After nearly 20 years of operation across the eastern half of the vast Indonesian archipelago we are incredibly proud of the routes we pioneered. Many of the sites we found have become famous for their incredible biodiversity and are an absolute delight to dive to this day. In fact most of our staff probably know those sites better than they do their own gardens! But time moves on and many of our valued long-term and repeat customers have also dived those sites several times with us and are looking for something new…
Operational flexibility to explore is somewhat limited when you only have one boat and a pre-arranged trip schedule to meet. Which is one of the many reasons we were so excited by the possibilities that opened up for us when we introduced our second boat the MY Oceanic.
With Oceanic now firmly established in the south of the archipelago and SMY Ondina concentrating on our northern routes, we now have the flexibility to investigate new locations to add to our existing routes.
Follow the Currents
There are roughly 18,000 islands in Indonesia, the country covers an area of almost 2.000 km2 and takes nearly 8 hours to fly across it from west to east! That’s an awful lot of potential places to dive… So where to start and the answer to that question lies with the Indonesian Throughflow, the largest volume of moving water in the world.
As the Throughflow approaches the north-east of Indonesia it sucks up the incredibly rich nutrients from the deep-water offshore basins in the Pacific, and distributes them as it moves through the eastern half of the archipelago.
Effectively it is the life-source for the amazing underwater of Indonesia and how Ricard Buxo knew where to start when he first started exploring the archipelago all those years ago!
So… if you want to explore further afield, the first thing to do is follow the currents of the Indonesian Throughflow and see where they touch land.
Raja Ampat, Halmahera and North Sulawesi are the first points of contact as the Throughflow enters the archipelago, while Komodo and the Lesser Sunda islands are where it leaves. But the western edge of its incredible influence is the huge island of Borneo – the largest island in Asia and the third largest in the world, with the northern quarter of the island forming part of Malaysia and the rest belonging to Indonesia, where it is known as Kalimantan.
Rich in natural resources and densely covered in rainforest, Kalimantan has much to offer the adventurous land traveller. But it is the east coast of Kalimantan that caught our attention because that is where the Throughflow touches land…
Derawan – The Diving
The best diving on the north-east coast of Kalimantan is in an area generally referred to as the Derawan group– which consists of a group of 31 islands, the largest of which is Derawan itself. Those islands sit along the edge of the continental shelf about 50 kms from the coast of Kalimantan, at roughly the same latitude as Manado and the Lembeh Strait in North Sulawesi. In between Derawan and North Sulawesi is the Makassar Strait, with its 4.500 mts deep basins. The incredible combination of the shallow continental shelf and its massive river deltas, nearby deep waters and the rich waters of the Indonesian Throughflow are why the diving is so good!
The main dive sites are concentrated around the islands of Derawan, Maratua, Sangalaki and Kakaban and they offer what we are calling the “Big 5” of whale sharks, manta rays, hammerhead, thresher and grey reef sharks. Plus there are incredibly photogenic schools of 1000+ big eye jacks and barracuda, lots and lots of turtles, good hard and soft corals and plenty of fish in general – as well as more than enough macro sites for those who also like the smaller creatures of the sea!
Derawan – The Logistics
Ricard spent a couple of weeks in the area earlier this year checking out the diving and the logistics associated with basing Ondina there, and what he saw convinced us to add Derawan to our itineraries for 2021. The towns of Tarakan and Berau are the two options for getting our guests on board Ondina, and we are still working the details on how to make the trips as comfortable as possible for our guests, but Ondina will be based in the area between June and August of 2021, the very best time of year for optimum diving conditions.
Derawan – The Dry Side
Interestingly, there is also a lot to see on land – both on the islands and on Kalimantan, starting with the well-known jellyfish lake on Kakaban Island. Then there is an established turtle rookery on Sangalaki, with regular releases of baby turtles every week. On both Kakaban and Maratua there are large natural swimming pools in the forest, which can be accessed from the beach at high tide.
Plus the local population on the islands are descended from either the famed Bugis of Sulawesi or the Bajau, the renowned sea gypsies of the Philippines-Malaysia-Indonesia region, and they are very both welcoming and hospitable people.
Back on the mainland there is a large mangrove park in the town of Tarakan (one of our starting points) that has a variety of local wildlife, including proboscis monkeys, and our 8-day cruises can be combined with an 3-day extensions to the natural reserve of Tanjung Putting, where you sail up the river on a local boat to see orangutans both in their natural environment and on the reserve where they rangers care for the orphans and displaced individuals.
Thus, we are proud to announce our new Derawan route, an interesting addition to our already consolidated ones. More information on the details of this exciting new destination will be available soon.
Stay tuned, we have even more exciting news coming soon!