Derawan and surrounding islands

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April 30th 2007
Published: November 21st 2007
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Derawans building boomDerawans building boomDerawans building boom

They just keep on building further and further into the sea whats a poor turtle to do
Derawan Island group off Berau Kalimantan Paradise how long.

We arrived at Derawan, the main island in the group and went first to stay at Lestari losmen, As others have commented the best rooms are over the sea on stilts, rooms up the back not so nice and pretty stuffy. There was a long walk to the toilet at the back which didn’t go down to well in the middle of the night. Main problem for us was that there was a Polish Dive operation staying there next door to us, they were nice people and we became friendly with them they run tours from Poland at budget prices both to Derawan and Papua. Staying 3 months in each and moving all there kit in the middle of the season. The problem was that there room was next to ours, but they had 4 adults and a baby with them. Every time we came out the room it was like grand central station.

Big green turtles are everywhere round Derawan and they really do swim under your hut in these places out over the sea

The other place over the water Danikin I think had a similar French
Stuck turtleStuck turtleStuck turtle

hey get stuck at low tide if they do not get out quick enough easy to see how they cook we kept this one wet and cool
outfit there.

We looked at some other accommodation and eventually tried a walk in at Derawan Dive resort went there without luggage just to sound it out. They were mostly empty and were not doing food except breakfast, We got a nice room not on the beach for Rp270,000 24 hour electric and AC. Not a bad deal though better than we really needed. Still we were comfy and we are on holiday not an extended backpacking trip so we stayed. Great thing was they are the only place on the Island that does Beer but its Rp30000 a bottle though given that Kalimantan is more expensive not to bad.

The Polish group were there setting up ready for there gests so they offered to take us on a few trips for cost as it passed the time for them as well, They only had a Zodiac inflatable boat there was good and bad points to this.

Initially the weather turned bad and we could not do any trips, we found a passable reef off the jetty at Derawan dive and some interesting fish under the jetty, my wife saw the much advertised Crocodile fish but I
Sandbars to die forSandbars to die forSandbars to die for

Derawan has many dream like sand bars sureal locations in the sunlight to while away afew hours.
missed it, bugger. She also managed to get herself attacked by a belligerent Titan Trigger fish and got chased into the jetty by it fortunately it only bit her fins scary though so some you win some you loose. Eating in Derawan is OK but very limited Fish and rice fish and noodles plus Bananas and Indonesian Cakes. Occasionally the word went round there is chicken get in quick. It was all very well cooked and fresh just the same most nights.

First trip out we managed was to Samama island fantastic deserted place mostly Mangrove swamp, luckily with the Poles they knew just when to go, when the tide comes in approaching sunset. How can I describe the place it was Primordial huge trees that had drifted there on the tides all over the place some by natural means some escaped from the Kalimantan logging industry but now weathered down. The island has many birds and Lizards and Turtles also lay there in the pure white sand. Mud skippers run around the tree trunks on the waters edge, as the tide comes in the sand bubbles furiously like a seen from a movie about the land that time
Samama IslandSamama IslandSamama Island

weird and wonderful trees

Getting the timing right in Samama is important as there is a huge lagoon surrounded by mangroves, as the water gets deeper the Zodiac inflatable was able to enter the lagoon and cruise gently around at sunset. Frigate birds circling overhead to complete a perfect picture. One of the most enchanting places I have ever been to.

We didn’t want to leave Samama but it was getting dark so we had to go.

Other trips we did nearer to Derawan were to fantastic sand bars revealed by the tide beautiful pure white sand to chill and swim from much of the sea around the islands is shallow but there are deep trenches around. The dive shop at Derawan Dive has a model of the nearby sea bed.

We were invited to a wedding by Dyad one of the local boat drivers who speaks good English, The wedding takes place in the cool of the evening taking over the main street with a big stage. It was real pleasant the very scared looking Bride and groom get to face everyone from the stage so it’s a bit intimidating for them. After the ceremony they had 3
Samama DriftwoodSamama DriftwoodSamama Driftwood

No one collects driftwood here
raunchy girl singers from Berau, you pay much higher price for the raunchy ones explained Dyad who couldn’t stop eying up one he particularly liked. After there were 3 local girls dancing a very nice evening.

Finally the weather improved (it wasn’t so bad we just don’t enjoy bouncy speed boat rides and snorkeling in choppy water, added to that waiting around and chilling on Derawan was pretty nice). The trip to Sangalaki was planned for the next day, lunches prepared and everything made ready.

Its quite a distance most of the boats charge 4-600000Rp for the trip over and looking for the Mantas, Initially we went just snorkeling, You can see the Mantas as there wing tips break the surface, Snorkeling was pretty good out there lots of coral and big fish but no mantas. The Poles are busy fishing as this is how they feed both themselves and there holiday maker clients (all divers) spear fishing all the food. Good idea. Keeps there prices down.

There are some strong currents around the Manta area we tried for a couple of hours great snorkeling but no mantas water fairly clear so we guess not enough Plankton
Mud skippersMud skippersMud skippers

running around all over the place as the tide comes in
to bring them up. Still the snorkeling is great and well worth the run. For lunch we land on Sangalaki with our food, the dive operation there is shut and long may it remain so, rapidly returning to the vegetation.

All around the island you can see turtle tracks from the night before, its easy to walk all the way round. We were lucky some German Tourists from the resort on Nabucco Island came over and the guys from the island put a bucket of baby Turtles on the sand to take off for the sea, wonderful full of energy freshly hatched many made off at a cracking pace. Sea Eagles circle Sangalaki waiting to pick of the hatched turtles, but with us around they can’t get this lot.

We went out again and spent another 1.5 hours looking for Mantas but it was not to be.

We set off back for Derawan passing Samama island on the way the Zodiac is bumpy but cushioned ripping along a bit to choppy for us then the bloody engine craps out. The fuel available in Drawan is rubbish of course and it’s a real problem, the well organised Poles
Lagoon with a view SamamaLagoon with a view SamamaLagoon with a view Samama

And then the tide comes in and the mangroves fill from the sea
don’t have enough tools to fix it our life line is a Mobile phone (Derawan is connected) and a GPS to tell us how far from Derawan we are. Not much use as no one else on Derawan has a GPS to locate us with.

Polish pride comes into play they will sort it out (bit of an ego problem here) try phoning but can’t get anyone. Finally we see a boat and my wife and I start waving. No say the Poles we will get someone out eventually. Bugger that say I we are still 15 to 20 Km from Derawan and there is nothing on the way.

The boat comes over it’s a small boat out on a fishing trip. They tow us for about 7km then tell us they have just come out for a nights fishing and they will leave us anchored in shallow water for 8-9 hours and pick us up in the mourning after they have finished fishing. Great what a treat 4 of us packed on a small zodiac with loads of gear. Can’t blame the fisherman he has used his fuel to get to the fish, given us a tow
Samama sunsetSamama sunsetSamama sunset

May have looked like this 1 million years ago
and now he will spend all night at sea fishing so why would he think us spending the night in a small boat was special.

The Poles with great fortitude start to row, not helped by only having one and a half oars for the boat, we go round in circles. The guys are young and fit we are old and tired. OK never mind we all set to, we row with our flippers, progress is slow and it gets dark, after about 45 min we have moved 1km closer to Derawan Island only 10 km to go but everyone is knackered now. Still we sing rowing songs and keep our spirits up a bit of a laugh in many ways. Finally they get through on the phone and organise someone to come and get us. Fortunately Arturs wife Ever is on the beach and organises it all. Luckily she stayed ashore as she thought it would be to long a day for there baby Egor.

A new spurt of energy with help on the way we manage another half a km its then I realise the boat guys don’t have a torch we are out in the
Local girls performing at the weddingLocal girls performing at the weddingLocal girls performing at the wedding

I just love this local stuff
dark a long way from anyone and they are waving bloody useless cigarette lighters (near the petrol) about to attract the boat that is looking for us but has missed us by a long way. Never mind I say for some reason when I came out this mourning I put my powerful waterproof torch in the bag, ha not so stupid after all. A couple of minutes waving this about and the rescue boat turns and comes in our direction, Another hour its all over we are on the beach drinking beer (Poles had sensibly brought there own supply from the mainland). And having catch of the day cooked up, this was the excellent Chicken fish a real meaty beast that has the texture of chicken, filling and tastes great.

Walked back to Derawan Dive Knackered but with a good day’s adventure under our belts. Pity about the Mantas.

Next day chilled out went down and saw the Poles OK we aren’t going out in the Zodiac again but we still want another go at the Mantas and a trip to Kakaban for the famed jelly fish lake. We organise a large slow boat this time, definitely more
Sangalaki turtle tracksSangalaki turtle tracksSangalaki turtle tracks

Signs of the nights activity all around
our style just set of early and sleep on the way. The boat was 750000Rp for the day taking in Kakaban and Sangalaki it had a set of steps essential for us oldies.


Fantastic Island that is really just a ridge around a brackish lake quite large, there are caves to discover and the lake itself is fascinating, full of none stinging jelly fish and many weird and wonderful small fish, the growth around the sides of the lake on the mangroves is like no world I have ever visited before. Its easy to get to as there is a jetty and a boardwalk over the ridge. I could have spent all day in the place it was fascinating such a different experience. There is good snorkeling around certain parts of the island as well and a cave with bird life as well. Wanting to see the mantas at Sangalaki we decided to miss this.

Off across to Sangalaki as the boat arrives a single manta shape passes underneath us at depth. Great we think today’s the day, We explain to the boat driver to stay down the current from us as we don’t like drifting

The beach goes right round an easy walk
into open water at speed with the boat a tiny speck behind us.

Again great snorkeling fish getting bigger as the current speeds up but were is the boat, oh he decided to dismantle his engine and fix something great. By this time we are not liking it to much the current is way to much to swim against and the boat isn’t moving we start to wave, eventually the boat is re-assembled and comes for us but its taken the edge off the day, We had used people with fluent Bahsa to explain about what we wanted with the currents but it didn’t work.

We stayed around for about 1.5 hours more but again no Mantas did a bit more of the excellent snorkeling. After this we started our journey back to Derawan in the nice comfy big boat.

We found out afterwards that no one had seen Mantas around this time except for Divers going deeper and seeing the odd one. Most of the tourists in the area are with one of the more up market dive operations on an expensive package. A lot of Japanese and Some Hong Kong Chinese. Not so many independent

New arrivals and they are off setting a cracking pace in there life or death dash to the sea
travelers make it to Derawan.

For seeing the Mantas all the local knowledge contradicts, strong current/ weak current, this time of day that time of day everyone concerned has there own theory, The Polish guys said that they had seen them in many different conditions and if they were not there one day they would be the next so we were unlucky.

Impressions of Derawan was that it is a really laid back island surrounded by white sand and green turtles, I don’t know how long the Turtles will last there with all the building there, right now it appears not to bother the Turtles who can be seen in the shallows playing with local children. They also let you approach and at times come over to you just don’t touch them. On the down side to many people and Turtles don’t tend to go well together, Already it is very unusual for Turtles to nest on Derawan this was common a few years ago. With Derawan dive and the government bungalows next door occupying to much beach doesn’t help either.

Like most of Indonesia to much rubbish goes in the sea and this is not pleasant
One and a half Polish oarsOne and a half Polish oarsOne and a half Polish oars

OK when will the rescu come its bloody miles yet
for sure.

The main street on Derawan runs east to west if the suns out its beating down on Main Street like a town in an old Clint Eastwood Western movie

Sangalaki is well protected and a safe place for the Turtles to nest, The dive resort is for sale but no takers at the moment lets hope it rots back into the vegetation.

Nearby Islands where the Turtles Lay are not protected and eggs are regularly taken. Also Derawan islanders only regard green turtles as protected so if a Hawksbill turns up its likely to find itself eaten and its remains stuffed, varnished and up for sale on as small stall out on the road.

We really liked Derawan and the area, things to see there are really special and the trip is worth it even without the Mantas. We want to go again some time and we know that even if the Mantas are not there, its well worth the effort to get there.

Additional photos below
Photos: 20, Displayed: 20


First part of the rescueFirst part of the rescue
First part of the rescue

This ended when they left us in shallow water 10km from Derawan and offered to come back in 9 hours and get us. Still they were going to fish all night so it was reasonable.

Cool Derawan Sunset
Kakaban Jellyfish lakeKakaban Jellyfish lake
Kakaban Jellyfish lake

A truly special environment

more of Kakaban
Kakaban under waterKakaban under water
Kakaban under water

The Weird and the wonderful

22nd July 2009

derawan island is my second home..
well.. its just the
23rd July 2010
wow, it seem like a great journey dude! ^_^

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