Diving in Borneo: the Derawan islands and a blissful life aquatic

The Derawan islands in Indonesia offer spectacular diving, golden beaches and tranquility, but with ambitious plans for tourism they may not stay sleepy for long

The steering wheel spins frantically, the engine graunches and the tiny speedboat slews side-on to the swell, centimetres from a mess of floating timber. Luckily our captain, a Bajo “sea gypsy” from the fishing people who first settled Borneo’s Derawan archipelago, is a master of the marine handbrake turn. He grins and guns the engine; the white sands, tall palms and stilt houses of Derawan island come into focus.

My teenage son and I have travelled through the coal mine-scarred landscape beyond Berau, a riverside town in Kalimantan on mainland Indonesian Borneo (and reached via two flights from Singapore), to take a boat out to spend a week exploring a few of the archipelago’s scores of islands. Only two are officially inhabited, though 30-odd others have names and some are home to scientists and sea-dwelling boat people. By the end of this year the islands will be better connected to the mainland, with the completion of a small airport on Maratua island, which will handle short-haul flights.

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