The exhausting two-hour boat journey is promptly forgotten after stepping ashore at Tinabo Besar Island in Taka Bonerate, South Sulawesi.
The pristine white sand and clear blue sea is so mesmerizing that all fatigue dissipates.
This scenery, however, is only the tip of the iceberg, for under that blue sea is even more of the natural beauty on offer at Taka Bonerate National Park. Dazzling underwater panoramas impossible to detect at sea level invite one to explore the park’s diverse coral reefs and multitude of marine species.
Piotr Kordas, 30, a Polish tourist visiting Tinabo Besar with several journalists recently, was curious about the captivating atoll of Taka Bonerate, offering what most divers describe as an underwater paradise.
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To diving enthusiasts, Taka Bonerate is both eye-catching and challenging to explore. “While it abounds with coral reefs and marine biodiversity, Taka Bonerate also poses challenges not found in other places, which makes me love this dive location,” said Jowvy Kumala, 41, a telecommunications worker in Makassar.
The challenges, according to Jowvy, are the steep banked reefs, sudden appearance of sharks and frequent strong currents. “You’ve got to be alert to avoid mishaps. But they’re just the sensations to be sought,” said the diver who has also visited Bunaken in North Sulawesi, Raja Ampat in Papua, Wakatobi in Southeast Sulawesi and Aceh.
Taka Bonerate in the Flores Sea is famous for its ring of coral reef and atolls, and is the largest coral zone of its kind in Southeast Asia, and the world’s third-largest after the atolls of Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands and Suvadiva in the Maldives.
Taka Bonerate, meaning “coral islands over sand”, has an atoll expanse of 220,000 hectares. The forestry minister declared Taka Bonerate, with a total area of 530,765 hectares, a marine national park in 1992.
The park is uniquely comprised of coral sandbanks and submerged reef flats forming a large number of islands. Between the coral sandbanks are narrow, deep straits with steep banks. The surfaces have small pools with coral ridges around them. When the tide ebbs, the pools on the dried flats are exposed.
Three types of coral reefs characterize Taka Bonerate: barrier reefs, fringing reefs and ring reefs. They are all composed of live coral, sea grass and algae combined with sand dunes and shelves.
The atoll expanse of the park is home to 360 coral fish species and others for consumption with high economic value such as grouper, skipjack tuna, napoleon wrasse and sharks.
Taka Bonerate district covers 21 islands, of which seven are inhabited by Bugis and Bajo who mostly make a living from fishing.
Tinabo Besar Island is the center of marine tourism development in Taka Bonerate, with the 5-hectare island possessing a resort and dive center managed by the national park.
Visitors can choose packages offered by the office in the price range of Rp 800,000 (US$88) to Rp 1 million a day, including transportation from the city of Benteng in Selayar to Tinabo, and diving, accommodation, meals and guides.
On the island, tourists can choose dive spots from 22 locations. Non-divers can enjoy the island’s beauty by snorkeling, fishing or just gazing at the sea from under coconut trees.
Besides Tinabo Besar, visitors can explore other islands such as Rajuni Besar and Rajuni Kecil, which are near dive spots. Those islands have no resorts, so visitors must stay with locals who can take them to dive sites by boat.
Another island in the park, Jinato Island, was the center for the Third Taka Bonerate Festival held by the South Sulawesi provincial administration in November 2011. Jinato and Tinabo Besar are roughly the same distance from Benteng, the capital of Selayar, which is about 70 kilometers away and eight hours by wooden boat or four hours by speedboat.