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Wakatobi Dive Resort
Sulawesi, Indonesia

Island Dreams' Ken Knezick has recently returned from leading his 15th dive expedition to Wakatobi Resort. He keeps going back because of a firm belief that Wakatobi's diving is among some of the very best in the world. Below is Ken's report, compiled and updated over his many years of travel to Wakatobi.

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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.

Map of Indonesia Great News - While early explorations required an extended ferry boat ride from Kendari, it is now far easier to reach Wakatobi Resort. An excellent air strip has been constructed on the neighboring island of Tomia, receiving direct charter flights from Bali to the resort. The aircraft in use is an excellent Fokker 50. That is a 50-passenger, twin-engine turbo prop with two pro pilots and plenty of room for guests and gear. This air transit is a wonderful improvement to the Wakatobi experience, improving supply lines and making access immensely more comfortable and efficient.

On Arrival - From the Tomea airstrip, a 10-minute van ride is followed by a short boat ride across the channel 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 comfortable 26-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 beautiful new open-air dining room and state of the art kitchen are just a few paces from the ocean. The old dining area has been converted into a spacious lounge, while the old long house now houses an air-conditioned library with a computer offering web and email access. The new lodging rooms are spacious individual bungalows. All rooms are now air-conditioned, and include private bath, good beds, ceiling fans, and big windows for breezy ventilation. Each bungalow has a pleasant little porch and a couple of lounge chairs for reading and enjoying the natural beauty of this remote and intriguing tropical island.

New Bungalows at Wakatobi

Wakatobi's great new bungalows...
cool, clean, comfortable, and VERY close to superb diving.

The dive shop, gear lockers, and charging station are right next to the longhouse. In the equipment area, hangers are provided for guests' wet-suits and bcd's, and baskets for the rest of the gear. There are two air-conditioned camera rooms with 110 and 220 volt charging stations and plenty of space to change film, batteries, and digital capture cards. Considering the remote situation, Wakatobi's dive shop is 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 now has a nice fleet of locally constructed dive boats. Four excellent 60-foot long dive boats were built in the neighboring village of Waha, specifically to the resort's requirements. Stable, spacious and comfortable, these boats are very broad of beam (wide) with a tank rack down the middle. There is plenty of space to gear up, a built in dip tank for cameras, and a toilet at the stern. All the vessels have good ladders for exiting the water. Wakatobi's fleet has expanded sufficiently so that these 60-foot 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.

On the wall at Wakatobi 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 70 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:

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, one of my groups sat down together after dinner to log the marine life we had encountered thus far. Following is a partial list of our sightings:

Leaf fish at Wakatobi

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-five years of dive travel, and 3,000+ 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 now hosts superb Balinese chefs trained in 5-star hotels. With the combination of great local cuisine, and the addition of Continental flair, the meals at Wakatobi are better than ever. Breakfast always includes excellent bread baked at the resort, butter, peanut butter, various jams, oatmeal, eggs cooked to order, and 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 range from fresh tropical fruits, to fancy European-style confections. Filtered drinking water and hot water for tea and coffee are made available 24 hours per day. Beer and soft drinks are available at moderate additional expense.

Tips for Underwater Photographers - Okay, I've been shooting underwater for more than 25 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 lens to go with next. Now digital photography makes it even more fun! 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 plenty of digital capture cards!

The World's Best Beach Diving

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? - If you can't sleep on long plane rides, 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


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