Indonesia : Sulawesi + Raja Ampat – July 2017
Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation made from a post originally written in French. My apologies for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have been generated during the process. If you are reading French, click on the French flag below to access the original and correct text:
Fancy exuberant coral and wriggling fish? A little corner of authentic Indonesia? I take you to dive off Kampanar, in Central Sulawesi!
New adventures in Indonesia
Kampanar is a very small Muslim village of fishermen, located at the very end of the peninsula Central Sulawesi. Opposite, towards the east, it is the sea of the Moluccas. I give you the Google Map below to locate :
How do I get there? The easiest way is to arrive by plane at the airport of Luwuk, (serviced by Indonesian companies Garuda, Sriwijaya, Wings / Lion Air) via Manado, Makassar or Palu in Sulawesi. Attention, as always when traveling in Indonesia, the journey can be more or less chaotic…
I had spotted Kampanar for a while, because of a diving resort, the Tompotika Dive Lodge, which opened there in 2015. Enticed by the enthusiastic reviews of other divers on the internet, I finally let myself be tempted in this month of July 2017...
And since I also wanted to go back to dive in Lembeh, a macro-photography paradise in North Sulawesi, I thought it would be a good idea to combine these two Sulawesi spots (there are Luwuk-Manado flights to go from one to the other), before taking off again from Manado to finish the stay in Raja Ampat…
The splendor of coral
Big advantage of Kampanar, in my eyes: as it is not on the usual tourist routes, there are no crowds either on land or underwater. No "bubble factory" here!
Most tourists who undertake the journey to Kampanar and enjoy spending several days there are quite motivated divers - who often already know other diving spots in Indonesia - and who are not put off by a long trip, if there is at the end the reward of new splendid underwater landscapes, where life is dense, abundant, colorful...
When to go? Good to know: you can dive all year round in Kampanar. But beware, between May and September, the visibility underwater is not always at its best in this area bordering the Moluccan Sea.
Low season: from the beginning of May to the end of September. For my part, I was warned, I knew what to expect in July and I confirm: lots of particles and plankton in suspension (on days without sun, it's a bit of a mission impossible for wide-angle photos with this underwater "fog", but fortunately there is plenty of fun to be had with macro photography). On the other hand, in this season, the sea is calm and there are no big waves to crash on the beach. And the rates are also lower.
High season: from the beginning of October to the end of April. Visibility improves dramatically from October onwards, explained my Opo guideThis has been confirmed by other divers who went there recently. It even seems that October is the ideal period, because at that time there are not yet too many waves (at other times, it can be a bit acrobatic to get on and off the boat from the beach, I was told).
Some pictures are better than a long speech... I put below a small selection of underwater pictures that I made on the sites of Kampanar, to give you an idea of the beautiful atmosphere that reigns under water. Poiscaille and coral in a mess... Just like I love!!! 😍 👌 🐠
The beach not touristy
As far as land-based pleasures are concerned, it is better to be naturally contemplative during the day and not to need an intense social life in the evening. Kampanar, in spite of its privileged situation in a superb cove, has nothing of a seaside resort...
Here, outrigger fishing boats line the long gray-black sand beach. Chickens and goats trot freely under the coconut trees. Laughing kids run off to throw themselves into the sea...
No ugly rows of umbrellas or insistent street vendors. No banana boats nor of beach bars trendy. No restaurants or souvenir stores. I love it!!!
However, rare Indonesian and foreign non-diving tourists sometimes come here to visit Pulau Dua, the island just in front of Kampanar. A path has been built there by the local authorities along the ridge. From there, the view on the bay must be superb.
As I was underwater all the time, taking pictures of coral and fishes, I didn't find the time to organize a small excursion to Pulau Dua. It's a pity. Next time (because I intend to come back), I will stay a little longer and will make sure to plan one or two days "off" to walk around more.
I only admired the island from a distance, from the beach of Kampanar or the diving boat...
The tiny village
Shopping addicts, run away! In the village of Kampanar, you can only find tiny stalls selling pell-mell cigarettes, shampoo and instant noodles. Of course, if you can only gossip a few words of Bahasa IndonesiaConversations with shopkeepers will soon be limited.
The visit of the village consists in strolling along the few streets parallel and perpendicular to the beach, where the grey of the wooden or breeze-block shacks alternates with touches of bright colors, on a facade, on a fence where the laundry dries... Pointed towards the sky, the ridge of the mosque and the inevitable TV dishes. The atmosphere is peaceful, the people very nice.
The Tompotika, the diving center
The Tompotika Dive Lodge is for the moment the only tourist structure located in the heart of the village, facing the sea. It is a very small diving resort, at Human scaleThis is a perfect fit for me. When I visited in early July 2017, there were only three bungalows, with two more under construction (there are now five in all, if I'm to believe their website).
The Tompotika is managed by Wallacea, company specializing in cruises for divers in Indonesia, created in 2002 by a Frenchman (who has since become Indonesian), Jérôme Doucet, and his Indonesian wife Yani (Suryani Mile). I don't know them personally [update: I met them three years after the publication of this article, at the Salon de laiving 2020 in Paris] and I don't have any particular link with them, but I appreciated that Jerome, having learned my trip a bit chaoticI was very happy to know that my mother, who was the first to call me just after I landed at Luwuk airport, welcomed me and made sure that I had been welcomed as expected by her staff when I got off the plane.
I put you below their nice video presentation, which allows you to see the resort, the village and the beach from above, thanks to a drone:
I really liked the dive sites I discovered and for the rest, I am very happy with my stay with them. Opo, who supervises everything on site regarding the diving and constantly makes sure that everything goes well at the resort as well, has a lot to do with it (read here → Opo, my underwater guide, this hero). In short: lovely Indonesian staff, simple, clean and comfortable rooms, varied, hearty and tasty meals, electricity 24 hours a day...
- We are in the heart of an Indonesian village, with what it implies at the level of the sound environment (roosters' songs, dogs' barking, motorcycles' backfiring, very early call of the mosques, etc.). I don't mind at all (when I sleep, I sleep), but those who need absolute silence in the evening or in the morning might have a hard time...
- No hot water (this must be part of the future improvements and I believe it has been installed in the new bungalows). The days when the weather is great, it's fine. But for the cold person that I am, it's a bit limited on days when it's grey. After spending several hours in the water, we end up finding the air, even tropical, a little cool...
- No wifi or phone signal... 😱 (And then it's drama 😂) EDIT: Johanne, a reader of the blog, who was at Tompotika this October 2017, informs me via Facebook that there is now a wifi connection !!! I quote her: "There is now wifi (random, of course, but it allows you to communicate a little with the rest of the world)..."
For the addicts who have trouble disconnecting like me, the only solution to taste the joys of the Internet is to take a scooter ride to a nearby village about ten minutes away from Kampanar. In this village whose name I forgot (but the people of Tompotika know where it is), there is 3G network, that we manage to catch near a hut in edge of beach under the coconut trees.
This "hotspot" is easy to find. It's where there are teenagers absorbed by their smartphones, between the fishermen who repair their boats and the goats who gambol... 😂 High-speed connection facing the sea! Luxury... I had posted a live video "story" on Snapchat at the time, which I then saved on Facebook. You can go see her hereIt gives a good idea of the atmosphere!
Finally, Tompotika is involved in conservation projects in the region, notably by participating in the protection of maleoe birds and the marine environment. An eco-friendly initiative to be commended: the resort finances the cleaning of the beach of Kampanar by the inhabitants of the village. Every week, a dozen people collect the various waste and plant debris that have accumulated.
Thanks to their efforts, the beach is always clean and crisp. Top! 👍