Indonesia October 2012 – Getting to Wakatobi

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 3:14 pm

We’ve just returned from our best dive trip yet – 5 nights at Wakatobi Resort, followed by an additional 10 nights in Bali. Both were amazing destinations, and I find myself already imagining our next trip there!

Wakatobi is someplace I’ve dreamed of going for years. One of my dive buddies returned from a trip there raving about its incredible reefs, and it sounded like that tropical paradise every diver dreams of: palm trees, delicious food, and amazing diving at your doorstep. When asked about other locations, divers who’ve been to Wakatobi will often nod and agree that Wherever is lovely, but of course “it’s no Wakatobi.”

Wakatobi’s signature palm tree

The only downside? It’s not cheap. I mean, picture it: a top-notch operation in the MIDDLE OF NOWHERE. Everything has to be shipped in by plane, then van, then boat. Of course it’s expensive!

So I’d pretty much resigned myself to never going – unless, by some miracle, one of us won a trip there. Which seemed unlikely, but a girl can dream, right?

All of that backstory is so you’ll appreciate just how much my mind was blown when I placed first in the video category of last year’s NCUPS competition – and saw Wakatobi on the list of potential prizes!

Jeff and I thought it over. Was it worth putting it down as my first choice? I mean, OF COURSE we wanted to go – but his trip would be expensive, and getting there would be expensive, and was it really worth it? And surely people with more standing than me would be putting down Wakatobi as their first choice, anyway, so it was a long shot….

Obviously, we decided to go for it! So I owe this whole amazing trip to the folks at Wakatobi Resort (and their US sales rep Paula Butler), for generously sponsoring photo and video competitions.

The first hurdle: getting there!

We flew China Airlines LAX-Taipei-Bali. The first leg was the most miserable: a 14-hour flight that left at 1am. Even though it was on a massive 747, it was the least comfortable plane of our trip, with narrow seats and armrests that only went up 45 degrees.

The red circles indicate Bali and Wakatobi

I will give China Air this, though: they have the most efficient boarding process I’ve ever seen! Three zones (back of the plane, middle of the plane, front of the plane); everyone got in line in turn, made it to their spots, stuffed their bags overhead and sat their butts down with hardly any of the usual American-style goofing around. The whole process took ten minutes. I thought it must just be a fluke, but we saw this repeated on every China Air flight – why can’t US passengers be so efficient?

After a layover in Taipei and another five-hour flight (on a MUCH more comfortable plane), we touched down in Denpasar, Bali. There was a Wakatobi-hired airport porter to greet us and whisk us through immigration and baggage claim, and a Wakatobi rep waiting outside to help find the driver from our hotel. After the long flights, it was a huge relief to be babied through the process like that! In Bali it was mid-afternoon; I was already sweating up a storm and muzzy-headed from lack of sleep.

We stayed that night at Puri Bambu, located in Jimboran Bay. The hotel was quiet and peaceful, with lovely rooms and a pool bar that we made a beeline for.

The next morning saw us back at the Denpasar airport – this time at the Domestic Terminal for our flight to Wakatobi. Once again we were met by Wakatobi representatives, who escorted us and our significant amount of luggage through check-in and into a private airport lounge. Air conditioning! Breakfast! Lovely!

At 9am, 20 or so guests piled onto the plane that Wakatobi charters.

Yup – we were back on a plane. Luckily this flight was only 2.5 hours, which felt like the tiniest of hops after the previous day!

Knowing that Wakatobi Resort had built the landing strip, I had imagined that it butted right up against the resort. Not quite! We were ushered from the airplane into a small fleet of cars which set off through the small town on the island. After a short drive, we unloaded the cars – and boarded a boat for a 45-minute trip to the actual resort.

Finally, 45 hours after leaving our home in Pasadena, we finally pulled up to the jetty at Wakatobi!

While the staff unloaded luggage, one of the dive guides showed us around the dive center and led us to our bungalow, conveniently located between the dive center and the restaurant.

Bungalow 13, watched over by one of the resident pest-control experts

We stayed in a ‘garden bungalow,’ which means it’s not directly on the beach (but certainly not far).  It was impeccably clean, spacious, and entirely charming.  This would be a top-rated hotel anywhere, but the fact that they pull it off on a tiny island in the middle of nowhere just makes everything a little extra impressive!

We didn’t take much time to rest, though – first order of business was unpacking our dive gear and jumping in for Wakatobi’s required checkout dive.

Why is there a required checkout dive?  The reef at Wakatobi is absolutely stunning, and they work hard to keep it that way. One way they take care of their environment is by ensuring that visiting divers take their buoyancy control very seriously – no touching the reef!   The checkout dive gives the divemasters a chance to evaluate us, and provide feedback to less comfortable divers.

To be honest, our checkout dive was not so great – the current was running at the house reef, visibility was down, and various other minor issues – but we could still tell that the house reef was amazing!  So as soon as we got out we started prepping our gear for a dusk/night dive at the same location, but just the two of us.

And THAT was more like it – we spent the first 15 minutes in no more than four feet of water, enchanted by a colony of pipefish in the shallows by the jetty.  We ventured a little deeper for a while, where the colors of the reef were on full display – beautiful soft corals, color-changing cuttlefish, flatworms.  Ultimately we were drawn back up into the sandy flats, where everyone was out hunting.  My favorite part of the dive was when an olive sea snake came back down from a breath of air and threaded his way right through a loop in the bendy-arms holding my video lights.

Watch this with the sound on to hear me squeal (twice):

Thanks to the early sunsets in the tropics, we still made it to dinner at a reasonable hour – where we were blown away once more, this time by the quality of food.  I’d heard that Wakatobi had excellent food, but I didn’t realize that meant more than just “excellent food for a dive resort.”  Their food is excellent, full stop!  It’s served buffet-style so you can pick and choose, but is in no way “buffet food.”  We relaxed with some of the local brew (Bintang) and watched the geckos on the ceiling (or, once, on Jeff’s head), before turning in for our first night on Wakatobi.

More Wakatobi coming in the next post…

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