Dive travel in Indonesia, Bali to Sulawesi

This entry: Traveling mostly by boat and scooter to dive a handfull of the 17 500 islands that make up Indonesia. Interesting traveling and unreal diving around Bali, The Gilli Islands, Flores, Sulawesi, The Togian Islands, Bunaken and Lembeh. Incredible variety from alien little critters to awesome pelagics. Where I stayed, what I payed, who I dived with, what I saw and how I got there. A video of a Manta Ray taken at Manta Point, Komodo island can be found at the bottom of this post.

I had two unreal months island hopping in Indonesia, starting in the south; diving Bali, The Gilli Islands, Flores, Sulawesi, The Togian Islands, Bunaken and Lembeh while making my way north by bus, ferry, motorcycle, tricycle and foot, exploring a variety of great dive sites, treks, jungles, volcanoes, crazy party islands, deserted islands, incredible surf, weird and wonderful animals from komodo dragons to orang-utans. When I came to Indonesia my plan was to surf as much as possible, I am not a great surfer (I am terribly inconsistent), but a friend of mine said the surf is so good, that if you can’t surf properly after a month or two in Indo, just stop trying . Unfortunately the diving was so good, I only surfed once or twice, but it is still on my hobby list, because Indonesia will definitely see me again. Since Indonesia is made up of about seventeen thousand islands the natural diversity is amazing, but being broken up into many small islands makes traveling tricky.

1

Rik, Gilli Trawangan, somewhere of the main beach

From Jakarta in Java I took a flight to Bali and spent the first week or two between Kuta Beach, Uluwatu and Ubud, I discussed this in a previous blog entry.From Bali it was on to Gilli Trawangan, where I had a fantastic time staying in Gilli Backpackers. The diving around The Gilli Islands is good and definitely a must if you are here, but if you have done a few dives around SE Asia you probably won’t see to many new things diving around the Gillis. Visibility was good at over 20m, I saw a big napoleon wrasse, a variety of nudibrances and many turtles and one of my friends did see a sea horse diving from Gilli Air. The snorkeling trip around the three Gilli islands was a good way to spend the day, we were quite a big group of about 20 and this is also a great place to meet people. We saw a couple of turtles, very nice corals and I even saw a Mantis shrimp. We were a big group of friends at Gilli backpackers; diving, snorkeling and chilling on the beach every day, there was always a great vibe at  night, playing beer pong, games or just chatting over a couple of beers.

Nudibranch around the Gilli islands

I went from Gilli Trawangan to Flores on a four day boat cruise; we were about 20 people that did this trip from Lombok to Labunbajo in Flores

Komodo dragon, Rinca Island Komodo dragon, Rinca Island

This was four of the best days on my whole trip so far; island hopping, snorkeling, exploring and lazying about, including exciting encounters with Komodo Dragons and Manta Rays, well it was exciting seeing the Komodo Dragons, even though they were just lying around, most of them close to the buildings on the islands. We did see a water buffalo waiting for death, having been bitten by a dragon a couple of days before.  From Flores we had two great dive days with Komodo Divers, diving with many large pelagic species e.g. Manta Rays, Dog tooth tunas, Giant Trevallies and sharks to only name a few. The manta rays were incredible with 5 or 6 of these beasts sometimes circling us untill we had to ascend because we were to low on air. This was definitely the best diving I did in Indonesia as far as large pelagic species are concerned and from where I have dived in Asia only Sipadan island, Borneo Malaysia can compare.

doggieDogtooth Tuna, Komodo

I spent a couple of days on Kanawan island, a small little island about 2 or 3 hours by boat from Labunbajo and can really recommend this, I rented a tent that was comfortable, reasonably priced and mosquito free, very few people, cold beer and amazing snorkeling, there is a dive center so you can dive from Kanawan every day, ask around in Labunbajo, it is not difficult to find and if I knew about this beautiful little island sooner I would have moved straight from the boat to Kanawan.

Following Flores I traveled across the island Sulawesi overland in about a month. Diving and traveling around this beautiful island was a real adventure, offering some interesting and unique dives and experiences

Manta Ray, Manta Point, Komodo 

Manta Ray, Manta Point, Komodo

From Labunbajo I caught an overnight ferry to Bira in the south of Sulawesi, plan this beforehand as this ferry only leaves once a week and if you want to go from Flores to Sulawesi, missing it means flights, buses and a lot of unnecessary time and expenses. I stayed in a very new resort in Bira, Bira Dive Camp, it is a nice budget dive camp that was promoted by Gilli Divers in Gilli Travangan,  I was disappointed in the diving. The visibility was average at about 15m, there were some nice corals but also areas with a lot of coral bleaching. We saw one or two small white tip reef sharks, more than one Mantis shrimp, some small trevallies, but no hammerhead sharks, mantas or any of the other pelagic species that I was hoping to encounter.

After diving in Bira I went with a minivan and a bus to Rantepau in Tana Touraja, central Sulawesi. The Tana Touraja region is one of the strangest places that I have visited in Asia and Rantepau was a terrific base. Most people here are Christian and death is big business over here. They still have very elaborate funeral ceremonies and cave graves and hanging graves are very interesting to visit. July/August is funeral season and many people travel here to see big funeral ceremonies, including the slaughter of many cattle, the more important the deceased, the more cattle. We bought cartons of cigarettes as a gift to the family of the deceased that’s funeral ceremony we were going to attend; unfortunately due to weather the ceremony got postponed

We had an amazing tour of the coffee plantations located high in the mountains with a local guide, I could not believe the crazy motor cross paces we were putting the 50cc scooters through and I came off mine twice before the end of the day, luckily me and the scooter survived the day with only some bruises and superficial paint and skin damage.

I loved Tana Touraja, but already started missing the ocean and from here the journey itself, to the volcanic isles and wild jungle making up the Togean islands was an adventure. I started this trip with a bus ride from Rantepau to Poso (I think about 17hours), the bus forgot to pick me up and the bus company sent a scooter to collect me, I was sitting on the back of a 50cc scooter with both my backpacks for 3 hours, chasing down this bus in the rain in the mountains – long but beautiful scooter ride, after coming close to death a second time in the rain in the mountain pass, I confiscated my texting scooter driver’s phone until we caught the bus . From Poso I took a ferry to Ampana followed by a ferry to Wakai and a boat ride from Wakai to Kandidiri island, where I stayed in the Black Marlin Lodge.

Kandidiri island, Togian islands, Sulawesi

I had an amazing time on Kandidiri island, had some unreal adventures and made good friends, see my previous blog  ‘Spearfishing with the Bajua sea gypsies’ about staying and spearfishing with these amazing people and swimming with thousands of harmless jelly fish.

Me, swimming with harmless jelly fish in jelly fish lake

Diving around Kandidiri was good with beautiful coral; many small crabs, shrimps, cuttlefish and all the normal inhabitants found in these parts, water temp was up to 31C and visibility excellent at about 25-30 metres. Diving on the wreck of a B24 Bomber plane, part of an American bomb squadron that crash landed during WWII, about an hour boat ride from Kandidiri was an interesting dive; visibility was less than 10 metres. We could penetrate the main cabin and there were fish, nudis and soft corals around the wreck.

Togian Islands B24 Bomber wreck Togian Islands B24 Bomber wreck

I went to Gorontalo from Wakai by overnight ferry and traveled from here to Manado in the north of Sulawesi by minivan.  We had an unscheduled stop for a couple of hours in a small town about half way when our van broke down. Our driver went looking for help in a nearby neighborhood, where we were very popular among the local children. We were invited for lunch by a very friendly lady and had more than 20 kids follow us into her house. By this time we were starving and thankful for the meal of plain rice and noodles and hospitality shown by our hosts. From Manado I went to Bunaken Island by boat, accommodation at Daniel’s resort was great, with bungalows each with its own hammock for some reading when not underwater, food was good and there were very few people around. I did some great wall dives around Bunaken. The island is truly beautiful, being surrounded by mangroves running into the ocean

Bunaken Bunaken

From the mangroves a 2m deep fringing reef extends about a 50m into the ocean ending in a spectacular drop into the deep, creating a wall that makes for great diving. The coral around Bunaken creates one of the most beautiful and healthy reefs that I have ever dived on, snorkeling around the island was very good, with the drop of close to shore allowing for great free diving on this amazing reef. The dives I did in this area were good with 20 to 30m visibility, many turtles, fish, a couple of Jacks and a big Napoleon wrasse making for some nice dives. I met Norma in Bunaken a friendly, fun, Asian girl from Germany, she was doing her open water dive course here and traveled with me for a while.

Gilli Trawangan- Norma on the snorkeling trip

Gilli Trawangan- Norma on the snorkeling trip

 

The main reason why I traveled to the north of Sulawesi was to dive the famous Lembeh Straight, this area is world renowned for its muck and critter diving and did not disappoint. To get to Lembeh I took a package deal with my dive center in Bunaken, Imanual divers, including transfer via Manado by boat and taxi to Lembeh, it was pricey but truly fantastic. Arriving at Lembeh it feels more like a river than the ocean, being surrounded by jungle and massive trees, with black volcanic sand and igneous rocks everywhere. Diving Lembeh is entering a world of alien creatures, with so many that I have never seen before.
Lembeh Sea horse Lembeh Sea horse

We did all our dives on black volcanic sand, a flat landscape with no reef or coral insight, some areas look like a rubbish dump with bright colour plastic scattered on the black sand, but the unique creatures you find in this area is amazing so many things I did not even know existed; e.g. wonderpuss, hairy frog fish, hairy scorpion fish, Spanish dancers, a variety of ghost pipe fish and about 20 sea horses on one dive.

Lembeh - Flamboyant Cuttle fish huntingLembeh – Flamboyant Cuttle fish hunting (I was very impressed with this incredibily lucky shot)
After diving Lembeh we flew back to Bali where I spent xmas with Norma in Kuta, we went back to Ubud to experience some Balinese culture, going to some local theater/dance show that did not make any sense to me, I really tried to understand the story but do not know how the dancing relates to the tale in the pamphlet at all – still entertaining and an experience.  The wreck of the USAT liberty was a very nice and cheap wreck dive off the pebble beach at Tulamben, not too far from Ubud. The liberty was a US cargo ship sank by a Japanese torpedo, it is a big intact wreck and an easy shore entry and there was quite a lot of life on the wreck, garden eels, trigger fish, snappers and even a big Bumphead Parrot fish. We stayed in Tulamben after the dive to climb Mount Agung, the highest volcano in Bali. We started climbing at 00:00 to reach the summit at about 6:00 for sunrise; this was an amazing climb with beautiful scenery. It was challenging at parts and I can see why people make it out to be extremely tough on trip advisor – it is like climbing a set of stairs for hours and you will have a tough time if you are very unfit. Ubud is great place to go after the climb, being the massage and chill out capital of Bali. From Ubud we went back to Gilli Trawangan to celebrate New Year’s Eve and on the first of January I ended two amazing months traveling in Indonesia with a flight to Manila in the Philippines

Coconut crab, Togean islands

Coconut crab, Togean islands

 

Budget

Accomodation:

Kuta – Kumala Inda,  $8 room;
Uluwatu, Kenargi in, $15 room;
Ubud – Rice Paddy Bungalows, $10
room;  Gilli Trawangan – Gilli
Backpackers, dormitory $10 per bed; Labuanbajo – Gardena, $ 22 big room, Kanawa
island – tent $12.5

Diving:

Gilli Trawangan: About $30 per dive

Komodo (Labuanbajo, Flores): Komodo Dive Center
about $110 per day, 3 dives

Bira, South Sulawesi, Bira Dive Camp 30$ per
dive

Kandidiri, Togean Islands: Black
Marlin Dive Center  Acommodation 16 Euro
(22$) including 3 meals – not bad, Dives 28 Euro (R420) per dive, extra for far away dives e.g. the B24 Bomber and volcano

Bunaken (North Sulawesi) Immanual Divers
Daniels Resort: Accomodation 23 Euro (R345) per night, 30 Euro (R450) per dive

Lembeh, Immanual Divers: 40 Euro per dive (R600),
transport from Bunaken to Lembeh 800 000 Rp (68$)

Tulamben, Bali Coral Dive Sport: $45
per dive

Boat trip Gilli/Lombok to Labonbajo, Wanua
adventures, 4 days 3 nights, includes food, snorkel gear, park fees (Komodo
dragons) $140, tip – buy enough beer and snacks for a good party everynight!

Transport, can get most places on Bali for $15
taxi, rent scooter for couple of days, $5 a day

Food, local is good and cheap, but like
anywhere in asia local in tourist place expensive

Mount Agung Bali - me on the roof of Bali

Mount Agung Bali – me on the roof of Bali

Frogfish, Lembeh

Pygmy seahorse, Lembeh

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