TO­TAL IM­MER­SION: BALI

Action Asia - - CONTENTS - Text by Si­mon Prid­more

The hol­i­day isle still of­fers a wide va­ri­ety of scuba sights, from small crit­ters to pelag­ics, reefs to wrecks.

FOR A QUICK, CON­VE­NIENT TASTE OF the best of In­done­sian div­ing in all its va­ri­ety then Bali of­fers the per­fect so­lu­tion. It’s easy to get to, easy to get around, has a so­phis­ti­cated tourist in­fra­struc­ture and of­fers a wide range of at­trac­tions: ac­ces­si­ble ship­wrecks, beau­ti­ful coral reefs, deep drop-offs, big fish sight­ings and black sand muck dives with rare and un­usual crea­tures. For­get the is­land’s west and south coasts: you can leave them to the surfers. Bali’s ma­jor dive spots are in Pe­muteran in the north­west, along the Tu­lam­ben and Amed coast­line in the north­east, close to Padang Bai in the south­east, and around the off­shore is­lands of Penida, Lem­bon­gan and Ceningan across the south­ern straits. How to choose where to go? It de­pends what you want to see and, to a lesser ex­tent, what time of year you are vis­it­ing.

Reefs

If your idea of a coral reef is an ex­plo­sion of colour in­ter­spersed by patches of soft white sand, then Men­jan­gan, a small, un­in­hab­ited is­land close to Pe­muteran, has what you are look­ing for. On a clear day, the sea bed al­most seems to glow in the mid­day sun. The reefs else­where in Bali may be equally rich but they have a slightly gloomier as­pect, mainly be­cause of the black vol­canic sand that sur­rounds the coral out­crops.

Muck

Bali’s black sand slopes bring their own bounty, be­ing home to bizarre, strangely-shaped an­i­mals that be­long in sci­ence fic­tion or fan­tasy nov­els. They carr y fit­tingly weird names, such as won­der­pus, cock­a­too wasp­fish, ghost pipefish, har­lequin shrimp, rhinopias, clown frog­fish, in­im­i­cus and so­lar-pow­ered nudi­branch. The search for these rare trea­sures of the sea is com­monly re­ferred to as muck div­ing, be­cause the places they are typ­i­cally found are on the face of it aes­thet­i­cally ap­peal­ing. These crea­tures live un­der jet­ties, in the es­tu­ar­ies of streams and close to fish­ing vil­lages. Along with Lem­beh Straits and the is­land of Am­bon, Bali is one of In­done­sia’s top muck div­ing des­ti­na­tions. All over the is­land, muck Mec­cas abound: Pe­muteran Bay and Puri Jati in the north­west; Tu­lam­ben, Ser­aya, Amed and Li­pah Bay in the north­east and Padang Bai are all truly world-class. This is where div­ing’s

nerds come to tick-off the prizes at the top of their fish-wish-lists.

Big fish

At the other end of the size spectrum, the waters off Nusa Lem­bon­gan and Nusa Penida are where divers flock to sat­isfy their big fish de­sires. An ever-present pop­u­la­tion of manta rays can of­ten be found clean­ing and preen­ing there and, dur­ing the months of June to Oc­to­ber, when up­wellings bring cooler wa­ter close to the sur­face, oceanic sun­fish or mola mola make fre­quent ap­pear­ances. Bali’s sharki­est div­ing, how­ever, cen­tres around a few cur­rent-swept rocks off the coast of Padang Bai, which are white tip nurs­eries and where larger sharks are of­ten spot­ted too.

Ship­wrecks

Bali’s wreck div­ing is in the north­east. The huge WWII Lib­erty wreck lies just off the beach in Tu­lam­ben Bay, where the vil­lagers live com­pletely from the in­come that scuba div­ing brings. Over the last few decades, they have pro­tected their bay from de­struc­tive fish­ing prac­tices and it has be­come a haven for marine life, large and small. An­other wreck, a more re­cently sunken trawler, lies off Kubu to the west of Tu­lam­ben and, to the east along the Amed coast­line, you can find the re­mains of a boat fa­mil­iarly known as the ‘Ja­panese Wreck’. The main at­trac­tion here, though, is not the wreck it­self, which is quite small, but the vast fields of staghorn coral nearby that are home to mil­lions of tiny reef fish.

Drop-offs

Bali’s two best-known drop-offs are on the south side of Tu­lam­ben Bay and on the edge of Jemeluk Bay along the Amed coast. The wall at the edge of Nusa Penida’s Crys­tal Bay is also quite spec­tac­u­lar. How­ever, Bali’s very best wall div­ing can be found off Men­jan­gan. Here, sheer cliffs fall away into obliv­ion and are adorned by enor­mous gor­gonian fans, long sea whips and out­crops of yel­low, pur­ple and orange soft corals. AA

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