Reflections on Wakatobi
I have a great admiration for entrepreneurial achievement, especially when it represents a triumph over
logistical and infrastructure challenges. Having traveled extensively in Indonesia and throughout the
Coral Triangle, I have to admit astonishment at what the Wakatobi team has created in their small
The scale of the service evolution is impressive, beginning with the ultra-professional and accommodating
ground staff in Bali - able to handle our every need from the moment of arrival, including assistance
through customs, ground transfers to hotels, and to even the more mundane issues like baggage storage.
Crispin and Wakatobi's crew in Bali are the ultimate in terms of organizational excellence, and that
is just the first hint we have that Team Wakatobi is very special indeed.
Having flown through any number of Third World airports and suffered through the whole
"hijacked-for-overweight" routine, I appreciated the simplicity and efficiency of the Bali to Wakatobi
air transfer. Which is not to say a diver can be capricious about how much excess baggage they bring
along, for clearly there is finite lift capacity and we all have to be responsible travelers. But, so
many remote destinations now impose onerous baggage restrictions and outrageous fees for excess as a
surreptitiously structured profit center. Wakatobi does not do this. They are reasonable, forthright
in communication about their expectations, and scrupulously honest. I assume I probably saved $400
in excess baggage fees during my last trip to Wakatobi, just in lack of excess baggage fees. I wasn't
massively overweight on luggage, but I can imagine a domestic airline elsewhere in Indonesia or PNG
or Australia charging at least a couple hundred bucks each way. To not have that hassle, and probable
expense, was a lovely intangible benefit of the Bali to Wakatobi air arrangement.
Upon arrival the attention to detail remains evident. Between being met at the airport and transported
to the resort by boat, all the while never touching a bag is reassuring. The check-in procedure is
painless, as well it should be as most North American travelers will be pretty groggy by this time.
But, Wakatobi expects this and they make it easy to freshen up, get a snack, get checked into your
bungalow or villa and relax. Food is gratefully all buffet-style, so little time is ever wasted on
waiting for food to be served. That is gratefully appreciated upon arrival, when jet-lag and
fatigue are inevitable, and ever more so when strength returns and we are powering through a busy
dive schedule. Not having to wait for food is wonderfully convenient.
However, "buffet dining" in no way describes or reflects the culinary excellence of Wakatobi's chefs.
The diversity, quality, sheer quantity, and aesthetics of presentation are truly amazing, particularly
when you consider how remote the destination. I've written a lot of destination travel articles about
live-aboards and dive resorts around the world, and I don't think I've ever once made food service a
marquee recommendation. However, at Wakatobi you can't ignore it. It is that far above and beyond
Travel infrastructure, resort architecture and food service are integral, but probably secondary to the
quality of the diving. If the diving were not special none of the rest would really matter to a
passionate diver. This is where Wakatobi has been inspirational. I imagine those first few dives
for Lorenz, back in the day when he was first traveling through these islands, must have been
off-the-chart amazing. It would have had to be for him to embark on a project to assemble a team,
and build the infrastructure (including an airstrip) that now defines Wakatobi. But, two decades
ago many places in the world offered amazing in-water experiences. To have forged relationships with
the local villages and managed a sustainable fishery and ecologically aware dive resort that keeps
these reefs vibrant and alive over all these years is perhaps more impressive.
To the underwater photographer, Watatobi's reefs are wonderfully productive. I know most tend to shoot
fish and macro here, for the creatures are weird and plentiful and photogenic. But, I spent much of
my time shooting wide angle, just because I could. There were the usual suspects along the walls ...
big soft corals and sea fans, clouds of pyramid butterflyfish and likely encounters with something
dramatic to complement the composition, like maybe a cuttlefish or turtle or angelfish or coral grouper.
Rarely do I find reefs with the density of coral coverage these do, especially in the shallows where
acres of staghorn, small boulder corals, and diverse gorgonia decorate the top of the reef slope.
Offgassing was always a pleasure here, for the 7 to 20-foot portions of most of the dive sites were
I read some of the other guest endorsements on these Wakatobi web pages and have to concur with most.
My good friend Berkley White is a savvy tour leader and quite discriminating in the services he expects
for his guests, just as we are with our groups. His words describing the boats and guides resonated
with me as well:
"The dive boats are fantastic. It would have been totally reasonable for you to put twice the amount of
divers on those boats - they're so big. To put only 12 on such huge boats is Incredibly comfortable ...
The staff were all amazing, great spotters, great at correcting issues - certainly taking care that
nothing was going wrong but not in an unpleasant way, they did it really professionally and well ...
the 4:1 ratio is beyond generous, awesome, fantastic. Everybody gets to see everything, I know its
expensive to do and its well appreciated - also how the groups were so well spread out down the reef,
so that very rarely did it feel like there were a dozen divers in the same area - that whole system
was fantastic. I don't think you could do anything to make things more personal."
I had visited Wakatobi the last time perhaps 7 years ago. It was better this time. The food was better,
the staff more accommodating, the transfers more polished and effortless (for us); and incredibly, the
diving was better as well. There are few places that have aged so well, but clearly the Wakatobi
experience is evolutionary. They seem relentless in their pursuit of perfection, but it was all behind
the scenes, hidden from our view. As a tour leader responsible for 2 dozen guests, if anything had
been going wrong, I would have heard about it. Not one person was dissatisfied, and the statement
I heard most often was "beyond our expectations". Well, that and "I can't believe how good the food is".