To go Island Hopping and Scuba diving in Togean is to become part of a select group of global travellers who know the secret. It’s located the Gulf of Tomini, in Central Sulawesi. I went to Togean with some other Indonesian bloggers to have a look.
The islands have a mythical status among travellers and are well off the beaten track. It’s very unlikely that you’ll find the kinds of package holiday makers that drop in to Bali for a couple of weeks here. It took us two days to get to Togean from Jakarta. The last stage is a four hour boat ride from Ampana village.
In the group, we had Traveller Kaskus, Virus Travelling, NomadId, Winny Marlina, and Wira Nurmansyah. I enjoyed being in the company of Indonesian bloggers who travel globally as often as they can. The group was witty and well informed so we had some interesting conversations. I learned some new things from them about the presentation of self within social blogging and about using models.
Fadhilla Cottages are a group of wooden huts laid out around a central restaurant and cafe on the beach of the south west edge of a small island. Some people stay for quite a long time, I met a French couple who were here for a month and one of the managers kids mentioned a volunteer teacher from Australia who has been here for fifteen years! It’s that sort of place. Not for hermits, as there are many interesting people coming and going, but for people who want to live the tropical dream for a short or long time.
The resort started life as a diving centre and still offers PADI courses. It’s characterised by sandy beaches, palm trees and wooden structures. I like this sort of thing but it took me a while to stop constantly checking my phone. The habits of the city seem misplaced here, and you can remember how to read books, or chat with people about the world. The manager said that most of his visitors are French and German, with English being the next largest group. He said that in July and August, the place is packed, and getting a room here on arrival might be difficult.
We visited California Reef. It’s a circular area of coral with a hut perched on the top. It was hot and I had a snorkel session, but the fish life was a bit sparse compared to some other places I’ve been in Indonesia
Long bridge to Bajo village
After lunch we walked along a 1km wooden bridge that connects a small Bajo village with the main island. They built the bridge to be less reliant on boat transport, especially to get the kids to school, and have access to healthcare. I chatted with a few women while they prepared Kang-kung, a green vegetable and they told me about 100 people live in the village and they tend to intermarry. They get fruits and vegetables from plantations on the mainland, and take fish and seaweed from around the village.
In the evening, we had some amazing fried fish. Most of the meals are served with sago, the palm that makes papeda, and vegetables that they farm on the island.
Fadhilla cottages tries to be self sufficient, and to live in harmony with the environment. This isn’t easy. There’s quite a bit of trash floating in the water, fish harvests are down, and a lot of the coral is struggling with bleaching and the impact of dynamite fishing. The resort used recycled tyres to make tables and chairs, and if they see something floating past in the sea that looks useful, they will pull it out. The local people recycle plastic where they can, and turn it into bags, hats and other items to sell on to visitors. They are well aware that they are living in a unique and fragile economy. However, every day a fresh wave of trash washes up on the shore. Plastic bottles and flip-flops feature, along with driftwood of all shapes and sizes. The trash must originate outside Togean, but trying to define it as someone else’s problem is missing the point. There is a non-profit that tries to help. Everyone For Togean – but it looks like it has run out of steam.
If you want to go island hopping and scuba diving in Togean, then remember that all the travel round here is by boat. Large boats link the islands with the mainland, and chug through the channels. Smaller boats with outriggers are used for interisland visits. Most of the islands have a lot of forest on them and I saw vivid green parrots, large kingfishers and a sort of heron, along with other singing birds. If you like bird watching, this could be a hot destination for you.
Bajo Village and Lagoon
The next day, we cruised through the mangrove edged channel that separates Togean from it’s neighbour, and ended up at a larger Bajo town where we had a walk around, met the locals and climbed the hill of coral limestone that must have offered the nucleus of the island. Most of the houses are built on stilts, and the ones on land are cheaper and seen as less attractive to the local people.
David Attenborough famously visited somewhere round here to make his Blue Planet series, and a lot of the people spend a lot of time in the water. Everyone was super friendly and I enjoyed seeing the traditional boat building and furniture making, using hand tools which reminded me of my father and his ship and house building days.
We ate another pack lunch and I saw a biawek, or monitor lizard, did some snorkelling and found a fairly large barracuda, as well as many other fish with bright colours. Finally we headed back to Fadhilla Cottages, watching the setting sun light up the sky in a dramatic way.
Scuba at Reef One
One the final day we persuaded the boat owner to break out the scuba gear and go to Reef One to shoot some GoPro footage. It’s a 30m coral wall not far from California Reef and is said to have good coral and plenty of fish. I have not done scuba since around 2001 and so I was a bit nervous (let alone unqualified) but there was no way I was going to pass up on this opportunity. I dug deep into my memory to remember the processes, checks, and signs to make things go smoothly. In some ways I have a love/hate relationship with scuba diving. I love the staying underwater for long periods and marvelling at the life as it passes by. I hate the constant nagging fears of gear failure, animal attack and the encumbrance of the kit. I tried to lie on my back and look up through my bubble trail and found myself hopelessly off balance and rising rapidly to the surface. While snorkelling, a move like this is no problem at all, but with the mass of the air tanks and the weights to contend with, it’s hard to be agile. Anyway, we looked at some cool Nemo fish, poked about in a cave on the coral wall, and had a jolly good time!
I’d spoken with a small group of travellers a couple of days earlier, and they had mentioned the highlight of their Togean stay was the Jellyfish lake. I heard that the jellyfish live in a salt water lagoon and have lost their sting, which is very rare and makes them safe to swim with. Anyone who has spent a lot of time in the sea knows that jellyfish are anything from an itchy nuisance, to downright danger. This was a chance to get close to them and swim on their terms. I slipped into the lake and spent some time marvelling at their shape, form and movement in the water. Of course, turns out that if you let them touch a sensitive area of skin, in my case lips (don’t ask) then they do have a sting after all. I was duly stung. The guide told us that the lake was only ‘discovered’ in 2012 by a French traveller. In fact quite a few of the places seem to be recent finds, and recent developments.
Our final stop on the island hopping and scuba diving in Togean trip was at Kadidiri Paradise, just round the corner from Karina beach. I have to say that this resort had a very tranquil feeling to it. The beach was pure white sand and the water was as blue as my eyes.
We played a bit of beach volleyball, hung out and shared photos and stories from the trip, marvelling at the drone footage most of all. The evening was punctuated by a dramatic tropical storm and I managed to get a photo of the lightning!
Island Hopping and Scuba diving in Togean overall
Togean makes for an exotic and unusual destination. The sea is full of life, including turtles, dolphins and killer whales. There are many places where the coral is pristine and Togean was designated as a national park in 2004 which should help with preservation of flora, fauna and also the people’s lifestyles. The pressure from global environmental change and Indonesia’s unwillingness to manage it’s trash creation and disposal issues mean that this area will remain fragile for the foreseeable future.
The typical Togean visitors that I observed were backpackers, slightly older than the average, and imbued with an alternative vibe. The ones I spoke to came for escape and relaxation and were enjoying the simple life, talking, reading, snorkelling, delicious seafood, and the lack of connectivity.
By spending a few days or a week at a few different places, I could easily spend a month here, and I think it would go by quite fast. Our journey back to Ampana was punctuated by a school of dolphins doing tricks in the water, which added a final salute to a fantastic trip.
Fact file: Island Hopping and Scuba Diving in Togean
Get there by boat from Ampana
- Fadhilla Cottages
- Bahia Tomini Resort
- Kadidiri Paradise
- Many other options
- Beach life
- Reading (bring your own)
- Culture trips to Bajo villages
- Fried banana with sambal
- Cold Bintang beer
Map for Island Hopping and Scuba Diving in Togean
Have you been to Togean? I’d love to hear your thoughts in comments below or email to firstname.lastname@example.org