Alyui Bay, Waigeo, Raja Ampat

Fri 4 Nov 2016 04:22
00:11.542S 130:15.561E

The village at the head of Alyui Bay.

Alyui Bay is a huge bay with sheer cliffs, too deep for anchoring but there are a few moorings, paid for by the permits everyone who visits Raja Ampat has to buy. It’s a good sheltered stop on the way up to Wayag and also has a reputation for fantastic diving so we were glad to stay for a couple of days. The first port of call is the pearl farm, partly because it’s interesting, partly because they have a lovely old jetty which is fantastic to dive under. We were made very welcome by the manager, Remi, a New Caledonian Marine Biologist who studied in Australia. He said we’d be welcome to see around the pearl farm, that it would be fine for us to dive under the jetty and that we could dive anywhere in the bay, as long as we visited the local village to ask for permission. The village was back at the entrance to the bay. It would be a 5 mile round trip dinghy ride as there was no where to anchor Lochmarin near it. We asked if there was someone from the village working there who we could get permission from, but Remi’s hands were tied, he couldn’t even take half an hour to show us around the pearl farm we were standing in unless we went out to the village.

So we made the trip, against the strong currents, and tied up at the jetty. The village had street lights, run from generators, and rain water collection systems. These were given by the pearl farm, as well as the petrol to run the generators. We were directed to the ‘office’ and once there were presented with a hand written ‘surat jalan’, permission to travel, for the bay. But they wanted a million Rp each for the privilege. That’s £120 even if we just wanted to have a half hour tour of the pearl farm. Of course we refused, expressing shock, at the price. We had paid that for our passes for the whole of Raja Ampat. Phil showed them our passes but Remi had warned us it would make no difference as none of the money goes to the villagers and I showed them our boat card to try to explain that we weren’t a charter boat, just the two of us on a yacht. They realised that we weren’t going to pay and gave up, giving us permission to be in the bay. So we stayed, went diving and had no trouble. We understood that they wanted to cash in on tourists visiting the pearl farm on their land but they were going about it the wrong way. If they had someone at the farm taking £5 per person no one would refuse and they would get some money. Remi had tried to explain to them but he said it had been like banging his head against a brick wall and he’d had to leave them to it.

The jetty at the pearl farm.

So next day we took the dinghy down to the farm and had a very informative tour by Remi. They were currently x-raying the oysters to check that the seed pearls (which are inserted into the oyster’s gonads) had not been rejected. It was all much more technical than I had expected and very interesting. After the tour David the salesman came and showed us some of the pearls. We were sat out under an awning at a wooden bench and he unrolled the cloth to reveal stunning necklaces of shimmering white pearls. Suddenly it all made sense, why they spent all those years growing the host oysters and donor oysters, seeding, x-raying and harvesting. These beautiful things spoke to the love of shiny in all of us, to why I walked around with ball bearings in my pocket as a child, collected conkers and fought wars over marbles. Such an opportunity couldn’t be passed by and we left with me feeling very lucky indeed and my Christmas present well and truly sorted!

Remi had recommended that we dive the jetty at night. There are plenty of crocodiles around the bay so generally night dives are a definite no no but he explained that the lights and boats coming and going keep them away from the dock - we’d be safe. So we came back at dusk for my first ever night dive. We didn’t take cameras as I thought we’d have quite enough to do negotiating the piles and cross beams of the jetty with torches in our hands without having cameras to  hold as well, but if we had taken them you would have been astounded. It was one of the best dives we’ve ever had. There were hundreds of fish in big silver schools under there, moving like a murmuration of starlings as we swam through them. Brightly coloured corals glowed red, orange, yellow and green on the piles in the torchlight, decorated with tiny fish like bright jewels. File Fish hung vertically alongside the piles and on the muddy, refuse strewn bottom Anemone Fish looked up at us curiously. But the two stars of the show were the Lionfish and the astounding Tasselled Wobbegong. There were at least three varieties of Lionfish, floating in regal splendour with all their feathered fins fanned out and slowly waving in the water. They have an impressive array of venomous spines and their quiet confidence shows. They expect you to get out of their way, not vice versa, and we did! The Tasselled Wobbegong is a bottom dwelling shark with stunning camouflage. Not content with just wearing disruptive pattern material he breaks up his outline even more by growing a fringe of branching tentacles around his mouth. He is the most beautiful ugly creature I have ever come across. 

I don’t often post any pictures that we’ve not taken ourselves but I just want you to see what they look like so here’s two from the internet:

Remi had invited us to come to a BBQ supper after our dive and we had a really lovely evening enjoying his company and our last bottle of Barossa wine. It turns out that most of the visitors to the farm are guests on the live aboard phinisi charter boats. We were only the third cruising boat that Remi had had to visit the pearl farm in two years. The first was the private yacht of a director of Clarins, nice folk by all accounts, the next were the lovely family on Lumbaz, who we met in New Zealand and Vanuatu. Clearly we are one of a very select circle.

One of the beautiful iron wood buildings at the pearl farm.