It was several years back, 2002 to be exact, that I received a brochure advertising a remote dive resort located in South East Sulawesi – Indonesia. The name of the resort was Wakatobi. I had been to Sipadan in the early 90’s and enjoyed the diving and certainly wanted a return trip to that part of the globe.

Diving Wakatobi, South East Sulawesi – Indonesia

At a glance, it looked like the Wakatobi Resort had similar setup, but was more upscale than my prior South East Sulawesi adventure; both were dedicated dive resorts, where pristine diving rules, and both advertised shore diving, just steps away from your bungalow, as well as plenty of boat diving opportunities.

Blue water and warm breezes welcome divers to Wakatobi Resort.

The years flew by and I’ve enjoyed trips to many other locations, but Wakatobi ( Photo above ) was never far from my mind, and last August ever-changing fate at last presented a sliver of time where, my husband Bill and I, finally were able to make it happen.

Going the distance

Booking the trip on short notice was a challenge. I contacted Wakatobi Dive Resort representative Frank Owens frank.owens@wakatobi.com , who let us know that there was availability for the time frame we needed, and also informed us that we needed to arrive in Bali one day before the actual trip starts, because there are no international flights that arrive early enough to make the private flight that goes from Bali to Wakatobi. We booked a flight on Singapore Airlines and planned one night at the Nusa Dua Beach Resort in Bali. We were scheduled to leave the day Hurricane Irene hit – the airports in NY were closed – but some emergency phone calls allowed us to adjust our flights through another airport and problem was resolved.
If you ever book these kinds of flights, remember to figure in the International Dateline; 24 hours PLUS flight times and layovers. We left on Saturday, to be in Bali on Monday so we would leave for Wakatobi on Tuesday. No problem, everything went on schedule; flights departed on time and our bags made it along with us.

Our flight landed in Bali by noon and we were met by a Wakatobi representative who immediately took our passports and payments for our visas. Then we were escorted past the customs and immigration line while the representative took care of our entry. After meeting them back at the luggage carousel, we received our passports; complete with visa stamp.

The following day, we boarded the private charter and traveled over 400 miles North East of Bali and landed on the private airstrip located on the island of Tomia – the island neighboring Wakatobi Resort. The airstrip on Tomia was built by the owner of Wakatobi to make travel easier to facilitate access to this remote location on the edge of civilization (it used to take a couple days by boat).

A Jorunna funebris simply resonates with color.

That’s how it used to be … I think.

Vans met us on the tarmac, and guests took a 10-minute van ride to a boat dock and a 20-minute boat ride to the resort. Members of the staff were with us all the way. We were greeted by more staff, taken to our bungalow, shown around the resort; including the critical locations like the dive shop and restaurant.

Nusa Dua Resort, Bali.

Entrance Hall, Nusa Dua Resort, Bali.

This is such a beautiful and remote location, and we couldn’t wait to get in the water.

Getting ready to dive from Wakatobi

The first guidelines were simple; stop by the Dive Shop for orientation and a check-out dive at our convenience. Each diver is assigned a basket with a number. Then you get a designated area at the open air dive shack and on the boat as well, where basket was kept for duration of your stay, because we did not want to miss on any of the boat dives. If you want to go on a shore dive the staff would take your basket off the boat and put it in the shop for shore diving. It was so easy – we never had to carry tons of gear.

A Jorunna funebris simply resonates with color.

Next was our checkout dives. Bill and I had Jacob for our dive guide. Just the three of us were tendered up the House Reef and dropped in the water for a drift dive to the two exit points. The minute I got in the water I didn’t know which way to look first. The top of the reef started in about 6 feet of water and dropped down into the blue.

Wakatobi, The House Reef.

My main interest was the macro life, but there was more than that. The many varieties of corals and sponges had me looking everywhere. Jacob was great at spotting the sea life. We saw a crocodile fish, large cuttlefish, turtle, nudibranchs, and octopus all in a little over an hour. Jacob said “don’t expect this on all the dives”, but despite his cautious approach that’s exactly what was  happening. Every excursion exceeded my expectations. During the checkout dive, we had to share air and flood our mask too!

Wakatobi divers are greeted by astonishing reefscapes full of life.

The best of boat diving

Early the next morning, we’ve met for our boat dives and were assigned Pauli, as our dive guide. The resort operates several traditional Indonesian dive boats – each wooden, covered, comfortable boat is made locally, and each is 70 feet long. The dive boats offer lots of space for gear and an area to hang wetsuits. The dive team sets up each guest’s tank in there spot every dive, and they knew if you are using aluminum 80’s, 100’s, DIN or Yoke. The service is impeccable; every day the staff provided fresh, baked snacks, coconut, big towels, coffee, hot chocolate and water.

There were four divers per guide and three groups per boat, each with their own guide. Divers and guides were matched using a pre-trip survey that each guest completes prior to departure. We were the “slow” group with cameras and we wanted to see the small stuff. We never saw the other 2 groups in the water, because we were always dropped off on the wall with some time between us. The currents are fairly strong and generally run one way, yet on one of the dives we switched direction 3 times. The boat left the dock at 7:30am for two dives at two different sites, returned to the resort for lunch, and left again at 2:30pm for one additional submersion.

The dive sites are mainly composed of a variety of walls, slopes, ridges (my favorite), seamounts, overhangs and coral gardens. All of the dive sites are a 45-minute (or less) boat ride and we never went to the same site twice during our seven night stay. Most of the dive sites started just inches from the surface, allowing for a long safety stop at the end of all dives. Each dive is kept to a maximum bottom time of 70 minutes and over an hour surface interval between dives.

So much to see

The marine life that surrounded the waters of Wakatobi is very rich and full, including Gorgonians and Ascidians of many shapes and sizes, Spiral Coral with tiny Zanzibar Shrimp on them, large clusters of Leather Coral, and sponges scattered everywhere. Soft corals abound here in an array of colors, and some of the soft corals in the overhangs looked like stalactites.

A Chromodoris wallini crawls along an Ascidian.

Some sites included massive stands of Table Coral, Cabbage Coral and Rose Coral as far as the eye could see. We swam around one cluster of Rose Coral over 10 feet in diameter at a site called Roma. It is difficult to say what my favorite dive site was, but the most interesting to me was Gunung Waha, which is an exposed pinnacle with an attached ridge. Occasionally, Banded Sea Snakes were spotted slithering along the reef for their next meal. Here is a map with dive-sites at and around Onemobaa Island.

Other favorites included masses of Bubble Coral with Orangutan Crabs ( following photo) in them. I never knew this type of crab existed – but that was true for much of the marine life I saw.

An Orangutan Crab slips between the Bubble Coral.

A Hairy Squat Lobster hides among the Barrel Sponges of Wakatobi.

One of our afternoon dives featured a school of Porcupine Fish that were very curious to see divers; one swam with us for quite some time. Most of the macro life needed to be pointed out by our dive guide. A reason for us to travel this far was to see the Hairy Squat Lobster ( above ) and the Hippocampus Bargibanti (or Pigmy Seahorse). We had success seeing both and many more minuscule critters, like the White, Brown and Denise Pigmy Seahorses.

A Hippocampus Bargibanti can’t hide for long in the coral.

Other great sightings included the Winged, Mushroom Coral, Robust and Halimeda Pipefish ( below ), and the Elegant Squat Lobster found in the many crinoids that blanketed the walls and reefs.

A Winged Pipefish tries to slip by a diver un-noticed.

A once in a lifetime trip

For those with a passion for diving and travel, this is a great trip that is worth the time to get to. The accommodations are very comfortable with plenty of space. There is a camera room with good lighting available and a large area to work on cameras or charge batteries. The food is plentiful, well presented and delicious. The staff goes above and beyond with their superior service and friendly attitude. I am looking forward to my return.

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