WALEABAHI, SULAWESI, INDONESIA
Remote diving off Indonesia’s ‘starfish island’
Season: Year-round diving
Visibility: 20-45 metres/70-150ft
Water Temperature: 27-30°C/81-86°F
Set in the middle of the Indonesian archipelago, and astride the equator, the starfish-shaped island of Sulawesi hosts an extremely rich marine environment and some of the world’s very best diving. At first, most diving interest in Sulawesi was concentrated around the city of Manado and at the Lembeh Strait in the far northeast, but more recently some fantastic dive locations have been found in more remote, little-visited waters around this large island, where you can still dive with every likelihood that the only people exploring the reefs with you will be your fellow guests at the resort or on your liveaboard.
Waleabahi is the easternmost of the Togian Islands, which are situated in the Gulf of Tomini, a huge area of water lying between the wavy northern arm of Sulawesi and the eastern arm which points out towards the Molucca Sea. Protected by the high mountains of the mainland, the sheltered waters of this remote area afford year-round diving on some amazing seamounts and reefs. There is much variety in the diving and one can select reef and seamount diving for huge numbers of small and medium-sized fish and ‘macro critters’ or cruise along the walls in more high current locations, such as off the southern tip of the island, where larger pelagic are to be found.
Walea Protected Area (whose creation by the government of Central Sulawesi was inspired by the creators of Walea Dive Resort) is the only marine park/protected area in Indonesia that offers more than 200 square kms of untouched waters. A maximum of 35 divers per day are allowed into the park. The protected area was established in 2003 and consequently the area was saved from the scourge of bombs and poison for fishing, which unfortunately occurs over most of Asia.
Dive sites at Walea can be divided in to two distinct areas, with the majority of sites being the more sheltered areas which have low current, excellent visibility (up to 40m/130ft or more) and good populations of small and medium-sized fish. Hard corals are in profusion, but there are some soft corals adding structure and colour to the underwater scene. Dives in this area are characterised by pretty anemones and their always-appealing clownfish ‘friends’. Damselfish and anthias abound, making technicolour patterns as they sweep through the water. Dives you may try in this area include Sahida and Talawega. Talawega is an impressive wall, not sheer but steep, starting at only 2-3 metres and dropping away to around 40 metres or so. Search the coral heads for colourful nudibranchs and some pretty little crabs. The current is usually mild, making for a pleasant first dive of the day. Sahida is usually done as a second dive as it is ‘on the way back’ from Talawega. This dive site is also a mini wall and many anemones and clownfish can be found. This dive is well worth making due to the diversity and richness of the coral and sponge populations alone. It seems that a goby or two will always be keeping and eye on you from a rock close by. Pretty shrimps and crinoids make fascinating subjects for photographers.
The House Reef is one of the highlights of Walea and is available to dive every day. The water is very clear, with the structure of the reef being a steep slope rather than a wall. The long pier which stretches out to the reef edge from the resort extends across 100m/330ft or more of shallow water with a coral base, so it’s possible to watch fish or even an octopus change its shape and colour without even getting wet! Fascinating for non-divers as well as divers! Near the pier is a large school of Big-eye Jacks which swirl around at about 6-10 metres. They look as if they are taking squadron formation and receiving information orders from elsewhere. It is quite possible to sneak up on them and get right inside the swirl, an amazing experience. Other residents of ‘pier land’ include sweetlips and the bizarre yet handsome Crocodilefish. Vermiculated Angelfish, usually in pairs, are always so lovely to watch as they cruise lazily around the reef.
Once you have enjoyed the house reef in full daylight, you should make a trip as dusk falls. There are some Mandarinfish which can be quite obliging, if you can time the dive correctly, though ‘crinoid-walking time’ which is truly fascinating. At this time these apparently sessile ‘plants’ start to extend their legs and commence their evening walk, appearing more like aliens than aliens! During night dives the reef comes alive with an entirely different set of creatures, including crabs, lobsters, shrimps, starfish, cardinalfish and even the spectacular Spanish Dancer.
But it is at Gegolan where those seeking fish galore will be happiest! This long coral ridge, a series of seamounts, lies to the south of the southernmost point of Waleabahi. The dive is usually commenced on the southeast side and then continues northwards. Here you should find some big schools of species such as surgeonfish, triggerfish, Rainbow Runners, snappers and groupers. Dogtooth Tuna and lots of Bumphead Parrotfish also enjoy hanging out here. Towards the end of the dive it would be usual to fin round a corner to get back to the boat. At this point you should see Grey Reef Sharks, more Bumphead Parrotfish, jacks, lots of unicornfish and a Napolean Wrasse who enjoys ignoring divers! Spotted Eagle Rays are also to be found here, flapping slowly along like some large marine birds.
Stays can be for 7, 9, 12 or 14 nights. Prices given below relate to a 7 nights stay.
PRICE: from about $1828 for 7 nights. Includes: Return flights from Jakarta to Luwuk (via Ujung Pandang); transfers to/from Luwuk airport by road to Pagimana harbour; transfer by speed boat between Pagimana and Walea; 7 nights full board accommodation (breakfast, lunch and dinner) on a twin/share basis in a Sea View double cottage at Walea Dive Resort; 6 days of diving (2 boat dives daily with dive guide and a guided house reef dive daily). A Walea Marine Park fee of €35 (subject to change) is payable locally. Reduction for non-divers.
Single Occupancy Supplement: from about $608 for 7 nights.