The Jakarta Post
It's only 27 kilometers, or about an hour's drive, from the city of Gorontalo to Olele, a village in Kabila Bone district, Bone Bolango regency.
Along the winding and ascending coastal road to the village on the beach, travelers can enjoy attractive views of fishermen's settlements.
Sheltered by a small promontory, the site has clear waters in which diverse species of fish flaunt their colors, chasing each other amid coral reefs and offering a captivating spectacle.
But the visuals don't end there. Deeper into the blue sea lies a world-class marine park, an underwater paradise no less gorgeous than other famed sites in the country like Bunaken, Wakatobi and Togean in Sulawesi or Raja Ampat in West Papua.
'Various giant coral sponges of different shapes only found here have become an icon of Olele,' said Romi Wijaya, 41, a diver from Gorontalo. Some are known as Salvador Dali sponges and others are compared to Pablo Picasso paintings due to their unique forms.
Divers can also take dramatic pictures at Jin Cave to the left side of Olele's beach. The vertical cave has a depth of 50 meters and is rich in a wide variety of marine organisms.
'The cave is home to various forms of soft corals and Salvador Dali sponges. It's 2 meters in diameter in some parts,' he said. The biota can be found at a depth of 20 meters, where endemic Napoleon fish are easily spotted.
According to Romi, Olele's waters within the Gulf of Tomini are protected from extreme currents. 'In the wet season or during strong winds divers can still find alternative places around Olele,' said the man, who is a dermatologist.
At night, undersea life is characterized by more prominent colors of coral reef and tamer fish. 'Fish get more approachable at night ['¦] If we're lucky, we can encounter dotted sharks,' Romi added.
Wawan Iko, 34, another Gorontalo diver, said there are many diving locations besides Olele along the southern coast of Gorontalo from Biluhu village to Bilungala village, totaling 23 spots.
'But Olele has been the favorite diving spot in Gorontalo,' he said.
The cost to dive in Olele and its environs is reasonable. At Rp 2.5 million (US$255) to 2.75 million, one can visit six to seven dive spots and packages include basic hotel accommodation, transportation, a motorboat, lunch and an oxygen tank.
'For other diving equipment and a star-rated hotel, the cost can be adjusted,' said Wawan.
The dive guide pointed out that apart from tourists from other regions, residents of Gorontalo had lately become interested in undersea adventures as well, with at least 200 active local divers, most of whom joined a local dive club.
Visitors without dive certificates can still enjoy Olele's underwater scenery by hiring a boat with glass panes or snorkeling. 'A boat with a capacity of 10 passengers is available at Rp 250,000 to be used to one's satisfaction,' said Yong Mahmud, 32, who manages boat rentals.
Snorkeling equipment is also rented out at only Rp 50,000 along with a pocket digital camera for a maximum depth of 5 meters. The boats and other apparatus are facilitated by the National Program for Community Empowerment in the tourism sector.
Olele is also a great place for anglers. The village, with a population of 1,028, is frequented by hundreds to thousands of anglers monthly. They pay only Rp 20,000 to 25,000 to hire a fishing boat.
However, the hidden paradise of Olele still faces various constraints to its development. The most prominent is the limited means of transportation. 'Olele's road access has remained in poor condition particularly in the wet season, while it's the only entry to the village,' said Romi and Wawan.
The accommodation in Olele village needs to be supplied with clean water. 'Luxury buildings are not necessary. Homestay facilities managed by local residents will suffice, coupled with typical cooking of the area and traditional art performances as part of community empowerment, which will surely attract a lot more tourists,' said Romi.
Meanwhile, sea transportation facilities should be provided as an alternative such as cruisers, besides more professional package trip management.
But without the full support of the government, Olele will remain a truly hidden marine paradise.