From towering walls and fish-laden sea mounts to lively critter-rich shallows, Indonesia’s Wakatobi region offers divers some of the world’s most rewarding underwater experiences. This remote island group lies in Southeast Sulawesi in the heart of the Coral Triangle, which is an area recognized as the world’s epicenter of coral reef biodiversity.
The Wakatobi region came to the world’s attention with the establishment of Wakatobi Dive Resort, which was founded in the mid 1990s. The founder of the resort used the acronym WAKATOBI, a term originating from the natives for the four primary islands of the archipelago – Wangi Wangi, Tomia, Kaledupa and Binongko; later this area was also officially named WAKATOBI, when it became a newly created district. The resort is also credited with establishing a privately-funded marine preserve that is a UNESCO Marine Biosphere Reserve, and the precursor to the more expansive Wakatobi National Marine Park.
Twenty kilometers of pristine reef lie within this marine park, which was designated a UNESCO Marine Biosphere Reserve in 2012. This area is known as the world’s epicenter of coral reef biodiversity, providing divers, snorkelers, and underwater photographers with an unrivaled variety of marine life. To help sustain the marine preserve, Wakatobi’s eco-conscious founders have implemented green initiatives and in 1997 formed the Wakatobi Collaborative Reef Conservation program to work in partnership with local villagers.
The underwater landscapes of Wakatobi range from coral-dense shallows to big walls and dramatic undersea pinnacles. Pinnacles such as Table Coral City, Roma and Gunung Waha are prized for both their coral formations and the diversity of marine life. Big walls such as Cornucopia, Magnifica, Fan 38, Malabea, Lorenzo’s Delight and many others deliver dramatic topographies that begin as shallow as one meter and drop below technical diving depths. These sites are ideal for multi-level profiles that allow no-stop dives of 70 and 80 minutes while holding divers interest all the way to the surface. Technical divers will also find the overhangs beyond 45m highly addictive!
By contrast, sites such as Dunia Baru and Conchita sit on gentle slopes and within sheltered bays that create ideal conditions for novice divers, while the appropriately named Zoo is a big favorite for night dives. One of Wakatobi’s most dramatic sites is known as Blade. This formation is a collection of parallel tooth-like formations that align atop a long ridge rising from depths of 60 meters. Each of the teeth are some 50 meters in length, but never more than 7 meters wide. When seen in profile, this entire formation resembles a knife with a serrated blade that has been set on edge.
The Wakatobi region is also home to a site that has been recognized as one of the world’s best shore dives. This expansive coral reef is a particular favorite for its easy access and tremendous diversity of scenery and marine life. Divers can access the House Reef from shore or from a jetty and will discover a massive underwater terrain that includes critter-rich grass beds and coral heads and a dramatic drop off riddled with crevices that shelter an even greater assortment of marine life. To gain access to an even wider swath of the House Reef, divers can be dropped off at more distant parts of the site up-current for an exciting drift back to the jetty. The House Reef also provides snorkelers with unlimited hours of exploration.
In addition to land-based diving, the Wakatobi archipelago can be explored by liveaboard. Divers can take in sites that include the fish-laden pinnacles near Hoga, thrilling walls at Binongko and the big reefs of Karang Kaledupa and Karang Kapota, where they will find everything from coral-rich shallows to sheer drop-offs. For many, a highlight of visiting this area is Pasarwajo Bay in nearby Buton Island, which offers some of Indonesia’s best muck diving at sites such as Asphalt Pier and Cheeky Beach. This area is also home to Magic Pier, which is famous for the nightly courtship rituals of resident Mandarinfish.
How to get there
Bali is the gateway to Wakatobi, and also a popular stopover for many divers before or after they visit Wakatobi. A number of airlines provide flights to the major cities in Asia with transfer on to Denpasar, Bali (Bali Ngurah Rai International Airport). These airlines include Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, KLM, Korean Air, Qatar Airways, Hong Kong Airlines, China Airlines, and United. From Bali, travelers can take connecting flights to Makassar or Kendari, then a local flight to Wangi-Wangi. Local ferries give access to other islands in the group. Guests of Wakatobi Dive Resort have a more direct option, with private flights from Bali to the resort’s own airstrip on the island of Tomia.
Climate and Water Conditions at Wakatobi
Air temperature in Wakatobi is in general around 30 °C (86F) during the day and nicely cooler in the evening. Water temperature is mostly a moderate 26-28 °C (79-82°F).
Divers who tend to get chilled easily should consider bringing a full body 5mm dive suit, especially for those making several dives in a day. This may seem excessive, but keep in mind that many divers visiting the Wakatobi region do a full four dives a day, sometimes 70 minutes or longer.
Snorkelers should consider a 3mm wetsuit for cold and sun protection, or a lycra skin for sun protection.
Travel and Dive Insurance
Travelers can protect their investment by securing a fully comprehensive travel insurance policy. Depending on your country of residence, there are several options from which to choose such as Allianz and Divers Alert Network (DAN).
You may also consider purchasing supplemental dive insurance prior to departing for your trip. These are offered by companies such as Divers Alert Network (DAN) and Dive Assure who offer specific dive-related policies that can often also include travel and gear, as well as accident coverage in one comprehensive policy.
Check with your physician and medical insurer in advance of your trip to verify that you are covered while traveling abroad and scuba diving.
Many visitors to Wakatobi like to extend their layovers by a few days to enjoy the sights. For these savvy travelers, time spent in Bali is a bonus that can add an additional element to the overall vacation experience.
During a stopover in Bali, guides and drivers will transport you to towering volcanoes, emerald green rice paddies, Hindu temples, dazzling beaches, cultural performances and more. Bali also offers incredible values in art, furniture, silver jewelry, accessories, and tropical fashions. An extended stay in Bali can also include a tour of the highlands with a visit to the Pura Bratan temple, which features a distinctive 11-tiered roof that rises above the shores of Lake Bratan. Near the village of Padangtegal, in the Ubud section of Bali, the Sacred Monkey Forest is home to a protected population of long-tailed macaques, along with some 115 species of trees. Many of these trees are considered holy and are used only for the building of shrines and the creation of carved ceremonial masks.
Make sure to take in a Balinese dance presentation, where you’ll find that everything from eye contact and finger position to rhythmic whole-body gestures are significant and become part of an intricate drama that conveys stories through movement. Many traditional dances are linked to Hindu rituals, but others are offered as welcoming rituals or performed simply for the enjoyment of the audience.
Thanks to an unmatched combination of healthy and well-protected reefs, abundant and diverse marine life and natural beauty, Wakatobi remains at the top of many divers’ must-do list.
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