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Wakatobi National Park
Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrWakatobi National Park is Indonesia’s third-largest marine park, located to the south-east of Sulawesi. It is named for the region’s four main islands - Wangi-Wangi, Kaledupa, Tomia, and Binongko, and covers a total area of 1.4 million hectares which are home to an incredible diversity of marine species. Wakatobi has become a diving mecca as the second-largest barrier reef in the world and with stunning, tropical coral reefs to explore. The national park is home to around 90,000 people, many of whom are indigenous Sama-Bajau people , who rely heavily on the park’s marine resources for their survival.
Protection StatusThe area first came under protection in 1996 when the Wakatobi Marine Conservation Area was designated, later expanding into the Wakatobi National Park in 2002. It has been included in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves in 2012 and is managed by the Wakatobi National Park Authority.
Fauna and FloraWakatobi is known for large areas of relatively untouched reefs, many of which can be accessed by directly walking from the beach, as well as the world’s highest number of reef and fish species. It is located within the Asia-Pacific Coral Triangle , known for its biological diversity and paradisaical islands. It boasts around 750 species of coral within its atolls, barrier reefs and fringing reefs, together with a staggering 1,000 fish species. Larger marine species such as Hawksbill, Loggerhead, and Olive Ridley turtles also inhabit the park, as well as dolphins and whales.
In addition to the coral reefs, there are extensive areas of mangrove forest which are integral in the ecosystem’s functioning, together with areas of both mountain rainforest and lowland swamp forest. The islands offer an important habitat for a number of seabirds, including kingfishers and the Brown Booby which can often be spotted.
Visiting Wakatobi National ParkDue to its remote location off the coast of Sulawesi, Wakatobi is not a particularly easy destination to get to, but the rewards are pristine islands and dive sites to explore with hardly any crowds. With excellent visibility and generally light currents, the diving is suited to all experience levels and is possible year-round. Most of the resorts and hotels are catered to divers, offering all-inclusive stay and dive packages, and boats head out daily to the almost 50 surrounding dive sites. There is equipment available for rent and some resorts can facilitate technical diving for those who are highly experienced. For beginners there are introductory dives known as ‘fun’ dives available, as well as more in-depth certification courses.
If you don’t want to don a tank, then the snorkeling is also fantastic and many resorts have nearby reefs which you can access independently from the shore. For serious divers there are also dive ‘liveaboard' boats which ply the waters of Wakatobi and access some of the more remote dive sites. These boats are all-inclusive, with multiple daily dives, accommodation and food.
For non-divers or snorkelers activities are more limited, but with water around 82 °F and plenty of white sand to lounge around on it is hard not to have a relaxing tropical getaway in Watatobi. Most resorts offer other water-based activities, such as tubing, banana boats, and jet skis, as well as boat trips to spot dolphins and pilot whales. It’s also possible to learn how to sail a traditional dug out canoe using a hand-made sail. Either approach a friendly local on the beach or ask your resort to organize it for you.
Away from the water, cultural village tours are a great way to learn about the Bajau people and their lifestyle. Normally organized over a half day, these trips may include visiting a stilt village overhanging the water, watching seaweed being harvested and women weaving, or exploring one of the local markets. It is best to go with a guide who will not only translate but facilitate acceptance and permission for photographs.
Many of the dive resorts in Wakatobi cater to the luxury end of the market with all inclusive rates of around $ 200 USD , however there are budget options for both divers and non-divers which are around half that. If you want to dive then it is best to go with one of the dive resorts where two dives are included in the daily rate, but it is also possible to find accommodation independently or participate in a home stay if you are on a tight budget or want to get a better insight into local life.
Getting ThereGetting to Wakatobi is the difficult part. Unless you are willing to fork out for a private charter, organised either independently or through one of the resorts, you will need to take a domestic flight from Makassar to Matahora, and then a speed boat or wooden ferry from there to your destination island. Be aware that scheduled flights and boats are highly susceptible to change in Indonesia so be prepared to overnight somewhere unexpected!
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Author: Pip Strickland. Last updated: Apr 05, 2015