Contributed by Wandy Hochgrebe
Once you have had an amazing time somewhere it always worries me to want to go back. Will it be as good as the first time? Will things have changed? Have things stayed the same, but you have changed?
Well, things definitely have changed. In the eight years since we enjoyed the WAKATOBI experience we had undergone a transformation and so had our destination.
WAKATOBI is located on the very South-eastern tip of Sulawesi, which is the part of Indonesia just above Bali. The flight from Denpasar, Bali to Tomia Island is now a direct flight and only takes 2.5 hours.
Seeing the jetty and the Longhouse felt fantastic - a sort of homecoming. The jetty has been extended and there is now a Sunset Bar at the end. The longhouse is now more of a reception/lobby area with free WiFi and additional coffee, tea and snacks. Meals are served in the restaurant and the every meal is served buffet style with a wonderful choice of Asian and more Western meals.
The whole feels more spacious and although there is plenty of opportunity to meet and get to know the other 50 or so guests you can keep to yourself completely too.
Yes, things have definitely changed, but the ambience and energy have stayed the same. Service is still excellent, and little details have been thought of and implemented. Again, it struck us that despite the remote location things are organised so well and operations are run smoothly.
Especially when you look at the meals and know that everything has to be flown in or is at least available only in limited quantities. The seafood is sourced locally, which means it is VERY fresh, but as the head chef mentioned to us he can’t just pick and choose what he would like to prepare. For us guests this was not even noticeable as there was plenty of beautifully prepared and wonderfully presented food.
Conservation of this pristine area is still a big part of the resort. No, it is not stuffed down your throat, nor do you need to be actively involved. You are contributing by staying. For more information on the Collaborative Reef Conservation Program have a look at the WAKATOBI web site.
The major change for us was the fact we now had come to stay with our two young children and we had not been on a diving holiday or even dived together since we had our first.
A hectic work schedule was partially to blame, but also having kids was for us a life changing experience. Of course it opened our eyes to things like where we can find the best playground, rainy day alternatives and how to best have a coffee or a conversation without the children constantly interfering or getting themselves into some form of danger.
Diving had to give way to other things that mainly involved children. We had not dived together since I fell pregnant the first time 5 years ago, so it was great that WAKATOBI has some wonderful nannies who were very able to look after our young kids.
To be honest, before our departure from home I had my reservations. Would I be able to leave my children with complete strangers - qualified or not? I don’t think I am an overprotective mum and my children are very easy going with new people they meet, however, I just felt hesitant and worried that I would not be able to enjoy the diving.
How wrong was I?
All our wishes for the boys in regards to food and sleep during the day were taken on board. As we are always careful with the sun and heat we were put at ease finding out that the staff is very sun safe and they made sure the children wore hats, played mainly in the shade or inside during the heat of the day and drunk enough water.
I was completely relaxed and confident that they both were well looked after.
In our case we would get up and have breakfast together and then get ready for our day. We would then meet with the nannies on our way to the dive centre, discuss our plans for the day and say goodbye.
When the dive boat returned to shore at lunch time we would meet the children so we could have lunch together and hear about their adventures. We would then drop them off again for our afternoon dive.
We actually had one afternoon of no diving and the children were severely disappointed, they wanted to go back and spend time with Agung and Uti - their nannies!!
After the children were in bed at night one of the nannies would come over to our bungalow and babysit so we could have our dinner in peace. Bliss!
I really do love my children, but it was just so wonderful for all of us to get something out of our holiday this way. Agung and Uti were just amazing - they did kayaking, treasure hunt, kite making, colouring, hide-and-seek, playing on the little beach. And there was plenty of time each day together to not feel that you did not see your children or weren’t part of their holiday.
And besides the child services offered the other staff members were all fantastic to our children too and knew them by name. Every morning, every meal time they were greeted enthusiastically (as were we and the other guests!) and made feel very special regardless of the staff’s no doubt busy work schedules.
For children of 5 years and older there is a wonderful Kids Club with a great indoor area for when it rains or when it is too hot outside. A beautiful mural - the work of Inka Maeder - adds a colourful touch. Lots of toys and activities are available. Younger children can attend too, but would need nannies to accompany them there.
Keen divers have plenty of opportunities to get their fix. The base schedule of three dives a day is not excessive and you can always do more on the house reef or go for a snorkel. You probably could squeeze yourself on a night dive every day as well as not everyone who is scheduled will necessarily go and you could take their spot. Most of the time the boats come back to shore between dives so if you’d prefer to sit out a dive and do less that is always a possibility too.
The diving guests are divided between several different boats and on the boats small groups have their own dive leader so sites are never crowded.
If you prefer you can arrange to have a personal guide and even pick the sites you would like to visit. The resort also offers Nitrox and caters for rebreathers.
Not surprisingly, underwater image makers find that there is an air-conditioned room to safely set up and dismantle their equipment specifically for this purpose so that sand and humidity have the least chance to interfere with the process.
When we dived at Wakatobi the first time Pygmy Seahorses were really ‘in’. They were THE object all photographers wanted to get a good shot of. However, the well-being of this tiny organism would often be forgotten in the process by the keen photographers - whether or not they would end up with a shot they were happy with or would do anything with once taken.
We were personally very happy to see that although it is still possible to encounter these little critters they don’t seem to be a major focus. And why should they take all the attention with so many other amazing critters, fish and turtles. I enjoyed taking the time to swim away from the reef at times and take it in from a little further away and observe the landscape and the life as one.
Our first dive was at the House Reef - a check-out dive during which staff could find out about the diving skills of the new arrivals. It did feel a little short with just over 30 minutes in the water, but we knew more was to come and we would not be disappointed.
Our dive leader, Dollar (his name is another story - he’ll be happy to tell you), tirelessly pointed out the critters that were on show, including some Sharon Shrimps I didn’t know they were that ‘large’. At the same time he left plenty of time of let us discover things ourselves and make photos or videos.
And there was so much to see.
Amongst all beautiful things we saw were the Pegasus Sea Moths, a number of small frogfish, leaf scorpionfish in different colours, schools of trevally hanging in the current, long toms, garden eels, octopus and cuttlefish and plenty of the gorgeous Red-toothed Triggerfish, which I love so much. I was quite proud when I managed to find some crinoid shrimps by myself, hiding between the feet of their host the featherstar. Another great thing was that we saw turtles on most dives, which didn’t happen last time at all. There were a few shy Eaglerays and we got to see some Black-tip Reefsharks, but only from further away.... A few times we had great encounters with banded seasnakes as they went up for air or were cruising the reef for the next meal. Fantastic!
And the sessile marine life is just as beautiful and very healthy, giving colour to the stunning landscapes.
There are plenty of dive sites to visit and most if not all of those you could dive many times and not get bored. Fortunately, my favourite dive site ‘Roma’ was on our schedule and other dive sites I particularly enjoyed were ‘Conchita’ and ‘The Zoo’.
Overall I would say that the diving is well organised, diverse and safe. Plenty of friendly and helpful staff means that you and your gear are looked after properly. No lugging around your own heavy dive gear as the staff is amazing in getting things where you want them.
There is also the option to spend time aboard the Pelagian for 10 days and dive reef systems further away and even more remote. With a maximum of 10 guests at any time you can truly get away from the crowds!
Unfortunately, this was not an option for us this time around. I guess we’ll have to wait till we can leave the boys at home on their own! Maybe I can con my mum into coming to Australia for a while and convince her to spend some quality time with her grandsons......
As we left the resort to catch our plane back to reality we waved until our arms hurt. For the staff it probably was just another farewell, for us it meant saying goodbye to amazing diving in a wonderful place and hoping we would return one day.
Pelagian Dive Yacht
Feel like you're on a private yacht charter with just ten guests. Pelagian cruises the outer reaches of the exquisite Wakatobi region.
Arenui offers dive cruises across the Indonesian archipelago - the world's no.1 biodiversity - from an exquisite luxury vessel. Max 16 guests to 22 crew for a truly first-class trip!