Insiders' Tip: Donggala

23 years ago on our way from Manado to the south we ran into a nice surprise in Palu, the capital of central Sulawesi. We had already heard in Manado of a German who had opened an ice cream saloon in this remote place but were very surprised when we met Peter and Maureen Meroniak at last in their Prince John Dive Resort.

Some years ago Peter outsourced the dive business. The competent and professional dive shop and also the resort are now managed by Alexander Franz and his friend Anna Kirstein. Peter Meroniak is nowadays managing his new restaurant 'Maestro' in Palu and is very occupied creating new flavors of ice cream. In 2015 we returned to Donggala to find out how things had changed during the last 15 years.

Palu is easily reached from Jakarta via Makassar. The times when there were only a few flights flying into Palu are gone. The new and modern airport which was opened in 2014 is huge and already built to cope with many more flights than before. Today nearly 350 000 inhabitants are living at the mouth of the nearly dried out Palu river.

The road from Palu to Donggala passes along a lot of quarries. From here the rest of Indonesia and even Singapore is supplied with sand and gravel. The quarries leave back deep wounds in the steep slopes of the mountains at the edge of Palu Bay. During the rainy season earth slides sometimes block the road.

A few kilometers behind the small harbour town of Donggala the road turns to Tanjung Karang and eventually to the Prince John Dive Resort. Now 15 bungalows form a row above a small beach, each one with a nice view on the bay. You can choose between three different standards of bungalows (Relax, Comfort, Deluxe). All bungalows are equipped with mosquito nets, fans and bathroom. Only the Comfort & Deluxe Bungalows offer also hot water.

Only a few steps away from the beach there is the Open-Air-Restaurant, Bar & Reception. The dive center, lounge und library form a circle around the beach with shaded areas with deck chaise and tables.

Before sunset guests meet at the bar for a sundowner. Usually Alex or Anna are around to help planning the activities for the next day. Wifi is available in this area also.

Calculate between 35 and 55 €/pp depending on the kind of bungalow you choose. You only have to pay for lunch. Prices for small meals in between are very reasonable. In the afternoon the staff comes around to offer free cakes and drinks.

In the morning there is freshly baked bread, eggs, musli and fruits on the menu. Dinner is buffet style. Once weekly there is a barbecue on the beach. We enjoyed the food at Prince John Dive Resort very much.
Diving in Prince John Dive Resort
The PADI dive center is professionally organized and there is equipment for rent. The dive guides are exceptionally friendly and helpful.

During our stay we always had the same dive guide. In the morning he had already prepared our stuff and in the afternoon he cleaned our equipment in fresh water. We only had to look after camera and housing. There are tree big freshwater tanks reserved for cameras only.
There is also an air conditioned camera room with several well lit working places and enough plugs for charging your equipment. Three speed boats take the guests to the more than 20 dive spots in the area. Most dive sites can be reached in a few minutes. Further away in the outer circle are other dive sites which are normally visited during day tours.

Diving the beautiful house reef is easy. You just walk the 50 m from the dive centre to the beach. All divers already gear up at the center and then have to walk the 50 meters through the fine Sand. The dive guides will help you in case this is too tough for you.The dive spots of the inner circle are only a few minutes away. The house reef and the green wall are just in front. For the other spots you take the boat.

The inner circle dive sites are especially rewarding for critter lovers. We discovered many different species of nudibranchs, leaf scorpionfish, moray eels and the usual suspects when diving in Indonesia. Other divers even discovered a blue ring octopus just in front of the resort. A bit further away near the port of Donggala there is a nice wreck dive - if you do not mind to go down to 40+ meters. Also for macro lovers the jetty of Donggala could be interesting. We found several frogfish and even a wonderpus on the sandy bottom.

The dive sites of the Outer Circle usually have better visibility and more beautiful coral growth. There are schooling fish, turtles and the occasional reef shark. Even Dugongs have been seen here. The dive sites of the Outer Circle are normally visited during full day trips.
If you spend some time at Prince John Dive Resort join one of their two days trips to Pasoso and Parigi. Pasoso is a small island in the north of Tanjung Karang. The island is a turtle protection site. Several kinds of tutrles nest here. Consequently there is a very good chance to see them during the dives. Also the chances to see schooling fish and reef sharks are high during this trip to Pasoso. During the night the boat anchors in a sheltered bay. When the sea is calm and the sun is shining this is an exciting and beautiful trip.

Parigi is situated near the most eastern tip of the huge Tomini Bay. On the way from Donggala you have to cross the mountainous backbone of Sulawesi (1000 m) before the road turns east to Tomini Bay. From there the guests visit on board of a simple wooden boat two dive sites at Marantale and Parigi where two different dives are offered.

With visibility sometimes reaching 40 m and beyond we saw huge barrel and funnel sponges. In depth under 30 m there are also many Salvadore Dali sponges, a species which can also be seen at the dives sites of Gorontalo. This is also a spot where occasionally whale sharks appear. With the exception of some napoleon wrasses we did not see other big fish.

The excellent visibility and the enormous sponge formations at the dive sites make this trip worth the effort. Guests stay over night in a simple and clean hotel. After two dives on the last day you return to Prince John Dive Resort where you arrive in the afternoon. We enjoyed this trip very much!
On the whole Prince John Dive Resort is really worth a trip. The camera room is clean, well lit and air conditioned. The dive center is well organized and all the dive guides are very motivated and helpful. In the end you even get a list of all dive sites you have visited during the stay at Prince John Dive Resort.

One dive costs 29 €. For boat dives to the Outer Circle add 6 €. There are also dive packages with 10, 15, 20 and 30 dives available. If you stay longer this is an option to cut down costs.