Always in the mood for a good adventure, Ben Dark went to West Papua, a frontier full of surprises. Only around 1300km from Darwin, West Papua is untouched in many ways. There's no mass tourism and natural beauty abounds.
He arrived in the coastal city of Sorong, a four-hour flight from Jakarta. It's the gateway to Indonesia's Raja Ampat Islands and is considered the heart of the world's coral reef diversity. Growth in the last five years has linked it by road to other frontier towns in Papua's Bird's Head Peninsula.
Ben's journey was on board charter vessel KLM Helena. It's a research vessel and according to archaeologists on board, the archipelago is one of the world's least known in all the best ways. They all have coves and beaches and secrets to discover or be shown by locals.
From Sorong, the Raja Ampats are a 12-hour boat journey west. One of its biggest industries is pearling. Indonesia supplies over half the world's supply. If pearls aren't your thing, pearl meat is a local delicacy.
After some bartering, Ben's voyage continued further west to the village of Yeloo near the island of Misool.
If you wish to enter a village, it's protocol to go to the head of the village, introduce yourself and ask permission to visit. Children were smiling and curious. Ben was told just 400 people lived there until the pearl farm was created around 10 years ago. Now there are around 1300 residents.
Ishmael, the village's head man, agreed to allow Ben to accompany him and his son on a hunting and gathering trip.
Every two years, Ishmael and his men scour the ocean floor to collect enormous shells for sale at a market. They know that if they harvest them more regularly they will become extinct, so they try to be eco-friendly. They wear goggles they've carved from wood and Ben was amazed at how graceful they were underwater.
Ishmael repaid Ben's hard work by taking him to one of the area's most sacred sites. The people of the islands adopted Islam in the 15th century, and before anyone makes the pilgrimage to Mecca, they must first pay their respects in the sacred cave.
Helena tracked south looking for passing trawlers which may have fish for sale. A keen fisherman, Ben was amazed to see the amount of skipjack bonito and was very keen to tag along as the fishing boat was heading out for an overnight tuna fish.
An agreement was reached and they chugged out to sea, joining another five boats hoping for more bonito as well as tuna.
If you ever run into Ben, he will tell you his journey on Helena was one of the best ever!
Misool Island in Western Papua.
CV Emerald Ocean Nusantara overnight sailing trips aboard auxiliary ketch Helena
cost $870 for seven adults. Three meals, non-alcoholic drinks, limited use of dinghy, linen, towels and pick up at Sorong Airport are included.
Prices correct at May 26, 2011.
For further information
100 Clarence Street, Sydney
Sydney, NSW 2001
Ph: (02) 9290 2055
Misool Eco Resort
Raja Ampat, Indonesia
Visa: Australian passports must have a minimum validity of six months from date of arrival. Seven-day and 30-day visas are available on arrival. Requirements and fees change regularly, so check with the Indonesia Consulate for current information.
Electricity: 22V at 50Hz. Sockets are two-pin plugs and adaptors and cheap and on sale everywhere.
Time zone: GMT +8.
Currency: Indonesian rupiah.
International dialling code: +62 361.
It is recommended travellers to Indonesia see their doctor at least six weeks before departure as there may be specific vaccinations recommended. Other health precautions and preventions may also be recommended. For further information, visit www.smartraveller.gov.au and www.welltogo.com.au.