll need to take your own snorkelling gear and keep in mind the local fishermen boats are very basic and have no safety gear.

Wings Air, Lion Air and Trigana Air all run scheduled flights to and from Nabire, connecting almost daily with Jayapura, Kaimana and Ambon (Maluku).

If you want to visit the islands in the park, it takes roughly 7 hours by boat from Nabire or you can take a speedboat to Rumberpon Island from Manokwari. It runs 2-3 times a week on demand so you’ll need to ask around the wharf to find out when it’s leaving. Alternatively, catch the public bus from Manokwari south to Ransiki (3 hours) and charter a boat for the 2 crossing to Rumberpon. The small village on the island has cottage accommodation available or you can stay with a local family.

Cenderawasih Bay separates Bird’s Head Peninsular from central Papua
2-3 days
Get there
Slow/express ferry, charter boat or fly
Need to know
Take plenty of cash as things can be extremely expensive.

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