Kids don’t always agree with what parents find fascinating, but most certainly this hadn’t been the case when I took my son to Bunaken, a small boomerang-shaped island off the northern tip of Sulawesi in Indonesia. As soon as the boat that carried us from the city of Manado in Sulawesi mainland across to this island slowed down near Daniels_Resort, my 12-year-old son looked down into the clear water that welcomed us and promptly expressed a heartfelt exclamation: “OH! WOW!”
A week earlier in Borneo I had dragged him to a multi-million dollar arowana fish farm. Usually getting a permit to visit this premise is close to impossible; I had just been extremely lucky to receive assistance from WWF West Kalimantan and West Kalimantan Endangered-Species Conservation Agency. Entering the massive compound on the outskirt of Pontianak, we’d had to pass through multiple security gates. Inside, 32 enormous commercial ponds awaited. They housed hundreds of the world’s most expensive fish… all of which had been invisible, hiding at the bottom of the ponds. Unimpressed, my son muttered a flat-note—mocking— “Oh wow”…
In contrast, his delight of Bunaken was genuine and clear ~ and eased my guilt. We had arrived on June 25th because I would like to speak with several local figures on marine conservation issues for a future writing project. As my son had just reached the minimum age for a PADI course, I had him enrolled with Immanuel’s Dive Center at Daniel’s so he wouldn’t have to put up listening to me talking to strangers in a language he didn’t comprehend.
THE WATER QUALITY
Roy Pangalila, former WWF director of Bunaken Marine Conservation National Park whom I’d met at WWF headquarters in Jakarta just the day before, had mentioned that the water clarity around Bunaken is excellent with underwater visibility of 50 meters or more.
Once a friend of mine who is a National Geographic underwater photographer told me that during his visit to Bunaken, the visibility was not conducive for underwater photography. Roy said that this friend might have visited immediately after a storm. After the sea has calmed down (and the washed-out plastics sent by the storm from Manado city across the sea has been picked up), the water condition around Bunaken becomes pristine again. Looking down from the boat, I saw the proof of the excellent water clarity.
As I walked towards Daniel’s with pretty sea creatures by my feet, I knew then that not only my son would immensely enjoy his dives; between my visits to the village chiefs I too would be able to squeeze in snorkeling into my schedule, because, the best thing was, to do so I wouldn’t need to go any farther.
Roy had said the sea between Manado city and Bunaken island, which is a 30-minute trip on speedboat, is 3000-meter deep, and that the drop-off around Bunaken beaches is 2000-meters high. The people at Daniel’s said the drop-off located about 100 to 200 meters from the resort was only 500-meter deep, and the sea immediately after 1000-meter deep. But Roy has done scientific measurements.
Not too far north from the equator, Bunaken has a constant, yearlong water temperature of 27 – 30°C. No serious protection against the cold is required, but a 3mm one-piece, long diving suit is great to protect against possible coral scratches.
Tropical rain may occur more between November to April, but the duration is short. Your diving or snorkel instructor will let you know when it is safe to return to the water, which shouldn’t be a prolonged wait.
THE MARINE BIODIVERSITY
Immediately outside Daniel’s about 100 meters into the water to the drop off 200 meters away, fantastic pristine corals live healthily and colourful fish of Nemo’s world swims happily. As this area falls under the marine conservation zone, no fishing is allowed and the locals are very strict in making sure that no corals get broken by snorkelers’ activities. People can only step on certain stones along the “sea footpath”, where boats also come and go very carefully.
As I am not a photographer, I invite readers to please check out these pictures: bunakenhans.com/slideshow.php
WHY BUNAKEN IS ONE OF THE WORLD’S BEST DIVING DESTINATIONS
Bunaken Hans is a German photographer who lives in Bunaken and rents a cottage permanently at Daniel’s. Hans says it is true that Raja Ampat in Papua has better biodiversity and is very beautiful, but Bunaken is still among world’s top ten best diving destinations because it has rich biodiversity and is beautiful, has much lower pricing, and its excellent location is very close from the diving spots or from the good hospital in Manado. There are many handy diving spots immediately around Bunaken, all of them very close to the land due to the proximity of the drop off, and so to reach the diving sites with very rich biodiversity divers don’t need to travel for one hour or more by boat, making Bunaken economical and ideal.
26 tourist resorts operate in Bunaken. Most are European-owned. Many are better than Bali resorts (where the indigenous people cook and clean for non-taxpaying foreign owners) because here they contribute to the islanders’ welfare by providing electricity. I had been referred to Daniels Resort by Roy Pangalila because, as in Borneo, WWF promotes ecotourism as a sustainable income source for the indigenous people, and Daniel’s is one of the few IP-owned resorts.
One lesson that has been drummed in to me recently is that, regional per capita income is NOT the same as the money that actually stays in the area. If a regency in a remote area of Indonesia is said to have a very high income per capita, it’s a sure thing that about 90% of the money generated in that regency travels out to Java or the USA, or Europe, or Australia, with only the remaining 10% is spent locally (part of this is earned by the natives through labor and passed on to the local economy through spending). So in actuality the locals‘ per capita income is very, very low, and they remain in poverty although their land generates a massive income for foreign-owned companies. (One example of this is an area above Caltex’s oilfield in Riau where a few years back many residents died of hunger despite living on top of Indonesia’s largest oilfield.)
Therefore, for visitors who wish to contribute to the local economy of their holiday destination, one way to do so is to engage the natives’ services. Hence, my stay at an IP-owned resort.
On our arrival the owner was in Manado, the mainland city of North Sulawesi that we had flown into from Jakarta, from where we had chartered a boat to this island. (A public boat is available once a day but we had missed it.) The reception efficiently showed us the choices of accommodation. Travelers in Indonesia will have witnessed that every regency in every province throughout this massive, sprawling archipelago has its own traditional craft or handiwork. At Daniel’s I noticed the wooden cottages came from the traditional trade of Minahasa ethnic group in mainland Sulawesi, showing that Daniel’s owner has helped even the economy of the nearby indigenous people.
While excellent luxurious resorts with €uro rates are abound in Bunaken, the much-less-expensive Daniel’s Resort gives as good as it gets for value.
Daniel’s offers airconditioned or non-airconditioned cottages; the first type advisable if mosquitoes love you, although mosquito nets are always readily available.
I picked up a cottage next to the beach because I love the intermittent sound of waves lapping. It had excellent firm mattress that looked new or must be close to new. The bathroom came with cold and hot shower and clean towels. It had a decent sitting toilet, which was a must since hubby had a disability with a knee problem. There wasn’t a fridge in the cottages and the few pieces of rattan furniture weren’t top of the range, but they were adequate and everything was very clean. We could sit on the porch, or in the nearby gazebo, or ventured to the large alfresco dining room near the office.
Visitors can meet and greet at the dining room, where you can also work using the internet because here the free WiFi has the best reception. As I was there during the Brazil’s World Cup, guests also flocked to the TV area near the beach to watch. Not far from this, guests can also play table tennis. Whatever you do, though, never leave sugary substances in the open, because in the tropics ants detect them very quickly.
Every resort in Bunaken includes full meals as there aren’t restaurants around. The food at Daniel’s is excellent and fresh, consisting of rice with a variety of fish and vegetable dishes. In deference to the largely foreigner guests, here the menu doesn’t include the extremely fiery Sulawesi dishes. Furthermore, the staff also accommodates for guests’ special diets, as in the case when a guest from Slovenia requested purely vegetarian food.
Standard drinks are bottled water at room temperature and hot tea or coffee, but guests can requests cold drinks or put your own in the kitchen’s fridge. I entered this kitchen when I was requesting a picnic lunch for the day I would tour the surrounding isles (as there aren’t shops in the surrounding isles either). I saw that the kitchen was clean and there was no reason to doubt this Indonesian premise’s cleanliness. Moreover, the staff agreed to make my lunch even though this was out of ordinary. On the day I was to tour the isles, the requested lunch was ready at breakfast time, packed in stacked food containers.
Outside the cottages, Daniel’s ground is carefully cared for. The staff sweeps the beach and the footpath in the mornings and bury fallen leaves in the ground. They change the water in front of the porch to wash your feet in case you don’t stop at the hose after going in the sand.
I will write more on Bunaken later. But yes, the real beauty of Bunaken is its fascinating underwater. I recommend Bunaken to any divers or snorkelers who appreciate finding rich marine biodiversity all in one handy site, without spending too much, and at the same time contribute towards marine biodiversity conservation.
HOW TO GET TO BUNAKEN:
Take a plane to Jakarta, Indonesia.
Take another plane from Jakarta toManado in North Sulawesi Province. The flight is 2.5 hours. Return airfare around AUD 440 (about USD 413 or GBP 240).
Take a taxi to from the airport to Manado harbour.
Cross to Bunaken by a public boat (departs 14:00) for less than $2/person. Or charter a boat at $100 for up to 10 people. The trip is 30 minutes.