By Walt Stearns
Wakatobi Dive Resort offers an unforgettable blend of pristine reefs, plentiful sea life and luxurious accommodations
It was easy to see how the dive site known as Blade earned its name. A parallel line of narrow seamounts rose from the depths, connected by an even thinner ridge that gave the formation the appearance of a serrated knife set on edge. From a high point just 5 metres below the surface, the steep sides of the blade dropped precipitously into the void. Adding colour to the dramatic profile, the entire structure is covered in rich growths of giant sponges, sea fans, and soft corals. I’ve seen numerous underwater pinnacles around the world, but this one was something special.
Blade is just one of many memorable dive sites I discovered on my recent trip to Wakatobi Dive Resort. For years, I’d read the glowing trip reports and favourable reviews on this destination, but I wanted to reserve judgment until I’d been there and seen for myself. Now, I can not only but also tell you with confidence that Wakatobi truly is a special place, I can list the reasons why.
Imagine the perfect dive resort. It would occupy a scenic location adjacent to a magnificent reef rich in a diversity of marine life, and remain protected from the ravages of human impact. Diving would come first, but creature comforts are not to be forgotten. This was what Lorenz Mäder sought when he embarked on a multi-year exploration through the Indian Ocean. His quest eventually led him to the small island of Onemobaa, deep within the Tukang Besi archipelago in Indonesia’s Sulawesi Sea. Here, a spectacular white sand beach overlooked one of the finest reefs Lorenz had ever seen. He knew he was home, and set to work creating his perfect resort.
In the three decades since its founding, Wakatobi has grown from a single lodge-style building to a collection of luxurious Beachfront Bungalows and Villas. Visitors travel to the resort in under three hours aboard a private charter flight from Bali, and once there enjoy five-star service, fine dining and resort amenities such as a full-service spa. A fleet of spacious custom-built dive boats provides access to more than 40 sites, which offer a dramatic range of underwater topographies and marine life.
Wakatobi situated within the coral triangle, a region known as having the highest biodiversity of any coral reef ecosystem. Its home to more than 600 coral species, at least 3,000 varieties of fish and an even greater number of invertebrate species. From day one, Lorenz recognized the importance of protecting this special place. Even before construction began, he met with area fishermen and villagers to establish protected areas. In exchange for honouring these no-take zones, a portion of resort revenue would be paid directly to the local people. Today, Wakatobi’s Collaborative Reef Conservation Programme contributes to protecting a marine reserve covering some 20 kilometres of reef and provides economic benefits for more than 40 area villages.
On The House
One of Wakatobi’s best and most famous dives lies just off the beach. The House Reef is considered by many to be the best shore dive in the world. Stretching for more than 4 kilometres to either side of the resort, it provides a diverse seascape. Encompassing inshore grass beds, shallow fringing reefs and precipitous drop-offs perforated by clefts and caverns all decorated with a dazzling array of hard and soft corals. It is accessible from the beach, the resort pier or with a fleet of small “dive taxi” boats that ferry divers to more distant sections of the reef.
Wakatobi’s jetty runs 80 metres from the shoreline to the reef’s drop-off. Looking down from its end provides a window to what awaits, revealing a reef that takes a sudden plunge from snorkelling depths straight down more than 50 metres into the blue. During one dive, I didn’t need to venture more than nine metres on either side of the jetty to see up to seven different species of anemone fish. The reef’s two-metre deep plateau is also home to a healthy population of small blue spotted stingrays, pipefish, octopus, nudibranchs, eels and more.
From the House Reef to Blade, and the 40-plus sites in between, coral growth is dense and extremely healthy, from the knee-deep shallows down to the reef’s many vertical walls and slopes. At many sites, it’s possible to perform multi-level dives of 70 to 80 minutes without going into decompression. Time spent off-gassing in the shallows can be the most interesting part of the dive. The top of the reefs are home to a parade of macro size critters—from blind shrimp with their ever-watchful guardian gobies, to more flamboyant subjects like blue ribbon eels, broad club cuttlefish and micro-sized pygmy seahorses.
Wakatobi’s staff takes every step to ensure the quality of your underwater experience. The staff will handle all the logistics of gear handling and dive planning, and are also respectful of guests who prefer a bit more autonomy. Their full-service Dive Centre staff can provide everything from basic instruction and refresher courses to advanced training. A full range of rental equipment is available, including nitrox, oxygen, helium and sorb for rebreather diving activities. Photographers are provided a separate climate-controlled room with ample workbench space and numerous recharging stations.
Daily activity includes three boat dives, plus night boat dives scheduled according to demand. The House Reef is available to divers and snorkelers morning to night. The majority of the dives sites are less than a half-hour boat ride away, many just minutes. Visibility is typically in the 30 to 35-metre range, and seas are characteristically mild, as surrounding reefs and sheltering islands create consistently calm to mild conditions.
There’s so much more to Wakatobi than I have the room to describe here. I think I’ve shared enough reasons to convey why I consider the destination to be an ideal dive resort as exists anywhere on the planet. If the combination of pristine and protected reefs, abundant and varied marine life, flawless service, and an idyllic oceanfront location are what you seek, then I’d highly recommend looking into Wakatobi.