Article by: Tim Rock, November 2007
Want to plunge into the deep blue and get your mind blown by Bali's underwater wildlife? Right this way.
Love diving in Bali? See the photo gallery
Bali's dive sites offer great diversity: vertical walls and sand slopes; shipwrecks, steel and wooden; limestone shorelines and black, volcanic outcrops; peaceful bays and ripping currents; deep, coral-covered ridges, shallow sea grass beds and big bommies (submerged reefs) with both shore- and boat-diving. The pelagics you can expect to see include mantas, whale sharks and, roughly July through October, molamolas (oceanic sunfish).
Diving safaris are becoming the package of choice for those wanting to see more of underwater Bali. These are basically hotel/diving and transport packages with or without a guide. Because you're staying near the dive sites, you can do earlier and later dives which means you avoid the day-tripping crowds from the southern tourist areas that pack out popular sites. It also allows you to do more dives each day at the beach entry locations. Snorkelling is available at Tulamben, Amed, Padang Bai and Pemuteran/Menjangan, so non-diving partners and children can often join day trips and safaris.
Bali's Ten Best
1) USAT Liberty - The Liberty Shipwreck is considered by most operators to be Bali's most popular dive site. The American ship USAT Liberty was an armed cargo steamship that was torpedoed by the Japanese in 1942. It's large and somewhat broken up, sitting on a black sand shelf that slopes from about 20ft to 110.
The years under the sea have transformed it one of Indonesia's most beautiful artificial reefs. The currents running by the wreck bring lots of nutrients to feed the corals. Stunning gorgonian sea fans, huge soft coral trees and big barrel sponges have all flourished at this location. A resident school of bigeye jacks live on and around the ship and are unafraid of divers, so it's safe to enter the school and have them whirl around you. The ship is also a haven for emperators, batfish, sweetlips and parrotfish.
2) Tulamben Dropoff - Tulamben Bay, like the rest of Bali, is situated in the richest marine biogeographic zone in the world. Being on the northeast coast, the bay receives very plankton-rich waters from the major ocean current that moves from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean. This, coupled with the fact that the three main dive sites provide totally different physical environments, mean that Tulamben Bay contains a stunning and diverse underwater ecosystem. The black sand in the area provides a dramatic contrast, which brings out the colours of the corals, gorgonians, fish and other marine life. At the south end of the bay, a rocky point falls off sharply underwater to create a deep drop-off where sharks, whale sharks and sunfish have been found. About 4kms south is Seraya Secrets, a great spot for macro photography.
3) Amed - Amed lies to the south, along the eastern coastline. It was traditionally dependent on salt-panning and fishing, and despite the arrival of tourists, it's retained that feeling. There are three main dive sites here; head south to the shipwreck at Lipah fishing village or a bit further south to the drift dive at Gili Selang, Bali's easternmost point.
4) Lipah Shipwreck - This village is tiny and so is the wreck which can be found at the inner bay drop-off at the north end of Lipah Bay. Divers can take a boat down the coast or just drive along the winding coast and walk in. It's full of copper sweepers, a batfish school, hard coral growth and waving sea fans, and can be both dived or snorkelled. Go with a good guide, as the currents can come up fast and strong. Divers should take care not to kick the coral.
5) Gili Tepekong - This is a big volcanic hump rising out of the water not far from the Candi Dasa shore on the southeast coast. Underwater, the area is covered with Medusa-like heads that vary in size from huge boulders to small sea gardens. They are adorned with blood-red sea fans, tunicates and sponges. In some spots, the competition for space amid the corals is incredible. Other sites include Gili Mimpang and Gili Biaha. Currents are common in this area, but that means pelagic life like big tuna, jacks, sharks and even molamola come in here. Exciting, but an experienced guide is a must.
6) Blue Lagoon - The shallow reefs of Blue Lagoon, near Padang Bai, are used for introductory dives, night dives and long photo excursions. Staghorn coral patch reefs start in only 3m of water. The reef then opens out onto an area with huge coral bommies, soft leather corals and flowing anemones. The area here can be good for macro buffs; there are rumours of a rhinopius or (lacey scorpionfish) being seen here.
7) Napoleon Reef - Named for a large Napoleon wrasse seen here, Napoleon Reef in the north near Pemuteran is a great little reef. It can be dived deep or shallow, day or night. On the northeast end is the Ikan Warung fish house, where you'll see schools of fish all over the place. Golden sea fans and large clumps of cotton-candy coral grow beside other gorgonians along the slope.
8) Menjangen Island - The drop-offs at Menjangan Island Marine Park can be a real treat. This is the site of a now abandoned guard post for park guards that has a broad channel leading to the beach. Expect to be greeted by batfish. The dive offers spectacular corals and many deep crevices and fissures as well as small caves pocking the reef. Sleeping groupers and wary bigeyes are found in the dark recesses. There are many fan corals along this drop-off to 38m and more.
9) Crystal Bay - Crystal Bay on Nusa Penida, close to Lembongan Island, is protected and relatively shallow, offering enjoyable conditions for divers of all levels. Its big claim to fame is its molamolas. The bay has two entrances and a large rock sits in the centre.
Soldierfish near Crystal Bay
Be careful when diving this central rock or along the outside edge of the bay, as the current can be strong, sweeping divers out along the outside wall into very tricky diving conditions. An experienced guide will help to prevent a disoriented diver from taking a wrong turn. When near the drop-off, look for larger creatures like molas, eagle rays, dogtooth tuna, sharks and an occasional bumphead wrasse. Schooling surgeonfish are abundant in some spots. The other famous spot for molamolas in the area is Juraissic Point, off tranquil Lembongan Island.
10) Manta Point - Lucky divers may have a close encounter with the manta rays that are known to traverse this dive site. One of the mantas is pure white, a truly unearthly creature. Manta Point is located along the high and rugged cliffs of Nusa Penida, so it's not always easy to get there due to the big swells that sometimes hit it, but it's worth it to experience these gentle, graceful creatures.
What to Bring
Bali's waters are generally warm, so a dive skin or a 1-3mm wetsuit is adequate thermal protection. Both retail and rental diving gear are available in Bali and Lembongan but, for serious diving, it's best to bring your own gear. Weights, belts and tanks are always provided on dive trips. For those travelling with metric gear, DIN adapters are available on a limited basis. It's best to carry your own. Don't forget to pack a safety sausage.
Boycotting Marine Products
Many marine products are taken from Indonesia's waters to sell. The theft of shells, coral, sea fans, turtle shells and fish has a profound impact on the ecological balance and health of the reef system, and detracts from the natural beauty of the reef. Most collection methods - such as the use of cyanide or curtain nets - destroy the marine habitat and deplete slow-growing species and their reproductive populations.
You can discourage collection from Indonesia's reefs by avoiding marine products; opt instead for locally produced crafts that represent the county's rich cultural diversity.