Island Dreams' Ken Knezick has just returned from leading his eighth dive expedition to Wakatobi Resort. He came back again believing that Wakatobi's diving is among some of the very best in the world. Below is Ken's complete report. At the bottom you will find links to pricing information, candid comments from other recent guests, a Wakatobi Photo Gallery, and more.
As you might imagine after having set the record for repeat visits, Ken is truly sold on the quality of this remote and enticing dive destination. He is already planning a ninth expedition to Wakatobi for September 2005, during the very best weather and dive conditions. Adventurous divers are invited to join him. For details, simply email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Where the heck is Wakatobi? - Wakatobi Resort is in far Southeastern Sulawesi, Indonesia, positioned in the midst of a remote island archipelago group known to adventure travelers as Tukang Besi. Wakatobi is named after the four islands that surround it, Wangi Wangi, Kaledupa, Tomia, and Binongko. (Note the anagram Wa Ka To Bi). Yes its location is remote, quite literally on the fringe of "civilization." But that's precisely the point, for this remoteness is what makes the trip worthwhile.
GREAT NEWS! - While previous trips required an extended ferry boat ride from Kendari, as of 2001 it is far easier to reach Wakatobi Resort. An excellent air strip has been constructed on the neighboring island of Tomia, and is now accepting direct charter flights from Bali and/or Makassar. This is a wonderful improvement to the Wakatobi experience, making access immensely more comfortable and efficient.
On Arrival - From the Tomea airstrip, a 20-minute van ride is followed by a short boat ride to the resort's front door. Each time I return to Wakatobi it looks more like the ultimate island paradise of my dreams. If one were going there with visions of the Hyatt Regency Grand Cayman in mind, no doubt they'd be disappointed. On the other hand, if barefoot elegance and natural beauty are more your style, then you are in the right place. You'll take off your shoes to step ashore, and never give them another thought for the duration of your dive trip "at the end of the world."
Wakatobi Resort - This surprisingly comfortable eleven-room resort is set on the finest corner of the diminutive island of Tolandono. Facing the sea and the setting sun, the spacious main house is fronted by soft white sand beach and framed by large coconut palms swaying in the warm breeze. It's a showpiece of local materials, combining modern design concepts with traditional construction methods. The open-air dining room and lounge are on the ground floor, just a few paces from the ocean. One level above, the balconied sleeping rooms stretch out on either side. The lodging rooms are not overly large, but comfortable with good beds, ceiling fan, and a cooling breeze. Four new bungalows are offered at additional charge. They are more spacious than the rooms in the main house, and feature ensuite bathrooms.
The bathhouse and toilets for the main house are set on the floor below the main lodging rooms. There are five modern flush toilets and four private shower rooms with plenty of hot water. Located just a few steps from the sleeping rooms, the entire bath area is spacious, well lighted, attractively tiled and kept scrupulously clean.
The dive shop, gear lockers, and charging station are on the other side of the building. In the equipment area, hangers are provided for guests' wet-suits and bcd's, and baskets for the rest of the gear. Considering the remote situation, Wakatobi's dive shop is very well supplied. Available rental equipment includes masks, fins, snorkels, wetsuits, bcd's, and regulators with gauge console. In deference to guest comfort, the electrical generator and air compressor are placed well back in the jungle completely out of hearing.
Got Juice? - While power taps in the rooms are 220-volt, on request 110-volt converters may be supplied for your personal use. For re-charging of strobes, dive lights, etc., a convenient charging station in the dive shop provides both 110-volt and 220-volt outlets. FYI - Guests who bring disposable batteries are asked to pack them back out with them. The management's plan is that the heavy metals of decaying batteries will not be added to this natural environment.
The Dive Boats - Wakatobi has employs a variety of dive boats. Built locally in Ujung Pandang, the newest is a fiberglass 28-footer with forward cabin and sun cover. Powered with twin 85 hp Yamaha outboard engines, it will make over 30 knots. This vessel is used to accommodate no more than ten guests. The second dive boat, the Wakatobi Tiga, is a more traditional Indonesian vessel. It's wooden, 38-feet long, fairly broad of beam and quite comfortable for ten divers. As this boat runs a bit slower, it is used to reach the closer dive sites, while the fiberglass boat swiftly ventures farther afield. Both vessels have good ladders for exiting the water.
The Dive Sites - All PADI Instructors, the divemasters of Wakatobi have thus far identified more than forty dive sites within a twenty-minute boat ride or less. Most of the dives are around the home island of Tolandono, neighboring Sawa and Lintea, or nearby Tomia. As a result, a broad and dazzling variety of reefs, bottom strata, and extensive coral communities are easily accessible. More dive site exploration is underway, enabling guests to experience dive sites rarely visited my man. Best of all is the fact that the entire region is now a protected National Marine Park.
Diving Freedom - Once a diver has demonstrated his or her ability, they will enjoy virtually total diving freedom, afforded 24 hours per day. In a typical eleven-night stay, I personally logged 46 dives. One gung-ho fellow in my party, Michael Caron, has now visited Wakatobi three times. His logged dives during those trips are 57, 62, and 60 dives respectively. Wakatobi offers dawn dives, boat dives, beach dives, night dives, and everything in between. On the boat dives, owner Lorenz Maeder apologetically asks that divers limit their bottom time to 75 minutes. This generous cap is suggested in deference to the guests with lesser air consumption who might sit on the boat waiting. For dives on the house reef of course, there is no limit but the buddy teams' desire to stay wet and have fun. All diving should be within the no-decompression limits.
The Wakatobi Diving Experience - The keywords here would have to be the immense diversity and pristine condition of the reefs. The coral communities are as rich as I've seen anywhere in the world. There are massive coral heads, trees, and colonies swarming with reef fishes. There are a great variety of reef structures, and a delightful density of variously colored soft corals. Reefs start in three feet of water or less and the best diving wonderfully shallow. With easy access to the excellent house reef, the night and dawn diving are superb. In my estimation, Wakatobi offers the best shore dive in the world. The broad variety of dive sites and marine life meant that after 11 days of diving, we were still discovering new critters constantly.
My Favorite Sites - The house reef at Wakatobi is so good that some of the first professional photographers who visited elected never to make a boat dive. However, in my experience these big-shots were clearly "missing the boat." In fact, while I found the house reef to be nothing short of superb, a number of the dive sites make even it appear tame. Based on my own first twelve day visit to Wakatobi, and 46 logged dives for the duration, here are some of my favorite dive sites:
The House Reef - Actually three different sites are accessible directly off the beach in front of the resort. It's only 50 yards from the shoreline to the drop-off. You can go right, left, or enjoy the broad center reef. Highlights are a great variety of fishes, invertebrates, macro subjects, beautiful soft corals, gorgonians, tunicates, whips, sponges, rays, overhangs, and beyond all else an unsurpassed rainbow of color.
Onamobaa Cavern - An extension of the house reef, this is one of the very best soft coral dives. Often compared with "Hanging Gardens" at Sipadan, it's actually yet larger and more diverse. Every part of the reef is covered with color and life.
Lorenz's Delight - Begin by plunging deep, where forests of immense yellow wire corals spiral 15 feet or higher off the steeply sloping wall. Then work your way up to the 60-foot range, where a continuing overhanging ledge harbors big sea fans framed in colorful soft corals. The brightly hued corals continue up to within a foot or two of the surface, flashing with schooling fish life. This dive has it all!
Inka's Palette - Beginning as a gentle slope, Inka's Palette plummets into the depths with multiple overhangs. There are very large tube sponges and a giant tridachna clam. The top section is covered in huge leather corals. As its name suggests, you will enjoy a colorful palette of hard and soft corals and good fish life.
Pastel Reef - Similar to Inka's in the array of life, the colors are diverse yet slightly more subdued to pastel hues. At depth, gardens of neon yellow wire corals spiral out into surrealistic shapes. Just remember that it's the current that makes the soft corals bloom. When the current is running, it's nothing short of a vastly beautiful dive.
Turkey Beach - When the current and sun are right this is a delightful shallow drift through an endless, brightly lit coral garden. A constant overhang runs from 15 to 30 feet. Two large canyons contain schools of batfish and bronze snappers. It's also a good spot for the chance to encounter turtles, eagle rays, and schools of bumphead parrotfish. This is one of the few places where, at around 80-90 feet, I noted a thermocline. Visibility above it was good, and below it was excellent.
Mari Mabuk (Let's Get Drunk) - This is a long ridge running from 15 down to 80 feet. It features huge sea fans, coral heads adorned in bright soft corals, and feather stars blooming in a frequently swift current. The saddle that bridges the reef contains blue ribbon eels, leaf fishes, crocodile fish, scorpion fish, nudibranches, and more.
Roma - In my opinion, Roma is as good as any dive site in the world. Starting in bright rays of light as shallow as five feet, large schools of fusiliers, pyramid butterfly, sergeant majors, hound fish, red tooth triggerfish and others swirl around you in an endless dance. A compact pinnacle in the center of the reef, crammed with color and life, is a complete dive in itself. Banded sea snakes are common here, but fear not, they are placid creatures and make exciting photo subjects. This is a dive you will definitely want to repeat, for "all roads lead to Rome."
Unlimited Bottom Time - Of special note is the fact that most every one of these reefs begins in just a foot or two of water. While there are some awesome, bottomless deep dives at Wakatobi, in almost all cases for me the most interesting diving was between 60 feet and the surface. The majority of my photos were shot above 40 feet. Resort owner Lorenz Maeder loves diving as much as any one I have ever met. He knows what you've come for, and is not afraid to provide it. The final result is that, for capable divers, virtually unlimited bottom time is attainable, along with endless opportunities for underwater photography.
Avoid the Crowds - Another critical fact is that Wakatobi is totally removed from the rest of the diving world. At the time of this writing, you and your dive buddies will be the ONLY divers enjoying the huge wealth of diving that surrounds the resort. Of equal importance to those in need of a diving vacation is the realization that there's no TV, no phone, no newspapers, etc. For the duration of your stay, you can be blissfully ignorant of the baser goings on in the rest of world. Fear not though, the resort is connected to the world with satellite telephone, fax, and email. You will also enjoy the opportunity to meet the local people, see how they live, and come away with photographs to remind you of how lucky we really are in the Western world.
What Marine Life Can You See? - After the first week of diving, my group sat down together after dinner to log the marine life we had encountered thus far. Following is a partial list of our sightings:
Anemone fish, angel fish, anthias, banded coral shrimp, barracuda, batfish, bigeye, blanquillo, blennies, blue ringed octopus, blue spotted sting rays, boxfish, bream, broad range of lionfish, bumphead parrot, butterfly fish, cardinal fish, catfish, clown fish, comet longfin, conger eel, crabs, coris, crocodile fish, cuttlefish, damselfish, dolphin, splendid dottyback, durgeons, eagle rays, fairy basslets, fire dartfish, flashlight fish, filefish, flounder, frog fish, fusiliers, pufferfish, goatfish, gobies, grouper, gurnards, Harry the pet jawfish, hawkfish, houndfish, jack, leaf fish, lizardfish, lobster, mantis shrimp, many live shells, many nudibranch, moorish idols, moray eel, mullet, needlefish, octopus, ornate ghost pipefish, panther fish, rabbitfish, razorfish, rockhinds, scorpionfish, sea cucumbers, sea snakes, sharp nosed puffer, shrimp, slipper lobster, snapper, squirrel fish, starfish, surgeonfish, sweet lips, tridacna clams, titan triggerfish, travalles, tuna, tunicates galore, turtle, unicorn fish, various triggerfish including the lovely Picasso trigger, white tip shark, and of course we saw your wrasse.The Corals - Even more so than the fishes, at Wakatobi one swims about in awe of the lovely hard and soft coral formations. For my part, I can tell you that Wakatobi has presented me with the most beautiful, healthy, diverse, and pristine reefs I've ever had the pleasure of diving. My conviction is based on twenty years of dive travel, and 2200+ logged dives. But it's still just one man's opinion. For additional perspective, I asked my group to provide some descriptive assistance. Some of the adjectives that were immediately put forward included: "Colorful, enormous, eye popping, lush, psychedelic, rainbowed, riotous, stupendous, varied, verdant," and the one tossed out first - "voluptuous." Seems that they shared my estimation! At this end of this report you will also find a link to verbatim customer comments from recent Wakatobi visitors.
The Food - Of course, divers can not survive on Nitrogen alone. Remarkably, this remote diving outpost has a professionally trained Swedish chef. With the combination of great local cuisine, and the addition of Nicholas' Continental flair, the meals at Wakatobi are better than ever. Breakfast always includes excellent bread baked at the resort, butter, peanut butter, various jams, and either oatmeal, eggs, or a noodle dish. Almost every lunch and dinner includes a home made soup, rice or noodles, and fish or chicken. My vegetarian diet, and that of other guests, was also easily accommodated. Desserts rang from wonderful fresh fruits, to fancy European-style confections. Filtered drinking water and hot water for tea and coffee are made available 24 hours per day. On the honor system, beer and soft drinks are available at moderate additional expense.
Tips for Underwater Photographers - Okay, I've been shooting underwater for more than 20 years. I'm far from a pro photog, but do well enough for the slide shows I present around the country, brochures, web site, etc. On my first trip to Wakatobi I brought 38 rolls of film...and ran out of film with two days to go. I shot 60mm and 105mm macro, I shot 20mm and 24-50mm wide angle in the housing, and the 15mm on the Nikonos. The only hard part is deciding which way to go. There are limitless opportunities for fish and invertebrate pictures, but the soft corals and huge fans are so inviting that it's hard to resist setting up just one more wide-angle op. I was also glad to have handy a good topside camera with telephoto lens. It's a full time job just to photograph the strange assortment of native dugout canoes, sail boats, and tramp supply vessels that sail around the point beside the resort. You'll also have many opportunities to photograph the local people, villages, and traditional ways of Indonesian life. Bottom line - bring a broad variety of camera options…and more film than I did!
Range of Conditions:
Topside Temperature......26-30 centigrade average 28.....(76-86 Fahrenheit)
Water Temperature.........24-29 centigrade average 27....(78-82 Fahrenheit)
Visibility Range...............20-50 meters............................(60-150 feet)
Sea Conditions - In season, sea state around the resort is generally calm and flat. Rides to the dive sites are relatively short, and lee shore diving is always available.
Currents - Indonesian diving is well known for unpredictable currents. At Wakatobi it is not uncommon to experience occasional current changes during the course of a dive. As a result, some are anchor dives and others are planned as drift dives. The boat operators are very good at following the bubbles, and divers are provided with large and effective inflatable surface markers. Many dives may be enjoyed with moderate or little current, but overall this is a destination for more experienced divers, comfortable and capable of diving in current and a variety of conditions.
Seasonality - The resort is open late March through the end of December. It's closed during the wet monsoon period in January and February. My five visits have ranged from August through early December, and the conditions, both topside and underwater, were nothing less than excellent. We enjoyed calm seas, picture perfect skies, and comfy temperatures.
Is Wakatobi the Place for You? - At the time of this writing, less than 1,000 divers have ever experienced Wakatobi's reefs. Does that thought excite or frighten you? If you can't sleep on planes, or are a squeamish traveler, better stay home. But if you really love to dive, and are looking for your next great underwater adventure - consider making the pilgrimage to Tukang Besi, Indonesia and see Wakatobi Resort for yourself. I suspect you'll be very glad that you did.
Yours in diving, Ken Knezick - Copyright Island Dreams
Link to Wakatobi Update - Latest News & Reviews
Link to Why Wakatobi? - Ken Explains his Passion
Link to Wakatobi Found - Report from Wakatobi
Link to Wakatobi Resort - Recent Guest Comments
Link to Wakatobi Resort - Schedules, Itineraries, and Pricing
Link to Wakatobi Photo Gallery
Link to Wakatobi Impressions - A Report by Mark Strickland
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