“Pristine water, high biodiversity, home for more than 25 coral reefs and more than 900 marine species solidify Wakatobi National Underwater Park’s spectacular submarine panorama. Varied seabed depths also promise every diver the ocean at its best.”
Diving in Wakatobi has been a big dream of mine, as it is one of several must-visit dive sites in Indonesia. From searching, discussions and comments from Google and some of friends, I recognize the most important point why Wakatobi is damn good – besides its undersea corals – is the transportation to get there. They say, the harder the site to reach, the more splendid it’d be.
|Wakatobi Islands on the map. Can you imagine how many hours to go for island hopping ?|
Wakatobi, formerly Tukang Besi (Black Smith) Island, stands for the four big islands that form the renowned name: Wangi-wangi, Kaledupa, Tomia and Binongko. Located in Banda Sea, South East Sulawesi, right in the heart of the coral triangle centre, Wakatobi is blessed with abundantly striking marine bequest.
Visiting the islands is not quite simple. From Jakarta or Makassar, you can take a flight directly to either Baubau on Buton Island (the island near Wakatobi) or Wanci on Wangiwangi Island. It’s more expensive to fly to Wanci than Baubau. Besides, at the time I went there, all flights to Wanci were cancelled. Well, it was the best option that I booked flight to Baubau beforehand.
|Dive sites in Tomia island. So many spots, so little time...|
The trip was planned even a month before we went. Three days after Ied Al-Fitr in August, my three fellas and I flew to Bau-bau, 50-minute flight from Makassar, South Sulawesi. It was a bit diffy telling my parents that I had to end my Lebaran holiday in Jakarta soon for this dive trip.
We arrived in Baubau on August 22 at around 4:00 PM and found out the Island was still a bit quiet at once due to the Lebaran ambiance. With baggages suitable for seven people, we struggled to carry them here and there. we successfully rented a car for few hours just to spend hours before catching up the boat to Wanci at 9:00 PM.
Anyway, the fastfood restaurant KFC was just built in the heart of Baubau six months ago, and we were pleased to taste it. For us, it was the symbol of civilization of a city when they have KFC in the town. After negotiation of paying Rp 180,000 (US$ 18.9) for the car rent, we moved to the traditional wooden boat. The boat cost us Rp 103,000 per person and took about 8 hours to Wanci.
This was the unexpected, unplanned moment for us. We thought we would have been sailing without ado from Baubau to Tomia (10-12 hours). Instead, we had to stop in Wanci and changed boat to continue the voyage to Tomia with another 4-hour smaller boat trip.
|The boat we used to hop from Bau-bau to Wanci|
Disappointments started to emerge, as all the boats didn’t depart on time but 1-hour delay – with overloaded passengers. The boat people said it was because of Lebaran Day that the boat was packed and a bit disorganized in management. It should’ve had a boat cruised from Baubau to Tomia regularly; but this time, we were kind of screwed to waste time of a day (that means, two precious dives were skipped)
|Bajo's traditional houses built right on the sea. Bajo people is known for their sea-life living.|
Well, we managed not to whine about that too much because it wouldn’t change anything anyway. The lesson learned, we have to make a trip on regular days, not on national holidays. Otherwise, this thing will be repeated once again, and we don’t want that.
Thanks God we FINALLY arrived on Tomia at 3:00 PM on the next day. There are two dive centers there, Wakatobi Dive Resort and Tomia Dive Center. You can check both websites to find out about them and you’d find the significant differences between both of the dive centers.
We used Tomia Dive Center (TDC) that is run by a young, vigorous doctor from Jakarta, Dr. Prayudi Sutiono. Yudi picked us up at the jetty and then off to the inn nearby the dive center by ojek (motorcycle taxi). We had to ride for 10 kilometers along the Tomia island until we arrived in the inn – our asses were upset though! Initially, we booked the dive cottage in the dive center in the beach shore, but there was an unpredictable problem that there were visitors stayed there because some locals didn’t tell Yudi. So we rested in the inn for the Day 1 only.
|Ready to dive on the first day after the exhausting boat trip we went through...|
Yudi became our guide in Tomia, above and underwater (literally). After some quickie preparation to go diving in the late afternoon, we were welcomed with a litter of cold orange soda and late lunch. We ate the scrumptious lunch as if we had not eaten for a month. Unfortunately, the engine of TDC dive boat was broken just a day before we got there, so we got off to the first dive spot named Roma by local’s boat at 4:30 PM.
At 5:30 PM we had done the first outstanding dive and got ready for dinner and a proper sleep as we had to get up at least at 7:00 AM on the next day. Not only all geared up for morning dive, we dragged out our bags and stuffs from the inn to the dive cottage to move in. The weather was a little cloudy as the sun hid beneath those clouds that day; it didn’t feel nice actually.
|Preparing SIT - resting between one dive to another - on the beach.|
Today, we committed to do four dives, included the night dive. Fried bananas and hot tea/coffee were ready as morning risers before diving. This time, Waha Top was the spot – and all the surface currents that shaking the boats were a serious wake-up alarm for us. Yudi told us the bottom currents were a little hard, so we decided to go back to the cottage for breakfast and tried the spot afterwards.
I could say the first dive that morning was breathtaking. We watched all colorful coral fish came out and played, some schooling of big-eyed Giant Trevallies (GT), sea snake, alligator fish, groupers, table corals and gorgonians. We SIT-ed and had lunch on one of white powdery sand, with rows of coconut trees on Hondue Beach. We tried not to look eager, but we did! We brought tripod and bulky DSLRs with us to the beach and took many pictures while we’re there.
|We need to walk on the corals to reach the beach. The boat would smash if parking nearby the beach shore due to the low tide.|
|The starfish is being 'tortured' by that chubby man above :D|
|Look at those little feet of starfish!|
Two hours later, we resumed the diving to Fan Garden. One of my fella, Hao, decided to stay on Hondue Beach due to his nauseas, so he could join the third and fourth night-session dive. The funny fact was anytime we went undersea without Hao, the diving would be more than 60 minutes.
While on the Island, we always had fish as our daily meals. There were actually tasty and spicy, as I liked them to be. The locals named Mama Kadir and Mama Nongko (these mummies were called based on their first child) cooked all the luscious meals and snacks for us. Yudi told us that besides the seafood, anything were a little bit pricey in Tomia. It made me think that the price we paid (Rp 150,000 for three times of meals per day per person) was worth the situation. After the trip, it kind of made me slightly jaded to have fish for a couple of days in my meals.
At 3:00 PM, we went to the third dive in Teluk Waitii (Waitii Bay) to visit some sea folks of napoleons and GTs. At 4:30 PM, we off to the cottage to fill in some tanks and had preparation for night dive in Mari Mabuk (English: Let’s Drunk – literally) at 6:00 PM. In the first day, the currents in Mari Mabuk was quite challenging and a real hangover-ing, but Yudi ensured us this time it would be much easier as we would do drifted-dive following the reef walls.
In the night dive, another hilarious moment happened when Hao couldn’t control his buoyancy and kept going to the surface. Yudi held him tight and carried him for awhile for safety stop. However, before safety stop could even be managed, my friend Hao was surfacing slowly and we all tried our best to grip him against the currents by making a circle of holding each other arms. It was a total fail and we ended up surfacing in a circle with only 45-minute diving. Such a strong underwater camaraderie we had! Lol
On the following, last day of diving, we had two dives in Ali Reef and Table Coral City. These two spots became our ultimate closing dives. There were table corals, staghorn corals and cabbage corals cover this large seamount. A school of chevron barracudas, mimic octopus and GTs once again were seen. I could not ask for more but this tremendous last dive.
|The aquarium-look of Tomia undersea|
Back when the lunch was set, we were busy washing and drying the gears while the sun and winds were there. At 4:00 PM, we rode to the peak of Tomia and savored the landscape of the Island. Too bad the sunset couldn’t be spotted caused by the cloudy sky.
|Take group picture on the peak of Tomia|
When the clock ticked at 6:00 PM, we stepped down the hills and went back to the cottage to pack our bags for the 12-hour sail to Baubau before flying back to Sorowako on Sunday morning.
|the sunset seen after the night dive|
Sampai jumpa lagi, Wakatobi!