Pulau Tomia — a snorkeler’s paradise in the Banda Sea

There’s a lot of hype about Wakatobi.  I suppose it started when Jacques Cousteau said that Wakatobi is “probably the finest diving site in the world”.  However, with hype comes high expectations.  My high expectations were slightly tempered by knowing that most of the hard coral at snorkeling depths in Wakatobi is dead.  However, it didn’t seem like that to me because I had done enough research to know where to snorkel.  As far as I know, we snorkeled at only the best spots on Pulau Tomia and chartered a boat one day to take us out to a “world-class reef”.

Pulau Tomia is the “to” in Wakatobi.  The other eponymous islands are Wangiwangi, Kaledupa, and Binongko.  Our first island in Wakatobi was Tomia, on a direct boat from Baubau, a 15-hour trip that some people would call an “adventure”.  I was very happy to have Dramamine.

The boat from Baubau to Pulau Tomia, a 15-hour journey by bryandkeith on flickr

Our boat came into Waitii, not Waha, where most of the accommodation is.

Welcome to Tomia!  We're on land now! by bryandkeith on flickr

We cycled towards Waha and stopped at Pantai (Beach) Soha on the way.

20180528_120422A by bryandkeith on flickr

20180528_130940A by bryandkeith on flickr

I jumped into the water, swam five minutes out to the reef, and was greeted to this:

20180528_124434A by bryandkeith on flickr

I think I did come back to Pantai Soha once more during our nine days on Tomia.  We spent at least three days at nearby Pantai Hundue.  The two beaches are separated by about 100m of cliffs.  The reef offshore of those cliffs is wow, wow, wow.  The reef off both beaches is fantastic as well.

20180601_125738~2 by bryandkeith on flickr

20180529_103412A by bryandkeith on flickr

20180604_154435 by bryandkeith on flickr

20180529_114143A by bryandkeith on flickr

20180529_115753A by bryandkeith on flickr

20180529_152255A by bryandkeith on flickr

We never did find this patch of giant clams again.  They're not far below low tide toward the north of the beach.  It's amazing they're so close since locals like to eat this endangered species. by bryandkeith on flickr

20180529_145316A by bryandkeith on flickr

20180529_120821A by bryandkeith on flickr

20180529_105525A by bryandkeith on flickr

I also snorkeled two or three times from the breakwater (old jetty; aka Roma) at the SW end of Waha, a four-minute bike ride from our comfortable hotel.  Pulau Tomia was stunning:

  • Wakatobi has been famous for years — it’s certainly no secret
  • the hotels are comfortable and not so expensive (we paid US$23/night for two with breakfast and dinner; there are cheaper options)
  • access is easy: you can snorkel straight from beautiful beaches to incredible reefs

yet there are no tourists!  In nine days on Tomia, the only other tourists we met were a couple from Jakarta and a man from Denmark who lives in Jakarta.  All three came for the diving.  The locals are friendly and welcoming.

Here are (quite) a few photos from the Roma snorkel site:

20180530_115751A by bryandkeith on flickr

20180530_115512A by bryandkeith on flickr

I had read that we’d see snakes in Wakatobi, but I didn’t realize that meant in the water!!! 🙂

20180530_125701A by bryandkeith on flickr

20180602_103350A by bryandkeith on flickr

I had read that we wouldn’t see many turtles, but I saw one about half of the days I snorkeled in Wakatobi.

20180602_104104A by bryandkeith on flickr

20180602_104519A by bryandkeith on flickr

20180602_104721A by bryandkeith on flickr

20180602_105136A by bryandkeith on flickr

On the only day that I didn’t snorkel on Tomia, Ferda and I went for a fun bike ride.  We visited the old fort, Benteng Patua, with a view of neighboring Pulau Kaledupa, then crossed the center of the island and coasted down to a picnic area with views of neighboring Pulau Tolandona, Pulau Lentea, Pulau Sawa, and Pulau Binongko.

20180531_124353 by bryandkeith on flickr

20180531_135008~2 by bryandkeith on flickr

20180531_135045 by bryandkeith on flickr

We then continued our coast all the way to the coast, rode back to the jetty at Waitii, and took a boat to the Baju village of Lamanggua on Pulau Tolandona.  I can’t tell you a lot about the Baju people.  The stories go that they used to live entirely on the sea.  Now they’ve been settled into villages, mostly in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines, I believe.  They don’t own land, instead building their villages over the water.  Their livelihood is from the ocean, and they’re sometimes called “sea gypsies”.  We were welcomed with smiles as we wandered through their village.

20180531_150817 by bryandkeith on flickr

20180531_151035 by bryandkeith on flickr

You have to be careful walking here:

You have to be careful walking through this Baju village by bryandkeith on flickr

Children must be very careful playing:

Kids need to be very careful playing here. by bryandkeith on flickr

20180531_152438~2 by bryandkeith on flickr

These two were our tour guides for the second half of our visit:

Our guides in Lamanggua by bryandkeith on flickr

20180531_155938~2 by bryandkeith on flickr

It wasn’t a long ride from Waitii back to our hotel in Waha that afternoon.

Sea urchin roe harvesting was the only “industry” I saw on Tomia.  We saw this same family at Pantai Hundue every day we went.  They were smiling and friendly.  We bought a couple urchins full of gonads (sea urchin roe is gonads, not eggs) to bring back to our hotel one evening.

At low tide people were out in the flats collecting shellfish by bryandkeith on flickr

20180529_140748 by bryandkeith on flickr

A family collected sea urchins, removed their eggs,and filled urchins with the eggs.  We bought a couple for 5000 rupiah each. by bryandkeith on flickr

Nine days was not enough to develop a routine on Tomia.  I could have easily stayed longer, but Ferda could tell there might be no end to that…  We can’t stay in paradise forever??!!

Here are way too many snorkeling photos.  I have many, many more on flickr.

20180528_124604A by bryandkeith on flickr

20180529_143622A by bryandkeith on flickr

20180529_144221A by bryandkeith on flickr

20180529_120401A by bryandkeith on flickr

20180529_142713A by bryandkeith on flickr

20180529_142651A by bryandkeith on flickr

20180601_135229A by bryandkeith on flickr

20180601_140200A by bryandkeith on flickr

20180601_140256A by bryandkeith on flickr

20180601_140442A by bryandkeith on flickr

20180601_134744A by bryandkeith on flickr

20180601_135524A by bryandkeith on flickr

20180601_135635A by bryandkeith on flickr

20180601_140032A by bryandkeith on flickr

Damsel fish (aka Sargeant major) by bryandkeith on flickr

The big one is a parrotfish by bryandkeith on flickr

The green thing is a sponge by bryandkeith on flickr

Anemone fish by bryandkeith on flickr

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