[See image gallery at scubadiverlife.com] Wakatobi Dive Resort consistently ranks as one of the world’s top-rated diving and snorkeling destinations. But what exactly does that mean? Certainly, the quality of the underwater experience is important, but so too are factors such as the setting, amenities, guest comfort and conveniences. This combination earns Wakatobi top marks with its guests. But don’t take my word for it. Here are a dozen reasons the resort remains near the top of so many divers’ bucket lists.
Protection Pays Off
In an era when even the most remote diving destinations are subject to the effects of human activity, a policy of managed and enforced protection is the only way to assure the underwater ecosystem’s health. Wakatobi Resort sits within a marine reserve created and operated by the resort’s founders. Covering more than 12 miles (20 km) of reef line, the Wakatobi Collaborative Reef Conservation Program creates a no-take zone that encompasses some of the region’s most spectacular and biologically-rich underwater landscapes. And it works. Since the establishment of the reserve in the mid 1990s, all destructive forms of fishing have ceased. Permanent moorings protect dive sites and there is a strict no-touch policy in place for all diving guests. Because of these efforts, fish populations have increased and corals have returned to near-pristine status.
High Critter Counts
Wakatobi Resort sits within the Coral Triangle, which nurtures the planet’s highest levels of marine biodiversity. On the reefs surrounding the resort, divers and snorkelers can tally more than 500 varieties of hard and soft corals. There are 2,000-plus species of fish life and many thousands more invertebrates. Keen-eyed divers can spend hours searching out tiny treasures, such as pygmy seahorses, or scanning the shallows for burrowers. Healthy reefs attract swarms of colorful tropicals. Schooling fish patrol the edges of walls and the tops of underwater seamounts.
Be Part of the Solution
Wakatobi’s Collaborative Reef Conservation Program doesn’t just put a halt to destructive fishing practices and reef degradation, it creates a sustainable alternative by making healthy reefs a source of revenue for the local community. The resort uses a portion of all guest revenue to make direct lease payments to area villages. Revenues also sustain other community initiatives for education, clean water and electrification. By giving the surrounding community a stake in preserving the reefs, Wakatobi has transformed local attitudes and encouraged a sense of stewardship. And by placing many reefs into a status that creates fish-breeding sanctuaries, Wakatobi’s programs have helped local fishermen increase their catch within designated fishing zones.
Cruising in Comfort
Wakatobi Resort operates a fleet of custom-built dive boats. These spacious 69-foot (21 m) vessels offer shaded decks and extra-spacious benches. Dedicated gear storage bins and a separate camera table are out of the way of other divers and snorkelers. Bathrooms are located at the rear of the boat, and at deck level. Water entry is from the middle of the boat, which keeps divers well away from engine exhaust when entering and exiting the water. Underway, the boat’s efficient single-engine design keeps motor noise to a low burble. Boat crews are dedicated to delivering personal service both aboard and in the water. Thorough briefings are provided before each dive, and each guest is given the appropriate level of attention to ensure both safety and maximum diving freedom.
The dive sites surrounding Wakatobi Resort offer a diverse range of underwater scenery. Many begin as shallow reefs that rise to within a few feet of the surface then transition dramatically to steep slopes or walls. Some sites are set in protected bays, while others take in open-water seamounts and pinnacles. At many sites, the reef topographies are ideally suited to multi-level profiles. It is quite common for divers to log bottom times of up to 70 minutes while remaining within a no-stop dive profile. By working with tidal currents, divers can also make extended drift dives at certain locations. Night dives showcase a different cast of marine characters, and the dive center offers the unique program of fluro-diving, which reveals the fluorescing abilities of corals and other marine life.
A Shore with More
Guests don’t have to board a boat to discover some of the best diving and snorkeling in all of Indonesia. Directly in front of the resort is the House Reef, which consistently ranks as one of the world’s top shore dives. Exploring this vast area is as easy as wading in from the beach or entering from the ladder at the end of the resort’s jetty. The outer edge of the reef runs parallel to the shore in a series of steep slopes, walls and undercut ledges. Divers have been known to spend entire days working along small areas of this formation, discovering a wealth of interesting subjects at every turn.
Just inshore of the reef, a seagrass meadow shelters a menagerie of juveniles, invertebrates and sand-dwellers. There is always shore supervision, and to enhance access to the House Reef, the dive staff operates small taxi boats that ferry divers and snorkelers to more-distant areas up current so they can leisurely meander back.
Though it’s called a dive resort, Wakatobi is also a great place for snorkelers. In addition to the shallow formations of the House Reef, dozens more sites feature corals rising close to the surface. Snorkelers are always welcome to join the divers at these sites, and get the same personal attention with snorkel guides while on the boats and in the water. The ability to mix diving and snorkeling groups allows diver/snorkeler couples and families with younger children to better share the experience.
After the Dive
Some guests spend every possible moment of their Wakatobi experience in or under the water. Those who don’t have plenty of additional options. Beach time can include a range of water sports such as kayaking, standup paddleboarding and wakeboarding. Between May and September, light seasonal winds turn Wakatobi into an ideal destination for kite surfing. The resort now has a dedicated kiting center, and can accommodate everyone from beginners to experts. Those who would rather stay dry can indulge in a spa visit or wander the island’s nature trail. Guests can tour a local village or sign up for an Indonesian cooking or culture class. The library and lounge in the Longhouse are always open for reading and games. The resort’s photo pro also presents frequent slide shows and marine-life presentations.
It’s a phrase that has become a bit cliché. But how else would you describe a setting where spa services, fine dining, attentive personal service and million-dollar ocean views mix with charming beachfront bungalows set in a palm grove, and private villas perched on the shoreline? Attentive staff serve each of these oases of personal relaxation, reached by winding sand pathways that encourage you to shed both your shoes and any residual stress. Meals are a highlight for many guests. The resort’s team of internationally-trained chefs showcase their talents with a diverse range of international favorites and Indonesian specialties. They can accommodate a wide range of dietary requirements and special requests as well.
Most of Wakatobi’s staff come from the local community where hospitality is a deeply ingrained cultural trait. Guests are welcomed with the same genuine warmth as if they were invited into a private home. When staff members smile and greet you by name, it’s not a gimmick, but rather a genuine expression of welcome. The staff also takes pride in delivering the details of personal service while respecting everyone’s privacy. This combination is guaranteed to put you at ease and spoil you for a return to the outside world.
The Big Boat Option
In addition to its land-based facilities, Wakatobi Resort operates Pelagian. This 115-foot (35 m) luxury dive yacht conducts one-week liveaboard cruises to more remote areas of the Wakatobi archipelago and the southern coast of Buton Island. Carrying a maximum of 10 guests and offering roomy hotel-like cabins, Pelagian combines five-star service and fine dining with unique access to a range of dive sites. These include seldom-visited reefs, offshore seamounts, and some of the region’s best muck-diving venues. Many guests will combine a stay at the resort with a Pelagian cruise.
Remote Yet Accessible
Wakatobi is located on a small island hundreds of miles from city lights. But getting there is easy, thanks to private direct charter flights from Bali. These arrive at the resort’s own airstrip in just 2.5 hours. To ease the transition, Wakatobi also maintains an airport concierge staff in Bali. Guests also have access to a VIP airport lounge. The concierge team greets arriving passengers and assists with all transfer details. Staff can also arrange hotels, transportation and activities for those wishing to make a Bali layover. Once at the resort, guests can tune out the world but enjoy full connectivity through a combination of Internet, cellular and satellite links.
There are so many reasons that a stay at Wakatobi Resort is truly a world-class experience. But to discover all this idyllic destination offers, you’ll need to experience it for yourself.
By Walt Stearns
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