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Sorry for the delay everyone, between work, developing pics, editing video..blah...blah..blah... Let's just suffice to say I'm S-L-O-W. SO!! Finally we were ready to leave the comfort and beauty of Candidasa and the East coast of Bali. We were off to the airport, and another 2 hour fun ride through Denpasar traffic. Upon arrival at the airport, Crispin, Stijn, and crew took excellent care of us. They guided us from curbside all the way onto the plane. The VIP lounge was a nice perk, although there was no working wifi there, or AC really. Luckily our flight to Wakatobi was on the Jet (they have a jet, and twin turbo prop that make the routine trip, and I'll bet you can guess which one is faster). It was a fine flight, nothing bad, nothing great. I've read some bad reviews about this flight in the past and honestly, for a small domestic flight, it was about what you'd expect. I think an interjection is called for at this time... So far on our trip, the weather was just spectacular. We had absolutely zero rain our first 10 days in Indo, and the flight was sunny and clear until..... about 5 mins from landing...LOL. All off the sudden, it was cloudy and wet. It was off and on rain for the next 10 days. Now... we travel a lot in the tropics, and I've lived in the tropics, so I understand the change of weather. In my planning though, I thought I had missed the rainy season (and supposedly I had, it just was late ending). Of course you roll with it and still have a great time, but if you had a choice between sunny and dry, or no sun and wet...what would you choose? Regardless of the weather, we had a BLAST!!
Upon landing we pulled up to the one small building at the airstrip where all the shuttles waited. Also waiting there were a group of local dancers. As it turns out, one guy on the plane was a son of a local politician and that's who the warm welcome was meant for. Fortunately...we thought it was for us...LOL (until leaving on the flight out when we found out the story). After the brief dance ceremony the shuttles whisked us down to the dock, about a 5 min ride and a walk down a Looooong stairway down (was already thinking about climbing back up it in 10 days). It was low tide when we arrived so we taxied out in small skiffs to the resorts dive boat. After that we dropped a few folks off at the Pelagian, ,the resorts Liveaboard. Then it was finally on to the resort, 10 mins and we were there. On the boat we met Shelly, she was our guide to get settled into our bungalow. Shelly set the tone for the staff at WDR (Wakatobi Dive Resort). Her warmth and genuine friendliness shined through. Another short taxi ride from the dive boat to the beach and we were taken to our Garden Bungalow. Initially I wasn't thrilled with the location of our bungalow. The Beach Bungalow in front of us was under renovation, so the view from our porch was of an orange plastic tarp covering the building in front. Also, our bungalow was about as far from the long house as you can get, all the way at the end of the resort. By the second day, I was fine with the location. The walk wasn't too far, and I realized, we'd be spending little (if any) time on our porch looking at the tarp.
SO! Shelly checked us in, answering all our stoopid newbie questions, and went on her way. After a quick shower and partial unpack we were off to the jetty bar to catch the sunset. Before that, we met with our dive guide for the trip, Acho. He explained the ins and outs of the dive boards, times, etc. As we walked out to the bar the Bar staff greeted us.....by name. Now, I've read enough TR's to realize this would happen, but it still had that impressive "WOW" factor. Loree had no clue, and was just shocked, and left scratching her head trying to figure out how they knew so quickly. Anyway's, we had a wonderful sunset and a couple relaxing cocktails. It was actually the best sunset of the trip. Most evenings were either overcast or rain. Here are some topside pics
One of the things I really looked forward to doing in Wakatobi, was some stellar photography. Being from SoCal, we rarely get too see a brilliant star field. We were there at the beginning of the new moon, so everything should have been perfect! The first night I was able to take some OK shots, but I wasn't overly concerned, knowing I had 9 nights left. Unfortunately, there was only 1 more night that the stars (Milky Way) were actually visible because of cloud cover. And that night after about an hour, the clouds moved in. I'll tell you this though, for any other city slickers out there, when it was clear it was absolutely...well....stellar!!!
The next morning we were up rip rearing to go! FINALLY!! after almost 2 years of planning, we hit the water. The boats, which you were assigned to the same one for the 5 day block, were spacious and nice. The boat crews, like all the staff at WDR were just great. Let me back up a bit and explain the way your gear is handled. The first night when we did our dive paperwork with Acho, he showed us our covered cabana numbered station. We brought all our gear there, hanging our wetsuits on our numbered hangars and filling our bins with the rest of our gear. As far as my cameras, I was taking a leap of faith (in my book at least) and just brought them down to the AC'd large camera room. There was enough room per station to fit all my gear. Which consisted of a DSLR rig, a HD Video rig, assorted ports and chargers. There my gear stayed for the remainder of the stay. Not once did I have any issues, or anything lost. It made life SOOO much easier not having to lug cams back to the room every day. At the start of the dive day, I'd set them up for the days shooting, walk outside the cam room, dip them in the rinse tank, and hand them to the waiting staff members. They would carefully take them to the boat. By day 2, I figured that the best way to do it was just load bot rigs on the boat that morning, then take them off at the end of the dive day. Before each dive, at the briefing, and sometimes the day before, me and Acho would talk about what too shoot at each dive site. The sites posted on our boats schedule were known too us at the start off the 5 day block for the whole trip. Luckily, because we were there for 10 days ( 2 five day blocks) we were able to get Acho for both blocks. We did change boats though for the 2nd block. Acho was just phenomenal, he helped us in every way imaginable. For example, I would classify myself as a decent UW photographer, but he really taught me quite a bit. He defiantly went well beyond what any diveguide I've ever had did. He would not only show me where a critter was, he'd direct me around on approach to get the right angle for the best shot. Some of the angles I knew, but some I didn't. He would review shots with me after the dive on the boat and we would plan for the next dive...trying to find the same critter again and shooting it a bit differently. Bottom line is, he really was involved and made it extra exciting for me. As for my better half, she's always concerned about lugging gear. Like I mentioned, we're 50 ish, and Loree is very petite. Well, the gear of course was in our spot on the boat every day with out fail. The tanks were set up, weights and all. Basically, we walked on the boat in the morning with just our lil sunglass dry bag, we put on our wetsuits, they put our tanks on us, and we went off the side. For Loree, they helped her off the bench, lifted the tank weight off her, and walked her to the entry point. On our second boat I saw a lady actually go sit on the entry point ledge. They brought her rig over and put it on her, and she just rolled forward. This was "Valet" diving at it's finest!!! Me, I don't mind doing things for myself, but I'll tell you, after 30 dives like that, I was spoiled...LOL.
I was also concerned a bit about current. I read in some ones recent report that they had some serious current issues at WDR. Loree is not a super strong swimmer, hell, I'm not that strong anymore, so we we were a bit concerned about having to swim into big currents for dives. Well, during our stay the currents were very mild for the most part. Maybe 2 dives they were a concern, and we basically treated them like drift dives. About halfway through the trip someone mentioned that Loree would have better current success by ditching her splitfins and using blades. SO! After that dive when we headed in, we rented her some blades. For the next 2 days, Acho would get in the water at the start of the dive and tell Loree "Yellow" (for blades), or "Purple" (for splitfins) depending on current. By the last day. Loree made up her mind that overall her splitfins were the better all around choice. Because all the dive sites are within 15 mins or less (with a few exceptions) of the resort, we typically came back to the resort after every dive for our SI. Which was cool, but honestly, we would have been fine sitting out on the boat. They were comfy and roomy.
SO!! Back to our first dive! It was everything we had hoped for. After that much build up and anticipation, it was as advertised. The Corals health and density were like nothing we've experienced before. We've been to the Similans and other Thailand areas, all over the Caribbean and now Bali. Nothing.... was like this. Just about every dive site from 30 feet up was like diving in the most intense aquarium you could imagine. So much variety in corals, sponges, fans, reef fish etc.... Surprisingly to, there were so many critters in that range also, such as leaf scorpion fish, frog fish, nudis, eels, and many more. While we had heard alot about the lack of Pelagics here, which was for the most part true, there were some schooling jacks and schooling barracudas, turtles on a lot of the dives, and some of the most beautiful reef fish you could imagine. Too put things in perspective.... The first time I dove Cozumel, by the 5th day I was, not bored, but not quite as excited as I was the day before. Here, I never felt that way. On day 10 I was not done by a long shot! By far this was the best diving I've ever done, the Similan Islands would be 2nd in my book. We talked too many folks who had done both Raja Ampat and now WDR, they unanimously said Raja was better. BUT... alot of those same folks said Lembeh was better too. Now... I KNOW lembeh would not be better for us, we are NOT muck divers. Loree has absolutely no desire for it, as a matter of fact she skipped the Seraya Secret dive in Tulemben. I did it, and while there were lots of fun critters, I really didn't care for the seascape and the "Muck" I get what draws others too it, but it's just not our thing. So with that being said, when comparing places it's hard, because you have to think about what YOU like and take it into consideration. What we liked about Wakatobi was the corals and seascapes, the reef fish, and the critters. Mostly though...the seascapes. Like I mentioned, every dive was like being in an aquarium, so many colors, so alive, just breathtaking.
The water temp was perfect, I was never cold in the water. We were diving full 3mils and were fine. Now, on the boat, when coming back up into driving sideways rain at times, it got a bit chilly. We'd come up, get our hot tea or coco and wrap our towels around us. This was true the most on our second night dive. In hindsight, we could have skipped that dive and been just fine...LOL. The dive site was one of my least favs (we had dove it in the day earlier in the week). After the dive we came up to wind and heavy rain. Like I mentioned, this isn't our first tropical rodeo, so it's not that big of a deal...but... if I had the choice I'd take the sun and clear skies any day of the week As far as my critter bucket list, I got to see it all, with the exception of a good close up of a pygmy seahorse. Now, Acho showed us a couple, but for me on those dives I had the wrong camera or set up each of those times, so I really didn't see them that well. If I would have had one of my macro lenses on I probably would have been astounded, or if I would have borrowed Loree's magnifying glass. This was my choice though, not Acho's fault. I saw my first cuttlefish, which was awesome, he just kinda hung there posing for me to take pics...LOL. Changing colors and textures, just beautiful. We saw lot's of Orangutan crabs, mantis shrimp, ghost pipe fish...gah! the list goes on forever for lil critters we saw.
Here were the dive Sites we dove...our Favorites in Bold...
Fan 38 West
The Zoo (twice...first time not so great, the second...spectacular!)
Teluk Maya (twice)
Fan 38 East
Table Coral City
What we didn't do, was dive the house reef. Because of current concerns and actually just laziness...LOL. To dive it we would have had to get our gear out of the boats, climb up with gear on our backs after the dive (which would be tough for Loree's back) Plus, others who were diving it, all had current issues. From Wakatobi Express 5-10 min dives, to struggling to get out of the current and back onto the shelf at the resort. Taking it all into consideration, we just never pushed the issue. Now, If we would have stayed longer, we probably would have at some point. We did hear that it was a beautiful dive. But then again, to us, the majority of our dives were gorgeous So we didn't really feel like we were missing out. I did, one afternoon before the afternoon dive, snorkel around with my camera doing some over and under shots. I went out under the Jetty Bar, in the sea grass fields near the beach, etc.. It was pretty, but I'm surprised now that I didn't swim another 15 feet out from the jetty bar and look over the edge of the wall. Guess it wasn't that much on my mind???
I guess I should touch on some of the other resort characteristics. The Food.... Now, we are NOT buffet peeps. That being said, this was Buffet, but plated buffet, meaning there were individual plated portions of apps and desserts. The presentation, and freshness of the food was very good. We are both food snobs, I cooked for 18 years, and Loree is an avid home cook/baker, so our pallets are are a bit tough to impress. For breakfast they did eggs to order, French toast, pancakes, hot and cold cereals. Also fresh asst. juices. Lots of pastries, yogurts, etc. For lunch and dinners they had different apps, salad fixings (just not much green salad stuff. I guess the lettuce just goes bad too fast and is not worth the valuable cargo space on the plane) Which does make sense. Remember, they have to ship pretty much all the foodstuffs in on YOUR flight, that's only one flight every 5 days. At lunch and dinner they offered a couple hot entree items as well as a cook to order item such as pasta. There were a few times that the hot entree's weren't up our alley, so we would ask..."Hey, do you guys have any of that bowtie pasta left from lunch?" The response..."Sure! what kind of sauce would you like, tomato? Pesto?" 5 mins later you'd have your plate of pasta, or whatever special item you asked for. They went out of there way to make sure you had whatever you wanted. The level of personalized service was just phenomenal, across the board. I find it a bit funny that in my research, I heard many folks say that WDR was sooo expensive compared to like..Raja. But in my research, when looking at Raja LOB's, they were about the same price as WDR. At least in the same ballpark. Also, WDR is basically a LOB....just with a beach and bigger room
The thing that really endeared WDR to us, and made our trip so special was the people working there. So genuinely helpful and interested in your contentment and happiness while there. I have never, in my travels, been treated so well at a resort. When we left, while saying goodbye, Loree actually had tears in her eyes. That's sums up the impression they made on us. From Gui, the manager, on down to the gardeners..... everyone was spectacular. Most notably, the restaurant staff (who also worked out at the Jetty Bar at night). By day 2 they knew what beverage you wanted, any special order items you might want, and of course the whole time addressing you by name. Like lifelong friends. It was just a wonderful atmosphere that WDR has created and a style and excellence of service that is difficult to find. At the end of each 5 day block, after dinner, they put together a short presentation of pics that guests had submitted. It was a great touch and nice way to end on a high note with your fellow divers. They also had daily workshops, tours, and other fun activities all included in the cost of the stay. I'd like to than Acho, for making our diving experience unforgettable. For Gui, Ben, Shelly, and all the other DG's who helped with little issues so willingly and earnestly. Also, we met some fantastic guests and made some new friends along the way, way too many to try to list here.
If you've read this far... you are a trooper for sure!!! LOL. I am NOT a writer/story teller, thats a fact. I thought it was necessary though to give back a bit. I always use TR's to research new trips, with out them it would be much harder for sure. I just hope, maybe my TR will help someone else in their research. If there is an aspect about my report or something I left out that you have specific questions about, please don't hesitate to ask. I will be editing the Wakatobi videos in the near future, and will post them on another thread if this one is buried. There is just SO much of it to go through and edit. Thanks for letting me share
Yeah Gee, a tripod is a must. I really love doing these shots, but because of living in SoCal, haven't had many opportunities. The first time, back in rural Pennsylvania I took a few just doing 30 second exposures while ISO was set too 3200. The problem with these shots were the noise from the high ISO.
This time I wanted to try to reduce the noise, at Wakatobi, by reducing the ISO and doing longer exposures. Utilizing the "Bulb" setting, which allows you to make the exposure time as long as you want. I used a remote control on this setting, opening and closing the shutter with the remote. I did as high as 5 min exposures. The problem I found is the stars traveled quite a bit in any exposure more than a minute or so. Which left me with small dashes instead of nice pin point stars. Like I mentioned, I'm a total noob with this type of photography, but I really want to do it more and try to figure it out. Something else I did on the Wakatobi shots was light painting with my flashlight on the palm trees to add a well lit effect. That was a lot of fun too play with