Wakatobi Experts -- Island Dreams' owner Ken Knezick has now completed 14 visits to Wakatobi Resort, each time helping an Island Dreams' group of intrepid guests to enjoy a truly world-class dive trip. This report is based on Ken's years of experience and is provided to update you on changes and enhancements at Wakatobi, the remote Indonesian dive resort with high-end services and the "world's finest house reef." At the end of this posting you will find links to substantial additional Wakatobi information and photos. Ken's Wakatobi Update follows:
Air Transfer from Bali -- The journey to this remote part of S.E. Sulawesi, Indonesia was once arduous and time-consuming. Due to Wakatobi's momentous feat of building their own air strip, guests now fly from Bali directly to the resort on charter aircraft. This comfortable and expeditious flight has made the journey much simpler, and the vastly improved supply lines have enabled many other improvements at the resort. One need only arrive Bali the night before the morning flight departure. You can be diving that same afternoon. On departing the resort, it is possible to make a continuing flight connection to Singapore that same evening. Of course, my recommendation is that you also allocate some to time to enjoy Bali itself, which is one of the world's most uniquely enticing and satisfying travel destinations.
Air-Conditioned Lodging Rooms - Over the past few years, Wakatobi has been engaged in an impressive building campaign. Total capacity is now 54 guests, served by a staff of 150. All guest lodgings are in individual, air-conditioned bungalows. The newest rooms are spacious super premium suites with volcanic stone floors, floor to ceiling glass windows overlooking the sea, rain showerheads and other top-end fixtures. The newest of the premium bungalows even has its own freshwater plunge pool. But all of the guest room categories are exceedingly comfortable. My own Garden View unit was perhaps 30 feet from the ocean, convenient to both dining room and dive shop. Tall ceilings give a feeling of great spaciousness, the tiled bathroom is kept spotless, the shower is hot, and the air-conditioning may be controlled to your personal preference. There is a writing desk with Cat 5 Internet connection, a large wardrobe, private safe, and a convenient coffee and tea service. The king-sized beds are firm and romantically topped with a natural fabric canopy.
Fine New Dining Room - This immensely spacious new dining area is made with local materials and design, but with luxury and comfort in mind. Under the talented hands of head chef Wayan, the kitchen and baking facilities are equal to those of an Asian-fusion restaurant from Los Angeles or London. The spacious dining room is semi-open air, overlooking the sea and surrounded by lush gardens, I can think of no more delightful place to enjoy Wakatobi's first-rate dining.
Cuisine Better than Ever - Wakatobi's expert Chefs' have been snatched from the kitchens' of some of Bali's finest 5-star hotels. During our stay there were three trained chefs on duty, including a pastry chef turning out four different exotic desserts each lunch and dinnertime. This level of expertise, supported by the improved supply lines provided by the air transfers, has ensured that the cuisine at Wakatobi is varied and delicious. This year I must declare that the food was better than ever. Special dietary requests are handled gladly and effectively - though guests are advised to alert the resort of special requests in advance of arrival.
Public Areas - At the end of the diving day, the new Jetty Bar is a natural gathering place. There you may enjoy your beverage of choice while watching a glorious sunset reflected in the ocean at your feet. Happy Hour starts early at Wakatobi, 4:30-5:30 p.m. Adding to the communal areas, the upstairs rooms in Wakatobi's original longhouse have been converted into an air-conditioned library, TV, and computer room. There is one computer for accessing the Internet, and another specifically designated for downloading your photo media cards at the end of a day of underwater photography. Those of you who enjoy a good massage will be glad to know that trained masseuses are now on duty, and a complete spa center will be constructed by next season.
Excellent Dive Boats - This year our group of 24 divers was divided between two great dive boats, while I shuttled between them. Some of my own diving was from Wakatobi VI, the 70-foot leader of the Wakatobi fleet. Designed specifically for local diving conditions, and built in the neighboring village of Waha, the Wakatobi vessels are stable, spacious and comfortable. Broad of beam with a tank rack down the middle and a wet suit rack above, they provide plenty of space to gear up, a built-in dip tank for cameras, and a toilet at the stern. Wakatobi's fleet has grown so that these great dive boats need take only ten or twelve divers each, with a boat crew of three plus two dive guides. As a result, a number of my guests have remarked that these are the most comfortable and service-oriented day diving boats they've ever been on. Always looking forward, Wakatobi is currently constructing the next iteration of this finely designed craft -- a complete rebuild of Wakatobi Satu. It should be ready for the 2010 season.
Highly Trained, Attentive Boat Crew - - Equally important to our underwater enjoyment were the boat Captains and crews. Our dive boat had a topside crew of three men who were constantly at work on our behalf. The captains are licensed professionals from the passenger ferry trade. Dive boat handling was ever smooth and conscious of divers in the water. Camera and scuba equipment were handled with great care. Additional support staff on the beach assured that divers did not have to carry anything unless they wanted to.
Unlimited Diving - At Wakatobi, the typical dive plan on boat dives calls for 70-minute durations. The program includes three daily boat dives plus unlimited shore diving. This makes it a snap for avid divers to enjoy 40+ hours of bottom time during a ten or eleven-night stay. Wakatobi definitely offers divers maximum bottom time, and the refreshing latitude to really enjoy your diving. Underwater photographers will enjoy better results because they can plan return visits to specific photo subjects on their shore dives. Nitrox - Wakatobi offers divers the option of 32 percent Nitrox fills. The shallow reefs of Wakatobi are well suited to Nitrox, adding both bottom time and a welcome safety margin against DCS. The spacious compressor room is a thing of beauty, with membrane oxygen generating system and four 15 cfm compressors. Cost for Nitrox is based on the duration of your stay, payable at the resort upon arrival.
Dive Guides & Critter Spotters - The divemaster/instructor team at Wakatobi just keeps getting better. This season it was another United Nations of expert guides, representing at least six different countries of origin. This front line of expert dive guides knew where to lead us to leaf fish, ghost pipefish, dozens of nudibranchs, and a host of other exotic animals. Pygmy sea horses were pointed out at almost every site we visited. There is no question that Wakatobi's knowledgeable and friendly dive guides are among the best in the business. The plan for next season is to add yet one more guide to each dive boat, bringing the ratio down from six to just four divers per professional dive guide.
House Reef Diving Extended with Taxi Boats - In addition to great diving right off the beach, a small "taxi boat" stands by to drop divers off at various extensions of the house reef system like Turkey Beach and Onemoba Cavern. This thoughtful service renders Wakatobi's unlimited shore diving even more interesting and enjoyable. The regularly-scheduled boat diving is excellent, but those who avail themselves of the variety of house reef dives around the resort will be rewarded with some truly great diving and underwater photo opportunities.
Digital Photography - Considering the remarkable quality of the diving, pristine coral formations, and immense variety of marine life, it's no surprise that many of Wakatobi's guests are underwater photographers. But most of these potential Doubilet's have converted to digital photography, so E-6 processing is no longer available. For those guests who travel without a laptop, a desktop computer with CD-burner is stationed in the library to simply the task of downloading digital files.
Internet and Mobile Phone Connection - Should you so desire, one may now stay connected with the outside world while at Wakatobi. All lodging rooms are wired to the central network, so laptop users may communicate from the comfort of their own accommodations. If you just require periodic connectivity, a public computer in the air-conditioned library area offers convenient web connection. This Internet is via satellite downlink, and when shared among 40+ guests it can be painfully slow, to non-existent. Being permanently jetlagged myself, I found the connection to be fastest at 4:00 a.m., when everyone else was sleeping. So please don't come to Wakatobi expecting the same speed you get with the T1 line at your office, or the DSL at home. It's just not like that. Besides, you are visiting Wakatobi to DIVE...not "surf." On a positive note, this very helpful Internet connection to the world back home is offered to guests at no additional charge. And don't tell your boss, but now that a new tower has been installed on the neighboring island of Tomea, if your mobile phone is authorized for international use, you may now use it from Wakatobi for both voice and text messaging.
Water Concerns - On any small island, water supply is a constant concern. To serve the increasing guest capacity, Wakatobi has installed a custom-designed desalinization and filtration system. Acknowledging the importance of hydration in avoiding decompression problems, fresh drinking water plus coffee, tea, and hot chocolate are supplied at the resort, and on the dive boats, at all times. With the system now fine-tuned, the desalinated water is both good-tasting and plentiful.
Marine Life - Everything I've detailed above is important to the success of a dive resort, but if the diving itself is not of good quality, these other attributes are of little value to a serious dive traveler. Fortunately, after twelve visits and more than 350 dives logged on these reefs, I'm confident to report to you that the diving at Wakatobi remains truly excellent. Sites like Table Coral City were swirling with everything from jawfish and pygmy seahorses to schools of large red and black snapper, bumphead parrotfish, jacks, butterfly fishes, damsels, and thousands of colorful anthias. Mari Mabuk and Roma had turtle, lots of nudibranchs, a sea snake, free-swimming lionfish and multiple blue-ribbon eels. Anemones packed with colorful clown fish are everywhere, and a site called The Zoo really lives up to its name. As to bigger animals, while shark sightings are rare, over the years at Wakatobi I have seen black tip sharks, spotted eagle rays, a truly giant grouper, manta ray, a pod of pilot whales, a baby whale shark ten feet long, and (from the boat) even a sailfish, which was leaping at the surface. Last year, on our final day at Wakatobi a large school of dolphin passed just yards in front of the jetty, putting a graceful cap to our diving experiences. This year one of the boats, on the way to the dive site Blade, encountered a pod of pilot whales.
Wakatobi's Crazy Critters - A bastion of marine-diversity, the reefs of Wakatobi are host to four unique species of pygmy seahorse, all of which were pointed out to us on multiple dives plus a few that sharp-eyed guests spied on their own. During this single trip I was able to make credible macro photographs of three of those four species. An additional treat for me in 2008 was my first opportunity to see and photograph the tiny Kyonemichthys rumengani pipehorse. Only recently scientifically described (2007), Wakatobi guides have already located multiple individuals of this tiny and elusive creature. For icing on the cake, unlimited diving on Wakatobi's house reef offers easy access to most all of the animals defined in this report, and many more, right off the beach.
Marine-life Sanctuary - Wakatobi's owner and guiding light, Lorenz Mader, has from the start been totally committed to preserving the precious resource that surrounds his resort. Wakatobi now sponsors a marine preserve that has been extended to include more than 10 kilometers of coral reef. As a result of Lorenz's forethought and personal investment, there are more big fish than ever, and these underwater environments stand an excellent chance of remaining vibrant for years to come. Your support, along with that of groups such as the Coral Reef Alliance and The Nature Conservancy, helps to make this protection a reality.
Too Many Superlatives? - From reading my comments above, it's clear that I am a big proponent of Wakatobi and its superb diving. Rest assured that my opinion is based on experience, not hype. It has been my privilege to travel the globe in search of the world's finest diving. From what I have seen in 3,100+ dives logged over the past 30 years, Wakatobi offers the "real deal." I hope that my report may encourage you to visit Wakatobi and see it for yourself. However, you need not take only my word for it. I invite you to follow the links below view photos, and to read what other recent Wakatobi Resort guests have had to say.
Yours in diving, Ken Knezick
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