Coral kaleidoscope: A typical reef scene in Wakatobi
Tucked into a remote corner of southeast Sulawesi, Wakatobi is the ultimate convergence of lavish living with fantastic diving on pristine reefs. The five-star treatment begins on arrival in Bali, the departure point for the private plane that takes guests to and from the resort. After checking in my mountain of dive and camera equipment—including my new souped-up Panasonic GH-5 system—I was shown to a private lounge away from the usual chaos of Ngurah Rai airport.
After a brief two-hour flight over beautiful topography, you arrive at Wakatobi—which feels very much like your own private island. During check-in, everything is taken care of with great attention to detail. Your only obligation during the stay is to divide your time between all the great diving, a spa treatment (or two), and chowing down on all the spectacular food.
Traveling to a place like Wakatobi is as much of an escape physically as it is mentally from the chaos of everyday life. Concerns melt away. The only real concern I had during my stay was flying home with a little extra “baggage” after one too many visits to the desert table.
Wakatobi Resort’s comfortable accommodations, superb cuisine and excellent diving will make your stay here never long enough
Diving in Paradise
You’ll see a lot of things in the waters of Wakatobi, but the one thing you won’t see are mobs of other divers. This, combined with a ban on destructive fishing practices for the last two decades, makes for corals in rare form. There are a number of stunning reefs all within reach of the dive resort—and on some sites, it seems every piece of rock or substrate is covered in soft or hard corals. You’d be hard pressed to find a locale with such a variety of small-to-medium reef fish en masse.
Fortunately, my visit also coincided with a couple of other regular visitors to the resort, who frequently publish articles about the region. Wade Hughes and better half Robyn and their friends Wayne Osborn and his wife Pamela are official Wakatobi royalty. Perhaps only the local dive guides have spent more time exploring the sites.
They have teamed up to log as many fish species as possible and are consistently photographing never-before-seen subjects. I managed to join the group for a few days of diving and was impressed by their dedication to getting the picture-perfect portrait shot.
Wakatobi’s pristine waters are ideal for perfecting your portraits of reef fish, like this flasher wrasse
A sweetlips shows off its namesake feature
Protecting Reefs with Tourism
What really makes a trip to Wakatobi special is that you feel a sense of responsibility to the marine environment and local community engrained in the resort’s culture. This dates back to Wakatobi’s early days, when founder Lorenz Mäder and his team realized that the success of the business would be largely determined by the ability to maintain the health of the reefs.
A turtle fly-by on a coral-covered wall
Their primary method is simple, but it is also staggeringly effective. Wakatobi commits a percentage of the income from ecotourism to pay local communities and villages not to fish within a certain zone. The resort also offers alternative employment in a country where making a decent living can be a challenge. In 2002, the region officially became recognized as Wakatobi National Park and now encompasses more than 5,400 square miles of protected waters.
At a time when our impact on the environment has never been under more scrutiny, it is amazing to see a dive operator continually improving the local marine environment—rather than simply exploiting it. The Wakatobi business model is one that other companies around the world should strive to emulate if they truly care about the environment—and ultimately the future of the scuba diving industry.
A circular fisheye lens captures the unspoiled beauty of a coral reef
Capturing Wakatobi on Film
So how does an underwater videographer translate this heritage and marine biodiversity into film? Having spent the last couple of years filming mainly sharks and other large marine life, it actually took me a few days to adjust to primarily shooting reef scenes as you are often at the mercy of Mother Nature to get optimal results. Water clarity and sunlight are two critical elements of a good wide-angle video clip. Luckily, Wakatobi offers up some of the best opportunities to film wide-angle underwater video bursting with color and life.
The completed film gives the viewer just a taste of the fantastic experience that awaits visitors to Wakatobi
The abundance of reef fish also provides amazing portrait image opportunities. Although, this is probably more suited to still photography, as keeping fast-moving fish in the frame and in focus is a task that will drive even the most experienced videographer crazy. There is also a great deal of macro life to be found on most dive sites. Best to leave finding rare critters—frogfish, octopuses, shrimp, and nudis—up to the expert guides. Unlike muck diving, the rich reefs of Wakatobi give these subjects too many places to hide.
By combining a variety of underwater landscapes with aerial footage from around the resort, I hope the final film represents exactly what Wakatobi Dive Resort is all about—spectacular coral reefs teeming with fish life in one of the most beautiful and biodiverse areas on the planet.
Sometimes even the residents look shocked at how amazing the reefs are at Wakatobi!
Planning Your Trip to Wakatobi
How To Get There: Hop on the private plane to Wakatobi Dive Resort from the domestic terminal at Bali’s international airport; flights depart every 5–7 days.
When To Go: You can visit Wakatobi any time of year, with temperatures ranging between 78–86°F (26–30°C). Wakatobi is one of the driest regions in Indonesia, with sunshine virtually every day and humidity levels around 65–75 percent.
Diving: Water temperatures don’t fall below around 78°F (26°C), while visibility averages about 100 feet.
Entry Requirements: Nationals of most countries need a tourist visa, purchased on arrival at a cost of US$35 (30 days). Keep aside local currency for the international departure tax of 150,000 rupiah (approximately US$15).
Connectivity: Mobile phone service is available on the island. The resort’s main reception area has free WiFi, while the rooms also have LAN connections.
Health: No vaccinations are required for visiting Wakatobi. Bali has the nearest recompression chamber.
Aerial imagery is a powerful way to give the viewer a feeling for a travel destination
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