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Maratua, Indonesia

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BUDGET DIVING AT MARATUA ISLAND, EAST KALIMANTAN, INDONESIA by Andrew Falconer

 

Maratua island is a bit off the radar except for Asian divers, although this may change as the Indonesian government is promoting the island as a future tourist destination, having recently built an airport and a network of new roads on it.


Currently however, access is mostly by speed boat from Berau on the mainland in East Kalimantan (duration 3 hours), with Berau being served by Wings Air from the cities of Balikpapan and Samarinda.


Accommodation is currently in a few expensive resorts {most having dive centres), some cheap home stays, and something in between where I stayed namely Borneo Cottages.

http://www.borneocottagemaratua.com


 

Maratua Atoll (centre) with Kakaban (left) and Sangalaki (extreme left) islands

 

 

Maratua island is a large atoll, with a U shaped landmass, which together with a circling reef encloses a lagoon, which has several small islands within it and a inlet / outlet channel. The island is covered in thick green tropical vegetation, and also has white sand beaches, brackish inland lakes, caves and several villages. It is part of the Derawan islands group, and is the furthest offshore (about 50km), and has two other islands close by, namely tiny Sangalaki and Kakaban, which are known for manta rays and a jellyfish lake respectively.

 

 

View from my room at Borneo cottages.

One of the four Borneo dive boats

 

 

Diving with Borneo was all by boat, and despite being the only guest diving we still went out every day, so it was personalised diving with Amir guiding who was very competent and friendly. For the last few days a French lady diver joined us, but still it wasn’t exactly a crowd.

 

 

Schooling barracuda close up at fusilier site

Two of the many turtles at turtle traffic site

 

We dived mainly along the reefs along the eastern side of the island, which involved short boat rides. Visibility was generally good, the reef either a wall or sloping down, was mostly in good condition, although I did see some smashed coral and snagged fishing lines. The best dives were fusilier (schooling barracuda) and turtle traffic (more turtles than I have ever seen). At times there were currents and thermoclines.

 

Visibility was pretty good most of the time

Dennis pygmy seahorse and skeleton shrimps

 

 

We also dived the channel on the other side of the lagoon, which involved an early start and longer boat ride in order to catch the tide when it changes. This was big fish country with sharks, trevally and a huge school of barracuda. Even at tide change the current was significant and it was not for the faint hearted.
The other longer boat ride was to Sangalaki island, which has a manta ray cleaning station offshore. We only saw one manta overhead, and this is one dive where it is probably better to snorkel as the mantas tend to keep very shallow. We saw plenty on the surface from the boat after the dive. This trip also stopped at Kakaban island on the way back, which has an inland lake with millions of jellyfish, also a snorkelling dive. We saw a pod of dolphins leaping out of the water.

 

 

Orangutan crab on bubble coral

Batfish in formation

 

 

I spent nine days on Maratua, doing two dives per day, although it was more usual to do three, I chose not to, having more time relaxing and doing other things like painting, reading, exploring the island on a scooter and playing chess with the locals in the village where Borneo Cottages are located. The village was fairly clean and looked after (by Indonesian standards), and there was not too much plastic rubbish in the water / on the beach. My package included all meals, which were mostly pretty good and tasty, and I found the staff friendly and helpful.


November is close to the start of the wet season, and we did indeed get a few heavy overnight downpours and some windy conditions, which we worked around by diving later in the day. The overall lack of people suggested “low season”, although on my last day a group of 15 divers from Asia arrived, and more were booked in for later in the month.

 

The total cost including airfares, transfers, 9 days accommodation / 17 dives ex Perth was approximately $AUD2000.


November 2019