Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown from Frogfish Photography visit Bali for the first time to experience the diving that’s on offer there.
One of the finest diving locations in the world has to be the enchanting island of Bali in Indonesia. Having spent many weeks on numerous occasions diving the various, diverse locations around Indonesia, it was a refreshing change of pace to find bustling areas full of bars and restaurants in Sanur. Our 10 day stay on the island was hosted by Blue Season Bali, and it is here in Sanur where their headquarters are located. Our visit to Bali was to be a 3 centre stay in Sanur, Puri Jati and Menjangan and we were given our very own guide, Putu, to accompany us throughout our trip. As we were starting in Sanur, we stayed in town and enjoyed the nightlife and great food. There is a superb Italian, an excellent Indian as well as all the local cuisine. But, we were really there to see what the diving had to offer.
Setting out from Sanur, you can catch numerous day boats to see the Mola Mola (or sunfish) at Crystal Bay, so we decided to make this our first destination. We were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of these enigmatic fish at a cleaning station, but they were not in a sociable mood, and so the guides suggested that we moved on. The diving in the Crystal Bay area is well worth the visit, as the corals are in excellent, if not pristine condition. In the past, we have been to so many sites with Manta in the name, and have only caught the briefest of encounters; however, our next dive site really lived up to it’s name.
It was magical; we had an incredible experience with up to 5 mantas at any one time circling around our small group. It was also a bit cooler than the waters you may be used to diving in, in the tropics, so we were more than happy for the extra 3mm shorties the dive centre had given us to go over our 3mm full suits for this dive. We were in the water for nearly an hour, hanging around the shelf where all the plankton rises to. Whilst the visibility was substantially decreased because of the plankton, it was clear enough to see these fabulous giants swooping overhead.
The Balinese people are truly a special group. They are all very calm and gentle and the island is steeped in the local religion, with sculptures of gods and temples wherever you look. The people also leave offerings of flowers and drinks to their gods, and it was lovely to see our boat captain stop the boat once we were past the shoreline’s breaking waves, while the dive guide offered a prayer and released a floating offering of flowers into the sea. If he had asked for mantas – then his prayers were truly answered!
To get to our second destination, we packed up our equipment and loaded it into a jeep that turned out to be our own personal vehicle for the rest of the trip. We had a driver, a dive guide and all our gear as we set off over the mountains to the north of the island. The journey was well worth it, passing through forest, mountains and coffee plantations, whilst watching the monkey antics from the safety of our car! Our destination was to the Zen resort in Puri Jati (or PJ for short) and it was about a 4 hour drive. Pulling up at this resort, you just get the feeling that it is going to be just a little bit above the standard dive resort experience, a little bit special. The Zen Resort is a quiet, beautiful hotel set at the top of a paddy field with a serene infinity pool looking down over tranquil fields to the dive site.
You can, of course, go to meditation classes, yoga or massage between dives. Blue Season Bali have a centre within the boutique hotel. Our guide, Putu, told us that this dive site was an excellent “Muck Diving” site and so we were excited to get in and see how it compared to the likes of Lembeh and Ambon. Our gear was taken down to the waters edge, on a moped, for us to get ready. PJ is a shore dive and allows you to dive as deep as you want to, as the shelf falls away at about 30 degrees after one hundred metres or so. No sooner were we in the water when we saw a coconut octopus displaying itself in its shell and we just knew that this dive was going to be something special. Putu is a superb guide and found us all sorts of unusual creatures, which included a hairy frogfish, wonderpus and no less than 3 mimic octopus! The sandy bottom sloped down to reveal small coral heads where anemonefish were defending eggs, and it was at this point that we even saw a small anemone shrimp carry an anemonefish along the seabed, removing it from the anemone as a show of strength to a watching female.
In between dives, we got a lift back up the road to the hotel by the same moped that are transported our kit from the water’s edge. Whilst everyone in Indonesia is brought up with these vehicles being used as the family SUV – Caroline had never been on one so this was a particularly exciting and unique surface interval experience. We completed two day dives here and as we were only staying in this resort for one night we were also particularly keen to take-in a night dive before we moved on in the morning. In the event, Caroline was seduced by the hot spa and beauty treatment, so I took off with Putu to discover what the shoreline could offer me in the gloom. At night, even more of the unusual creatures seem to emerge from their hiding places. I spent over an hour under the water with Putu and then headed back to the resort where Caroline was waiting for me. We both enjoyed and superb dinner at the hotel and the options for Caroline, who is a vegetarian, were excellent. We had a great room to relax and sleep in, but the next morning we were back on our travels, heading west to Menjangan resort.
Menjangan Resort is hotel based within a national parkland. The deer that the area is named after roam freely about the resort and you can also encounter other wildlife with diverse bird life, snakes and monkeys. You are transported to and from your room to both the restaurant and the dive centre, using safari type double-deck vehicles which offer a really good platform for viewing any wildlife you may pass. It is also much safer of course, as there did seem to be a fair number of colourful snakes.
The diving here is mostly based around Menjangan Island, but our first day was to be spent at Secret Bay. Putu had observed our passion for muck diving and was keen to show us this incredible site. It is another shore dive that was kept hidden for many years by the diver who discovered it some time ago. The site has some artificial reefs, made from some iron reinforcement, a small wreck and some reef balls. The latter has attracted huge numbers of banggai cardinalfish. Swim one way and you have black volcanic sand, swim out the other way and you have sea grass to explore. We encountered huge numbers of nudibranches, including the brightly coloured and spikey janalus sp. It is a wonderful dive site that we will certainly be re-visiting in the not-too-distant future.
Our next 2 days diving were around Menjangan island. This island is about 30 minutes by boat from our resort on the mainland and is uninhabited, except by the monks of the oldest temple in Indonesia. The island boasts at having some of the best wall diving, as well as a deep wreck to explore. The wall dives are astounding, with vast sea fans, sponges and other corals standing out from the wall edges. The dive guides really care about the fauna and flora and as a result, the condition of the reefs is excellent. The dive sites are perfect for both those that like their macro, tiny Indonesian critters and those that love huge dramatic scenery and looking out into the blue for the bigger creatures.
The resort also boasts a good house reef, and so we were persuaded to do a night dive to see the mandarin fish. The hard coral is teaming with them, just a very short distance from the pier and in only a few metres of water. It is a perfect place to go looking for them. As most people who have been with mandarin fish before will know, use a red light to encourage them to come out.
The Menjangan resort also offers massages, wildlife tours and horse riding, and so on our final day before flying, we took full advantage. Caroline rode a horse around the area said it was a great way to see the wildlife, and a peaceful way to end the trip. I opted for the more relaxing massage option. All too soon it was time to get back into our car and head south to the airport for the long flight home.
Bali is perfect for a multi-stay holiday. While we got to see the best of 3 of the areas, we did not get time to go to Tulamben, so you have lots of choice from great diving to work out what will suit you best. Blue Season Bali worked out our itinerary so that we could maximise the amount of diverse diving that could fit into our 9 night stay. The traveling to get to the different sites is also a great way of getting out to see some of this amazing part of Indonesia. This was our first trip to Bali, but it will not be our last.
To find out more about Nick and Caroline and the underwater photography courses and trips they offer, visit www.frogfishphotography.com.