23 June, 2017

The spectacular destination of Raja Ampat features karst topography, with limestone and small karst islets so undercut by waves that they look like mushrooms, covered with rich green jungle to create an extraordinary landscape of rock islands. With all this limestone around, it is not surprising that erosion has also created a labyrinth of fascinating caves and narrow passages to explore, the most famous of which is the mysterious cave system of Tomolol on the east coast of Misool Island, where the karst backdrop reaches an amazing scale.

Tomolol Cave comprises a collection of water-filled caverns located in an easily accessible depression in the limestone. Over millions of years, the seawater has carved out a stunning entrance to the cave, set within a beautiful and secluded lagoon encompassed by healthy green plant life and clear turquoise water. Strewn along the limestone façade is an abundance of carnivorous pitcher plants, orchids and other rare flora. Sacred to local Muslim people, the entrance is protected by a shrine, and large enough to accommodate a bus. It can be explored via a veritable river of lagoon water that continues to flow and meander through the dome-topped main chamber, carving the limestone into weird and wonderful shapes, complemented by stalactite formations. The best way to explore the mysterious caves is with a float device, mask and snorkel. Although there is plenty of natural light, the water is dark inside the cave and it can actually feel quite eerie. There are several tunnels and side caves that can be reached with a short underwater swim; if the tide is low then these openings are exposed.

Not too far from the cave is a series of enigmatic red-ochre paintings high up on an exposed wall of limestone. The drawings depict huge human hands, fish, flowers and plants, tools and vessels, in a form that conveys the notion of ancient graffiti. These cave paintings are estimated to be between three and five thousand years old.