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Maratua, another island in the Sangalaki Archipelago, has even greater numbers of non-poisonous jellyfish in its lagoon, as well as a very strange coral reef. Spectral fluorescent spires and swaying technicolour starfish loom out at you as thousands of jellyfish brush up against you in the chalk-green waters. Maratua and Derawan are the only habited islands in the archipelago, and an airport is planned on Maratua for 2013. This would make access even easier, although it is being contested by environmentalists looking to protect the resident hawksbill turtles.

A 10-minute boat ride across the turquoise waters from Maratua brings you to Nabucco Island Resort, a boutique hotel set on its own island amid sand spits and trippy rock formations. Most of the guests to its flower-filled grounds spend little time in their luxury cabanas or the excellent restaurant; they are too busy heading out with the hotel dive school to nearby Barracuda Point, searching for hammerhead sharks, tuna and barracuda.

Whether you come to these islands as a traveller on a budget or a dedicated diver, the feeling is the same; exhilaration matched with a sense of discovery, for paradise never lasts forever.

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© 2012 Lonely Planet. All rights reserved. The article ‘Derawan Island and the Sangalaki Archipelago’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.

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