Everyone’s got their faves, but Wakatobi’s top dive sites continue to rank among the world’s best coral havens (text by Karen Stearns, photos by Walt Stearns)
Wakatobi is one of the most celebrated dive destinations on the planet, and has been called a “dream destination” by more than a few visitors, but what keeps Wakatobi at the top of so many divers’ lists? For starters, the private marine preserve created and supported by Wakatobi Resort is home to some of the most pristine and biodiverse coral reefs on the planet. Of the 40-plus locations regularly visited by the resort’s dive boats, some sites tend to rise above the rest, consistently making the lists of both staff and guests. And while we don’t like to play favourites, we are offering up a few examples that showcase the diversity and quality of Wakatobi’s underwater environment.
Before you can see what all the fuss is about, you’re likely going to rack up some air miles getting to this coral dreamland. Wakatobi sits on a small island in a remote corner of Indonesia in southeast Sulawesi. But unlike many out-of-the-way destinations, getting to the resort won’t require a string of puddle jumpers, inter-island ferries and taxi rides. Instead, arriving guests are met by the concierge staff at the Bali Airport, and from that moment they take care of everything, from the heavy-lifting, to coordinating transfers and scheduling overnight layovers. This allows guests to rest and refresh prior to boarding a direct mid-morning charter flight to Wakatobi’s private airstrip. On arrival, you can relax over lunch and plan an afternoon dive, knowing that your bags have been delivered to your bungalow or villa, and your scuba gear moved to the dive centre and made ready for use.
MORE FROM SHORE
Wakatobi’s House Reef is known around the globe, and often ranks among the world’s very best shore dives. Some 80m from shore, a shallow, coral-encrusted shelf transitions into a series of steep slopes and walls that plummet beyond the range of scuba. Entry to the House Reef is easy, as divers and snorkellers can make the short swim from shore, or descend stairs at the jetty. Pier pilings attract shoaling fish, and clustered nearby are dozens of anemones populated with iconic clownfish. The reef slope is covered with a dense coat of hard and soft corals, sea fans, sponges and tunicates, with overhangs that create resting places for resident turtles. Moving away from the jetty, divers and snorkellers have acres of coral slopes and shallows to explore.
The face of the drop-off is covered in an impressive collection of hard and soft corals, and large sponges while the shallows are prime hunting grounds for an even more diverse range of subjects. This expansive site is available to divers and snorkellers day and night, and on request “taxi boats” will ferry guests to more distant portions of the House Reef so they can leisurely make their way back to the jetty.
Just a quick boat ride from the resort is one of the fishiest places in central Indonesia. Close to shore, a patch reef within a sand-bottom bay provides shelter for a wealth of interesting marine life. And a leisurely look among the corals will expose frogfish, ghost pipefish and leaf scorpionfish hiding in plain sight. Closer scrutiny may reveal smaller prizes such as hairy squat lobsters, while a survey of the bottom will yield bizarre burrowers such as the stargazer and the alien-like mantis shrimp. Check the mushroom anemones for their namesake mushroom pipefish, which is a small white pipefish with a triangular head that gives it the appearance of a small underwater python.
Zoo is a favourite site for night dives as well. Residents include frogfish, octopuses, ghost pipefish, mantis shrimp, leaf fish, funky hairy squat lobsters, and more. Later, under the cover of full darkness, a new range of nocturnal animals such as hunting cuttlefish, colourful flatworms and many species of lionfish scour the reef, including the elusive twinspot lionfish. Bobtail squid and octopuses are found here, and dive lights will reveal thousands of glowing eyes from the various shrimps and crabs that hang out in just about every crack and crevice.
THE BLADE BECKONS
Wakatobi offers something for all. Divers can spend relaxing hours on shallow reefs and exploring sheltered bays, or drop on coral-covered pinnacles that attract large schools of fish. Reefs that begin very close to the surface drop to depths of more than 100m, creating opportunities for long multi-level profiles, and providing extended-range divers with new opportunities. The unique site known as Blade is within range of the resort’s day boats. A distinct formation consisting of a row of elongated parallel seamounts rises from a deeper ridge to within two metres of the surface. When seen in profile, the entire formation resembles the serrated teeth of a giant knife set on edge, hence its name.
The individual pinnacles are long but quite narrow. Divers drifting close to the surface can actually view both sides of the formations simultaneously from above. Blade is about as picturesque as it gets, complete with colourful arrays of giant sponges and sea fans that can at times grow to upwards of 2–3m (6–10ft) across.
Red whip corals grow thick on the steep sides of each pinnacle, providing fantastic photo opportunities. Multi-hued crinoids can often be seen perched on the tips of gorgonians, extending their tentacles to catch passing morsels of food. Mild currents allow divers to drift from peak to peak, evoking a sensation of weightless flight. All in all, Blade is an experience not soon forgotten. The dive yacht Pelagian carries guests on one-week excursions through the Wakatobi archipelago, spending some quality time at Blade, as well as the bays of southern Buton Island for world-class muck diving.
BRING THEM ALONG
Divers won’t have to leave significant others and children at home, as the resort also offers a range of water, beach and land activities, and is family friendly. Bungalows are large enough to accommodate families, and there are one and two-bedroom waterfront villas offering even more space. A nanny programme frees up new parents, and Bubblemaker and junior diving programmes let youngsters experience the underwater world. The same premier reefs that wow divers are equally inviting to snorkellers who are welcomed aboard boats headed to any site with a shallow component, and are given equal respect. This creates unique opportunities for non-diving members of the family to join in the fun.
And finally, in an era when going green is the right thing to do, Wakatobi remains a regional leader in conservation and environmental protection. The resort’s award-winning Collaborative Reef Conservation Programme was among the first of its kind, creating a new paradigm for sustainable tourism. The resort operates recycling and waste-water mitigation stations sponsors weekly village cleanups that involve up to 100 local people, and works closely with local communities and governments on the issues of waste management. The resort owners have been instrumental in bringing clean solar power to the region, and most recently tied Wakatobi into a local solar cooperative that supplies most of the property’s needs during daylight hours.
Want to learn more about Wakatobi Resort, or perhaps schedule your own visit to their little piece of paradise? Visit www.wakatobi.com, where you can complete a quick trip inquiry, or e-mail their team at: email@example.com.