It’s not often that one gets to feel super human, but diving over the pristine reefs of Wakatobi certainly feels like flying as you sweep over the edge of an underwater cliff with nothing but streaks of sunlight streaming past you into an aquamarine void.
With little effort at all, the one-knot current takes you almost weightlessly over and through an amazing variety of marine life in colours and shapes that have been defined by their environment for millions of years.
The marine landscape is so varied and the sea life so abundant that it is no surprise that Wakatobi National Park is listed as a tentative World Heritage Site. It certainly rivals other fantastic Indonesian dive spots such as Raja Ampat and Bunaken.
Wakatobi is the third largest marine park in Indonesia and supports a tremendously colourful cross-section of biodiversity including 25 types of fringing reefs, barrier reefs and atolls. The hawksbill, loggerhead and olive Ridley turtles can all be found in Wakatobi. To have all three in a relatively small area is rare.
Located at the southeastern corner of Sulawesi, Wakatobi is actually an acronym for four of the largest islands in a small, isolated chain called Tukangbesi. We were on the Wa of Wakatobi, Wangi-Wangi, with the others being Kaledupa, Tomia, and Binongko. They all offer some of the best diving in the world with many sites to choose from.
For now the area has relatively few visitors, despite efforts to improve tourism infrastructure and transportation, so the time is right for the dive of a lifetime.
Our first dive was called a discovery dive. Although we all showed our Open Water dive permits, I think this was so our dive masters could ‘discover’ whether we could actually dive or not. We boarded the boat that was tied to a long jetty and got our gear on. Once fully kitted out, I expected the boat to take off. However, all we had to do was walk to the side of it, away from the jetty, and dive in!
Once in the water, we immediately realized the long trip of three planes rides from Jakarta was well worth it. Before us, in 25-metre visibility water and only 15-metres deep, was a fantastic marine wonderland there for just the three of us to explore.
We were surrounded by hundreds, even thousands, of fish of different species and size to such a degree it was hard to know where to look first. My dive guide pointed out a classic nudibranch, a shell-less mollusk in outrageous and bawdy regalia, and all of three centimetres long. Next to arrive was a reef shark cruising its territory.
From the miniature to the top of the food chain, at Wakatobi you can dive with them all.On subsequent dives we actually left the jetty. Yet it was only a few breezy minutes to a nearby reef and another aquatic marine dreamscape.
We should have stayed longer to explore more of the dozens of sites on Wangi-Wangi and its sister islands. Allow yourself five full days to get even just a good cross-section of sites under your weight belt.
While it may be remote, an Internet search for Wakatobi National Park will reveal any number of sites offering information on the islands, the NGOs working to preserve the reefs such as WWF and The Nature Conservancy, videos and tour guides.
There is no off-season for diving in Wakatobi as the weather is generally quite calm and dry year-round. August generally sees cooler air and water temperatures, but any time is just fine. You’ll be flying once you dive there as well.