WAKATOBI – Close to Home

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Discovering the underwater attractions that lie just off Wakatobi’s beach.

by Steve Miller, Pro Photographer and Wakatobi Guest Experience Consultant

It’s morning, and the dive boats of Wakatobi are just about to head out for the first trip of the day. I’m still on shore at the dive center, halfway through a leak check on my camera housing. But there’s no rush because today, I won’t be catching a boat. The housing passes the leak test, and as soon as I lift it from the freshwater tank, one of the dive center staff appears and immediately takes it from my arms. Smiling, he asks “will you be needing a taxi boat drop off today?” Looking out to where the turquoise waters of the shallows transition to a deep blue, I reply “no, I think we’ll just swim along the jetty to the wall.”

Meander along the wall on the House Reef and you're like to have an encounter with a green or hawksbill turtle. Photo by Steve Miller

And this is how most dives start at my favorite Wakatobi dive site: the House Reef. As I wade in and prepare to swim out to the drop-off, I briefly flash on some of the other amazing sites I could have chosen to visit today.

The shallow beginnings of the House Reef will keep divers and snorkelers engaged for days. Photo by Walt Stearns

I might be dazzled by the colors of Teluk Maya, the “Beautiful Bay,” where a ring of wispy coral spires rise from a white-sand bottom, and the water is so clear it that sunbeams penetrate the depths or soaring above the dramatic knife-edged seamounts of Blade. There’s Roma, with its vast stands of hard corals, some shaped like giant rose blossoms 20 feet across. Or Zoo, where thick schools of fish swarm a slope that reaches to within 10 feet of the surface.

The shallow beginnings of the House Reef will keep divers and snorkelers engaged for days. Photo by Walt Stearns

Yes, there’s certainly no shortage of amazing dive sites within the waters of Wakatobi’s marine preserve. And so, it’s small wonder that the House Reef is often overlooked by first-time visitors to the resort. There’s so much else to see, and after a daily dose of three boat dives, each lasting an hour or more, the idea of an additional shore dive may not seem exciting. This changes, however, after divers make that first dive on the House Reef. You can see the epiphany in their eyes as they exit the water, and hear it in their voices when they start to recount their adventures. “Do you know what’s out there? Everything!” And before they’ve even dried off, they are providing an enthusiastic recital of everything they discovered.

Linger around the jetty and you’ll encounter large anemones with a host of clowns, false clowns, dominos, and porcelain crabs hiding inside their tentacles, and more. Photo by Walt Stearns

A shallow start

One feature that makes Wakatobi’s House Reef so memorable is the shallow beginning. Moments after wading in and submerging into chest-deep water, you are gifted with a preview of things to come. Depending on the tide, you can be hovering over anemones and pristine stands of hard and soft corals in just five to ten feet of water, bathed in natural light. In these shallow environs, the warm colors missed at depth really pop. The reds, oranges and yellow are all here in vibrant abundance.

My typical House Reef dive starts with a short swim along the jetty. Closer to shore, visibility can sometimes be about half what it will be once you reach the wall, but the waves are barely ripples. Going toward the drop-off, I often swim right by the sandy area around the jetty, despite seeing everything from lionfish and stonefish, octopus and cuttlefish to tiny pipefish and nudibranchs along the way. Other common sightings that reward those who choose to linger around the jetty include large anemones with their host of clowns, false clowns, dominos, and porcelain crabs hiding inside their tentacles. If you avoid these distractions, an easy three-minute swim brings you to the “cut,” where the jetty ends and the wall begins.

A few yards of finning from the jetty and you arrive at the drop off whe you'll get in close to a plethora of marine life without errant fin contact. Photo by Steve Miller

Drop off like none other

A quick peek under the jetty, and a few more yards of finning and you arrive at the drop-off. It is one of the most beautiful walls I have ever seen, rising from unseen depths to culminate in a reef top within five feet of the surface. Every square inch of this precipice is covered in life, and many sections are fully vertical, allowing you to get in close without worrying about errant fin contact.

Further along the House Reef at Turkey Beach schools of bronze snappers can be spotted along the precipice. Photo by Walt Stearns

Now, it’s decision time. You could go left, right, or neither. It’s possible to enjoy an entire dive without moving more than ten yards from this spot. Hang near the reef top to discover several species of large anemones that perch on the edge, or you can dive deeper to discover a rich array of subjects hiding among the many crevices and overhangs below. The variety of nudibranchs, crabs, shrimp, and fish that are all within any given area of this reef are too numerous to list.

Night dives on the House Reef reveal yet another aspect of the diverse and rich environment found within steps of your bungalow. Photo by Wakatobi Dive Resort

The freedom of the house

As a photographer, I especially like the freedom that diving the House Reef allows. Even in small groups of four divers that is the standard ratio on the Wakatobi dive boats, it would be rude to linger too long at any given photo opportunity, so we often take a few shots, and move on. On the House Reef, there are no such limitations to your schedule. Choose one of the dive center’s large tanks, and with nearly 100 cubic feet of air at your disposal, you can stretch dive times to upwards of two hours without going into decompression.

Recently, guests Rhonda Neben and Mike DePuydt reported seeing eleven turtles as they drifted along the House Reef from the north back to the jetty.

Rather than the usual “swim-and-shoot” dive plan, this freedom provides photographers with ample time to experiment and create that perfect image, the one worthy of the pages of a magazine. Conditions are perfect: bright sun and lots of it, 100 feet of visibility, and a pristine coral community to document. It’s like having your own underwater photo studio… which also happens to be one of the finest dive sites in the world.

The House Reef is a diver’s nirvana. Take a taxi boat up current for easy access to more distant portions of the reef, or just step off the beach or jetty; it doesn’t get easier than that. Photo by Didi Lotze

The Wakatobi House Reef offers many opportunities for discovery. With a  drop up current divers can gain easy access to more distant portions of the reef for an easy dive along the wall back to the jetty. Recently, guests Rhonda Neben and Mike DePuydt reported seeing eleven turtles as they drifted along the House Reef from the north back to the jetty. Night dives reveal yet another aspect of the undersea environment and provide a perfect ending to a day of diving. However you choose to explore this site, one thing is certain, you will keep coming back, just as I do each time I visit the amazing destination that is Wakatobi.

It’s time to immerse yourself in nature at its finest and most pristine. Experience all that Wakatobi has to offer–contact us at [email protected] or complete a quick trip inquiryat wakatobi.com.

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January 18, 2019 |

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