3 Routes
Highlights of the Area


by Jim Erickson jerickson@sandwell.com
I have recently had the pleasure of escaping from my overseas work assignment in East Kalimantan (Borneo), Indonesia, for a one weeks R+R break in the island of Bali. I browsed the Internet web before my trip to Bali to try and find a scuba diving tourism company there. I estimated that companies with web pages would be more advanced and westernized than those that didn't have web pages. I only found a couple of web sites for pleasure diving in Bali. I browsed through these and contacted them for costs for a five day diving trip with their organizations. One outfit, Big Blue Diving (unfortunately no longer in business), stood out above the others as being both less expensive and much more informative and organized. I decided to follow with arrangements with them and did this over multiple e-mails back and forth. Big Blues manager Mr. Andy Elam was particularly resourceful to accommodate me on a 5 day dive trip and also to recommend hotels to stay at on the days outside of the dive trip. His organizations dive trip included accommodations and 2 meals a day while on the trip. Cost was about $110 US a day including the above and all equipment, dive computer and underwater camera. Arrangements were made and off I went to Bali a few weeks later. Big Blues web site is "http://www.balidive.com" for those who like to browse.

Some of Big Blues customers canceled out at the last minute so I was alone with the dive guide on this trip. Pleasantly enough for me the dive guide was a beautiful 27 year old French girl named Laure. She was a great diver and marine life spotter. She was very knowledgeable about the dive sites and the local marine life. She also had a cheerful personality outside of the diving and was well organized.

I had informed Big Blue that I was an experienced veteran cold water diver. We were able to start our first dive in a very advanced current situation. I didn't take the camera along on this first dive as I was just getting used to my new found mobility in a shorty wet suit and very little weight. At the end of the dive trip I was packing only 4 kg and could probably have gone with less. It was great to be free of the bulk of a cold water dry suit and the usual 15kg of weight I normally pack. The first dive was spectacular. We were whisked by the current over dense corral encrusted reefs and pinnacles. I was fascinated with the variety of life exposed before me. I would see one interesting thing and find several more if I tried to get closer to the first thing. The waters were teaming with various types of reef fish as well. We saw countless smaller brightly coloured reef fish and some small sharks up to about 1.5m long. They didn't look threatening at all. We also saw a few of the huge hump head wrasse and a variety of colourful trigger fish. The beauty and colourfullness of the dives was stunning. We did two dives in the same general area on the first day. The site was beside a couple of rocky islets off the southern eastern shores of Bali. Site names were Gili Biaha and Tepekong.

The next day we dove two dives at the Blue Lagoon area. This was reached by boat but was on the coast of Bali just around the corner from the town of Pedang Bai, ferry connection port to the island of Lombok. The boat we used was an open and motorized outrigger canoe type craft. This was painted bright colours and had fish eyes painted onto the bow. This was typical of the local fisherman’s boats. We dove a great wall for the first dive and this took us again through beautiful coral encrustations and bommies on the swim towards the wall. The wall was covered with life and I was busy with the camera. We came face to face with a couple of cuttlefish and squid and these were very fascinating to watch. We also saw a couple of small octopus but these would not venture outside of their dens.

All around the wall there were thousands of colourful smaller reef fish and a steady noise of snapping jaws nibbling at coral. Our second dive in this area took us in an opposite direction to the wall but was also spectacular. On this one we saw more large coral bommies and a few more small sharks among the multitude of smaller fish and colourful corals. Some of the best things were the small fish hiding in the anemones or coral branches. They would swim around a clump of coral like a swarm of bees over a bee hive and as you got closer they would dive for cover into the coral branches. Unfortunately for me I had not advanced the film in the rented camera to a position suitable to actually take pictures. Picture numbers advanced with each snap but no pictures were actually being taken. This devastated me later on when I found out what happened but I was still happy to have dove such a great spot and at least have good pictures in my memory if nothing else.

Our third day of diving took us to the Tulumben area. This is a small diving centre resort on the north east coast of Bali. This is a beautifully situated spot with a volcanic gravel beach and a couple of great dive sites right there off the beach. One was another spectacular wall. On this we saw an abundance of colour and life. Among the gorgonian fan corals and huge barrel sponges we also saw a few of the beautiful but deadly poisonous lionfish. These fish look almost more like plants than fish. We also saw some colourful nudibranch here. These were purple with orange stripes. Thankfully the camera worked well this time and I was able to preserve some of the visions. Our second dive at Tulumben took us through the wreck of the USS Liberty. This was a relic from WW II and was teaming with life. It was in relatively shallow water and was easily accessed from shore. We waited through our surface interval until a large group of day trip divers from Kuta Beach cleared off the site then we had it almost to ourselves. This site was excellent. Towards the end of the dive we came under a huge school of Big Eye Trevaly fish who were staying within the protection of the wreck. These swirled around in busy circles above us and made for a couple of great photo's. We did a great night dive here at Tulumben also. Access was easy, there was no surf to fight against and sunset here in the tropics is around 6 PM. We dove for 74 minutes in a great tropical coral garden. We touched as deep as 20m but generally saw most things above 10m depth. In one spot we saw 3 moray eels all of which were of a different colour. There was countless other colourful and fascinating creatures about as well.

That evening there was the opening ceremony of an international underwater photographers competition at one of the resort complexes in Tulumben. My guide knew the organizers so we were able to sit in on part of the ceremonies that included a presentation of traditional Balinese dancing and music. This made a pleasant end to a long day of diving. The photographers participating in the competition appeared to be a mix of English, German, American and Japanese people. I was tempted to enter but at that point I had not yet seen what was on my film rolls. Top prize for the event was $5000 US so it was a fairly serious event.

The late night after the night dive brought a monsoon like rain storm to most of Bali. Luckily it let up by morning but the seas close to Bali were turned from turquoise blue to a muddy brown colour from run off. We set sail to a rocky island offshore south east Bali called Gili Mimpang. We took a more powerful motor launch than the outrigger canoe type boats we had used previously. As we passed the Blue Lagoon dive area I was saddened to see a wall of muddy water heading towards that beautiful site. Lucky to have seen it in perfect conditions two days before. The seas were very rough and we had to go slowly. When we got to Gili Mimpang I was pleased to see that we were far enough out to be clear of the muddy water. We had to dive on the lee-ward side of the island though since the windward side was being pounded furiously by a heavy swell. The dive we did was not what was originally planned but was spectacular just the same. Here we saw a similar variety of colourful corals, a multitude of smaller reef fish and saw a few larger sharks "sleeping" in rocky crevasses. We could only see portions of the sharks exposed so there wasn't much of a feeling of threat. They seemed to be totally oblivious to our presence. While we dove the muddy run off waters caught up to this site also. This came over us like a foggy curtain and visibility dropped fast. We had been enjoying 30m + visibility on every dive before this so were worried when visibility dropped to a mere 10m all of a sudden. I later told Laure that 10m visibility was not uncommon back in cold water country. She couldn't believe we would enjoy diving in such murk. After this trip I wonder why we do it too! We aborted further dives that day due to the poor water conditions. I wasn’t too disappointed to miss a couple of dives out of my itinerary since the conditions had deteriorated and I had several superb dives already done.

The last day of diving on this trip included a long boat trip out to the island of Nusa Penida off the southern coast of Bali. Weather conditions had improved from the day before and the long crossing was relatively smooth. We again took the more powerful motor launch and this made for a comfortable ride. on the way across we spotted a couple of dolphins dancing through the waves. Nusa Penida is known for its strong current drift dives and occasional appearances of rare deep water marine life up in the shallows. Mola Mola Oceanic sun fish were often seen here so I was hoping to catch one of these on film. These fish are odd looking things that grow to be up to about 2m in diameter. They swim like a flying saucer on edge. We didn't see any Mola Mola unfortunately but did see some huge stingrays and a great variety of other fish. I saw one pair of fish there that were about 1m long each and looked like a swimming horse heads. Very unusual to say the least. Caught these on film so will try to figure out what they are later. The corals were abundant on these drift dives also. We could feel a strong thermocline at about 12m depth. Water got a little cloudy at the transition between the water layers. I actually got a little cold below the thermocline but when returning above it I felt like I was entering warm bath water. Outside of the thermocline on either side the visibility was well over 30m.

After two spectacular drifts at Nusa Penida I was very sad that my dive trip was over. In all I had logged 10 superb dives and had several rolls of film to help me remember them. I envy Laure my dive guide's existence there in Bali to be able to dive those beautiful waters year round.

I hope to return to Bali again soon and see more of the great dive sites there. I found it to be a very relaxing place to be and very affordable when all things are considered. I can't thank Big Blue Diving enough for the great experience and service they gave me. Besides the diving I was able to hire their excellent driver, Wayan, after the dive trip for a few days of sight seeing around other parts of Bali. This was a great way to round out my trip and was not too expensive at $20 US per day for car and driver. Wayan was very knowledgeable about all parts of Bali and spoke good English. He was quick to offer good advice to the traveler.

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