Cenderawasih Bay is famous for the chances of diving or snorkelling with several Whale Sharks at the same time, but there's much more to the area than just this. The bay is huge (1.5 million hectares) making it the largest national marine park in Southeast Asia. Its remote location and huge size mean that anyone visiting is almost guaranteed to feel like the only ones there. Dive sites are spread out, and as well as the Whale Sharks in the Kwatisore region there are World War II Japanese ship & fighter plane wrecks at several depths. Liveaboard cruises in Cenderawasih Bay tend to be at least a week-long, and most are 10 or more days. Some start and finish in the same location and others start at one and end at another.
In pre-ancient history, the bay has been sealed off from The Pacific Ocean to its north due to falling sea levels. Shallower reef corals and inhabitants suffered during these periods, and deep-water species had to adapt to life nearer to the surface. But the bay is now completely open to the ocean, nearly 400 kilometres at its widest point. Sea conditions, such as waves and currents aren't extreme because several large islands offer protection at the mouth of the bay. There are more than 20 smaller islands dotted around the bay, mostly on the eastern side. The town of Nabire is the main populated area and located in the south. Manokwari is a town in the far northwest. Both have airports, although only for domestic flights. Biak is the largest island, and its main town also has an airport.
The main attraction of Cenderawasih Bay for divers & snorkellers is the Whale Sharks which are attracted to the fishermen's bagans (fishing platforms). The fishermen see the Whale Sharks as good omens and often throw them some bycatch. Sometimes five or more Whale Sharks can be in the water at the same time, near the surface and unafraid of humans. They often float vertically, instead of swimming in a conventional way. Also, it's reported that unlike all other Whale Sharks in the world which migrate around oceans, the population of more than 100 at Cenderwasih Bay stay here all year. With a year-round food source from humans, and no predators, why would they choose to swim away?
Other dive sites in the bay are in many locations. The Japanese used Manokwari & Biak Island as a base in the Second World War, and there are several wrecks of their fleet in the area, plus some fighter planes. These make for some very interesting dives, due to having more than 70 years to attract corals and other marine life. Most of the diving wrecks are located off of Mansinam Island in the northwest of the bay.
Shinwa Maru is more than 110 metres long and lies on its starboard side at a depth of 35 metres.
Cross Wreck lies at a depth of 20 metres and attracts lots of small species endemic to the area.
Pillbox Wreck is a large wreck in shallow water, meaning you will have plenty of time to explore it.
Pasir Putih was a military patrol vessel, 30+ metres in length and lying at 14-40 metres with its bow pointing towards the shore of Mansiman Island.
Three P38 fighter planes lie in shallow water at Pulau Rouw.
Another fighter plane rests at 12 metres off of Pulau Rippon.
Near to Biak is Flying Catalina, at a depth of 20-30 metres and in good condition considering how long it has been in the sea.
There are wall dives, drop-offs, sloping reefs and muck diving at Cenderawasih Bay. A wonderful blend and more dive sites (including wrecks) are being discovered and explored all the time. The sheer size of the area means that this period of discovery and exploration can continue for years to come. At the time of publication, there is just one dive centre, but nearly everyone comes on liveaboard cruises. Although most dive sites are not extreme, it's not somewhere you go to learn to dive or if you are a new or novice scuba diver. Because of the remote location, nearly everyone who comes here to dive already has experience and is certified to descend to 30 metres or more.
The famous Whale Sharks are there all year round, but to best enjoy your time, you need to choose the right months of the year. July to October are when the liveaboard boats visit the area. This is mainly due to sea & weather conditions around The Bird's Head Peninsula.
Shallow-water Whale Shark diving at fishing 'bagans,' WWII ship & plane wrecks, reefs & drop-offs
Cenderawasih Bay is in far-eastern Indonesia. It's the large bay that makes up the 'back of the neck' of The Bird's Head Peninsula. To the north & northeast lies The Pacific Ocean. There are no international airports in the region, but domestic airports in the bay include Nabire, Manokwari & Biak.
To get to Cenderawasih Bay for diving or snorkelling, you need to join a diving liveaboard cruise, which may depart from Manokwari, Nabire or Biak Island. these airports are domestic only, so you need to come in via Bali, Jakarta, Manado or Makassar.
There's no real diving experience or certification limit to be able to dive at Cenderwasih Bay, but due to the remote location nearly all divers who join trips will be at least Advanced with 50+ logged dives. Therefore, to make equal buddy groups, you would need to be at least equal to that level in order to join a trip. Some dive sites are deeper than 20 metres and have current.
The main reason divers go to Cenderawasih Bay is to see the Whale Sharks in the Kwatisore area, in the southwest of the bay. But there are also plenty of other interesting species here. This includes up to four species of marine turtles, and other species endemic to the area.
It takes quite a commitment of your time and travel patience to get to Cenderawasih Bay, due to the very remote location and distances to cover by pane, boat and on unmade roads. But if you're willing to make that commitment you will love being in the crystal-clear warm water with few or no other diving boats in sight. And for at least a day or two, you'll be in the water with several feeding Whale Sharks at the same time. It's not just about these gentle giants, though. There are plenty of other great dives there, including some excellent WWII Japanese ship & plane wrecks.