Surface Delights

Published December 29, 2016 in DIVING & SNORKELING, Snorkeling

Discovering a wealth of great snorkeling sites at Wakatobi

Divers come from around the world to experience Wakatobi’s coral reefs. But not all of our guests don scuba gear and plunge into the depths–some prefer to view the region’s underwater wonders from the surface. And those who do soon discover that many of the same reefs that wow divers are equally delightful when explored at snorkeling depths.

“We’ve been fortunate as a diver/snorkeler couple, and Wakatobi is one of the few places where we have had equally amazing in water experiences. This is some of the best snorkeling the world has to offer, with some of the healthiest reefs.” Guest, Linda Katz

Snorkeling can provide a pleasant addition to daily dive plans, a complete alternative to tanks and gear, or a unique opportunity for non-diving couples and families to share the same underwater adventures. Whatever the motivation, snorkelers have numerous world class options to choose from when they don mask and fins and enter the wonderful waters of Wakatobi.

View of house reef from bungalow_Didi Lotze

Just steps from your bungalow or villa is a liquid pallet of aquamarines and blues that hint to what lies below. Photo by Didi Lotze

At home on the House Reef

To discover one of the world’s finest snorkel sites, Wakatobi guests need only to open the front door of their ocean bungalow or villa, or walk a short path to the beach from the palm bungalows. Just beyond the sand, the House Reef beckons, it’s siren song an enticing liquid pallet of ambers, aquamarines and blues that hint at what lies below the surface. Stretching for more than three miles to either side of the resort, the House Reef not only encompasses hundreds of acres of reef, but also a diverse range of shallow-water ecosystems, including sand flats, grass bed, debris fields, patch reefs and of course, the outer reef itself, which rises to within mere meters of the surface before plummeting into the depths.

The ladder at the side of the jetty provides easy access to the cornucopia of marine life in front of the resort, surrounding the jetty and at the edge of the drop off. Photo by Walt Stearns

The ladder at the side of the jetty provides easy access to the cornucopia of marine life in front of the resort, surrounding the jetty and at the edge of the drop off. Photo by Walt Stearns

Pam Osborn found this crocodilefish hanging out on the ledge under the Jetty Bar. Photo by Pam Osborn

Pam Osborn found this crocodilefish hanging out on the ledge under the Jetty Bar. Photo by Pam Osborn

While divers typically focus on the slopes and walls of the reef, snorkelers are actually better equipped to explore the majority of the house reef, as they can glide over shallow formations without the encumbrances of tank and gear, and need never worry about air consumption or bottom times. Accessing the house reef is equally easy, as there are no schedules to adhere to, and one can simply wade out from the beach, enter off the jetty ladder, or ask for a resort taxi boat to be ferry you to more distant portions of the reef.

Many snorkelers begin their swims at the resort’s jetty, as this structure not only provides easy access to the water in all tide conditions, but also presents a fecund environment for marine life. Around the jetty, the underwater scene changes through the day, and with the tide. Snorkelers can always count on seeing the mantles of giant clams and a wealth of colorful anemones filled with the attendant life forms that find shelter among the tentacles. With ample sunlight, the upper rim of the reef reveals a cornucopia of macro life hiding among the hard and soft corals. Look close and you may discover that what looked like a rock is actually a well-camouflaged crocodile fish, lying patiently in wait for a passing meal. When currents are running, schools of jacks patrol the edge, and cuttlefish come out to hunt. A few fin strokes toward the shore carries snorkelers into a very different world, one where meadows of sea grass and small coral heads provide a safe haven for a wide variety of juvenile reef fish, as well as a rich environment for odd and beautiful creatures such as frogfish, stonefish, blue ring octopus, moray eels, blue spotted stingrays, ghost pipefish, jawfish, shrimp and goby pairs.

 Take a few fin strokes closer to shore and snorkelers will find meadows of sea grass harboring a menagerie of unique and curious life. Photo by Warren Baverstock

Take a few fin strokes closer to shore and snorkelers will find meadows of sea grass harboring a menagerie of unique and curious life. Photo by Warren Baverstock

 The distance world of the sea grasses provides a haven for the weird and wonderful such as this ghost pipefish. Photo by Walt Stearns

The distinct world of the sea grass provides a haven for the weird and wonderful such as this Ghost pipefish. Photo by Walt Stearns

East side adventures

While Wakatobi’s House Reef is justifiably famous as both a dive and snorkel site, it is by no means the only choice for snorkelers. By hopping aboard one of the smaller taxi boats, or one of the resort’s spacious dive boats, snorkelers can gain access to dozens of shallow water playgrounds, some close to home, others farther afield. One preferential favorite that is just a short taxi boat ride away is Turkey Beach, which lies just beyond the eastern end of the resort beach. This site is best known for it’s resident population of sea turtles, which can be found gliding along the edge of the drop-off, or finning into the shallows to pick for morsels in the sand, or grab a hunk of sea grass. In addition to the turtles, this site is often loaded with a variety of fish life, including eagle rays and bumphead parrotfish. The underwater terrain consists of a series of ridges leading out from the shore, with deep sandy bays in between. The tops of the ridges are riddled with shallow overhangs and undercuts festooned in a vast array of hard and soft corals. Turtles sit on the ridges and the current gathers schools of fish at each crest, while the valleys in between hold swirling schools of batfish and bronze snappers. Snorkeling above this undulating terrain can create an awe-inspiring sense of flight, especially when there is a current running. As interesting as this reef can be, don’t forget to glance out into the blue to see schooling fish, turtles and eagle rays, all enjoying the nutrient rich ocean currents. A favorite way to enjoy this site is to arrive by taxi boat, and perform an extended drift with the current back to the resort, exiting at the jetty.

Turtles hang out on the shallows at Turkey Beach and are also seen cruising along the surface, so don't forget to peer out and not just down while snorkeling. Photo by Wayne MacWilliams

Turtles hang out in the shallows at Turkey Beach, but are also seen cruising along the surface; so don’t forget to peer out and not just down while snorkeling. Photo by Wayne MacWilliams

Mushroom pipefish are often found in the shallow patch reefs at the site aptly named "Zoo," which is located a short distance beyond Turkey Beach. Photo by Wakatobi Dive Resort

Mushroom pipefish are often found in the shallow patch reefs at the site aptly named “Zoo,” which is located a short distance beyond Turkey Beach. Photo by Wakatobi Dive Resort

Another east-end site that offers rewards at shallow depths is the patch reef known as Zoo, which lies just beyond Turkey Beach. Snorkelers looking to hone their photography skills will find a plenitude of subjects within a meter or two of the surface. Among the resident species hiding among the corals are frogfish, ghost pipefish, mantis shrimp, leaf fish, funky hairy squat lobster, and more. One of the more intriguing small animals found at Zoo are mushroom pipefish. As the name implies, these creatures lurk near mushroom anemones. This small white pipefish has a triangular head, which makes it look less like a pipefish and more like a small underwater python.

Table Coral City is one of the most scenic of the seamounts on the western edge of the resort where the site's huge plates of corals rise to within two meters of the surface. Photo by Walt Stearns

Table Coral City is one of the most scenic of the seamounts on the western edge of the resort where the site’s huge plates of corals rise to within two meters of the surface. Photo by Walt Stearns

The western way

Snorkelers are always welcome aboard Wakatobi’s fleet of dive boats. These spacious launches provide plenty of shaded deck space to relax, along with bathrooms with a freshwater shower, and warm, minted towels when coming back aboard. A short ride aboard one of these boats takes snorkelers beyond the western edge of the resort’s beach to an area where the reef’s rampart-like slope transitions to a series of seamounts. One of the most scenic of these underwater mountains is Table Coral City. This formation rises from depths of 30 meters to within two meters of the surface, with upper slopes covered in huge plates of the site’s namesake table corals, along with patches of cabbage coral and fields of staghorn coral. A school of chevron barracudas circles the mound, giant trevallies hunt in the shallows, and the entire top is at times covered in swirling anthias. The list of resident species also includes schools of snappers, turtles, ribbon eels, frogfish and octopus.

Another favorite snorkeling venue that lies to the north of Table Coral City is the seamount known as Roma. This site offers divers a range of habitats within a relatively small area. The shallow top of the pinnacle encompasses a small sandy area that is fringed with beautiful patch of stony coral and adorned with anemones and clownfish. To one side lies a large expanse of pavona coral that shelters a plethora of reef fishes. On the opposite side of the mount lies a drop-off fringed with table corals, soft corals and fans. Around this slope swirl schools of fusiliers, pyramid butterflyfish, sergeant majors, houndfish and redtooth triggerfish, while banded sea snakes can be found poking around the coral, foraging for food. Macro life at this site includes ribbon eels, scorpion leaf fish, winged pipefish, spindle cowries, carpet anemone shrimps and rockmover wrasses. Whether they are simply fish watching or using a camera to capture keepsake images, this site has everything needed to keep snorkelers enthralled.

The warm, clear waters of Sawa are located just a half-hour from the resort and include more than a dozen great sites easily accessed and enjoyable for snorkelers. Photo by Walt Stearns

The warm, clear waters of Sawa are located just a half-hour from the resort and include more than a dozen great sites easily accessed and enjoyable for snorkelers. Photo by Walt Stearns

The shallows of Sawa

Widening the scope of snorkeling sites include those within a half-hour boat ride of the resort, and more than a dozen names are added to the list of Wakatobi’s favorite snorkel spots. Certain to be on that list are venues such as Magnifica, Lorenz’s Delight, Pastel Reef and Pinki’s Wall. Each of these sites has its unique features, but all share similarities, as they are located along the westerrn edge of the expansive Sawa reef system, which sits across the channel from the resort. The section of reef beginning near Sawa Isalnd and continuing west then south combines steep slopes and walls with large areas of shallow coral garden. While divers focus on the drop, snorkelers can spend hours wandering around the shallow plateau above.

Other snorkel-worthy sites along the western edge of Sawa reef provide alternate landscapes. At Fan Garden, a large number of multi-colored sea fans undulate in the sunlight, beckoning snorkelers to come in search of the many small creatures that hover, dart or hide among the fronds. A large school of bumphead parrotfish are often found at this location. Farther to the south, Lorenz’s Delight brings the reef right to the facemask, with coral formations that continue upward to within two feet of the surface. This creates an excellent opportunity for snorkelers to focus in on the tiniest of animals that might otherwise be missed at greater depths.

One could devote entire days to exploring the shallows of Sawa reef, and more adventurous snorkelers might even opt to join divers at one of the more distant walls or seamounts visited by the dive boats. Ultimately, most snorkelers will find themselves combining boat trips with time on the House Reef, where there are no schedules to keep, and no time limits other than one’s personal interest and the lure of a savory meal that awaits ashore.

Calling all snorkelers! Isn’t it time you enjoyed the reefs of Wakatobi? Contact us at office@wakatobi.com or complete a quick trip inquiry at wakatobi.com.

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