Selayar Island is positioned near the famed Takabonerate National Sea Park, in South Sulawesi and is the third-largest coral atoll in the world, after the Marshall Islands and the Maldives. With this major draw card you would expect to find developed tourism, several dive resorts and five-star hotels, but this is not the case. Selayar is a secret find. It is a place where time has stood still.
Accommodation is mostly in homestays or three-star hotels in Benteng, the main town, however the journey out to the dive sites that are worthwhile, will take you up to six hours by boat to access. Another dive accommodation option is a remote National Park managed dive facility, six hours off the mainland, with homestay accommodation. If those options don’t appeal, you are whittled down to two choices – Selayar Island Resort (barely functioning at present) and Selayar Dive Resort. And so, research done, my adventure begun.
From Makassar, it is a six-hour land and sea adventure involving a bumpy four-hour road transfer (in a nice air-conditioned van), and then a two-hour exciting private speedboat ride. When I finally arrived at the Selayar Dive Resort, a jovial, German character met me by the name of Jochen, who operates the charming waterfront dive resort. “Anyone can jump on a plane and stay in a hotel”, Jochen from explained, “My place is different; it is difficult to find, but people find out about it and when they come, they discover one of the best dive spots in Asia.”
Jochen has been a dive master for twenty-six years, so you are in very experienced hands and when you don your dive gear and tip off the side of the boat, you are in for a treat, as you are diving in a protected marine environment. One of the nice things about staying at the dive resort is how close you are to the reef. It is at your doorstep. No long boat rides to get out to far away dive sites.
Jochen is a passionate environmentalist. He is involved in protecting and maintaining his marine back yard and has a good working relationship with the local fisherman. He knows the best spots to dive, knows the moods of the ocean and he even knows every piece of coral personally.
After a day of diving, cocktails are served on the big wide wooden verandah or if you wish, you can bring your own liquor. On the second night of my stay, we all sat around the lounge and watched a dive movie, which Jochen had produced himself, which featured cave diving in Mexico and other unique diving havens around the world.
The nine guest beachfront bungalows all have their own grove of trees, creating privacy and an opportunity for a little hammock hideaway snooze. A German running this place, means everything is in order and kept to a high standard, even bathrooms have decent water pressure and adhere to European standards and the generators, which run 24 hours a day, are located two kilometres from the resort, ensuring your peace and quiet.
If you are not a diver, then this resorts offers a beautiful beach setting, relaxation and hammock time. I loved exploring the reef from my bungalow door, with flippers and a mask in hand – it is all you need. The reef stretches all the way across the front of the beach and tied to the end of the jetty is a rope, so you can traverse the length of the reef and keep your bearings. I got literally lost in time, snorkelling for hours following turtles, schools of friendly fish and drifting with the swaying coral.
At night, you have a friendly, ready-made social group of intrepid travellers with a passion for diving, great stories to tell and if that gets too much, you can flop on the couch with one of the fine books from the selective library and order a drink.
Such are the experiences that await you on this unspoilt, charming island in South Sulawesi. The genuine warmth and hospitality bestowed upon you makes for a memorable travel experience, and for anyone wanting a real adventure, Selayar Island is the place.
FACT FILE :
Where to Stay:
Selayar Dive Resort (open from 15 October to 30 April)
Meals and diving included.
Taste – Hot, fresh German baked bread is served every day at the resort. The meals are hearty and wholesome and the German deserts, cakes and home made treats will delight you.
Sight – Taking a long walk along the private beach in the evening, feeling the soft white sand between your toes is simply heavenly. Spectacular sunsets finish off the day nicely.
Feel – The beautiful, tepid warm waters are perfect for diving and the friendly turtles that come in close to shore make you feel like you are touching nature.
Sound – An atmosphere of peace and serenity falls around you on your private island stay. No discos or disturbances – a great way to unwind and truly relax.
Smell – The tropical forest is at your back door and the salty fresh clear water is at your front door. If you want a day off from diving, there is a forest trail that will lead you to a hidden cave, which is a little bit of a hike to the top of a hill, just above the resort. A great place for reflection and taking in the natural surroundings.
Photos by David Metcalf