DAY SIX: ANDIAMO REEF – CANDY STORE – BOO WINDOWS
We awoke to gorgeous clear skies and dived Andiamo Reef to find massive schools of all types of fish, flourishing marine life and healthy corals. Most notable was a school of about 120 bat fish all swimming close and in sync with three manta rays cruising over the top of the schooling fish. Returning to Amandira, I prepared a breakfast of organic red rice chicken congee with coriander, ponzu and lime as well as whipped egg white omelettes with spiced tomato and avocado salsa. From the juice bar we had pressed coconut water and dragon fruit. After breakfast we lounged around, sun baking on the top deck before diving and snorkelling Candy Store where calm conditions revealed many micro species and quite a few turtles. On the way back to the boat we bought two big Spanish mackerel from a local fishermen so dinner was sorted. Clouds were coming in so we sailed east and the lunch I prepared was served inside the dining room – green quinoa salad of spinach, mint, pea, dill, white quinoa, lime tahini dressing, family-style harissa spiced roasted organic chicken, dukkha baby carrots and a rocket pear and parmesan salad with grain mustard honey dressing. Tropical fruit sorbets provided a light finish.
Late afternoon we dived Boo Windows, named for its two swim-through windows at eight metres high which lead into an incredibly colourful coral garden. A big grey shark was cruising around amidst the schools of fish and we watched a black tip shark came through one of the windows as well as a feeding turtle. Back on board, lemongrass and vanilla mojitos were sipped while comparing photos and videos in the pavilion before getting ready for dinner. I prepared a sop ikan (fish soup) with the fresh Spanish mackerel which I scented with lemongrass, lime and galangal. Main course was grilled king prawns with garlic and almond parsley butter, ginger and soy braised bok choy, and a charred sumac cauliflower and hazelnut salad. Dessert was a basil and lime crème brulee with sweet ginger sable.
DAY SEVEN: BOO WINDOWS
After a very good night’s sleep we dived Boo Windows again at first light. The current was much calmer than the day before and we found lots of fish again and even brighter corals. A massive manta ray was with us for about 13 minutes – circling the coral garden, and we were watched by a black tip shark in the distance. During the safety stop we saw two feeding turtles on the bottom of the reef. Back on board I prepared Mexican eggs for breakfast with home-made grilled tortillas, avocado salsa, tomato picante, corn salsa, fried egg, lemon crema and spiced sour cream. Fresh carrot, turmeric and lime juice was the juice flavour of the day.
After relaxing for a while on the deck we headed for the second dive at Romeo, which the ladies snorkelled. This was another great dive with many manta shrimps, nudi branch, branded sea snakes and a family of large pump head parrot fish eating corals. Returning to Amandira we purchased two red snapper for dinner from a local fisherman we passed on the way. I made lunch of tempura soft shell crab with green mango and chilli lime salad with roasted peanuts, chargrilled quail with gremolata and cauliflower puree, baby gem and green bean salad with soft quail egg, basil, lemon olive oil and truffle salt. Dessert was a coconut and mango parfait with candied lime.
A lazy afternoon lounging on board included spa treatments and relaxing on the top deck, with espresso martinis and Champagne for sunset accompanied with caviar and blinis. For dinner I made a lobster tortellini starter with shaved fennel, caviar and bisque. For the main course I salt grilled the whole fresh snapper in rice flour and a tasty salt mixture with shallots, ginger and lemongrass inside the fish, and served it with sides of family-style spiced spinach, chilli and lime buttered corn, and a baby cos lettuce leaf salad with malt vinegar and mustard dressing and roasted almonds. Dessert was a family-style baked apple tarte tatin with vanilla bean ice cream. A few of the gents finished off the evening with cognac and cigars on the top deck while watching the stars.
DAY EIGHT: MAGIC MOUNTAIN – KOFIAU ISLANDS
Diving Magic Mountain this morning we found loads of black tip reef sharks, yellow trevally and a Raja Ampat walking shark under a coral ledge – what a great dive! Breakfast was a special dish – a pancetta egg frittata with avocado and dill cured Spanish mackerel with sour cream and chives. We then rested up for a few hours as we sailed towards the Kofiau Islands where we found a deserted beach of the whitest sand lapped by sparkling water. It was so gorgeous here we decided to anchor and set up for a beach dinner and after snorkelling over a lovely spot of shallow reef we headed back to Amandira for lunch.
Pan-fired wahoo was served with a tomato and finger lime salsa, watercress and lemon butter, and family-style salads of charred broccoli and quinoa, and baked fennel with arugula and candied walnut. A fantastic afternoon was spent wake boarding (I had a go at wake skating,) stand up paddle boarding, and sun baking on the beach while sipping fresh cracked coconuts.
We celebrated the sunset with a bottle of Champagne on the beach, accompanied with scallop ceviche with pomelo, shallot and lime. Returning to the boat for a shower and refresh we had some very enjoyable soursop martinis on the deck before jumping in the tender back to the beach. The setting was absolutely stunning, with 200 candles scattered over the beach, carved sand paths and festive decorations. The crew were dressed in sarongs and smart white shirts and ties. More Champagne was served while everyone enjoyed the setting and took it all in for a while. The menu I prepared with the cooks to start was a yellow fin tuna carpaccio with caviar, avocado cream and horseradish paired with a Chablis. The main course was cooked on a charcoal coconut husk grill and featured live lobster with parsley and confit garlic lemon oil, and rare Harvey beef tenderloin medallions with red wine jus. Sharing side dishes were grilled asparagus with parmesan gremolata, smashed olive oil and dill baby potatoes, cracked wheat tabouli salad with pressed yuzu dressing while the magnificent wine pairing was a 2014 Louis Jadot Burgundy P.Noir and 2018 Pala I Fiori Vermentino.
After the main course, the crew lit a bonfire on the beach and sang and played the guitar. I helped prepare a flambé of banana with rum, which was flamed and then sautéed with brown sugar and placed in a Martini glass and topped with vanilla cream Chantilly, amaretto chocolate sauce and topped with roasted crushed hazelnuts. When dinner was finished, we all joined the crew around the bonfire for singing, guitar playing and star gazing. What an incredible day filled with so many memorable moments, starting at Magic Mountain at sunrise and ending up under the stars on this incredible beach in one of the most beautiful parts of the world – a definite highlight of the whole trip.
DAY NINE: PET ROCK – BALBULOL
We awoke for our final full day and final dive of the expedition at Pet Rock in Balbulol. The dive was with a mild current and there was marine life galore with lots of sea fans micros and school of yellow trevally, which are only found in Raja Ampat.
On the tender ride back to Amandira we spotted a whale playing with its calf – what a way to end our diving adventure! Once back on board I made a family-style breakfast of fresh hash browns cooked in coconut oil, with chorizo tomato and potato baked eggs, scrambled eggs with chives, watercress and caviar, chargrilled sour dough and nutmeg and shallot sautéed spinach. Spiced bloody Marys replaced our usual juice selection for the final breakfast.
We then sailed for a short while back to the stunning lagoon we had visited on the second day, as all the guests had requested this. It was a brilliant choice for this perfect day with not a cloud in the sky or a drop of wind. We spent the morning kayaking and paddling in the tropical lagoon surrounded by some 20 small rocky limestone islands towering out of these tropical coral gardens. Returning for lunch I made an array of Asian light salads as we decided that we would spend the day back out enjoying the lagoon and beaches. We made a rare Thai beef salad with puffed rice, mint, coriander, shallot and a ginger chilli dressing. This was followed by a carrot and green mango pomelo vegan salad with roasted peanuts and a grilled king prawn and finger lime salad. A light dessert of lime curd and coconut foam with ginger crumble finished things off, with a bottle of Chablis to wash it down.
The afternoon passed enjoying the lagoon by kayak and paddleboard, then we snorkelled right off an incredible beach in the late afternoon sun where we saw a family of baby blacktip sharks and found a very long coral reef edge that had feeding turtles which made a brilliant end to the day. We then sat in the shallow waters and watched the sunset over the islands as the crew brought around beers and New Zealand Sauv Blanc for the ladies.
Arriving back at Amandira, the crew were all dressed in Balinese costume and had prepared a surprise – decorating the deck with Hindu decorations. Canapes were a delicious classic Balinese dish of siap ayam sambal matah (shredded coconut roasted chicken mixed with shallots, lime, chili and fish sauce served in baby cos lettuce leaves). We then moved to the main deck with Hindu music playing in the back ground for our Amandira Rijstaffel evening. The first course was a classic Indonesian staple of soto ayam ( turmric and ginger scented chicken broth with glass noodles, shredded chicken and soft boiled egg with celery leaf). Then we had a feast of family-style Indonesian dishes including ikan baker (grilled Spanish mackerel with spice paste and sambal matah), gulai kumping ( slow cooked spiced cardamom lamb curry), cumi baker (grilled baby squid in Indonesian seafood paste), terong gulai ( local eggplant and coconut curry), ayam betutu (smoked slow cooked whole chicken in ginger spice and palm park wrapping), osang osang ( braised bean with shallot, tomato, garlic and oyster sauce), kankaung ( garlic braised local spinach) and a sate campur ( satay pork, beef, prawn with peanut sauce ) all served with nasi kuning ( a yellow tower of rice coloured with saffron) – a traditional Indonesian ceremonial dish served in a banana-leaf lined bamboo basket which represents a holy mountain.
The crew then put on an Indonesian performance for us as a farewell, singing in their native tongues, a fitting way to finish the last dinner on board.
DAY TEN: SARONG
While we slept peacefully, dreaming of gorgeous beaches and incredible coral reefs, the crew steered us back to Sarong. We woke to coffee and Danish pastries at dawn ahead of our 6.15 am departure. All the crew gathered on the main deck to see us off and sing a farewell song as we climbed into the tender – it was an emotional moment – no one wanted this trip to end! We were escorted by the cruise director and a crew member to the airport where the lounge had been arranged for us to comfortably wait for our departing flight.