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Wakatobi Dive Resort, in far S.E. Sulawesi, Indonesia, is one of my all-time favorite dive resorts, proved by the fact that I've already been there seven times and am going back for more. Due to its remote location, Wakatobi's reefs are truly pristine and well populated with reef fishes. While there are many excellent boat diving sites from which to choose, central to the Wakatobi experience is the excellent shore diving to be enjoyed right in front of the dive resort. Wakatobi has come to known as the best beach dive in the world. Wakatobi Dive Resort itself continues to increase in quality and service, while the scuba diving that surrounds it remains excellent.
Indonesia's marine life and unique location places it at the epicenter of our planet's marine biodiversity. Indonesia's waters are home to everything from great whale sharks to the world's tiniest seahorses. Because Indonesia's water temperatures are typically a bit cooler than other regions, the effects of global warming have not yet taken their toll here. Indonesia's coral reefs are still rich and vibrant, and the Lembeh Strait area has some of the most amazing marine creatures you will ever see. But don't take my word for it, see and go diving in Indonesia for yourself.
Murex Dive Resort was one of the very first operations to plumb the depths and beauties of Bunaken Marine Park, and it continues to offer a comfortable, efficient, and cost-effective means of diving Bunaken and Bangka. The rooms are small but well air-conditioned, each with private bathrooms. Lush gardens are full of flowering plants and butterflies, and a large coconut plantation next door makes for resort privacy and lots of interesting bird life. A serene oceanside breakfast area has recently been added to supplement the original open-air dining room. The boat ride from Murex Resort to the Bunaken dive sites will take one hour or a bit more in the simple local-style boats. A speedboat is used for day trips to access the superb diving around Bangka Island.
Though it is often used as a transit point towards some of the world's best scuba dive sites, it's a lesser-known fact that the coral reefs around Bali also have some excellent scuba diving to offer. So if you've had enough of the beaches, temples, shopping, and nightlife, there are definitely some interesting diving options to be explored. Closest to Bali are the offshore islands of Nusa Penida and Lembongan, which may easily be dived on a day boat trip out of Denpasar. Indonesia Water temperature and currents can be unpredictable, but you will find a broad range of marine life, and if you are lucky maybe even a huge Mola Mola (ocean sunfish). A two-hour drive up Bali's east coast will bring you to one of my favorite spots, Tulamben, where you have the choice of a good little reef dive with plenty of macro life displayed against black volcanic sand, or a wreck dive, the Liberty, covered in soft corals and schooling fishes. Best of all, both of these sites are reached via an easy shore dive right in front of your convenient Tulamben lodging.
Komodo National Park in Indonesia is visited by live-aboard dive cruises. A hike to view the Komodo Dragons is part of the experience, but the long cruise between Bali and Komodo visits some truly extraordinary dive sites along the way. Komodo is becoming an increasingly popular scuba dive destination and a variety of live-aboards are competing for your business. Two vessels I can recommend are the Kararu, and Peter Hughes' Komodo Dancer. Due to the distances involved, I suggest you plan at least a 10-day cruise. The one-week trips just don't give you enough time in the best scuba diving areas.
Wherever you choose to go scuba diving in Indonesia, be quite sure to bring a properly-fitting wetsuit complete with hood or hooded vest. Indonesia water temperatures can be quite changeable, even during the same dive, ranging from the low to mid 70's to the low 80 degrees Fahrenheit. You're going to love the scuba diving in Indonesia and will want to be ready for plenty of bottom time. Best plan is to bring a 3-5 mm wetsuit with some additional neoprene accessories, such as hood and gloves, that can be added or subtracted as needed.
Built in 2003, Lembeh Resort is an attractive new property just across Lembeh channel from Kungkungan Bay Resort. Remarkable for its thoughtful design and the way it has been so cleverly and seemingly naturally integrated into the cove and hillside of its setting, Lembeh Resort's lush gardens, careful landscaping, and waterfront vistas make for a truly spectacular little scuba resort. Built with stone and exotic local woods, the spacious guest rooms have good beds, efficient European-style air-conditioning systems, large semi open-air Balinese-style bathrooms, and a wide oceanview balcony. Public spaces include the pleasing two-story dining room, infinity swimming pool, dive shop, dockside gear storage hut, and a large, well-lighted camera preparation area with individual cubicles each equipped with charging facilities. A definite asset is the fact that Lembeh Resort's diving services are handled by Murex Divers. Their capable boatmen and highly experienced divemasters, coupled with efficient western-minded management, guarantee you as good a scuba diving experience as is to be had in North Sulawesi. If there is any downside to this property, it is that the hillside setting requires a bit of walking up and down stone pathways between the rooms, public spaces and scuba dive areas. I quickly got used to it, but someone with difficulty walking might prefer a different option.
Straddling the Equator and stretching across 3,500 miles of Pacific Ocean from East to West, Indonesia is a country of more than 17,000 islands. Many of these islands are so remote that they support little or no human habitation. As a result, Indonesia is home to many of the world's absolutely finest scuba diving locales, with new sites still to be discovered. It is my belief, that of many other well-travelled experts, that Indonesia currently offers much of our planet's very best scuba diving opportunities.
Diving Lembeh Strait is the Holy Grail for underwater photographers and critter loving divers. In Lembeh Strait, you will encounter all manner of frogfish including Hairball's famous hairy frogfish, an amazing filamentous triggerfish, myriad nudibranchs, beautiful soft coral crabs, porcelain crabs, zeno crabs, orangutan crabs, hairy squat lobster, the "devil fish" inimicus, seahorses, pygmy seahorses, ribbon eels, snake eels, pipefish, crocodile fish, mantis shrimp, many species of anemone shrimp, cat shark, stonefish, stargazer, scorpion fish, leaf scorpion, and many other leaf fish. There are some "common" reef fishes here too, like lionfish and clownfish, but around Lembeh Strait, they are uncharacteristically ignored in the search for yet more fantastic creatures. Exotic critters such as the robust ghost pipefish and ornate ghost pipefish are so commonly mentioned in the dive briefings as to be reduced to acronyms, RGP and OGP. Still being scientifically researched in Lembeh is the recently described mimic octopus, and it's even more exotic relative currently known as "wonderpus."
Even considering the exceptional quality of the scuba diving around Komodo, it's definitely worth the experience to go ashore at the headquarters of Komodo National Park, as I did recently. Avoiding the heat we started just after dawn, and were rewarded with being the first group of tourists to arrive. A Park Ranger armed with a stout forked stick leading the way, we began a walk along one of the promising paths on the lookout for megapode birds, flying lizards, and of course Komodo Dragons. Within minutes we had spotted our first dragon, which rather than try to eat us, shuffled off into the heavy underbrush to avoid our attentions. After two hours of hiking, we found that the biggest dragons of the day were lolling around the Park Headquarters, with one ten-footer apparently content to live under the elevated cafeteria and gift shop. The more fearsome of the predators turned out to be the young salesmen back at the dock hawking dragon carvings, strings of local pearls, masks and such. You get a really cool souvenir from the source, while the locals gain a means of supporting themselves. So buy something!