Onok Island: Nature’s gift to man

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If you are the techie-savvy, GPS-toting traveler, you won’t find “Onok” on the map; instead, you’ll find “Roughton Island”.

That is because Roughton Island is the “official name” of Onok, the latter being a local nickname for this wonderful piece of real estate right in the middle of nowhere.

Fronting the main beach of Onok island is a massive reef, rife with a variety of soft and colorful corals that extend towards a sheer drop of about 80 feet, where large pelagic fish swim about — on occasion, you’ll be lucky to encounter a school of yellow fins! The surroundings of this small island is also home to “taklobos” or giant sea clams, and of course, sea turtles! Never have I seen sea turtles — oblivious to our presence — in such quantity!

If I were to go back to Balabac, this is where I would stay longer.

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P.S.

Thank you SB Toto for the hospitality and these mouth-watering dishes!

Notes:
  • The best time to visit Onok and the other islands in the municipality of Balabac is during the summer months of March, April and May, as the waters in and around the islands can be treacherous and rough.
  • Prior arrangements should be made before visiting some islands, particularly Punta Sibaring in Bugsuk Island and Onok Island.
  • Balabac is accessible via 4-hour motorized boat ride from Rio Tuba. There are commuter vans and buses plying the Puerto Prinsesa-Rio Tuba route, which is a 5-hour travel time.
  • A PhP5,000 fee is now collected from each visitor to Onok. This covers the entrance fee, boat transfers from and to  Balabac proper, and meals while on the island. NOTE: There are many boat operators offering Onok trips; however, only a select few are allowed to bring in guests. You may contact SB Toto Astami, Onok administrator, for access to the island and/or to verify if the boatman you hired has permission to enter Onok.
  • IMPORTANT: Waterproof your bags.
  • For a hassle-free Balabac experience, contact +63998 944 7242.

In the Isle of the Giants

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I had the chance to revisit this wonderful piece of heaven in Carles, Iloilo. The last time I was here was about two months after Typhoon Yolanda ravaged the place, and much have already changed! Bancal port is now bustling with passenger boats ferrying people to and from Isla Gigantes. The “tangke” is cleaner and safer and the climb to the “view deck” in Cabugao Gamay is a lot more safer with the ladders and railings. Scallops and wasay-wasay are still in abundance and the crabs get yummier and yummier!

IMPORTANT: Tourists, especially those arriving via tour boats from Estancia, are now required to register at the Carles Tourism Office, where they will be given “access pass” to the Tangke hidden lagoon after payment of P70 per pax environmental fee.

How to get there:

There are several entry points to Isla de Gigantes, but I would rather you take the route that will lead you to Bancal Port in the town of Carles; Isla Gigantes being a part of Carles.

From Iloilo City airport
  • Make use of the airport shuttles/vans/FX stationed just outside the departure area to take you to SM City Iloilo. From there, take a cab to the Ceres Grand Terminal (Ceres buses now have their own terminal), if you prefer taking the bus or to Tagbak Central Terminal, if you’re taking the van. Just make sure you are on the Carles-bound trip, which will take you directly to Bancal Port. [I’m not sure about the schedule of vans in Tagbak, but Ceres buses leave as early as 3AM]. Alternatively, you can just ask the locals what passenger jeep will take you to the Ceres Grand Terminal or Tagbak Central Terminal (Leganes-bound and Jaro-CPU jeeps are some options).
  • Once in Bancal Port, make sure you register at the Tourism Office before you board any of the passenger boats that will take you to Isla Gigantes.

Where to stay:

Several accommodation options are available. We stayed at Dela Vega Cottages (see photos for their contact details) for P350/pax/night in an A/C room for 6. The resort also offers meal packages (starts at P200 per pax) that will surely satisfy your cravings for seafood.

Kalanggaman Island: A Secret No More

Welcome to Kalanggaman Island!

Welcome to Kalanggaman Island!

Surrounded by strong currents and rip tides, no wonder this unspoiled island has remained hidden for a long time, until now.

Yes. We ventured the long road to paradise.

From the rough and very rough roads of Camarines Norte and Sur, to the paved stretch of concrete and asphalt highway in the hinterlands of Albay, Sorsogon and Samar, we endured the 20-hour roadtrip to Tacloban City in Leyte — our final takeoff point to Kalanggaman Island, the most talked-about, Instagrammed and Twitted piece of pristine, unadulterated real estate in Palompon, Southern Leyte.

The trip may have been bum-busting and looooooooong, but the views and sceneries were majestic!

An imperfect paradise

Gaining popularity only in 2013, when M/V Europa Cruise Line – with almost 400 passengers – did a pit stop on the island for a couple of hours. Photos of its powdery white sand beach and its sparkling blue waters, accented by a crescent sandbar, posted on various social media sites sparked a frenzy among beach lovers and adventurers.

I must admit, Kalanggaman Island is not without flaws. For one, the treacherous currents surrounding the famed sandbar prohibited the swimmer in me to enjoy its teal blue waters. Moreover, the local tourism office in-charge of the island’s upkeep was not entirely prepared for the sudden influx of sunworshippers and selfie fanatics crowding the beach, especially during weekends. I actually fear that one day soon some parts of Kalanggaman Island will succumb to trash. Let’s not let that happen. Please.

When in Kalanggaman

The now famous sandbar.

The now famous sandbar.

There are no privately owned resorts in Kalanggaman, but overnight camping is allowed. Don’t worry if you don’t own a tent; the Eco-Tourism Office in Palompon rents them out.

Aside from baking under the sun and snorkeling, there are a few other activities one can actually enjoy on the island. You may want to try your hands at kayaking (PHP150/hr) and stand-up paddling (PHP200/hr); just approach any of the “Island Relations Officers” roaming the island. They’d be easy to spot, ‘coz they’re usually dressed in colorful island-inspired polo shirts: Yeah. Channeling their inner Lito Atienza. Harharhar!

And, for a complete Kalanggaman Island experience, go SCUBA diving! There are no dive shops on the island, so you may have to bring your own or rent it from the Palompon Eco-Tourism Office.

To Get There

As earlier mentioned, we chose to go the long way to Kalanggaman, braving the 20-hour roadtrip; albeit, there are a lot more options to choose from. Here are a few that may fit your traveling style… and budget.

From Manila

Take the 2GO Ferry to Cebu. From Cebu, you can travel to Palompon, Leyte either by bus or RORO boats.

Ceres Liner buses bound for Manila via Maharlika Highway leaves Cebu North Bus Terminal every 8AM and arrives at Pulangbato Port in Bogo City, Cebu at around 12NN. From there, you can catch a RORO boat bound for Palompon.

Of course, you can always opt to travel by air to Tacloban City. From there, you can get on a GT van to Palompon or, if you’re in a hurry, just hire a van.

Once in the town of Palompon, take a pedicab (locally called “potpot”) to the Eco-Tourism Office – the yellow building within the municipal office complex.

A trip to Kalanggaman Island requires prior “booking” with the local tourism office, as the local government limits the number of tourists per day to preserve the beauty of the place. Make sure you made a reservation before going.

Travel time from Palompon to Kalanggaman Island is about an hour.

Upon reaching the island, you’re free to find your own sweet spot to pitch your tent for the day – sit back, relax and chew in the scenery.

SCHEDULE OF FEES

Overnight Rate

  • International tourists               PHP750
  • Non-Palompon tourists                   225
  • Palompon tourists                             75
  • Students and senior citizens enjoy a much lower entrance fee.

Outrigger bancas range from PHP3,000 to 4,000, depending on the number of passengers.

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The absence of presence

Photo taken at Kalanggaman Island, Palompon, Leyte

Photo taken at Kalanggaman Island, Palompon, Leyte

Vanishing Point

Tantaran sandbar in Quezon, Palawan

Tantaran sandbar in Quezon, Palawan

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