To most of us Bali is a place for sun and surf with just a hint of the exotic and wonderful spicy (but not too spicy) food like nasi goreng thrown in for good measure. But what about the diving?
There are stories about the fabled Mola Mola, giant sunfish that arise from the murky depths once a year for an annual clean by the local butterfly fish, and others of divers occasionally getting lost off some place called Nusa Penida.
Nusa Penida was my second diving destination in Bali. My first was the equally fabled: USAT Liberty, at Tulamben Bay, a 2½ hour drive from Sanur. Only fate could design such a perfectly accessible wreck – now turned to reef and offering everything from turtles to scorpion fish, big Sailfin surgeons to colourful little nudibranchs.
The 120-metre cargo boat was conscripted by the US, torpedoed by the Japanese and beached at Tulamben. In 1963 tremors produced by Gunung Agung, the local volcano, slipped the ship back into the water and laid her on her side 20 m offshore in 20 m of water – every diver’s dream wreck.
As it’s a shore-dive, we get three day dives (on nitrox) and a night dive, with lunch and afternoon tea at the local resort. The wreck is so big it has a bit of everything: a large stern and rudder standing mightily, sections of wreck where you can safely penetrate, potato cod cleaning station, and in places where the wreck looks more like a reef, stacks of reef fish of every size, shape and colour. It also has its resident turtles.
As I was sitting watching the light fade waiting for my night dive I did wonder how such a reef could form.
With my basic (high-school) knowledge of geography, I understand that where I am, in the north, with a big, black sand covered volcano stretching all the way to the ocean you will get black sandy shores; whilst to the south you’ve got white sandy beaches and great surf. How can that add up to great diving terrain?
Something they didn’t teach me in geography was that the Pacific Ocean is about 1 m higher than the Indian Ocean and that it flows steadily from north to south through the gaps between the chain of islands called Indonesia. So there’s plenty of fresh, nutrient rich seawater, perfect for reef building should the occasion arise. Hence, pretty much anywhere where there is a rocky outcrop, a sheltered bay or something like a wreck ”“ a reef will form and a whole reef’s ecosystem will form around it.
I just lamented the fact that I only got to dive the Liberty four times! Next time I’m coming for a couple of days and I’ll do it justice.
My second stop is Bali’s other fabled spot: Nusa Penida. The myths and rumours around this little island are true ”“ and while it is certainly a beautiful place to dive, it deserves respect. The main reason for that is the 1 m difference between the Pacific and Indian oceans.
The currents that flow around the island are very strong, so even at the edge of sheltered bays the current is noticeable and not always flowing horizontally, sometimes there’s a downdraught. Choose your dive operator carefully – they should have a very sturdy craft with at least two powerful engines to get you safely across the Lombok Strait and back ”“ and beware it can be a bit bumpy!
Once at Nusa Penida, you’re in for a treat: there are two fantastic dive sites here. One called Manta Point, and for good reason – we saw eight different mantas on the one dive, gracefully swimming around us and at the cleaning stations. The second dive is Crystal Bay – another well-named site. There was probably 40 m of visibility giving us great photo opportunities with anthias, fusiliers, butterflies, angels and anemonefish. All showing up in glorious technicolour because of the crystal clear waters.
My last Bali dive was Nusa Lembongan which is close to Nusa Penida but has more sheltered coastline surrounded by fringing reef which runs from about 5 m to 20 m at a pleasant 30° slope. There is current – there is always some current – but this makes it a very pleasant drift dive. Our dive master checks the direction and we stride into clear, warm waters.
The coral is in perfect condition at Nusa Lembongan because no one has engaged in dynamite fishing here and it’s also a reef less travelled. All the better for us, as we adjust to neutral buoyancy at 16 m and drift along. It’s like being an armchair traveller as we just hang there while the reef comes to us. (When the drift comes to an end, I’m like “What you mean I actually have to fin now!?”
And from my subaquatic armchair I got some great snaps of square spot anthias, colourful reef scenes with zillions of little damsels, some weary looking hawkfish and the black butterflyfish.
So despite what you might at first think, Bali has a great diversity of great dive sites. They are the kind of dives you could do over and over again – and I probably will.