Ready for adventure? We’ve roamed the world’s oceans and lakes to compile this look at eight of our favorite island escapes, from lounging in the palm trees of the South Pacific to paddling with whales in the Bay of Fundy and gazing at grizzlies in Alaska. We’ve also included one escapade that’s so daring, it may never be repeated.
More than 1,500 small islands fringed by vibrant coral reefs and blue water mangroves make Raja Ampat a paradise for paddlers. Nestled in northeastern Indonesia’s West Papua province, the archipelago is home to the richest marine biodiversity found anywhere on earth. The warm waters teem with life, forming the livelihood for the local Papuan people. Over the last 20 years, the archipelago and its sprawling marine park have emerged as a leading example for sustainable ecotourism. The Raja Ampat Research & Conservation Centre (RARCC) supports the locals in developing community-based projects such as traditional homestays. Perched on stilts above the emerald waters, these palm-thatched guesthouses offer warm Papuan hospitality and authentic cuisine. Through the non-profit organization, Kayak4Conservation, locals have also learned the art of fiberglass boatbuilding, crafting a fleet of fully equipped sea kayaks. Crystalline waters reveal whales, manta rays, sea turtles, sharks and endless varieties of reef fish, all visible from the seat of a kayak gliding amidst the labyrinth of limestone karst islands.
The 140-kilometer circumnavigation of Gam Island encapsulates the diversity and essence of Raja Ampat. From leafy tunnels of mangrove forest and white sand beaches lined with coconut palms at the island’s south end, head north to explore Kaboie Bay’s soaring limestone stacks and hidden, paddle-in amphitheaters dripping with stalactites. Allow five to seven days, staying in the homestays found every 15 kilometers, or wilderness camping. Natural sources of freshwater are scarce, so bring collapsible containers for drinking water and plan to refill in your host communities. Monsoon season is from May to August; visit from October to December to enjoy sunny skies and the most stable weather.
—Seth & Jenn Koebernick
IF YOU GO:
Kayak4Conservation (www.kayak4conservation) arranges homestays and offers kayak rentals and three to 10-day trips with Papuan guides. The kayak fleet is still small (15 boats) so reserve in advance for rentals during peak season.
This article was originally published in Adventure Kayak, Volume 16 • Issue 3. Read this issue.