Macro & Manta’s: A throwback to Bali’s underwater world

It’s Thursday so it’s time for another throwback! This post will take us all the way back to September/October 2013 when I traveled to Indonesia with Sandra. We first went on a ‘dry’ tour across Java to try and see most of the highlights of that part of the country before going on to Bali. Here we first stayed at Pemuteran on the North before going to Nusa Lembongan in the South.

This was going to be my first experience diving, and traveling, in Asia so I was stoked to finally visit and dive at such beautiful places!

Menjangan – Pristine coral reefs

Menjangan Island is a small island on the Northeast side of Bali. Being located in the Bali Barat National park it has a protected status allowing it to remain in pristine condition. Pulau Menjangan is home to many species and if you want to immerse yourself in an abundance of marine life this is the place to go!

Pulau Menjangan
Menjangan dive sites

We visited four different dive sites, Eel Garden, POS, Temple point and Anchor wreck. Each had its own uniqueness and luckily they were all far away from the snorkeling crowd and glass bottomed boats which stayed closer to the shore. We had arranged our diving via our homestay (Double U Homestay in Pemuteran – highly recommended!) so we didn’t have anything to worry about except for getting breakfast on time and heading to the car that picked us up. We got on a small wooden boat, of which there were plenty. It was quite a streamlined operation for many operators using similar boats.

Now it was time to get in the water. We started of at POS II, where we would be doing a sort-of wall dive. I had been diving in the Mediterranean sea before, but this really was something completely different. Sure, the climate and water temperature is a huge difference, but the abundance of life -Wow! I had never seen this before except for on TV. Talking about the guide’s knowledge of the location: just a few minutes after submerging he went to some coral and pointed out a Pygmee seahorse! I did my best capturing it, you’ll see below… I really need a macro lens and I also didn’t have a strobe back then. After the first dive we had a lunch on the boat before going into the water before, this time at Temple Point. As the name suggests, it’s in front of the temple on the eastern part of the island. Again we followed the reef on the wall and came across enormous corals and countless fish. This was the dream!

The second day we went diving on Eel Garden and Anchor wreck. First came Eel Garden. There was a slight current making the dive very enjoyable and easy, until we got to a point where we had to fight the current to get somewhat shallower. A group in front of us had seen a couple of reef sharks, but we weren’t as fortunate as them. Seeing a shark was my dream, I hadn’t before and knowing they were there made me even more excited! Eel Garden, as the name suggests, had one fantastic trait – the ‘garden’ with eels. A large number of eels rising up from the sea floor. It was amazing, how they moved, how they just made the whole scene out of this world. I had never seen something like this. Here we could also hide a bit from the current as it was on a sandy plain between the reefs, making it easier to make some good shots.

Before the dive in the afternoon at Anchor Wreck the guide told us that he knew a frogfish’s location. These fish normally don’t move around a lot as they don’t really have a good capability to swim. Having found a good spot, it’ll stay there for a couple of days before walking along the sea floor or drifting in the current to a new spot. So chances were good on seeing it! Having never seen one, again the excitement rose and we entered the water. Submerging ourselves in the tropical waters just wearing a shorty (that was a big change from the drysuit) we found ourselves following the guide, leading us exactly to where the frogfish was. Such an incredibly strange fish.

Conclusion of these two days: diving in these waters is amazing!

Nusa Lembongan – Wild and adventurous

After some traveling across Bali, going into the mountainous central area and climbing the second largest peak of the island, the Batukaru, we ended up at Two Fish divers on Nusa Lembongan. A lovely resort with a pool, bar and dining table surrounded by the apartments. Immediately after arriving it felt like home thanks to the great ambiance and the people like our guide Theresia taking good care of us.

Nusa Lembongan dive sites

Nusa Lembongan, Cenigan and Penida were going to give us a whole new diving experience in Asia as the islands are in de middle of the strait between Bali and Lombok which makes for colder water and more currents. It had even happened that people diving at the Gili’s drifted away all the way to Nusa Lembongan overnight after losing sight of their boat. Colder water also has one major advantage – it is richer in nutrients, making for a higher chance of encountering big marine life like manta rays and sharks and we were in the right season to have a chance to meet Mola Mola, better known as the ocean sunfish!

Since the water was a lot colder (around 20 degrees instead of 30), we had to get into 5mm full wetsuits. As the dives were more advanced, there also were more experienced divers here than beginners which was great for the true diving experience. Nusa Lembongan features many sites, under which the infamous Blue Corner. Conditions have to align to be able to dive there and usually it’s an ‘all or nothing’-site. You can have sharks, Mola Mola, turtles and stingrays all at the same time, or see nothing. Besides this unique spot, on the south of Penida there’s Manta point where the manta’s come to feed and visit the cleaning station and on the north there are many dive sites which are usually a bit more forgiving regarding currents and visibility.

The first days we were diving at the sites on the northern shore, SD, PED, Topakayeh, and we also visited Crystal bay. During one dive a group in front of us started moving frantically, they were seeing something special! I raced with all my power, but was too late. Being at about 25 meters, I got to experience a CO2-induced feeling of panic. Quite scary to feel, but I knew it was because of my exertion and the pressure so I managed to stay calm and let it settle by just breathing slowly. At least it’s something I can always tell my students what it’s like now. After coming back on the boat, it appeared they had seen a Mola Mola. And I just missed it. Another day, diving at the northern sites we experienced quite a strong downcurrent. Theresia had warned us this might happen as the currents on Nusa are quite unpredictable. Being under the surface it was something you could sort of see coming – there was a sudden change of ‘atmosphere’ in how the fish behaved. Then came cold water from the surface, moving down on us and we all moved close to the reef looking for a stone to grab hold of or putting a pointer in the sand. It’s quite something different to experience from just drifting! And after the downcurrent had come and gone, the intensity and direction of the current that was before it was totally different! This place is amazing!

The thing I was most excited about was the chance to finally get to see sharks and manta’s! We went to both Manta Point’s on the south of Penida where the visibility was a bit less, but nothing we weren’t used to. I always find it so funny that the guides apologize for the ‘bad visibility’ when it’s less than 20 meters as in The Netherlands I start saying to my students ‘It’s amazing down there now with up to 5 meters of vis!’. So well, this was great visibility for me! I was so excited to get in the water and have a chance to see these majestic manta’s just cruising around. The first site we visited was a cleaning station. There’s a route the manta’s take to get to the station, so we were just waiting along the route when the first manta I’ve ever seen came flying by. Words cannot describe, it’s just pure beauty. So graceful, so elegant, so gentle though so large. There were about 5 manta’s on this site at the moment we were under. It was amazing being there with them. A bit sad to leave the beauty of the underwater world and return to the surface to have some lunch and change the tanks, we were told that we were going to a small bay where the manta’s usually come to feed and that we could have an opportunity to get in the water snorkeling with them. There were three of them, circling us and making us swim quite hard to keep up with them and intercept their paths. But it was definitely worth it!

Two days later we were asked ‘where do you want to go diving?’. Well that’s easy, Manta Point! The weather wasn’t as friendly as the other day and snorkeling during lunch would certainly not belong to the options. The wind had picked up and caused big waves, reaching higher than our small boat. And underwater, the waves were causing a powerful surge, throwing us forward a couple of meters, before taking it all back in a strong pull again. A couple of times I was almost crashed into the rocks that were on the bottom, so fumbling around with the camera and making photo’s was getting me challenged.

On our last day we had some easier dives on the North shore before going home, back to the cold Dutch weather and saying goodbye to the wonderful marine life around Bali. I’m definitely coming back to Asia for some more diving!

Have you already been diving in Asia? If the answer is no, go and book your tickets! If yes, where do I have to go?


Author: Kim ten Wolde

30/The Azores/Engineer/SCUBA diving Instructor/Traveler/Cyclist/(Underwater) Photographer/Shark lover & OneOceanGlobal Ambassador

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