Where in the World is Wakatobi?

By Ken Knezick

As the millennium approaches, our world is clearly getting smaller. Airlines struggle for market share, Net surfers search for bargains and frequent flyers rack up millions of mileage points, while we divers continue our quest for the next great diving destination. In light of all these globetrotting consumers, it's heartening to know that there are still parts of the world that remain unsullied by humankind. It was this primal desire for the unexplored that led me to Wakatobi in southeastern Sulawesi, Indonesia. Hidden in the midst of a remote island archipelago known as Tukang Besi, reaching Wakatobi from the U.S. involved a substantial journey, with stopovers in Singapore and Bali. Transiting through the smaller Indonesian cities of Ujung Pandang and Kendari, my trip culminated in a 14-hour,overnight ferry transit, since Wakatobi had no airport at the time.

Wakatobi may be far flung, but that's what makes the trip worthwhile. If you've got five-star expectations, you'll be disappointed, but to me it is the island paradise of my dreams. I took off my shoes to step ashore and never gave them another thought the rest of the trip.

Once a diver at Wakatobi has demonstrated his ability, he will enjoy virtually total diving freedom, 24 hours per day. During my eleven-night stay, I logged 46 dives. One gung-ho dive buddy made 57. On the boat dives, resort owner Lorenz Maeder apologetically asked that we limit our bottom time to 75 minutes. For dives on the house reef, though, there's no time constraint except the buddy teams' desire to stay wet and have fun within the no-decompression limits.

Winding patterns of lettuce coral produce a dramatic seascape.The most striking feature of Wakatobi's diving is the immense diversity and pristine condition of the reefs. There are massive coral colonies swarming with reef fishes and a delightful density of rainbow-colored soft corals. Reefs start in three feet of water or less, and the best diving is wonderfully shallow. With easy access to the excellent house reef, the night and dawn diving are superb. In my estimation, Wakatobi now offers the finest shore diving in the world. Offshore, the divemasters of Wakatobi have thus far identified more than 40 dive sites within a 20-minute boat ride or less. Exploration is still underway, enabling guests to experience sites rarely, if ever, dived. Best of all, these reefs will remain pristine since the entire region is now a protected National Marine Park.

At the time of this writing, less than 300 divers have visited Wakatobi. You and your dive buddies can still be among the first to explore its treasures. And how often can you truly say you were the first one to set eyes on a part of our blue world?