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Dive Safari Asia: Trans Indonesian Tour Report

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Time flies; is it really a month since I returned from a fantastic small group trip to North Sulawesi and Raja Ampat? Our group began their adventure with a group transfer from the airport to the friendly family owned Tasik Ria Resort and Spa, situated north of Manado located in Tanawangko Bay on the north west coast of North Sulawesi. The resort boasts a fantastic pool and spa as well as the beach front, a jetty bar and a pool bar. The food is served buffet style with a great variety with many delicious Indonesian dishes, however for those guests that did not want to take the heat there were plenty of other options. The en-suite rooms are all very comfortable with full air conditioning with coffee/tea making facilities.

The next five days saw us diving a mixture of wall drop-offs and reef slopes around Bunaken, Manado Tua and Siladen Islands, three of the five islands in Bunaken National Marine Park. The tides made the drifts vary from non-existent to very gentle to exhilarating. Safety stops were a joy and everyone spent time marvelling at the colourful reef tops. Bannerfish, Napoleon Wrasse, Green Turtles, Dart and Sailfin Gobies, Pyramid Butterflyfish, Cleaner Shrimps, a nice variety of Nudibranchs and Flatworms to name a few. Gorgonian Sea Fans, Barrel and other big sponges decorated the walls competing with a huge range of colorful reef fish. Small Whitetip Reef Sharks were spotted sleeping in crevices. Nudibranchs, Pygmy Seahorse and various crabs and shrimps could be found. We also dived the North West coast near the resort where the diving was more relaxed but full of interesting critters. We dived the Molas shipwreck and spent one day diving the world famous Lembeh Straits. Night dives on the house reef were available and there was plenty to see. Flamboyant cuttlefish, Painted, Warty and Hairy Frogfish, Mandarin Fish, Octopi, various scorpionfish, Robust and Ghost Pipefish. All this in water of 27 to 30oC. The list just kept getting bigger and bigger; I was kept busy identifying the many various fish and creatures in the evenings! No wonder the sites of Bunaken Marine Park are ranked among the top in the world for marine diversity.

Gill McDonald, the resident photo pro, gave us a fantastic illustrated lecture and quite a few of the group took the opportunity to do the 1 hour, 3 hour, or full day session on underwater photography with her. One the last 2 days she came on the boat with us and those that wished to joined her for photo practical sessions.

When people weren’t diving they could be found relaxing around the pool or enjoying a spa treatment or just chilling in the bar. A couple of our group were non-divers and they had a great time either joining us on the boat and snorkeling, kayaking, going on their own bespoke tour to see the tarsiers and black macaques, or exploring the local villages and area.

Then it was time to get the diving kit washed and dried and a group transfer back to the airport to fly to the next destination, West Papua in the far east of Indonesia, centered on the island of New Guinea and the reefs of Raja Ampat.

A plane and a speedboat trip saw us arrive at The Raja Ampat Dive Lodge, Yenpapir Beach, Mansuar Island. The resort is fronted by a white sand beach with the Papuan rainforest as a backdrop. We stayed in the en-suite individual air-conditioned bungalows located on the beach front, an ideal place to relax on the veranda and look out to sea. (not that we had much time for relaxing, with many of the group opting for 4 dives a day!). Once again the food was served buffet style with more of an emphasis on Indonesian food, vegetables, fish and prawns.

As our website at Dive Safari Asia states there are few locations on Earth which parallel Raja Ampat for sheer diversity of marine life. This is reef diving perfection combined with awe inspiring congregations of fish life and truly stunning topside vistas. We were not disappointed (even though on this occasion the mantas failed to show). It more than made up for it with schools of Jacks, Sweetlips, Barracuda and Batfish, as well as grey and white-tipped and black-tipped reef sharks, fantastic reefs, sea snakes, crabs, shrimps, and cleaning stations located on the tips of reefs filled with a large variety of fish. We also managed to spot smaller stuff such as pygmy seahorses and skeleton shrimp. Once again the reef tops were stunning; passing schools of bumphead parrot fish appearing, the odd reef shark buzzing in, and Tasselled Woebegone Sharks resting under ledges and in table corals. Then there were some fantastic jetty dives with giant clams and a variety of nudibranchs and other critters. Once again night dives on the house reef were available with nearly everyone doing at least one night dive.

All too soon we had completed our 18 dives and it was time to get the dive kit washed and dried for the return journey. The following day saw us all getting up early in the morning; not to catch the plane, but to go to the nearby island to see if we could spot the Red Birds of Paradise. We were lucky – we saw 2 males performing their dance in the tree canopy, and when they were not there, a Cus Cus – a type of marsupial – was spotted perched on a branch, looking at us looking at him or her! We travelled back to the lodge for breakfast and spent a lazy final day “off-gassing” by snorkeling, swimming, kayaking, walking or just chilling by the beach.

The following morning we left Mansuar Island by speedboat and flew from Sorong Airport back to Manado. Our trip wasn’t over yet! A picturesque transfer through the local villages and town of Tomohon took us to the Highland Resort located in the highlands of North Sulawesi. The resort once again consisting of a small number of individual en-suite bungalows, this time with the highland jungle as a backdrop.

It was a lovely afternoon when we arrived, so after a quick visit to the resort to drop off our bags, a group of us departed for a visit to Lake Lokon, a Sulphuric lake at the foot of Lokon-Empung volcano. We were just in time to see the variety of green and yellow hues of the lake and the steaming fumaroles before the sun went down and the whole lake changed, looking very ethereal bathed in a glow which we later found out was from the geo-thermal plants located in the forest behind the lake! A great end to the day as we munched on hot bananas covered in chocolate sauce and drank coffee. Then it was back to the resort for a Chinese Banquet style meal before bed.

The next morning saw a group of us up very bright and early to visit the Mahawu Volcano and take a walk around the rim. Once again the weather was kind and we were able to see the active Empung Volcano and Mount Kalbat as well as the forest and lands stretching down to Manado City from the volcano rim. All too soon time was up and it was back to the resort for breakfast and a quick shower before travelling back to Sam Ratulangi International Airport in Manado and the start of our journey home… and a well-deserved rest.

Underwater photos by Maggie Russell

Topside photos by Jeremy Smith: www.jeremysmithphotography.co.uk

Maggie is a Tour Leader for UK-based tour operator Dive Safari Asia. to find out more, visit www.divesafariasia.com.

Maggie has over 20 years of travel, exploration and diving experiences from the cooler temperate waters around The British Isles to the warmer tropical seas on the other side of the world. She loves diving with a passion; it has brought with it a host of experiences, new friends and a real love of our oceans and the life contained within them. She is a tour leader with UK-based tour operator Dive Safari Asia, an enthusiastic underwater photographer and all-round ocean lover.

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Save £500 on Maldives liveaboard – but hurry, there’s only 2 spots left!

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Join The Scuba Place on board the award-winning (Best Liveaboard, Maldives Tourism Awards for 2 consecutive years) Sachika for a week in the sun!

Taking in the very best dive sites of the ‘Best of Central Atolls’ itinerary, including manta cleaning stations, Whaleshark Alley, the Fish Factory and the legendary night dive with hundreds of nurse sharks, this is one trip not to be missed.

To make it even better, they have taken a big chunk of cash off the price to fill the last TWO SPACES (twin or double cabin) on each of the following sailings:

  • Outbound 5 November, return 13 November
  • Outbound 12 November, return 20 November

The Scuba Place team can arrange flights from any major UK airport, and the whole package will be ATOL Protected. Price includes flights, taxes, full board in a twin/double cabin based on 2 sharing, 17 dives with Nitrox included, all soft drinks and meals and snacks. Bar bill is extra and extra dives are available too!

The prices are based on flying with Emirates and include 30kgs of baggage per person.

Don’t miss out – get in touch today! Call 020 3515 9955 to find out more!

Brochure link: https://bit.ly/TSP_Maldives_Nov2021

www.thescubaplace.co.uk


Boat images by Top Class Cruising

Underwater images by Nigel Wade for The Scuba Place

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The Scuba Genies head to Bonaire! Part 1 of 2

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In the first of this two-part blog, The Scuba Genies share their trip report from the Come Dive with Us hosted trip to Bonaire in September 2021…

Travelling during the Covid pandemic has been challenging for some, impossible for most, and missed by all. We have been scanning the rules and regulations daily, and as soon as the UK Government allowed us, we were off!

What was supposed to be a trip to Mexico for a gang of 12 of us, just like most trips over the last 18 months, we were forced to change as the travel rules changed – we have been trying to get to Bonaire for ages, and this became the perfect opportunity – at last!

With our bags packed, negative test results and completed Bonaire health forms in hand – we made an early start for Heathrow, prepared for an 0630 departure. A quick flight and we landed in Amsterdam. As a Dutch Caribbean territory, all flights from the UK to Bonaire on KLM go via Amsterdam. In the airport, we met up with the rest of the gang who had travelled from Birmingham. After a quick layover we took off for Bonaire, where we arrived about 9 hours later. Our health documents were checked at the airport, and we grabbed our bags. It seems odd to have to fly East to then go West, but as we stepped out of the minibus at Buddy Dive Resort, only 10 minutes after leaving the airport, the sunshine and blue sky told us it was worth it!

Our accommodation for the group was made up of two 3-bedroom apartments, a stone’s throw from the water, dive shop, dock and Blennies, the main restaurant and bar. Buddy Dive also has 1- and 2-bedroom apartments along with studios, all comfortably furnished with either a garden or ocean view.

Each 3-bedroom apartment is spread over two floors – but a floor up from ground level. The ‘ground’ floor of each apartment offers a double bedroom (beds can be configured as twins or double in all rooms), a bathroom, lounge with balcony, and a very well-equipped kitchenette. Microwave, toaster, hob, fridge/freezer with ice-maker and enough pots, pans and utensils to satisfy the avid cook! On the upper floor, there are two further double rooms with ensuite bathrooms, both with balconies of their own. Each bedroom is air-conditioned, and the lounge and kitchen have celling fans. All in all, quite perfect for a home away from home for a fortnight!

The rules of group travel say we must unpack (empty bags onto floor or bed), sort kit out (look at dive bag and save it for later), put cameras together (er….NO!) and hit the bar – so being rule-abiding people that we are, this is what we did. Picking up the rental van for our stay would have to wait!

The next morning after breakfast, served in the Ingridients restaurant and right on the water, we attended the Buddy Dive orientation. The staff gave us a quick tour of the dock and resort including the famous drive thru tank shed offering both air and nitrox tanks ready and waiting to be loaded into your vehicle. Check in at the dive centre was easy… we all completed our diver forms online before arrival so with a quick hello we were handed locker keys for our kit storage. Time to head back to the room and get ready for our first dive!! That is why we’re here after all!

As with all trips, the first dive was a check dive, so we climbed down the steps into the water off the dock to go an explore Buddy Dive Reef. Finning over the sandy bottom, past the coral restoration project ‘trees’ and following well laid lines with directional markers we hit the reef after just a minute or two where you can drop to 35+ metres over simply stunning corals. This reef, just like the rest of the sites we dived, is super-healthy and teeming with juvenile fish wherever you look. Moray eels, turtles, octopi and HUGE tarpon on our first dive! What a great start!

The following day we decided it was time to explore the island. We picked up our 6-person minibus from Reception, pulled up to the drive thru tank station and grabbed 12 well filled Nitrox 12l aluminium (A-Clamp – not DIN) cylinders. With our guidebook in hand, off we went driving on the right of course, in search of marine life.

There are over 50 dive sites scattered around the coast of the main island, and even more on the island of Klein Bonaire accessible by boat. We chose a comfortable start by picking dive sites to the South where the entry seems to be a little easier on old knees and hips. We packed up sandwiches we made after a quick shop at the supermarket the day before, along with waters and a few essentials – towels, sunnies and bug spray.

I won’t bore you with every dive site name and description – the guidebook is the tool for that – but it is more than safe to say that we dived, dived and dived again! Every dive gave us far more than we expected, and the marine park surrounding the whole island delivered the goods without fail. Super healthy corals, plentiful marine life, warm and very clear water at 30 degrees made life easy. Parking the van up at the marked dive sites wasn’t difficult, and a few strides across the sand was far simpler than we had expected.

I will say that some sites are a little more challenging to get into the water from – anything more than three or four steps doesn’t float my boat! We adapted our entries for the group – some kitting up in the water, some not, but the rule of thumb quickly became step in up to thigh-depth, inflate bcd, fall flat on your back and paddle out before putting your fins on. Simple! Getting out of the water was pretty much the reverse of the above – stand up when you can, remove fins, and then navigate the rocks and sand channels before you walk up the beach. Nothing that an over-weight, under-tall chap in his mid-50’s with dodgy knees and even dodgier hips couldn’t cope with! (That is me by the way…..no offense to anyone else intended and no animals were harmed in the writing of this either).

We saw stuff – lots of it! Huge tarpon, French and Grey Angelfish, forests of Christmas Tree worms, anemones with Peterson, sexy and cleaner shrimp, clinging crabs, nudibranchs – especially lettuce-leaf slugs, coral-banded shrimp, lobster and so much more. Turtles everywhere, trumpet-fish in unbelievable numbers, and that was generally the story – all in very good visibility too! The corals and huge sponges were stunning with fascinating reef-structures offering all sorts of hidey-holes for critters!

There were some really special sited that we loved, and Salt Pier was one. The Cargill solar salt facility is easily found with its distinctive line of white salt pyramids.Each pyramid, roughly 50-feet high, can contain up to 10,000 metric tons of 99.6 percent pure salt. Even more noteworthy, in addition to the acres of salt ponds, the facility is also home to largest pink flamingo sanctuary in North America. Our very own Chloe has written an in-depth blog about Bonaire and its pure salt so be sure and check it out!

Back to the diving! We were given a hint to drive just past the pier to park where we would find an easy sand entry to the site. We kitted up and finned out through the shallows where we encountered three juvenile hawksbill turtles along with a few smooth pufferfish fighting to feed on patch of sponges, and then made our way under the immense structure of the pier. There are several platforms supporting the conveyor belts that move salt to the container ships and there wasn’t much diver-traffic to contend with. We were amazed by all things weird and wonderful – big scorpion fish hiding under the metal work, angelfish battling for food, schooling fish up above you, and frogfish! Barracuda, Caribbean reef squid, spotted drums, octopus, oh! and more frogfish! Even a flying gurnard in the shallows! What a dive! And as it is shallow, it can be a very long dive too, especially with the 200-210 bar fills the drive-thru often gave us.

Check back for Part Two of this Blog tomorrow!


Find out more about the worldwide dive itineraries that The Scuba Place offers at www.thescubaplace.co.uk.

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Egypt | Simply the Best Itinerary | 04 – 11 November 2021 | Emperor Echo

Jump on board the latest addition to the Emperor fleet and enjoy diving the famous sites of the Red Sea with this fantastic special offer. Great value for money and perfect for small groups of buddies with a ‘Book 5 and 1 dives for FREE’ offer all year round.

Price NOW from just £1275 per person based on sharing a twin cabin/room including:

  • Flights from Gatwick to Hurghada with 23kgs baggage
  • 7 nights in shared cabin
  • 3 meals a day, soft drinks, red wine with dinner
  • 6 days’ diving, guide, 12ltr tank & weights, Marine Park fees and port departure fees
  • Free Nitrox

Subject to availability.
Alternative departure airports available at supplement.

Call Diverse Travel on 01473 852002 or email info@diversetravel.co.uk.

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