Just returned from a week's diving in Derawan and surrounding islands and can heartily recommend it. The diving is great. You get a lot of macro stuff – shrimps, crabs, nudis etc – and the big stuff – sharks, barracudas, dogteeth tuna…
Diving in Derawan itself, about 2 hours boat ride from Berau in East Kalimantan, is fascinating stuff. The night dives are the best. In on dive we saw a pair of crocodile fish, a pair of octous and lits of critters. Turtles are so abundant there they become passe. One large turtle contantly swims around the pier.
Form Derawan you can go diving in nearby islands. We went to Sangalaki where we saw manta rays, to Mantua where we clung to rocks amid a four-knot current as hundreds of schooling barracuda and the occassional shark swam past.
Then there was Kakaban where the diving was OK but the highlight was an inland lagoon full of stingless jellytfish. It's apparently one of two spots in the world where the lagoon has been so isolated from the sea for so long it has developed its own ecological system. The only downside to Kakaban is the path to the lake which is a dafety hazard because the wooden walkway constructed by the resort had begun to rot and was unsafe. A group from jakarta who went there before us came back with three divers injured when a section of th walkway collapsed. The resport apparently wanted to repair it but they were stopped by a local NGO. The reason was that they might upset the ecology. One more instance of the righteous stupididity of NGOs.
The clouds. In the week that we were there we were treated to a symphony of clouds – clouds that brooded over the seas and islands, clouds that bloom into the sky, wistful ones that glided by and romantic clouds by moonlight.
We stayed at Derawan Diving Resort. In spite of the island's remoteness, the rooms were well kept and neat, the airconditioning worked, there was hot water and even cable TV that we never watched. The food there is superb and they probably have the most creative chef around East Kalimantan. The taste was great and its heartening to see a chef putting so much care in presentation.
Getting to Derawan is expensive as it entails flying to Balik Papan and from there catching a connecting flight to Berau before getting on a boat to the island. But it is worth it.
As we left we reminisced about the diversity of life on the island and the seas surrounding it, the great hospitality of the people and the host of turtles that would pop up near the pier and some of them would unperturbedly swim with you without taking fright. How long was this going to last in the face of the relentless march of progress and modernization?