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3rd Aug 2009 - 15th Aug 2009
Wonderful Wakatobi!

GPS: S05.19.83 E123.31.84**
Duration of stay: 3-6 August

Despite catching a flu virus/sinus infection the day before we left, we had a fantastic 2 day trip! Our average boat speed was around 8.5 - 9.5, the sea was a bit lumpy but not too bad really.

As Monday dawned we could see land and quite a few fishing boats. There were 3 other yachts already anchored off a village – anchoring was pretty tricky as we needed to drop the anchor in a sandy patch amongst the coral. There was a sheer drop-off so we had to make sure the anchor was well dug in otherwise we’d drift off! Reflections arrived a couple of hours after us. The other boats that were there were Kleiner Bear, WMD, and Murungaru - who’d ventured into the lagoon around the corner… then radioed us all to say we should join them, and that we were invited to dinner at the Regent’s house that evening! So off we all went – at great speed as the tide was falling and we needed as much water under the keel as possible to get into the lagoon. The other 3 made it no problem, Reflections hit bottom – and we draw a foot more than they do, so we didn’t even bother! We both then anchored in 25+ meters on the reef outside the lagoon – again it was a sheer drop-off and fell back into 60+ meters! We’d catch the high tide the following morning…

All I can say is that we were treated like royalty! We were greeted at the Vista Restaurant (not as gorgeous as it sounds, but very pleasant indeed) by some members of “the committee” who gave us Wakatobi “goodie bags”; the 13 of us were then whisked off in black SUV’s to the Regent’s mansion (there were loads of uniformed guys at the gates and around the premises with walkie-talkie’s!). The Regent, whose name is Hugua, greeted us like we were long lost friends! There were loads of other people there (mainly men), who were later introduced to us as Chief of Police, and Head of Naval whatever, and the list went on and on… amazing! Then the camera’s starting flashing and video camera’s recording…

Hugua then apologised profusely for not being more organised for our arrival, and felt mortified that they could not do more for us! We then apologised for gate crashing his island as we really should only have arrived on 26 August, not the 3rd! Anyway, we could not apologise enough – and neither could he!

He then treated us to presentation on the surrounding islands like Hoga, which is also home to the Wallacea Institute (in a nutshell: marine researchers). Wakatobi (WAngi, KAledupa, TOmea, BInongki) has not really every been “on the map” in terms of tourism, but there is a big drive to promote this gorgeous part of the world.

Wakatobi is part of the Sulu-Sulawesi Eco-Region. A “triangle” which scientists have found to be a very nutrient rich area, able to sustain more species of coral and animal life than anywhere else in the world. Covering an area of around 900 000 km2, the eco-region is physically subdivided into the Sulu Sea, the Sulawesi Sea and the inland seas of the Philippines. It features productive ecosystems such as coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangrove forests. The seas are a crucial spawning ground for commercially important fish species like the yellow fin, skipjack and big eye tuna, as well as shrimp. It’s marine biodiversity includes more than 400 species of corals, 650 species of reef fish, including unusual fish such as the coelacanth, 5 of the world’s 7 species of marine turtles, endangered marine mammals such as the dugong, whales and many dolphins including the rare pink Indo-Pacific humpback. There are also over 400 species of algae and 16 species of seagrass.

Jacques Cousteau had also passed very complimentary remarks about this area some years back.

We were then ushered through to his very swish dining room (complete with solid furniture that weighed a ton, and fancy gold and crystal chandeliers!) – where an unbelievable selection of seafood was laid out for us to feast on including lobster, crab, baked fish, spicy fish, sea urchin (!!), and chicken. The sea urchin meat was surprisingly tasty, but psychologically I just could not bring myself to eat a whole one in its shell! I didn’t want to eat anything messy as the cameras never stopped flashing!!

After dinner we were ushered to the front of the house, where chairs lined either side of the entrance/front door. Musicians and dancers then performed for us. Hugua apologised again – and since Nigel on Murungaru arrived first, he was appointed as our Ambassador – and he too gave brief speech of sincere gratitude.

We were then each given a woven cotton scarf… very touching indeed. We could not thank Hugua enough, as well as everyone involved for the most unbelievable and very unexpected reception ever. A memory that is going to stay with us forever!

We felt rather smug as we knew we’d never have received this personal a reception had we arrived with 120 other people!

4-6 August
We had a walk around town and were greeted (women included) as “hello mister!” or on the odd occasion “hello tooris!”… wherever we have been everyone has always had smiles on their faces – or they were simply waving, or taking photos of us on their mobile phones (!) or wanting their photos taken – particularly mothers and babies, and not forgetting that the kids just get such a kick out of it! If you say “photo” they just about kill each other in the rush to get in the frame! Then when you show them the picture they scream and laugh! It’s priceless. If only I had a portable printer and an endless supply of paper.

The town was ramshackle, but everyone seemed to have a motorbike and a cell phone and of course a smile. There were many little stores about, some in people’s front yards with them fast asleep next to it. The night market was interesting and there were whole dried fish on sticks on offer (amongst other things of course!), but we decided to head back to the Vista Restaurant for chicken satay kebabs and a bowl of rice instead. Did not want the runs just yet….

It was a battle finding cool clothes to wear ashore as it was unbearably hot and humid. The problem was that since women needed to cover up – not showing shoulders, chest and knees really restricted my wardrobe – but Juliet gave me some material and I whipped up a long skirt – which turned out to be an absolute godsend! In the more touristy places you can get away with sleeveless and knee length skirts, but I really tried to maintain that level of respect most of the time.

The committee organised to pick us all up in the Regent’s black SUV’s and take us on an island tour – it was supposed to be at 3pm, but ended up being closer to 4pm which meant that we were now being rushed along… not that there was loads to see, but we really would have liked to spend more time at the stilt village. Here all the houses and walkways are literally built on stilts, the people were also a lot more reserved than in “town”. We were also taken to see the ruins of a fort – then a long drive overland to see the extension of the airstrip – the last stop was at Hugua’s new resort-in-progress where we were to enjoy the sunset (this is what we were rushing for). It was an interesting couple of hours.

After a lot of explaining and almost giving up, I finally managed to get someone in “the committee” to compile a photo disc from our evening at the Regent’s house (as we did not take our camera with!)… what lovely memories!

6 August - saw us head 20nm south to the semi-submerged KAPOTTA ATOLL (GPS: S05.31.55, wouldn’t want to be there in a blow, but good holding). Still, after having visited countless atolls in the past, it still amazes me how small they look on the paper chart – and quite the opposite when you are physically there!

We wanted some peace and quiet – and that’s what we got!! After having visited so many atolls in the past, this one was rather disappointing as the water appeared to have a greenish tinge to it. We took David (Reflections) snorkelling with us the following morning and were pleasantly surprised with the clarity of the water, the great variety of corals, as well as the larger fish lurking around in the much deeper waters. And no sharks for a change!

HOGA, 28nm
GPS: S05.28.55 E123.45.40**
Duration of stay: 7-13 August 2009

We motored to Hoga after our snorkel, and as the area is a “no anchoring zone” we managed to tie up alongside a big wooden dive boat, who were to leave at 5am and would be gone for 3 days. We met Gertrude, a Dutch lady who has been living in Hoga for the past 17 years. It’s always great to meet an English speaking local! It was Juliet’s birthday on the 10th, and it also happened to be Gertrude’s – how weird is that!

Up and about before 5am – the souls next door showed no signs of life until just before 6am!! I could have cursed, but we should have known better! Anyway, at least we had this huge mooring and Reflections could raft up safely alongside us…. We then had another boat rafted alongside us on the other side for 1 night. 3 Days later the dive boat was back and came alongside… then Kalypso and Tantrum II rafter up alongside it!! There were 5 of us rafted up together!! Because we did not know just how fantastic the mooring was, we just prayed that the wind did not pick up otherwise we’d all drift off together!

The snorkelling was amazing – we started out at the channel marker and worked our way along the inside of the island (we drifted with the dinghy as there was a fair bit of current)… never before had we seen such a huge variety of coral! It was quite overwhelming as there was such a high concentration of things to see, that you felt you were missing out if you went by too quickly! There were a lot of venomous cone shells about in the shallows, but not much of any other variety. Ken did find one small tiger cowrie, we tossed it back hoping that no one would find it and that it would grow to a ripe old age (can be hopeful can’t I?). There were also a few fish that we’d not seen before, as well as some very pretty hard corals.

We also went across to the stilt village – which is actually a genuine sea gypsy village. Similar to the stilt village in Wangi Wangi, except these people are not allowed to live on the mainland, and are very much dependant on the tides. When it’s low they’re on the reefs in search of anything that moves, or they’re collecting rocks for more walls in the village. There are no pre-fab tourist attractions here, just the locals going about their business and breaking into wide toothy grins when people from distant lands show an interest in their lives. Traditional manufacturing includes sarong weaving and dugout boat building. Most people looked pretty healthy and hygiene didn’t seem to be too much of an issue – whatever orifice it comes out of it ends up in the sea, including all the garbage of course! What a tough life

We loved our time in Hoga and between celebrating birthdays, drinks on the beach at 5pm, exploring other beaches, and snorkelling on pinnacles and reefs etc, we’d found a little slice of paradise.

GPS: S05.53.05 E123.47.82**
Duration of stay: 13-15 August 2009

After quite a brisk sail on a very flat sea we cautiously approached what we figured was the channel into the atoll… our navigation program C-Maps, as well as the Garmin 5012 chartplotter could not be trusted – but we were so used to “eyeballing” it in dodgy waters that it didn’t matter much anyway! Fishing huts on stilts were perched either side of the channel entrance… what an existence!!

By 13:30 we were anchored in the biggest atoll in the world!

Roughly an hour later we were approached by 3 local fishermen who wanted a refill of water (and I cursed for having just thrown away 2 1l plastic bottles, they could’ve had one each!!) – anyway, they then wanted fags (which we don’t carry), then they wanted food (which we refused to give them as they certainly didn’t look starved)… and what is it with all this “give, give, give”?! – how about trading something for food? They had all the gear in their dugout for catching lobsters, including tiny nooses – that snag those tiny little lobsters we’ve seen in our snorkelling sessions. Not worth the effort those tiny ones – they should let them grow a bit more. Anyway, they were then taken with our Garmin chartplotter and seemed mesmerised by the GPS and actually being able to see the position of our yacht on the screen. Suffice to say the Garmin slept inside that night!!

I must admit I was not too enthused about the snorkelling session the following morning – so much so that I was going to leave the camera behind! We swung by Reflections and David hopped in the dinghy and we headed off towards the reef along channel entrance. Oh my goodness – once we were in the water I became very enthusiastic!! Although the water was a bit murky, the variety again was very interesting… particularly up in the shallows – where it was almost like little “towns” scattered about: there’d be a biggish hunk of say brain coral for example, and then a host of other small corals living on it – as well as a small variety of fish… then about 10m away there was a similar setup. Absolutely fantastic! I was thrilled I took the camera too as I spotted a gorgeous lionfish, I just love them, they are just so graceful and elegant – like undersea ballet dancers.

Although we were in the water for 2 hours, I could’ve snorkelled for another 2… but we had to get back – I also wanted to prepare a meal for the following day as we were leaving in the morning. We had Juliet and David round for a BBQ that evening and didn’t drink as much as the night before!!

And so our 12 day session in the Wakatobi Islands drew to a close. It was a very special place as a whole, and again we were relieved that we were able to enjoy the area with only a handful of boats about. We feel honoured to have enjoyed a relatively undiscovered chunk of Indonesian underwater paradise!

** GPS position to be used as guide only – this area is strictly eye-ball navigation!!

Next: Sea World Resort
Previous: Banda - The Spice Islands

Diary Photos
4th Aug 2009  Banda - museum - photo of bloodshed in 1621
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4th Aug 2009  Wangi Wangi - early morning

4th Aug 2009  Wangi Wangi - early foggy morning
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4th Aug 2009  Wangi Wangi - early morning traffic
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4th Aug 2009  Wangi Wangi - being treated like royalty

4th Aug 2009  Wangi Wangi - our special dinner

4th Aug 2009  Wangi Wangi - very swish dining room

4th Aug 2009  Wangi Wangi - really enjoying our dinner!

4th Aug 2009  Wangi Wangi - receiving our sashes

4th Aug 2009  Wangi Wangi - receiving our sashes

4th Aug 2009  Wangi Wangi - nice evening with musicians and dancers and of course the Regent!

4th Aug 2009  Wangi Wangi... town

4th Aug 2009  Wangi Wangi - local kiddies
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4th Aug 2009  Wangi Wangi night market

5th Aug 2009  Wangi Wangi strange little goat jumping on this grave

5th Aug 2009  Wangi Wangi - very old Mosque apparently

5th Aug 2009  Wangi Wangi - kids at stilt village

5th Aug 2009  Wangi Wangi - stilt village

5th Aug 2009  Wangi Wangi - the Regent's new resort

5th Aug 2009  Wangi Wangi - the Regent's new resort

5th Aug 2009  Wangi Wangi - local lady collecting seaweed
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6th Aug 2009  Wangi Wangi - Vista Restaurant

6th Aug 2009  Wangi Wangi - Vista Restaurant
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6th Aug 2009  Wangi Wangi... Vista Restaurant complete with their own fish pond

7th Aug 2009  Kapotta Atoll - underwater
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7th Aug 2009  Wakatobi - Kapotta Atoll

7th Aug 2009  Wakatobi...Kapotta Atoll

7th Aug 2009  Hoga - rafter up next to dive boat

8th Aug 2009  Hoga - quite a big sea snake (very venemous)

8th Aug 2009  Hoga - very pretty starfish

8th Aug 2009  Hoga - gorgeous!!

8th Aug 2009  Hoga - underwater

8th Aug 2009  Hoga - looks like a Christmas connection

8th Aug 2009  Hoga - another starfish

8th Aug 2009  Hoga - more underwater

8th Aug 2009  Hoga - just gorgeous

8th Aug 2009  Hoga - coral we'd not seen before

8th Aug 2009  Hoga - gorgeous coral

8th Aug 2009  Hoga - pretty clownfish

8th Aug 2009  Hoga - more nice coral

8th Aug 2009  Hoga - very friendly spadefish that followed me around!

8th Aug 2009  Hoga - more underwater

8th Aug 2009  Hoga - just gorgeous isn't it!

8th Aug 2009  Hoga - more pretty anenome fish

8th Aug 2009  Hoga - Juliet's birthday

8th Aug 2009  Hoga - donut with candle! Different.

9th Aug 2009  Hoga - cute little girls dying to have their pic taken

9th Aug 2009  Hoga - gorgeous beach this was

9th Aug 2009  Hoga - fishing village

10th Aug 2009  Hoga - could be a deadly box jellyfish?

10th Aug 2009  Hoga - some beach on the island

10th Aug 2009  Hoga - cafe where we had Juliet's birthday and a few sunset drinks

10th Aug 2009  Hoga - more underwater!

10th Aug 2009  Hoga - and yet more underwater

10th Aug 2009  Hoga... there were zillions of these fish everywhere

10th Aug 2009  Hoga - needlefish

10th Aug 2009  Hoga - and more fish

11th Aug 2009  Hoga - pufferfish

11th Aug 2009  Hoga - teeny tiny lionfish, was just bigger than a tennisball

11th Aug 2009  Hoga - coral

11th Aug 2009  Hoga - unusual purple soft coral

11th Aug 2009  Hoga - more underwater

11th Aug 2009  Hoga - big hermit crab

11th Aug 2009  Hoga - nudibranche

14th Aug 2009  Kaledupe Reef - beautiful giant clam

14th Aug 2009  Kaledupe Reef - nice lionfish

14th Aug 2009  Kaledupe Reef - more Lionfish!

14th Aug 2009  Kaledupe Reef - nice fan coral

14th Aug 2009  No Title

14th Aug 2009  Kaledupe Reef... more underwater

14th Aug 2009  Kaledupe Reef.... more coral

14th Aug 2009  Kaledupe Reef - interesting

14th Aug 2009  Kaledupe Reef - more underwater

14th Aug 2009  Kaledupe Reef.....

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