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Diving on the Pelagian at Wakatobi

SE Sulawesi, Indonesia

"Between the clouds and the sea, lies a very special place - a diving paradise in the world's epicenter of biodiversity - known as the Wakatobi Dive Resort."

For many years, we had heard about the dive destination of Wakatobi in Indonesia, as one of those once-in-a-lifetime destinations for diving. Things finally came together and we were able to make plans for a trip that included some time in Bali, and then diving on the Pelagian live aboard and the Wakatobi Dive Resort, both run by the same company.

Located in SE Sulawesi, about 700 miles ENE of Bali, it no longer takes four days by small boat to get there from Bali, but now it is just a 2.5 hour flight by charter plane. Wakatobi gets its name from the first two letters of local islands- WAngi-wangi, KAledupa, TOmea, and BInongko. They have made both the resort and the liveaboard - the Pelagian, top notch operations of luxury and service. The Wakatobi staff will take care of your trip from your first contact - from meeting you at the airport, assisting you with places to stay and guides in Bali (if you choose to visit there), to getting you through customs on your way home.

We decided to dive for a week on the Pelagian, and stay for a week at the land based resort. We were advised by friends that had stayed there previously, to take their Concierge Service. It was worth every penny. Following 34 hours of travel from Florida, we landed in Bali after midnight, and were met by Stijn from Wakatobi and Suka, our guide for the 5 days in Bali. Stijn got us through Customs and Immigration quickly, handed us a cell phone preprogrammed to call internationally, and some Rupiah to get us through until we can get to an ATM. Suka drove us everywhere we needed to go during our stay. Five days later, when it came time to go to the Resort, they arranged for a driver to get us to the airport for the charter plane.

We had arranged, through the Wakatobi staff, for a guide for four full days of personal tours. They assisted us with suggestions on places to stay, away from the hustle and bustle.

After meeting the other guests in the airport's VIP lounge, we took the 2.5 hour charter flight to Wakatobi. Flying east over volcanoes and open ocean reefs, we sighted the Pelagian at anchor, and landed on Tomea Island. We proceeded via SUV to the village, then hiking to the dock, where a Wakatobi day dive boat picked us up and transported us to the Wakatobi Dive Resort located on a small island to the south. After a delicious lunch, we were ferried to the Pelagian anchored a few miles out.

At 115', the Pelagian takes only 10 divers, and is really a boutique luxury yacht, built for long distance open ocean travel. We have never been on a live aboard with such spacious cabins, the service is top notch, with 2 crew per guest. (We had only 6 divers on this trip - it was like our own yacht). The gourmet galley and chef serves incredible food, and we loved the Indonesian cuisine and spices. The camera room was a massive air conditioned room. The crew would fold your wet suits and ready them for you before each dive. They would even hang them after your dive. The boat has two tenders and drivers, so there will never be more than 5 on a tender even if the boat is full. They provide a divemaster for up to three people. The divemasters were knowledgeable, and enthusiastic, finding things we could barely see with our eyes. We had only 3 divers and the DM, plus the driver on our tender.

The Pelagian takes you to dive sites not visited by the resort. In addition to the walls and reefs, they motor west to Buton Island for muck diving, looking for tiny bizarre creatures. Most of the reefs are out in the open ocean, sometimes with no land in sight. The reefs and walls begin in 30-60 feet of water. We did not have the best weather, rainy, windy, cloudy most of the week, but it didn't matter when we were hovering over the sandy bottom or gliding along magnificent walls scanning for the camouflaged minute shrimp, dwarf cuttlefish, pipefish, worms, ribbon eels, pygmy seahorses and Mandarin fish.

One of our neatest dives was spent in search of the Denise Pygmy Seahorse, one of the smallest in the world. They are about the size of a grain of rice and the divemasters know their habitats. Even knowing that, we would spend many minutes looking for the tiny critters. Even with the divemasters using a pointer to show them to us, we would barely be able to see the pygmy seahorses with the naked eye. We used magnifying lens a lot on these trips. The seahorses were very good at not just their camouflage, but in turning their heads from the camera every time! Photographing them was an extreme challenge, and a 60mm lens is not good enough.

Another exciting night dive was the search for the Mandarin Fish in amongst the rubble, urchins and fishing line. Boy, did we see Mandarin fish mating! Because they only come out at dusk, and spend 30 minutes swimming up together in an explosion of eggs and gametes, we had a very short window to photograph them. Unlike in the Solomon Islands, where the Mandarin Fish were very shy of light, these fish in Sulawesi could have cared less about the lights and strobes, so we came away with a lot more keepers.

The reefs were covered in soft corals, hard corals, sponges, tunicates, sea fans, and schools of fish. Turtles, blue spotted and eagle rays were often seen, but no sharks or mantas. This is an area of the pygmy. We had a standing joke that, when we saw a good sized spotted puffer over 2 feet long, we called them pygmy Whale Sharks. The Whale Shark does visit this area, but not in May/June, the time of year we were there.

We dove four dives a day, and every dive was at least 70 minutes long, and some as long as 90 minutes. They provided optional 100 cubic foot tanks. There was no time to do much else than dive, eat, (and oh, did we eat!) and then collapse into bed. The week went far too quickly, and we headed back to the Wakatobi Dive Resort, where the second week of our diving adventure continued.

Go to Wakatobi.com for more information on the Pelagian.

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