The wait is over, Indonesia is open to travellers, and Wakatobi Resort is once more welcoming divers and snorkellers. Guests from around the world are already making plans to visit this remote island paradise, the resort staff is now readying everything for their arrival, and the resort's iconic fleet is standing by to ferry divers to world-class sites within Wakatobi's private marine preserve.
But not all divers will be catching the boat. Each day, some choose to stay behind and dive from shore on Wakatobi‘s famous House Reef. Guests have been known to devote entire days into the night to shore-based diving in front of the resort, and many return year after year to repeat the experience. Enthusiasm such as this has earned the House Reef a reputation as ‘The World's Best Shore Dive'.
What exactly makes the Wakatobi House Reef worthy of this accolade? It is a combination of factors that include easy access, habitat health, diversity of ecosystems, an abundance of unique marine life and the sheer size of the site.
The Shallow Water Playground
Between the beach and deep water is an expansive stretch of shallows filled with grass beds, sand flats, colorful stands of soft corals and scattered hard coral formations, all remarkably healthy and quite dense in places. It's something you wouldn't expect so close to a resort. Much more than a swim-over between shore and reef, this area is prime grounds for a cornucopia of marine life that includes frogfish, stonefish, ornate, robust and Halimeda ghost pipefish, moray eels, blue-spotted stingrays, a variety of cephalopods (octopus, squid, cuttlefish), jawfish, shrimp and goby pairs, a plethora of nudibranchs, cuttlefish, eagle rays soaring through at certain times of the year, and more.
The shallow depths of this area of the House Reef allow ample sunlight to flood the seabed, revealing bright colors that would be lost at greater depths. This generous supply of ambient light combines with the abundance of subjects to provide photographers with an ideal underwater studio. The shallows also hold a special appeal for snorkelers, who can enjoy an up-close look at the seabed without venturing far from shore.
Diving on the Edge
Some 70 metres from the beach, the contours of the House Reef make an abrupt transition from shallow water. A stunning wall fans off to the north and south from the end of Wakatobi’s jetty. Here, the reef crest begins just two meters from the surface and plunges to depths of more than 70m. This dramatic topography creates an ultimate opportunity for multi-level diving profiles. This underwater rampart is riddled with overhangs and crevices. A thriving array of sponges, hard and soft corals shelter a diverse population of invertebrates and fish, with the mixture of species changing as depth increases.
Water clarity in the 30-metre-plus range allows ample ambient light to filter down into the depths, adding to the visual drama of the walls and undercut slopes. This diverse landscape provides endless opportunities for critter hunting among the corals and the shadow-cloaked refuges that cleave the slopes. Divers can follow their interests to a chosen depth, then work their way slowly back towards the surface, creating profiles that allow for hour-plus bottom times and end with safety stops among lively coral formations. Green and Hawksbill turtles are commonly seen cruising the edge of the water or taking a snooze beneath the overhangs in the wall.
Near the Jetty
The jetty at Wakatobi extends to the outer edge of the House Reef, providing divers who don't feel like swimming from shore with convenient access to the drop-off. The jetty is also a noteworthy dive in itself. The supporting pilings of the jetty create shelter and shade that hold large schools of fish. Closer looks reveal a wealth of macro subjects. The jetty’s large concrete columns and beams are home to an assortment of shrimps, crabs, and crocodile fish, and the surrounding area is noted for numerous colonies of anemones and their attendant clownfish and damselfish. More than a half dozen species of these photogenic little fish can be found among the tentacles of their host, providing easy opportunities for one of the most iconic of underwater images.
More exotic creatures also lurk beneath and around the jetty including leaf scorpionfish, ghost pipefish, cuttlefish often in pairs and for those with a keen eye Pegasus Seamoth. A swim into the shallows may also yield an encounter with some of the resident banded sea kraits who favour this location to hunt.
Taxis and Drifts
The jetty is merely the center point of the House Reef, which stretches into other named dive sites to the north and south of the resort. This vast expanse of reefs and shallows provides near-limitless opportunities to explore. To help divers reach more distant sections of the reef, Wakatobi maintains a fleet of taxi boats for drop-off up current from the jetty. Depending on which way the water is moving, taxi boats will drop divers well north or south of the resort for an extended drift dive that ends at the jetty stairs. These five- to seven-metre launches are electric-powered for minimal environmental impact and can comfortably carry five divers or snorkellers to a chosen location. Taxis operate from dawn until dusk each day, and guests can reserve a ride or simply ask at the dive center and wait for the next available boat. This makes for a stunning drift along the reef back to the jetty. Check with the dive centre on tide changes.
To make drifts that last 90 minutes more, divers can request high-volume tanks from the dive centre to ensure an ample gas supply. These drifts are also a favourite with rebreather divers, who are able to extend dives into multi-hour excursions. The current record for a rebreather drift dive on the House Reef stands at more than six hours!
The Dark Side of the House
The House Reef is available to Wakatobi guests day and night. For some, sunset is the best time to visit. As light fades, creatures active during the day begin to seek shelter, while others emerge from their lairs to feed in the darkness. Cunning, colour-changing cephalopods such as cuttlefish and squid can take on a range of vivid pink, purple, red and yellow hues, and patterns that can be used for camouflage, communication or even to hypnotize potential prey.
Dive lights reveal eels out and slithering through the corals, turtles napping with heads tucked into overhangs on the wall. Observant divers may find surgeonfish and other members of the day shift nestled deep into the recesses and crevices of the reef. Since fish don’t have eyelids to close, they may not appear to be asleep, but they are in fact enjoying their version of an overnight rest. Some fish do more than just bed down for the night. Parrotfish perform one of the best-known bedtime rituals on the reefs, secreting a jelly-like mucous bubble that envelopes their entire body.
Night dives also present a unique opportunity to witness the phenomenon of marine fluorescence with the resort's Fluo-dive program. Instead of conventional dive lights, fluo-divers and fluo-snorkelers are given special blue lights, along with yellow filters that fit over the dive mask. When the beams of these lights are swept along a reef, certain corals and animals light up in eerie glowing colors, turning the night into a bizarre light show.
Want to add the House Reef to your diving repertoire? Wakatobi is now accepting reservations for the summer of 2022 and beyond. But with time slots filling fast, it's best to contact a Wakatobi representative soon if you are considering a trip. Go. I can assure you, the Wakatobi House reef and the walls and reef systems beyond are well worth the visit. In fact, guests return year after to this magical place, some have repeated their visit more than half a dozen times.