I’ll be honest. Having never been fortunate enough to dive in Asia, I’d never heard of Gorontalo - until recently. Nestled among sheer limestone cliffs on the northern arm of Indonesia’s four-fingered island of Sulawesi, the Province of Gorontalo is situated at the heart of the “coral triangle,” the most biologically rich concentration of marine life in the world. Smack-dab on the equator, Gorontalo is a centuries-old community that is largely dependent on farming and fishing. However, as the world learns of the rich marine ecosystem just off its shores, tourism will no doubt gain in importance. Soon, people will likely be heading to the region in increasing numbers. And by “people,” I mean: divers.
In an effort to attract those divers, Fadel Muhammad, the progressive Governor of the province, initiated the book Gorontalo: Hidden Paradise. (He also penned the Foreword.) Assembling a top-notch team - including author Rantje Allen, and marine photojournalists William Tan (who co-authored Silent Symphony), Takako Uno, and Stephen Wong - Gorontalo: Hidden Paradise is pretty much the world’s most beautiful postcard. With its serene allure, it beckons you to come and explore its secrets. “Hi there, ” the book coos. “Wish you were here.” Unlike traditional travel guides that discuss how to get in and get out of a location, Gorontalo: Hidden Paradise doesn’t bother with that. After reading the book’s lyrical words and looking at its remarkable images, however, I can assure you that you’ll drop everything to find out how to get in to this beautiful location soon. And by “soon,” I mean: now.
The book opens with a history of the Gorontalo and a brief description of topside activities. It then launches full-tilt into the good stuff: the good stuff, in this case, being the diving. Allen has spent much of the last decade diving in Gorontalo. His knowledge and passion sparkle on each page, and the captions he provides for the images in the book are both amusing and informative. But let’s face it. The real star of this show is not Allen (sorry, dude!). The real star is the collection of images that shine, pop, glimmer, and burst like carefully packaged fireworks - if fireworks could ever be so gorgeous.
Gorontalo is home to numerous wrecks, including the elegant yet ghostly Tjenderawashi barge. Moreover, considering the towering limestone cliffs that line the perimeter of the island, it’s no wonder that Gorontalo also sports some unique cavern diving at Jinn Caves.
In the text, Allen explains that Gorontalo-ans are aggressive protectors of the reefs, keeping out foreigners, maintaining traditional fishing practices, and outlawing anchoring on the reefs. From the images in the book, all their hard work shows. The reefs are healthy, vibrant, colorful - and huge!
Gorontalo boasts more than 500 species of hard corals. From Salvador Dali sponges - found nowhere else in the world! - to amazing and delicate (and extremely rare) blue sea fans, Gorontalo’s underwater topography is stunning.
However, neither the wrecks, nor the caverns, nor the reefs are Gorontalo’s main appeal: it’s the marine life that grabs you. Gorontalo: Hidden Paradise is loaded with dramatic and unusual images of marine life. From fun-loving Bottlenose dolphins, to fearsome Scalloped hammerheads; from puny Popcorn-head shrimp, to Pearl-eyed morays, the underwater world here is thriving.
Shooters: make sure your memory cards are empty when you arrive on the island, because you’re going to need all the space you can get. Still shooting film? Hope you dedicated an entire suitcase, because the waters off Gorontalo are full of fish. From shooting all the seahorses - the group found six within the first five minutes of hitting the water! - Teddy bear crabs, Shameface crabs, Reef lizardfish, and super-rare fish Togean flasher wrasse, your fingers are going to be tired from tripping the shutter so frequently.
In addition to the wreck, cavern, and reef diving, the area boasts excellent muck diving. The careful observer can spot fingernail-small Juvenile flounder, shy Gurnard lionfish, hideous Hispid frogfish, or Yellow-peppered shrimpgobies.
Moreover, if your eyes focus sharply, you’re likely to spot lots of unusual nudibranchs, including Apricot side-gilled sea slugs, and juvenile Carlson’s halgerda nudibranch. One trip to Gorontalo, and your collection of underwater images is going to be virtually unmatched.
Near the end of the book, Allen explains that the group only explored a few miles of Gorontalo’s three coastlines while making the book. “Much still lies hidden, unexplored,” he writes. If all this beauty and diversity is just immediately adjacent to the coastline, imagine what mysteries the rest of the surrounding waters must hold. Divers could spend weeks - or longer! - exploring the reefs off Gorontalo.
Showcasing one of the richest ecosystems in the world, Gorontalo: Hidden Paradise is a treasure. More than just a coffee table book of astounding beauty, the four-person team that put this book together have introduced to the world - and especially the diving community - a new, special, one-of-a-kind dive site. Filled with marvelous and unique marine specimens - many of which are found nowhere else in the world - Gorontalo might be the diving nirvana that we’ve been looking for all these years. Vibrant fish life. Uncrowded, healthy reefs. Unique topside attractions. What more is there for divers? I’m convinced that Gorontalo is heaven.
Personally, after looking through Gorontalo: Hidden Paradise, I want to see this paradise though my own camera lens. Have a look at the book for yourself - you can order your own copy for US$50 - and you’ll see what I’m talking about. You’ll want to visit Gorontalo, too. And by “want to visit”, I mean: drop everything that you’re doing and head there immediately.