Pulau Wangi-wangi in Wakatobi

Wangi-wangi is one of the four main islands that make up the Wakatobi Archipelago off the coast of Southeast Sulawesi, and is the gateway to the Wakatobi Marine National Park.

The name Wakatobi is derived from the four largest islands of Wangi-Wangi (WA,) Kaledupa (KA,) Tomia (TO,) and Binongko (Bi,) and are part of a larger island chain called Tukang Besi. The islands are nestled in the heart of the fabled Coral Triangle, and boast 942 species of fish and 750 of the world’s 850 known coral reef species. The islands cover an area of 1,400,000 hectares, 90,000 of which are coral reef, making Wakatobi the second largest coral reef in the world, after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

Wangi-wangi, or Wanci as it is often called, is a favourite destination for marine tourism enthusiasts. The Wangi-Wangi waters are a magnificent underwater paradise, rich in stunning coral reefs and an impressive variety of marine life to match. The ocean floor is melded with a range of landscapes: flatplains, gentle slopes, steep walls, and deep caves to make every dive a new adventure. Beautiful Coral Reefs can be found in just a few feet of water, while there are also breath-taking “bottomless” dives well below 90 feet.

Wangi-wangi Island, Wakatobi marine park
Wangi-wangi Island, Wakatobi marine park (Source : pedomanwisata.com)

The Wakatobi islands have been fairly well-known among the global diving community for a while now, but what many don’t know is that life above the surface of the water is equally interesting. The Bajo people, or Sea Gypsies as they have often been called, are a landless tribe, scattered throughout Indonesia, and further off to Malaysia and The Philippines, but records have shown the existence of the Bajo in Sulawesi for centuries.

True to their nick name, this sea faring community is sustained completely and exclusively by the ocean. But not only do they survive solely on marine resources — they actually live in the ocean as well. That’s right. Entire villages are built on stilts and connected by wooden bridges over large expanses of coral reefs and rocks in the middle of the emerald sea.

The Bajo village, Wakatobi
The Bajo village, Wakatobi (Source : loveandroad.com)

The Bajo tribe maintain an intimate knowledge of the maritime coastal ecosystems, as well as the seasons, winds, currents, tides, lunar cycle, stars and navigation. They have developed specialized boat building skills, and through expertly constructed watercrafts, are able to chart some of the world’s most dangerous waters. These mysterious sea people are also distinguished by their exceptional free-diving abilities, and through years of practice have acquired physical adaptations that enable them to see better and dive longer underwater. As profound sailors and gatherers of marine products, the Bajo supply many of Sulawesi’s export products for trade with China.

In the past, the Bajo lived almost completely segregated from the “land-people,” preserving their very distinct way of life for generations. But these once sea-wandering nomads, who have lived for centuries at sea, are now adapting to and interacting more with the land-based ethnic groups and being encouraged to settle on land. Apart from living locations, many other aspects of the Bajo culture have been abandoned, and with more and more Bajo descendants now speaking Bahasa Indonesia, the ancient Bajo language is slowly dying out.

As the Bajo have a tendency to migrate from place to place with the change of tides and seasons, it is not known how many remain, though it is roughly estimated at a few hundred families.

The 2010 film, The Mirror Never Lies, is a collaborative product of WWF-Indonesia, the Wakatobi administration and SET Film Workshop, and gives insight into the lives and culture of the Bajo people and the marine biodiversity surrounding the Wakatobi islands.

ACTIVITIES

Patuno Resort is a luxury hotel, and is Wakatobi’s most accessible Resort, situated just a 10 minute drive from the Matahora Airport in Wangi-Wangi. Patuno Resort offers the choice of the Standard Room, Deluxe Room or Executive Bungalow; each equipped with air-conditioning, hot water, TV, mini bar and a private balcony facing the beach. Hotel facilities include a beachside restaurant, incorporating a range of local and international dishes, beach side cabanas, library, bar, ballroom and meeting rooms. Room rates range from USD 70-215 and are all inclusive of free airport transfers, welcome drink, breakfast buffet for two, and free WiFi in restaurant and lobby areas. The Patuno Resort offers a range of dive trips as well as dive courses with qualified PADI instructors.

Wakatobi Dive Resortis not on Wangi-Wangi island, but on the neighbouring island of Tomia, Wakatobi. It is an award winning, eco dive resort offering four levels of accommodations: Villas, Select Beach Bungalows, Standard Beach Bungalows and Garden Bungalows. All accommodations are spacious and available with a either a king-size bed or twin beds and are equipped with air-conditioning as well as ceiling fans. All rooms have a private balcony as well as two lounge chairs for sun-tanning and reading outdoors, a desk with internet access, and mini-bar. The resort facilities include a restaurant in a relaxed, yet elegant setting, bar, boutique and spa. As there is no public airport on Tomia Island, it also offers chartered flights from Bali direct to the resort’s private airstrip. Many types of dive boats are available at the resort to take you on the type of adventure you desire; locally crafted dive boats, shore diving on the house reef, and taxi boats to take you to the further points along the house reef, which is over three miles long. Full equipment rentals and camera facilities are also at your disposal.

Due to its prime location in the center of the coral triangle, SCUBA diving is obviously one of the main attractions of the Wakatobi islands. As the second largest coral reef in the world, the vast combination of soft and hard formations of pristine reefs is sure to leave you in awe. Just a few of the adjectives put forth by previous Wakatobi visitors describe the marine gardens as colourful, enormous, eye-popping, lush, psychedelic, rainbowed, riotous, and stupendous.

Many divers with years of experience exploring the subsurface terrains of numerous countries across the globe claim Wakatobi as the easily the most diverse and beautiful coral reef in the world. An amazing variety of lively ocean creatures enhance the beauty of the already exquisite underwater landscape, adding colour and life to every inch of coral. The abundance of fish species alone are enough to create an almost endless list from the lovely Picasso Trigger Fish to the lurking Hammerhead Shark. Schools of Manta Rays glide overhead, while lobsters, starfish, sea cucumbers and anemones adorn the ocean floors and walls.

The wangi-wangi island, Wakatobi
The wangi-wangi island, Wakatobi (Source : deeinwords.blogspot.co.id)

With over forty-five available dive spots across the islands, there is more than enough to see and do to keep a dive fanatic occupied for the entire duration of his stay—and more. More dive spots are still being explored, creating the opportunity for guests to visit areas of the ocean never before seen by man. Not a diver? Fear not! There are plenty of waters shallow enough for beginner divers and snorkelers alike to enjoy a glimpse of this fascinating ocean paradise.

Another must-do for marine lovers: Hop on a boat to take you deeper out to sea, and observe dolphins and pilot whales roaming free in their natural environment. Larger whales such as sperm whales and grey whales may also sometimes be seen. A host of other water activities are also available such as banana boat rides, rental jet-skis, and even learning to sail in a traditional dugout canoe. Pay a visit to Mola, one of the stilted Bajo villages on Wangi-Wangi Island. While there, you can take a peek at the traditional seaweed farms and see how these peculiar, yet intriguing sea people have survived for centuries living on and in the water.

GET THERE

Located literally on the fringe of civilization, you can be sure that whoever accompanies you on your escapade to Wangi-wangi will probably be the only tourists you will see on your trip. The newly opened Matahora Airport is located on Wangi-wangi Island, and does make the pilgrimage to Wakatobi a whole lot easier, but it still is quite the journey.

Wangi-wangi airport is served daily from Makassar and Kendari on Express Air and twice a week on Lion Air.

Starting 15 June 2012, Lion Air flies JakartaKendari daily, leaving Jakarta at 02.45 am West Indonesia Time, arriving Kendari at 06.15 am Central Indonesia Time. The flight returns at 07.0 am and arrives back in Jakarta at 08.30 am local time.

Makassar is an international airport with daily flights from Singapore with Garuda Air and from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with Air Asia. Domestic flights to Makassar are available from all major cities in Indonesia including JakartaBaliSurabayaBalikpapanManado and many more. Depending on where you are coming from, it is possible to get a connecting flight on the same day, so as not to have to overnight in Makassar.

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