Most Australians will tell you that they want to visit the Galapagos Islands one day.
Who wouldn’t want to hang out with rare animals and explore paradisiacal volcanic islands?
Unfortunately, the 40+ hours of travel time and big budget required to get there can deter even the most die-hard wildlife enthusiasts.
Luckily for them, there is another cluster of idyllic islands that possess many of the treasures that have made the Galapagos Islands famous, only much closer to home and with a fraction of the crowds and cost attached.
Introducing Raja Ampat! Here’s why travellers should consider swapping out the Galapagos for something closer to home.
Location, Location, Location:
Raja Ampat’s position in relation to the equator and isolation from the mainland has enabled rare wildlife to flourish like no other place on earth- well, maybe a bit like the Galapagos.
If you follow the equator about 15,000 kilometres west of the Galapagos Islands you’ll stumble across Raja Ampat, a wildlife-rich archipelago of tropical islands lying practically undiscovered in comparison to its famous cousin.
Just like the Galapagos, Raja Ampat straddles the equator where the perfect amount of heat and energy acts as a natural incubator for unique flora and fauna.
Just like the Galapagos, Raja Ampat’s marine environment is one of the most diverse and abundant in the world
If you hadn’t heard of Raja Ampat before, you might be surprised to learn that the region boasts the highest recorded diversity of marine life on earth according to Conservation International.
This immense, protected marine park encompasses over 12,000 square kilometres of reef (ahem, larger than the Galapagos).
Its clear turquoise waters are home to over 75 per cent of the world’s known coral species, more than 1,300 species of reef fish, five species of rare and endangered sea turtles, and 13 marine mammal species.
If you visit between February and March, you could see up to six different types of dolphins and 10 species of whales. Oh and we almost forgot to mention, you can even swim with Whale Sharks, the docile giants of the sea.
Biodiversity on land:
There is an abundance of completely unique wildlife found on Raja Ampat’s shores which cannot be found anywhere else- not even in the Galapagos
These densely forested islands are home to a plethora of exotic, strange and colourful creatures, many of which are endemic to the region.
You’ll find Waigeo Cuscus (a curious looking marsupial with black spots), reptiles and a variety of birds so mesmerising that they will turn anyone into a binocular-clutching aficionado.
You’ll likely come across not one but two endemic types of the aptly named Birds of Paradise.
Do Red-footed boobies, Frigatebirds and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters sound familiar?
These intriguing bird species are famous inhabitants of the Galapagos Islands but they can also be found in Raja Ampat.
The Theory of Evolution:
Just like the Galapagos, the islands of Raja Ampat also inspired the Theory of Evolution
Aside from its alluring wildlife, the Galapagos Islands are famously known as the birthplace of Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. While Darwin has become a household name since publishing his famous work, you might be surprised to learn that there was another accomplished naturalist who independently conceived the same theory while studying in a different part of the world.
Just as the Galapagos Islands inspired Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection, the islands of Raja Ampat inspired an identical revelation by Alfred Russel Wallace. The final research paper was actually published under both names but Wallace and the islands of Raja Ampat have been somewhat forgotten in comparison.
Raja Ampat is still largely undiscovered, earning the title of “the last remaining paradise”.
Not unlike the Galapagos, the best way to explore this archipelago is by boat, allowing you to travel by night and reach isolated coves and abundant reefs by day.
SeaTrek Sailing Adventures has been taking small groups on off the beaten track journeys through the secluded islands of eastern Indonesia for over 30 years.
Aboard one of their traditional UNESCO heritage style pinisi boats, you can snorkel, hike, SUP or kayak your way through crystal waters and rich forests, while an all-Indonesian crew ensure that you experience the warmth of Indonesian hospitality. Raja Ampat cruises are available from October to February in 2019/2020.