TOTAL IMMERSION: BALI
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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