Eastern Indonesia: Cruising West Papua

Andrew Trahair from SY Yawana shares his experiences of cruising through the islands around West Papua.

Published 9 years ago, updated 5 years ago

Jayapura Harbour

I am currently cruising in West Papua and I would like to share some of my experiences in this region.

Tual – Kai islands

I anchored on the west side of the port in 20m opposite the main town. I tied my dinghy to the Customs boat and went ashore after exchanging friendly smiles with the men lounging about.

I cleared into Indonesia at Tual. The process took a full day. Officials were polite but spoke little English, and at times they seemed unsure of what paperwork was required. Customs insisted on searching my boat and I was expected to provide transport there and back. Immigration also stated they would visit the boat but never arrived. I was not asked for any bribe, but the harbourmaster hinted quite clearly. There was however a small fee for Quarantine.

Biak – West Papua

I anchored in 15m a few hundred meters west of a prominent green mosque, next to a disused platform that may have served as a beacon marker. There is a small beach of coral sand directly ashore where you can leave your dinghy. People living there are very friendly and will keep an eye on it.

The anchorage is fairly good, but the winds can turn with little warning and things can get bumpy. You will see a yacht wrecked on the reef near the leads when you enter. Their anchor dragged.

The police will expect you to pay them a visit and apply for a Surat Jalan travel permit to be in Irian Jaya. The permit was free. It took a couple of hours and a passport photo. No officials ever asked to see it, but I waved it in front of them and they were pleased to have another piece of paper to scrutinise.

The next day I was summoned by immigration and told to report to their office also. Again I was required to present all relevant paperwork despite having cleared in weeks earlier in Tual. Customs also want you to visit their office even if you have already cleared into the country. I was told to visit the harbourmaster but I didn’t. All officials were polite, but very little English spoken. I was unaware at the time that Biak is a port of entry.

Buying diesel is a very complicated affair. There appears to be some law forbidding the sale of diesel to foreigners. Nobody could give me a logical reason for this. You will have to buy fuel on the black market which, was easily done but at an inflated price. Fuel is not expensive in Indonesia so I just bought the fuel and didn’t haggle over the price.

In Biak, I asked around for a day or two until I came in contact with a government official who took me to a supplier down a dark, damp alley. I bought 40lt of good clean diesel. It just required a couple of days of patience.

Some strong SW winds blew in the afternoon making this an uncomfortable anchorage. Boats have been known to drag here during these winds.

I spent a week out on the Padaido islands 20 miles SE of Biak. Excellent anchorage inside the lagoon at Wundi island. A particularly vicious subspecies of sandfly inhabit these islands, so bring the Deet. You can return to Biak with the local boats that go daily if more supplies are required.

Jayapura – West Papua

Jayapura is definitely a port of entry (and exit) so you can leave Indonesia from there. It is not an attractive or interesting town however, so if you don’t need to stop there then I wouldn’t recommend it. Depending on your nationality you may need to get a visa for PNG before entering the country. There is a PNG consulate in Jayapura, not far from the Jayapura Immigration office. Processing took 3-4 days.

The entrance to Jayapura has a number of floating devices moored outside at a distance of several miles, and they have no lights. I suggest you enter and leave during daylight.

Jayapura is a deep anchorage of 30m. + with good holding. I have heard of boats fouling their anchor on the garbage sitting on the bottom. You will find an astounding amount of floating plastic and general detritus clogging up the entire harbour. I was very concerned about raw water intake to my engine and fouling the prop.

Initially, I anchored just south of a couple of small islands in 20m but I found this spot very uncomfortable with plenty of rolling about, so I moved further west into the main port anchoring in 30m just in front of the main road running along the waterfront. Not much privacy, but options are limited here. I noticed the navionics chart on the iPad put me about 300m inland.

One must report to all the relevant officials as if clearing in, even if you have already done so at a previous post. I tied up the dinghy to a disused customs boat in front of the Harbourmaster then climbed onto the wharf.

Go first to the Harbourmaster, ask to speak with Mr Lucky (pronounced”lookey”) and he will guide you through the procedures for clearing in. He speaks good English. Few people speak English in Jayapura, including people in the customs office.

The Harbourmaster did not ask me for a bribe, but other yachts having arrived earlier told me he had made this demand from them and they refused. He then directed me to the offices of Quarantine, Customs & Immigration, the last of which is a very long way from the port. This all took about 2 days.

I found the whole process immensely frustrating and time-consuming. Take plenty of photocopies of everything and don’t forget the boat stamp. Dress appropriately. There is a strong military and police presence everywhere so I felt safe leaving the boat for these lengthy outings.

A couple of local guys came by in their banana boat asking if I wanted to buy fuel. I asked for 70lt and they returned later that evening after dark with good clean diesel. I had to transfer the fuel from their containers into mine, a messy business in the dark on a rolling boat. Other yachts also bought fuel from them and reported no problems.


I found the Indonesia formalities of clearing in everywhere I went in Eastern Indonesia very frustrating.

Some officials have been helpful, others have seemed obstructive, and several have been quite intimidating. Time spent waiting in offices have consumed many of the precious days of my tourist visa. I have tried to remain polite and patient as this seems the only way to make progress through the labyrinth of bureaucracy, but it has not been easy. I’m sure this would be a more positive experience for someone able to speak Indonesian.

I make a point of wearing trousers and shoes covering the toes and I would suggest women dress very conservatively when visiting Indonesian government offices.

I felt my boat was safe at all times as there is a significant military presence in West Papua. In every town, I saw many stern men dressed in a dazzling variety of military and police uniforms.

Along the north coast of Papua, I encountered many large submerged logs. Some are escapees from the logging industry washed out of the rivers, others are entire trees that are much easier to spot.

Onward to PNG

The PNG mainland has a terrible reputation for yachts being boarded – especially Vanimo. I sailed out to the Ninigo atoll and had a wonderful time. There are a couple of other atolls worth visiting called the Hermit islands, I didn’t stop there myself but I’ve heard plenty of good reports.

I sailed under Manus as there is a westward flowing current north of the island, and cleared into PNG at Kavieng. I enjoyed the Kavieng very much. A friendly town, no real security issues and an excellent anchorage in front of the Nusalik resort. Clearing in was a simple affair after my experiences in Indonesia.

New Hanover is sublime. Stop at any local island and you will be warmly welcomed. Be wary of the accuracy of GPS and charts (avionics on my iPad was way out) so travel during daylight hours. Dunung (or Tunung) Island is popular with yachts and there are good surfing and sensational diving. Take clothes for trading, especially t-shirts, you can get all your fresh fruit & vegetables easily.

Andrew Trahair

SY Yawana

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  1. January 22, 2016 at 3:36 AM
    Data Entry3 says:

    We have been cruising Indonesia from Jayapura via Raja Ampat (Sorong), Ambon, Wangi-Wangi (Sulawesi), Komodo, Bali (Serangan) and Kalimantan. We only cleared in Jayapura and out in Kumai (Kalimantan).

    Didn’t bother to check the officials in the other places and were never approached by anyone. Even made good friends with the police in Ambon. Harbourmaster in Kumai made no comments about the more than 60 days spent with only one clearance. They simply did not care.

    I think in case you do not really point anybody’s nose at you, you are fine without checking into every harbour in Indonesia.

    Fritze (S.Y. Alytes)

  2. November 26, 2015 at 3:34 AM
    Data Entry3 says:

    Re. Domestic Clearance in Indonesia:

    It has been decreed by the Government in Jakarta that domestic clearance is no longer required. However, things do take time to filter out to the far reaches of Indonesia and individual harbourmasters continue to make their own local bylaws. It appears in West Papua – nothing has changed.