Wakatobi –- one of Indonesia’s premier dive sites –- on a faded wooden boat loaded with instant noodles, juice boxes and an aerodrome washing machine. This is southeast Sulawesi, a birthmark-shaped island in Indonesia’s northeast and home to some of the world’s most spectacular coral reefs.
Legendary underwater explorer and conservationist, Jacques Cousteau is said to have called the Wakatobi islands – then known as the Tukangbesi islands: an “Underwater Nirvana”.
Now a National Marine Park covering the entire Waktobi District, it comprises a total of 1.4 million hectares, of which 900,000 hectares are decorated with different, colourful species of tropical coral reefs. For Wakatobi is widely recognized as having the highest number of reef and fish species in the world. The islands are also famous as the largest barrier reef in Indonesia, second only to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Here can be found fringing, atolls and barrier reefs and offer more than 50 spectacular dive sites easily accessible from the major islands. This is the habitat of large and small fish species, the playground of dolphins, turtles and even whales.
The island group comprises 143 larger and smaller islands where only 7 are inhabited counting a total population of around 100,000, while the others remain uninhabited. Most notable are the Bajo communities, the seafaring nomads who inhabit many of Indonesia’s remote islands.
Located right in the heart of the Asia-Pacific Coral Triangle, in the province of South East Sulawesi, the Wakatobi Islands offer crystal clear pristine waters and a rich bio-diverse underwater life, a true paradise for Divers, as this is one of 3 hearts in the World Coral Triangle that stretches from the Solomon Islands in the Pacific to Wakatobi, and North to the Philippines. Wakatobi alone is said to have 942 fish species and 750 coral reef species from a total of 850 of world’s collection, which, comparing with the two world’s famous diving centers, the Caribbean Sea owns only 50 species with 300 coral reef species in the Red Sea, in Egypt.
The name Wakatobi is an amalgam of its four main islands –- Wangi-Wangi, Kaledupa, Tomia and Binongko. The seas surrounding the southeast Sulawesi district received national marine park status in 1996 and Wakatobi has since garnered attention from conservationists and avid scuba divers drawn by its incredible underwater diversity and expansive reefs.
Each summer hundreds of students descend on Hoga, one of Wakatobi’s many minor islets, to conduct research through Operation Wallacea, a non-profit sustainable development group based in England. Environmental outfits like the World Wildlife Fund have also been helping to improve park management and publicize its vast biodiversity.
In 2012 the WWF released a film about the Bajo, a once-nomadic sea tribe that now lives on stilted homes over the water and depends on fishing for survival. Resourceful and ingenious, the Bajo dive using hand-made wooden goggles.
Don’t miss to visit the Kampong Bajo Mola on Wangi-Wangi and see the life of the local Bajo sea nomads. There are also a number of interesting forts on Wangi-Wangi. Five kilometers from Wanci is Fort Tindoi, standing on top of Tindoi Mountain, while at Liya Togo Village is Fort Lya which also has the Lya Kraton Mosque within its compound. The fort was built in 1538 by an influential Islamic cleric called Syekh Abdul Wahid. Other forts are the Mandati Tonga Fort and the Kapota Fort.
Kaledupa has some of the best beaches such as the Hoga Beach, Sombano Beach, Peropa Beach, and Puncak Jamaraka. The Untete Beach at the Kulati Village is the longest white sand beach on Tomia with endless rows of coconut trees, where the usual fish grilling tradition is held. There are also mangrove forests to explore.
How to get there:
The District capital of Wakatobi is Wanci on Wangi-Wangi. Since the opening of the Matohara Airport on Wangi-Wangi via Kendari or Bau Bau, these remote islands are now more accessible and can be reached by flights from Jakarta or Makassar. There is also another landing strip on Tomia island, which receives charters from Bali.
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