View Full Version : Lembeh - Wakatobi Trip Report March 23 - April 16, 2011

04-19-2011, 19:23
TRAVEL: March 23 - April 16

I usually try to fly on Singapore Air or some other upscale airline but I used United(Star Alliance) Airline FF miles and didn't have much choice for the days I wanted to fly so I got stuck on United flights from Denver to Singapore roundtrip. I was able to avoid LAX and traveled DEN->SEA->NRT->SIN and SIN->HKG->ORD->DEN. All my flights were pretty much on time except for the charter flight from Wakatobi. Wakatobi doesn't own a plane and the company they charter from is Indonesian. As is the case with most domestic Indonesian airlines delays are to be expected. The flight was supposed to get me into Bali at around 2:30pm and I had an 8:05pm flight to Singapore. As a result of the flight being delayed I didn't get into Bali till around 6:20pm. Wakatobi though had it all covered. There were 4 of us on that flight and they had an escort bring us to the International terminal and he got us checked in and thru immigration and at the gate before boarding started. I guess it helped that the flight to Singapore was 15 mins late boarding as well.

NEW CAMERA GEAR: Canon S95; Recsea housing; Ultralight tray and arms; Sea & Sea YS-01 strobe; Recsea 2 element flip macro lens.
Overall I was very very happy with my new camera and setup. It was my first experience ever with a strobe and the extra light it provides is a great enhancement. There were a few occasions though where I wish I had my old setup of just a little camera in a case. You just can't stick a camera with a strobe attached in some places and you can't get as close to some critters either. I'm still learning my new camera as it has many features my old point and shoot didn't. I feel like I got some great pics but I know this camera is quite powerful and the best is yet to come.

LEMBEH STRAIT: March 25 - April 3
Room & Board: This was my 5th time in Lembeh. The first 3 times I stayed at Lembeh Resort, the 4th at Divers Lodge Lembeh and this time at Lembeh Cottages. Unlike most of the Lembeh Strait dive resorts which reside on the water on either the Sulawesi side or Lembeh side this resort is located in an upscale area of Bitung. Bitung is the major shipping city and harbour for this area of Sulawesi. The cottages reside on a hill below a huge estate owned by the mayor's brother we were told. There are 3 cottages that house guests each with 3 bedrooms which accomadate up to two people each with private bath. So a max of 18 guests but the resort was never full while I was there. In addition the cottages have a large living room, dining room and camera room. Initially there were only two cottages and you ate in your cottage. Since then they have built a large dinning area, bar and lounging area across from the cottages where everyone eats together. Breakfast had your usual fare as well as a few Indonesian choices. Also at breakfast you ordered your dinner before going off to dive for the day. They had a good selection of appertizers as well as main meals and the desert choices were pretty good too. Lunches were served onboard and I will discuss there boat more in the diving section. Overall the food was good but really nothing outstanding. I definitely didn't go hungry and probably put on a pound or two while there. Each day at about 8am there was a caravan where they took the divers to the police pier on the outskirts of Bitung where we transfered to the diving skiffs which then transfered us to the main boat. There are plans to build a swimming pool next to the dinning area.

As I mentioned earlier they have a main boat where they stage all the diving from. The main boat is rather large and besides moving to get water occasionally it was anchored in the middle of the strait between KBR and Lembeh Resort. The main boat has hot showers on the back deck, rinse tanks, 2 bathrooms, nice lounge and dinning area as well as both covered and uncovered areas on the top deck. It's kinda like a live aboard without rooms. You spend all day out on the strait although that is not required. Basically you do a dive return to the boat for a snack, fresh tanks, bathroom breaks and then go out for another dive. After the second dive you have lunch and a longer surface interval before dive 3. After dive 3 if you are not doing a night dive you basically get cleaned up and then get shuttled to shore and driven back to the resort. All your gear remains on the main boat except your camera. It was about a 20 min car ride each way. One thing I missed about this setup was being able to dive the resorts house reef since there was no house reef. I won't stay here again just for this reason. I want to be on the strait.

They have two roomy covered skiffs that take you to/from the dive sites and most sites are under 15 mins away. They tell you dives are 60 mins but that is more a guide line and some dives were over 70 mins. They limit the number of divers to dive guides to 4 but I rarely dove in a full group and at times had my own guide. The diving is done by Eco Divers which used to be at KBR and these guides having been diving the straits well over 10 years and three of the four were originally trained by the legendary Larry Smith who put KBR and Lembeh Strait on the map. That being said I think these guides were a little bit full of themselves and thought they were the best in Strait. I choose to think otherwise. At any rate they were good guides but if they didn't know where something was they told me there were none around right now as some critters are sesonal. In particular they told me there were no ornate ghost pipefish around but when another diver showed up who had just come from Divers Lodge Lembeh and he had pictures of 3 different ones taken over the last few days it made me think the guides were misleading me. I did get to see a lot of cool critters in Lembeh but there weren't as many frog fish as normal and the number of nudibranchs seemed down as well. I came in contact with two mimic octopus but the guides couldn't coax them out of there holes and instead they disappeared down there holes. I did see a few things in Lembeh I'd never seen before and even after doing over 140 dives there the place still excites me more then any place I've dove. Lembeh is one of the few places where almost every dive just makes you say wow. The water temp was 82 on every dive. Saw virtually no evidence of coral bleaching on the sites with coral.

Highlight of the whole trip for me was meeting Ned and Anna DeLoach at Lembeh Cottages. I own all the Paul Humann and Ned Deloach fish id, critter id, behavior books they have put out and use them extensively so to meet one of the authors was a thrill. I have to say both Ned and Anna are two of the nicest people you will ever meet and talking with Ned between dives and while dinning was a great learning experience. I would tell him about something I saw and he would go off on an explanation about behavior. His knowledge was incredible. Also it turns out Anna was a computer engineer and we both were doing work for Storage Tek in almost the same department at the same time. She was there from IBM working with them on their silo tape library while I was there contracting and writing the SCSI and Fibre Channel interfaces for their smaller tape libraries. Any way they are both so down to earth and I felt like I made some great new friends. Anna is now my friend on facebook too. One think that made me happy was to hear Ned say that of all the places he has dove that Lembeh is his favorite. Mine too!

BALI: April 3 - April 5

My stay in Bali was short and sweet. I've spent time in Bali before so this was just fine with me. Arrived Sunday night and checked into the Sanur Beach Hotel for 2 nights. Monday I pretty much relaxed and did a little shopping and early Tuesday was off to the airport at 6:30am for my flight to Wakatobi.

WAKATOBI: April 5 - April 15

This was my third visit to Wakatobi.

Room & Board:
Well the service and food at Wakatobi are exceptional. Most meals were buffet but since the resort was mostly empty the first 5 days we were there we had menus for dinner on two nights. They had lots to choose from and if it wasn't on the menu all you had to do was ask. You could also order multiple items if you wanted to. In fact even if they were doing a buffet and you wanted a steak or a rare piece of tuna all you had to do was ask. The food was great and I definitely ate to much. The sashmi was so fresh you had to slap it. Some of the deserts each night kept you going back when you didn't have room and they also had ice cream and sorbet which all you had to do was ask. I will be spending extra time working out now that I'm back. As for my room I won a garden bungalow for 7 days and added 3 extra days to that. When I got there though they had upgraded me to a beach bungalow and I had that all to myself for 10 days. With regards to the room, food and service I can't find one thing to complain about.


First off let me say that I saw no evidence of coral bleaching anywhere and most of the reefs go right to the surface. The water temps ran from 82-84 degrees and the viz in general was very good(100 feet at some sites). Dive times are 70 mins and since most of the reefs are close to the surface the last 10-15 mins were spent on top doing nice long safety stops. Many dives were over 70 mins and one dive was 85 mins. Wakatobi runs 4 dive boats with upto 12 divers per boat when full but the first 5 days there were only 12 divers(plus 2 snorkelers) so they only ran 2 boats with 6 divers per boat. I dove with 3 older Aussie ladys and Kaz as our dive guide the first 5 days. Kaz was a great guide and we missed him on his day off and the day he went to the airport to greet the new arrivals. The guides(about 8 dives) I had other then Kaz just didn't know the area and I could find stuff better then them. The other guides just weren't very good. After 5 days when a few people left and a lot more showed up they rearranged things and I ended up on a boat with 6 other divers and two guides. I had asked to stay with Kaz so he was one of the two guides and he found me some more great stuff. He was amazing at finding pygmy seahorses and knew the dive sites inside and out. I did 27 boat dives and 8 shore dives on their house reef. There house reef has some great diving and I rented a pony and reg so they would let me dive it by myself which I did 4 times. I was glad to see more fish life then on my first two trips here but like Lembeh I noticed a lack of nudibranchs. In both places I only saw three nembrothas total. In fact I told Kaz and the other guides to find them for me as well and they never found any either yet they said they see them all the time. I did find a fare amount of nudis but not the variety I'm use to finding. Don't know if this is seasonal or maybe effected by the warm waters they had last year but I definitely noticed a lack of nudibranchs in both Lembeh and Wakatobi.

While I enjoyed the diving in Wakatobi it didn't seem as good as my previous two times all though there was more fish life. I didn't see as much small stuff as I'm used to seeing but that could be a seasonal thing. I did see more schools of fishes which I think is a good thing as it implies the ban on fishing in the area is finally having a positive effect. Saw some huge trevallys almost 6 feet. Even saw eagle rays on two dives once while diving solo on the house reef I found a group of 4 of them at 85 feet near the second gully. Most of the dive sites were walls and they repeated more sites then in the past which I thought was bad since they have plenty of sites. The reefs are in great shape there but I doubt I will return to Wakatobi and if I hadn't won a trip there I wouldn't have gone back. Indonesia has a lot of great diving and to me Wakatobi is lower on my list then Raja Ampat, Lembeh Strait, Komodo and Bali. I've also never been to Ambon or Alor and few other places I've heard good things about so unless I win another trip to Wakatobi I won't be returning there.

Overall I had a great trip but I don't think March/April is the best time to visit these areas. The weather was mixed with some great days and some rainy days but the weather was never a factor in doing a dive although it did occasionally effect the viz. As I mentioned some critters are seasonal and I've seen a better variety of things at different times of the year. That for me is the main reason I wouldn't go at this time of the year.

If you have a question about something feel free to ask or send me a PM.

Pics will be posted as I edit them. Right now there are some in this thread ( http://forum.scubatoys.com/trips-travel-53/pseudo-free-trip-indonesia-35925/ ) I posted while I was there. Mostly various pygmy seahorses and a juvenile box fish.

04-19-2011, 22:08
Great report. Thank you.

I look forward to seeing the pics.

04-20-2011, 08:23
Wish we all could have gone with you! What a great experience....pics are definitely looked forward to. :)

04-20-2011, 17:51
I'm barely thru 15% of the photos but wanted to post a few. I may find better shots of some of these and they will eventually end up on my facebook page.

04-20-2011, 17:53
Here are some nudibranchs. More to come.

04-20-2011, 17:58
Here are 10 more. I'll post more in a few days.

04-21-2011, 00:36
Great trip report and photos! Thanks!

SEMO Scuba
04-21-2011, 09:12
Great report and beautiful photos. If I ever learn to take photos half as good as yours I'll be happy!

04-21-2011, 19:02
Great report and beautiful photos. If I ever learn to take photos half as good as yours I'll be happy!

Thanks, if you take 5000 pics a few will turn out good :-)

04-22-2011, 08:49
This is the unknown crab I mentioned in my original thread. Still have no idea so if anybody knows please post.

04-22-2011, 18:31
Okay I'm about 60% thru my pics and I'm gonna be busy this weekend so here are some more to tide you over till I finish.

04-22-2011, 18:34
another 10

04-22-2011, 18:37
:smiley20:A few more nudi's too.

04-22-2011, 18:40
Alright another 10.

04-22-2011, 18:46
Aw what the heck it's Easter weekend. Here is another 10.:smiley32:

04-23-2011, 19:48
A picture of the villian trying to coax a day octopus out to play.

04-23-2011, 22:00
WOW!!! amazing pics!!! thanks for the report too!! I read the whole thread and looked at every pic in one sitting.... except for the sound of bubbles I almost feel like I was there!!! your unidentified crab looks like someone was messing with a glue gun and a pink glue stick. how big is that crab??? some of your pics are so surreal looking. thanks again for sharing your trip with us!!!

04-25-2011, 12:27
This is the unknown crab I mentioned in my original thread. Still have no idea so if anybody knows please post.

I am guessing it's a "velcro crab" (decorator crab, Camposcia retusa) with some pink sponge on its carapace and legs.

04-25-2011, 17:39
A type of decorator crab was my first guest as well but the dive guides were very insistent about it being some new speices. Really tough to say at this point.

04-25-2011, 19:51
It's pretty hard with decorator crabs. The only way to tell for sure is to capture the animal and have it examined in a lab because the live material these crabs stick to themselves obscures the physical characteristics that would otherwise help in identification.

I immediately thought of Camposcia retusa because it's not uncommon at Sulawesi, though they usually seem to stick bits of brown and green leaves on themselves so they look more like the attached photo from Lembeh than what you saw. However, I've seen other people's pictures of this crab with different colors of sponges stuck to it (yellow, orange, purple, blue), so I know that they don't always use chopped leaves.

Your unidentified crab may be a different species, but unless you captured it and sent it off for marine biologists to examine, we'll never know and it can only remain "unidentified."



04-26-2011, 14:40
Finally finished going thru the photos. Here are 20 more and I'll post links to even more on facebook.

04-26-2011, 14:44
The last 10.

04-26-2011, 14:46
Here are the links to the Facebook photos.

Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/media/set/fbx/?set=a.1994758595563.123102.1441399350) 200 photos

Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/media/set/fbx/?set=a.1994915879495.123156.1441399350) 72 photos

Some of the photos here are also on Facebook.