Rich reefs and marine diversity in the land of temples
Season: Year round diving
Water Temperature: 21-28°C/70-82°F
Diving: House reef, Walls, Coral gardens, Critter diving, Wrecks, Shore diving, Boat diving, Sharks, Manta Rays, Mola Mola
Nitrox (Scuba Seraya Resort)
Can be combined with Wakatobi and Komodo
Non-diving activities include Water Garden visit, golf, temple tours, walking.
One of the most beautiful and culturally rich islands in the world, Bali is a seemingly endless exotic festival of colour and pageantry. Bali’s friendly people, with their natural smile, have welcomed travellers from around the world for many centuries. Culturally, Bali is unsurpassed. The Agama Hindu Dharma, practiced in Bali, is based on a complex ritual calendar and gives rise to a series of ceremonial events marked by dance performances, lavish and colourful temple rituals, and the wearing of amazing costumes. All this makes Bali a great choice for divers with non-diving partners. Non-divers can enjoy excursions to experience Bali’s fascinating culture as well as have free time to relax and unwind.
The small, exotic island of Bali is world famous for its beautiful landscapes and rich cultural heritage, but its world class diving is a much better kept secret. Dive sites such as the Liberty Wreck at Tulamben have been rightly famous for years, and photographs taken here have filled many coffee-table books. Add to this some great ‘small creature’ dive sites (frequently referred to as ‘muck diving’ sites), discovered in the last few years, that rival the best in the world, and offshore reef dives that produce regular encounters with Manta Rays, and in Bali we have a diversity of superb and recently discovered diving to rival anywhere in the world.
THE MENJANGAN AREA
Hidden away on the northwest coast next to the Bali Barat National Park is the small town of Menjangan. From one’s first glimpse, from the adjacent mainland, it is clear that Menjangan Island is going to provide great diving. Steep craggy walls and grottoes dominate the reefs, which are draped in red, pink, orange and yellow sea fans. This environment is home to a profusion of all the usual tropical reef fish as well as turtles and the occasional reef shark. The dramatic scenery and good visibility make this an ideal location for wide angle and reef fish photography. For the dedicated macro enthusiast, or the keen fish watcher, this area is also home to pygmy seahorses: both the Barbiganti Pygmy Seahorse (Hippocampus barbiganti) and an attractive, naked-looking variety known locally as the ‘Plucked Chicken’ pygmy seahorse (a type of H. denise)! Menjangan is, however, also rightly-famous for its wall diving, with gorgonian-clad walls beginning at 26 metres and ending at 60 metres. These gorgeous walls are filled with cracks, crevices and grottoes with good populations of sea fans, whip corals, sponges and soft corals. Corals of every shape and colour drip from the walls creating an almost kaleidoscopic underwater experience! Schooling Bannerfish, butterflyfish, groupers, frogfish, triggerfish, sweetlips, Sailfin Blennies and Orangutan Crabs make for exciting yet easy diving and plenty of photo opportunities. There are only rare sightings of larger fish around Menjangan due to the island’s protection from cold currents coming in from the sea. Although the best diving in Bali is said to be April to November, the Menjangan island area can be dived year round as it offers some of the most protected diving in Bali. The clarity of the water can be amazing and is at its very best in October and November, when 50 metres plus can be experienced. A mild current of about one knot is usual.
Secret Bay is a more poetic name than Gilimanuk Bay, which is adjacent to where the ferries dock that ply backwards and forwards between Bali and Java. Secret Bay, about 20 minutes by road from Menjangan, is about 2 kilometres wide and a mere 3 to 12 metres deep. This fascinating place, being the only bay off the narrow Bali Strait, forms a catch tank for many juvenile or larval fish. A reef just outside the mouth of the bay creates a channel through which the nutrient-rich waters sweep. The channel is lined with volcanic black and silver sand where plump, healthy fish enjoy the cooler water (about 25°C). Few large or pelagic species are found here, hence the safe haven for the juveniles! This is macro diving for the enthusiast or underwater photographer with rare marine species but no rich coral growth. Night diving at Secret Bay is a unique experience with cephalopods in all shapes and sizes and crustaceans wandering in search of something tasty to eat. Visibility is limited, and the topography flat and featureless, but don’t be fooled into thinking that this means that the diving is not exciting. Secret Bay is famous with critter-hunting underwater photographers and fish watchers for turning up, on their first dive here, creatures that have eluded them for years. The flat, dark sandy seabed is home to a multitude of nudibranchs, seahorses, cuttlefish, octopuses (including the Mimic Octopus), ghost pipefish, frogfish, seamoths and scorpionfish.
THE TULAMBEN AREA
Tulamben, situated on the northeast coast of Bali, has on its doorstep what many proclaim as ‘the best shore dive in the world’, the Liberty Wreck (or Tulamben Wreck), a US Liberty ship torpedoed by the Japanese in WWII. Lying just 30 metres from the water’s edge on a sandy slope, the hull is clothed with encrusting sponges, honeycomb oysters, soft corals, tunicates and crinoids and is the habitat for a vast range of fish life including a dense school of resident jacks, schooling Bumphead Parrotfish, stingrays, cornetfish, triggerfish, Coral Groupers, Scribble Filefish, rabbitfish, surgeonfish, numerous species of butterflyfish, clownfish, gobies and blennies, sergeant majors, bannerfish and pufferfish. Many coffee-table-book photographs were captured right here on this wreck. Photographers can never go in with the wrong lens here! A little further along is a sandy slope with a low-lying reef which attracts octopus, moray eels and mantis shrimps, along with schools of reef fish. Rare and even new species of animals are encountered from time to time. The slope leads to a drop-off with good coral formations, sea fans, barrel sponges and soft coral, offering good wide-angle photo opportunities. Night diving on the wreck is very special during the full moon with Spanish Dancers, luminous flashlightfish and that amazing tropical phenomenon, phosphorescence. This must be one of the best places in the world for a varied and easy night dive! This picturesque wreck is covered in soft corals, seafans and a moving shroud of fish. Fish life on the Liberty Wreck is incredible in diversity and friendliness. For many photographers this site is known simply as the best place to photograph fish in Southeast Asia. You are almost certain to meet George, the resident Great Barracuda, who will swim through to join you on your dive – George is very friendly despite the dragon-like appearance of his teeth! He is very happy to pose for you and enjoys company. On the Liberty wreck there is everything from the large school of circling Bigeye Jacks to groupers, snappers and sweetlips, as well as all the typical smaller reef fish and a range of oddball critters. Some parts of the wreck have formed swim-throughs and the famous pillar room could be a dive all of its own, with several long coral-encrusted struts forming any number of diagonals and right-angles to fill your frame. Have a look at Australian photographer Roger Steene’s fantastic book Coral Reefs to get a flavour of the diversity found at Tulamben. This is one of those dives where photographers can never go in with the wrong lens (or enough film)!
A visit to Tulamben also offers divers the opportunity to sample several new ‘critter diving’ sites in the area. New sites are being discovered all the time and the very few photographers who have dived them come out of the water raving. At a newly discovered dive spot on Bali’s east coast it is quite common to see more than one species of Rhinopias (scorpionfish) on a dive as well as multiple ghost pipefish, frogfish and the fascinating boxer crab that holds stinging anemones in its claws to use for its protection. One recently discovered site here is phenomenal for nudibranchs: Australian photographer Michael Aw counted no less than 41 species on one afternoon dive, breaking his personal record of 28 previously set in Lembeh Strait! Another newly discovered dive site on the north coast is probably the best spot on Bali for both Mimic and Blue Ring Octopuses, but this site also seethes with all the ‘usual’ specialities, such as seahorses, assorted scorpionfish (including Ambon Scorpionfish), frogfish and, of course, a multitude of invertebrates.
Seraya Secrets, the house ‘reef’, is a ‘muck dive’ sloping off to around 25 metres, however, one could quite happily spend an hour wandering around at just seven metres. Seraya Secrets begins with ‘The Dome’, a man-made structure covered in crinoids and soft corals, guarded by some very tame batfish. These must be the most photographer-friendly batfish in the world, and are truly a photographers dream! Seraya Secrets is home to ‘Hilary and Rachel’, mother and daughter yellow moray eels, a multitude of shrimps and lionfish of all sizes, some of which are especially cooperative, fanning their spines and fins for all to see.
Japanese Wreck is well worth the 30-minute car ride to the small bay where the boat, full of your gear already set up, will be waiting for you. The small tug lies in about 3 meters of water but one can easily be distracted to look for pygmy seahorses at a mere 13 meters. Take a magnifying glass! The boat is covered in soft corals, crinoids, sea-fans and anemones and right in the heart of the vessel is a huge, ever-shifting school of glorious Golden Sweepers.
Every dive destination on the planet seems to have a dive named ‘coral garden’ but Tulamben’s Coral Garden is a suitably apt name! It could also be called ‘Anemone City’ as close to the entry point there is a carpet of small anemones interspersed with larger ones, each one home to up to 4 or 5 different species of anemone fish. You may also be graced with the presence of a Black-tip Reef Shark, Ribbon Eels and a small group of enormous Bumphead Parrotfish – the bison of the reef.
August to October is the Sunfish season in Bali. Sunfish (Mola mola) are without doubt one of the most bizarre and mysterious fish in the ocean. Sunfish not only hold the record for the most eggs produced by any vertebrate (one ‘small’ 1.4metre female has over 300 million eggs), they are also the heaviest bony fish (a 3.1metre-long, 4.2metre high specimen weighed 2.2 tonnes)! It is possible to book trips to the Lembongan and Nusa Penida regions where sightings of the sunfish are more likely during this season, though several of our clients and photographers have been visited by Sunfish on the Liberty Wreck!
Located a short boat ride off Bali’s south east coast are the islands of Nusa Penida and Nusa Lembongan. The waters surrounding these islands are famous for excellent opportunities to encounter two of the ocean’s most beguiling creatures; the Mola Mola (or Sunfish) and Manta Rays. Diving here is for advanced divers, as currents can be strong and unpredictable, and water temperatures a cool 22°C. However, the rewards are great, as the hard coral reefs at Crystal Bay team with colourful reef fish and when the Mola Molas come out to inspect the visiting divers they often hang in the water, surfing an invisible stream in the currents. The visibility here is often terrific and so sightings are all the more exhilarating, not just brief flashes of a fin or an eye. The Sunfish is a peculiar creature, with its brown and peach mottled tones and a seemingly distorted face and dorsal fins, it is not the most attractive of undersea creatures but intensely compelling to watch! Also at Nusa Penida is Manta Point. Here there resides a population of Manta Rays that are often very willing to perform for the divers as they feed over the rocks and pinnacles. This site can have swell and surge and divers should be fit and experienced to deal with the conditions.
For divers wishing to visit Nusa Penida we recommend a stay at The Watergarden Hotel in Candidasa, which is conveniently located to the bay from which Aquamarine Diving operate their Nusa Penida day trips. Aquamarine will collect you from your hotel in a comfortable air-conditioned minibus and take you to Padang Bai for the twenty minute boat ride to Nusa Penida and the Crystal Bay. With Aquamarine you will do a thre tank dive day, with one dive each at Crystal Bay and Manta Point before lunch on a sandy beach, followed by a second dive at Crsytal Bay. Boats have shade and a marine head. Towles, lunch and water are all provided.
STOP-OVERS: These are available in Singapore or Kuala Lumpur, depending on flight routing.
COMBINATIONS: As all liveaboard cruises to Komodo & The Nusa Tenggara and holidays to Wakatobi are routed via Denpasar, Bali, why not combine a visit to Bali with a visit to one of these extraordinary places? Talk to us about the possibilities.
SANUR SATIVA COTTAGES: From $34 per night bed and breakfast on a twin/share basis in a Deluxe Room. The single occupancy rate is double. Airport transfers are not included: local taxis are freely available and relatively inexpensive.
PURI SANTRIAN HOTEL: From $87 per night bed and breakfast (plus afternoon tea) on a twin/share basis in a Santrian Club Room. The single occupancy rate is double. Airport transfers are not included: local taxis are freely available and relatively inexpensive.
THE WATERGARDEN: From $58 per night room-only in a Deluxe Bungalow on a twin/share basis. The single occupancy rate is double. Airport transfers are not included and cost about $25 one way for two people or about $52 one way for one person.
FLIGHTS: Example price: from about $1487 return from Los Angeles to Denpasar. There are daily flight connections to Denpasar.