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Published December 18, 2018 in Dive Sites, DIVING & SNORKELING

Discovering the underwater attractions that lie just off Wakatobi’s beach.
by Steve Miller, Pro Photographer

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 Wakatobi House Reef and you're like to have an encounter with a green or hawksbill turtle.

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.

Shallows on the house_Steve Miller

In the shallows just beyond the resort’s beach “the warm colors missed at depth really pop.” Photo by Steve Miller

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

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.

Shallows with clowns and anthias on house_Walt Stearns_DSC2309

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.

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