Story by Stephanie Brookes
The coral reefs that surround Derawan Island are bursting with colour and life and over 870 fish species live in these waters, from pygmy seahorses to giant manta rays. Derawan Island is part of a chain known as the Derawan Islands, which consists of six main islands as well as a number of islets and reefs, all set in the aqua-blue waters of the Sulawesi Sea.
From Jakarta, I took a short flight to Berau, East Kalimantan and then transferred to Derawan Island by speedboat. In around three hours I arrived at the island, a small sandy atoll and a truly magical place. My welcoming committee consisted of two giant turtles that surfaced as I alighted on the jetty. They raised their heads in my direction and then seemed to accompany me as I walked towards the shore, their large flippers moving at a slow, rhythmic pace.
The next day involved a trip to the nearby island of Sangalaki. It took 1.5 hours to reach the island by small speedboat. A marine protected area, it is home to a turtle breeding program where turtle eggs are incubated, and the hatchlings are tagged and protected before release.
The waters around Sangalaki provide a natural habitat for the manta ray, with divers naming the area ‘The Kingdom of Mantas’. These massive sea dwellers have a four-metre wingspan. While
still on the boat, I spotted a number of them breaking the surface of the water.
After jumping in and snorkeling with the mantas, I had another treat in store. I travelled a further hour by boat to Kakaban Island, and then headed inland to visit Kakaban Lake, which means, “hug” in the local language. “The inland forests hug the lake,” my captain told me, “and the jellyfish like to hug your legs too.”
Locally the lake is known as Jellyfish Lake. It is a landlocked body of water raised above sea level and retaining trapped seawater. This has enabled life forms in the lake to evolve separately from those in the surrounding ocean over millions of years and has resulted in numerous unique fish species, many of which are yet to be identified.
Diving into this peaceful freshwater lake, surrounded by lush forests, was an unforgettable experience. It did not take long before I found myself in the midst of a mass of jellyfish. Why do people like to snorkel and swim amongst jellyfish? Well, the four species of jellyfish that live in the lake have evolved to become stingless and are harmless. It was the most surreal sensation swimming in a sea of graceful and beautiful jellyfish, some of them translucent, some large, some small and some ever so curious. Every five minutes I had one or two nibbling at my toes, almost as if wanting to make friends. I also spotted other fascinating marine wonders in the lake, including sea sponges, tubeworms, and sea cucumbers.
You need three days or more to explore the idyllic Derawan and surrounding islands. It is a laid-back travel experience with beautiful sunsets and fresh seafood feasts, as well as spectacular day trips. I would recommend you visit now, before more tourism hits this place. The charms and wonders of this remote area off East Kalimantan are awaiting you.
How to Get There:
Fly: Jakarta- Balikpapan (Transfer)- Berau and then connect with speedboat.
Local Guide: Ibu Yun Pratiwi can arrange airport pick up and all land/sea connections.
Telephone: +62 811 523 3389