What a great week! It started out in Balikpapan spending some time in the city, going to the cinema and eating out in the evening with Jessica’s family. Then on Wednesday, while we were out using some free Wifi at the shopping mall, my bicycle arrived from Jakarta two days earlier than I had been promised by DBM Cargo, the bike was securely packaged, nothing damaged or missing and everything just as I left it with them. Perfect timing too, because the very next morning we headed to Derawan, a small island off the east coast of Borneo which is a great destination for snorkelling and diving, and I needed a few things that I had left packed on the bike.
To get to Derawan we took a short flight to Berau, then took a two hour ride in a car to the harbour and another hour or so in a boat out to the island. Derawan itself is a very small island, it takes less than an hour to walk all the way around it, there is the village on one side and the tourist area on the other. The next morning we started our activities by taking a boat out to a neighbouring island called Maratua, a larger island with a much more expensive beach resort. We were taken there to take pictures on the beach, but I couldn’t resist swimming in the crystal clear water around the resort, which is on legs above the sea. From there it was a short boat ride to Kakaban, for some pretty decent shallow snorkelling in the bay, followed by the attraction that makes Kakaban famous. The island has a lake on it which is home to thousands of jellyfish which don’t sting, tourists can swim with them and take pictures and videos. I managed to spot three out of the four species of jellyfish in the lake, the forth is much smaller than the others and is also present in much smaller numbers.
The next stop was by far my favourite activity of the trip, we took the boat to Sangalaki island and snorkelled with Manta Rays. I have seen Mantas while scuba diving in South Africa, but it was only from a distance and only one at a time (two in total), but here in Sangalaki I swam with six or seven mantas. One smaller manta which was only a little under 2 meters in wingspan, one slightly larger and the other four or five were huge, about 4 or 5 meter wingspan. To swim with them was amazing, seeing them ‘fly’ through the water and feeling a little panicked when they would come straight towards me with their huge mouths open. One of the larger mantas had a school of small yellow fish swimming right in front of its open mouth, stealing the plankton from the water just as it was about to be scooped up by the manta. After the mantas we headed onto Sangalaki island itself to see a turtle conservation station which was set up by the Indonesian government. They had about 200 baby green turtles which had hatched the previous day, they collected them up and were preparing to release them that evening, so we had a chance to take pictures and hold the babies.
The next day we stayed closer to Derawan island to do some of the best snorkelling I have experienced. The water was pretty deep, but on the sea floor was a beautiful and diverse coral garden, me and our guide would dive down to the bottom to collect starfish and shells for the group to look at, and also to take pictures and videos. It is a shame that we could only stay for three nights (because of the price, but also because of my looming visa deadline), I really loved the island and could have happily stayed there a couple of weeks or more without getting bored. This morning we headed back to the mainland and headed north to another island called Tarakan, but tomorrow we will take another boat out of Indonesia and into Malaysia. I will compile a video of my Derawan experiences soon and get that uploaded when I have access to a decent internet connection.