I didn't research my destination all that well except for a few quick browsings on the internet. I had read of diving in Manado and was excited to go there. It's a difficult place to get to from Kalimantan where I was working so I decided to only travel there when I had more time and wasn't confined to the one weeks R+R breaks that I was given from my assignment. It took me 2 days travel to get there and 2 days travel to leave there. Luckily for readers outside of Indonesia who might want to go there you can fly in direct from Singapore and skip the tedious frustration of internal Indonesian domestic flights.
I stayed at the Santiga Hotel and Diving resort. This was a gorgous hotel complex about 25 minutes drive from the city of Manado. The place was a little expensive as Indonesian prices go (about 400,000 RP or $50 US a night) but well worth it. It was very quiet and secuded there but its the closest accomadations to the famous Bunaken Island marina park area. The hotel has a beautiful heavily landscaped grounds and a view out over the small group of islands in the Bunaken Island marine park that hosts many world class dive sites. The hotel has a seperate PADI 4 star dive centre associated with it and this is the Thalassa Dive Centre run by Simone Gerritsen.
Dives were offered by Thalassa at the equivalent of $56 US a day for 2 dives and lunch plus a rental fee for any additional equipment needed. I rented a BC, shorty wetsuit and regulator set all for the equivalent of $25 so my total was about $81 US a day for two dives and lunch. This is a good rate for such excellant diving and was a special offer made to ex-patriate persons working in Indonesia.
Thalassa have an excellant and professional operation and have top notch local dive guides. Their main dive boat is an aluminum hull vessel with twin 200 HP outboards for power. They can easily accomodate about 8 divers with equipment plus a handful of dive guides on the vessel. There is a tarp roof over the large open deck area that protects divers from the relentless equatorial sunshine. That boat really moves when they open it up and they can reportedly reach 50 knots on perfect water conditions. This keeps the transit times from marina to dive sites quick and easy if not a bit breezy along the way.
The dives in Manado were great. The distinguishing thing about diving in Manado is that almost every dive site is on a steep wall with or without current. The walls are due to the corral formations of the islands and are heavily encrusted with sea life. I won't go into all the varieties of fish life seen there except to say that it was stunning. Particulary interesting were some of the more unusual fish species like frog fish and crocdile fish that were spotted. The frog fish looked like a lime green blob monster out of a ghostbusters movie. Very grotesque but fascinating at the same time. The natural colours seen in the corals and sea life were enough to make a budding underwater photographer yearn to have a camera along so that the colours couldn't fade into memory.
Almost every dive included sightings of large sea turtles along the reef. These would swim out into the deeper waters when caught by surprise as we drifted close to them along the walls. One dive included a huge school of barracuda in crystal clear waters. These seemed oblivious to divers only a couple of meters below them and were an impressive sight. The lagrest barracuda in the school were about 1.2m long and very graceful and streamlined in their form.
Visibility in the waters varied each day with a maximum of over 30m one day and about 15m on the worst day. Water temperatures were in the 20's Celcius and very comfortable with a shorty wet suit. Even the worst diving visibility encountered in Manado was enough to take in the awesome beauty there amid sweeping gorgonean fan corrals, soft and hard corrals and a busy multitude of reef fishes. I hope to return to Manado soon and will definitely take along an underwater camera next time.
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