Wakatobi, a name many divers have heard. It represents a marine national park, remote islands, high biodiversity and pristine reefs. Like many I assumed that Wakatobi is a single island with one luxury resort on it. It is not.
The Wakatobi Marine Park is one of Indonesia’s largest marine protected areas covering a vast and remote area of 1.4 million hectares. The group of islands, regency and the national park in Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia are named after the four biggest islands Wangi-Wangi, Kaledupa, Tomia and Binongko – WaKaToBi.
Diving in Wakatobi has a reputation to be expensive and exclusive as the best-known place to stay is the luxury Wakatobi Dive Resort. But there are other options available on three of the islands. After doing some research online we decided to go diving in Hoga next to Kaledupa. The price is reasonable although still slightly more expensive than other places around Indonesia. Find more information in the guide to Wakatobi diving.
To get there from Bali we had to first fly to Makassar and stay overnight before traveling to Wangi-Wangi the next day. From the airport a taxi brought us to the harbour to take a public ferry. There was a 2 hour boat ride to Kaledupa and then we were taken in a small boat to the resort on Hoga island (Hoga Island Dive Resort).
The captain dropped us right on the small beach in front of this cosy resort. After having a coffee and chatting about the plan for the next days we moved into a beach front bungalow. The small resort has two bungalows at the beach and four at the back. All of the little houses are built on stilts under trees. A wonderful place.
It feels like being away from everything. A truly remote place. The village on Hoga is a 30 minute walk from the resort and there is not much else on the island besides a research station from Wallacea. This is used by students during the holiday months to learn to dive and then get introduced to techniques for studying coral reefs. In front of the research station a jetty stretches 500 m out to reach deeper waters. The government is right now building a second jetty out to the wall although the reason remains unclear.
Kaledupa can be seen from the beach on Hoga as well as the Bajo village of Sampela in front of the island. The Bajo people used to be sea gipsies until around 150 years ago. Since then they have lived on houses on stilts in the ocean, moving around in little boats. It is said that some of them have never put a foot on solid ground. However, many of the houses have meantime been built on piles of rocks, like little islands. The Bajo live from fishing and tourism and it is possible to stay overnight in the village in homestays to experience the traditional lifestyle and to join the families for spear fishing. The village and its fishermen have even been featured by BBC. It is also possible to visit the village from Hoga on a free afternoon or between dives.
The dive house is not in the resort itself but is a 10 minute walk along the beach. During high tide the boat will pick up and bring the guests directly to the resort but at low tide the waters are too shallow for the boat and the divers have to walk to the house. While the resort beach is beautiful and clean the remaining walk is not so good. As in so many places in Indonesia, plastic waste is a big issue. The staff of the resort clean the beach in front but no one cares about the rest of the island. It is so sad to see that the villagers also dump their waste into the ocean while blaming the Bajo people for it. Additional garbage is brought in from the sea by the currents. The reefs, however, are very clean. I have rarely seen waste at the dive sites or on the reefs.
Most dive sites are close to the island and can be reached within 5 to 15 minutes. Most are walls, pinnacles and ridges. The scenery changes from dive to dive or even within a single dive with different types of hard and soft coral as well as a wide variety of sponges. The reefs are full of life. A huge variety of reef fish swarm around the colourful reefs. Watching the immense amount of different species living together in such a complex ecosystem is a unique experience. Plus in Wakatobi you will have all those fish just for yourself. With only a few dive operations around, the chances to have another group on the same dive site is almost non-existent.
Wakatobi, like a big part of Indonesia, is part of the coral triangle which has the highest biodiversity in the world. The Indo-Pacific is home to 600 different types of coral and about 3000 species of fish. New species are being discovered and described regularly in the area as well. The coral around Wakatobi is healthy and no coral bleaching has been observed so far.
Between dives at the closer dive sites the boat will drop the divers back at the resort to get refreshments, so not so much time has to be spent on the boat. After the second dive a delicious lunch is served. It is possible to do an afternoon or night dive as well.
The afternoons can also be spent relaxing in any of the hammocks in front of the bungalows or at the beach. It is possible to snorkel in the shallow water just off the resort, but it is a 500 m swim to get to the coral or go for a walk along the beach.
Just before dinner the electricity is switched on for four hours. As soon as the guests hear the generator been turned on everyone rushes back to their bungalow to plug in all the camera batteries and gadgets. As there is no wifi and very low phone reception I did not need much power for my gadgets and was never low on battery for my camera, strobes and lights.
The delicious variety of food can also be adapted for any special dietary requirements. After dinner we normally sat playing games whilst drinking a cold Bintang. An iced box is prepared by the kitchen staff to provide this little luxury to their guests.
We were a bit unlucky with the weather. Even though it was supposed to be the dry season it rained for 5 days straight. As well as everything getting a bit wet after a while it made the mosquitoes come out Don’t forget to bring mosquito repellent (like I did).
In my opinion this place is awesome for people who like remote places and colourful coral reefs with abundant fish life. However, besides pygmy seahorses, some nudibranchs, orang utan crabs and leaf scorpionfish, there was not too much macrolife or special critters to be found.
For me, personally, it was too much hassle to get to for the diving it offered. Don’t get me wrong, I do like remote places and I do like to look at reefs. However, I missed the opportunity of finding small critters or seeing big fish except the schooling barracuda. My high expectations of the diving in Wakatobi were not entirely met.
I still had a great time at the resort, which is a really wonderful place with amazing staff and I can definitely recommend it.