It’s hard to know where to start in explaining why Wakatobi Resort in Indonesia is an extraordinary destination for diving and snorkelling photography. And the secluded luxury tropical resort is also becoming increasingly recognised for its bird photography opportunities, including recently discovered and very rare species. [Article courtesy of Wakatobi Resort]

Turtle on the reef. Image by Christian Gloor.

The Wakatobi experience begins with direct private guest flights from Bali, concierge transfer services and generous baggage allowances on the flight.

Having arrived, guests find themselves with a range of services and easily accessible options for taking advantage of the pristine, exceptionally biodiverse location in south-east Sulawesi.

Images by Walt Stearns.

Many underwater photographers from all over the world, from keen beginners to renowned professionals, have been lavish in their praise for Wakatobi after their visits, and sometimes numerous revisits.

“One of the joys of underwater photography is that, while there are many tried and proven techniques that will consistently deliver predictable results, there is also limitless room for adaptation,” says Perth-based author, mentor and conservation photographer Wade Hughes. “That’s one of the reasons I rank Wakatobi Resort so highly. It’s not only the shots we miss that keep us going back. It’s the endless possibilities that life on the reefs there put in front of us.”

Another guest wrote in February this year: “I have witnessed [at Wakatobi] some of the freshest and healthiest coral reef ecosystems ever in my diving career. The vast walls of colour and life are awe-inspiring, and the diversity of species is brilliant.”

Images by Walt Stearns.

Guests have access to three daily boat dives all year round, plus unlimited access to the House Reef along the beach just a short walk from their accommodation.

Wakatobi’s 23-metre dive launches typically carry 12-14 divers and snorkellers to ensure ample personal and storage space for each passenger. Deck space is fully sheltered, with a large, separate area dedicated to camera workstations and rinse tanks.

The boat crew understands photographers’ special needs in handling gear and the guides are expert marine-life spotters. For those working very close to a reef, they’ll even act as ‘human tripods’ or provide other ways for adding stability for composing shots.

Wakatobi maintains a full complement of rental dive equipment, provides free nitrox to those who are certified, and can accommodate technical and rebreather (CCR) divers.

Image by Walt Stearns.

Walt Stearns, an underwater photographer who has been to Wakatobi three times, says its reefs are especially suited to wide-angle, ambient light, and macro and super-macro photography.

“At almost every dive site, you can capture beautiful and captivating underwater landscapes comprised of shallow shelfs, slopes and walls,” he says. “An abundance of healthy hard and soft corals covers the underwater terrain, making it ideal for panoramic as well as close-focus wide angle. And the water clarity easily allows for taking in the ‘big picture’.”

The reefs he’s talking about include enchantingly named Roma, Zoo, Conchita, Turkey Beach, Dunia Baru, Malabea, Cornucopia, Treasure Chest and Magnifica.

Image by Walt Stearns.

Using underwater strobes and video lights is an option rather than a necessity. “The coral reef seascapes extend all the way into shallow enough depths that even the most novice snorkeller would enjoy,” says Stearns.

In addition to large areas of shallow reef, there are rich seagrass beds with their own photographic allure, including the sea turtles that often come in to graze on them.

In the macro realm, there’s a plethora of subjects from hand-sized to creatures small enough to dance on a fingernail. The latter include coral hermit crabs, pygmy seahorses and pipehorses, hairy squat lobsters, and skeleton and hairy shrimp. Subjects for regular macro range from clownfish to shrimp gobies to ornate ghost pipefish, leaf scorpionfish and bobtail squid.

Hairy squat lobster. Image by Walt Stearns.

Back on land, the Wakatobi islands are home to more than 170 bird species. They include the critically endangered yellow-crested cockatoo, and several new species discovered in the past few years: the Wakatobi monarch, grey-sided flowerpecker, Wakatobi white-eye and Wangi-Wangi white-eye.

Wakatobi birdlife. Image by Mathis Weatherall.

In October 2022, researchers identified yet another new species known as the Wakatobi sunbird or the Wakatobi nectar bird. These diminutive birds resemble hummingbirds (although they are not closely related), and males display bright iridescent plumage that shimmers in the sunlight.

Guests can also participate in village tours that provide additional photo opportunities and cultural experiences.

Importantly at Wakatobi, everything is done at a leisurely pace, giving photographers ample time to pause and concentrate on image-making without feeling rushed.

For more information see the Wakatobi website.