Some say Australians can be divided into two groups - those that holiday in Bali and those that don't. Simplistic for sure, but I fall into the 'don't' group. For me Bali is a frustrating mix - affordable luxury for when you need to be comatose along but with about a million other tourists. Glimpses of a colourful, rich culture that is only superficially available at best. Hot, crowded, noisy and far too many Aussies in unflattering Bintang singlets behaving badly. I'd seen beautiful footage of diving the Liberty Wreck but understood it was usually super crowded and the Mola Mola dives at Nusa Penida looked pretty good but potentially treacherous with the wrong dive operator.
For me - Bali has been one of the necessary evils, along with excess luggage fees and the push and shove of boarding small planes, you learn to flow with on the way to or from wonderful dive trips to other parts of Indonesia.
Then a couple of diver/photographers I respect started talking about Bali as a credible dive destination - perfect to add on to the start or end of a trip. I was joining a group of local dive friends on a trip through Komodo on Phi Siren, so a couple of us added a few extra days to the start of the trip and signed up with Mike Veitch and Luca Vaime's new outfit, Underwater Tribe, for a five day explore of Bali diving. I was pretty unsure of what to expect but figured these were people we could trust. And I am so glad we did.
Luca put together a 6 day itinerary that worked beautifully. It took from Sanur, our pick up point, up to the north western coast to dive Menjangan Island, along the north coast to Lovina, Tulamben and Amed finishing up with a night and day in Ubud for those of us travelling on to dry our gear before the meeting up with our Canberra friends ahead of the flight to Bima.
Underwater Tribe took care of everything - we had a fantastic dive master from Manado with us, Niko, and very capable driver (essential in that crazy traffic), Julian, who also knew a huge amount about the areas we were travelling through and the various ceremonies we were to encounter and a great sense of humour. All accommodation was taken care of and most meals. Really we just had to roll out of bed and follow them around. As a particular treat, Mike and Made Dwi Suarsana (I know how lucky was that!) travelled with us as well.
The first long day of travel was easier than I expected - broken up with stops for breakfast, a walk (through torrential rain) to a pretty speccy waterfall, stops a beautiful mountain lookouts and a stop for those who find monkeys endearing (I'm not in that group either).
Mike, Cathy and Patto and that's cat civet poo coffee they are drinking.
Diving started with a full day, three boat dives at Menjangan Island. The first of what would turn out to be many wonderful surprises. This island offers terrific, healthy hard and soft coral, massive gorgonian fans, schooling fish (I just love watching big schools of moorish idol) and an array of macro subjects. The island is a popular day trip destination for snorkelling tourists, wrapped around pool noodles, but we seemed to be the only divers. The Island is home to a very impressive temple to which a constant flow of Balinese arrived to make offerings. Sadly my photo of the temple really sucks.
I think that's the first creature with eggs I've photographed.
Next we travelled down to Lovina and from here on in the diving was shore entry style, either across black sand beaches or rocky shorelines. All the entries were pretty straightforward although we each did occasionally embarrass ourselves and I was glad to have bought open heel fins and boots. In Lovina we dived twice at Puri Jati, these were classic black sand muck dives and we loved it. Long arm and coconut octopus (I think Made found a bobtail quid) and a first me, a mimic octopus. Sea horse, ghost pipefish, pipefish, juvenile lionfish, most things you'd expect to see on this type of dive. Watching a Balinese cleansing ceremony on the beach was an unexpected addition to the day. Our presence didn't seem to intrude on proceedings at all.
Octopus in a bone.
From Lovina we travelled down to Tulamben and spent a very happy day and half diving the Liberty Wreck and great little shore dive, Coral Gardens, which also turned out to be a great little muck dive.
The Liberty Wreck was fantastic - it is so beautiful it is easy to see why so many people want to dive it. It was busy while we were there, but not so that it was a bother. My photos of the wreck are especially bad so I suggest you google it.
From Tulamben we travelled further south along the coast (or easy, I'm not sure) to Amed, another area of Bali I hadn't heard of and it too was a fantastic surprise. The coastline reminded me of the Amalfi cost, lots of bays and high cliffs and the area seems to be favoured by either the very wealthy with beautiful cliff top compounds or raggedy hippies hanging out in cheap home stays. Here we dived the Japanese wreck, very shallow and after getting past the rocky shoreline the first white sand of the trip. It created that lovely milky aqua water. Along with the wreck covered in soft corals, this site offers a variety of macro subjects for keen eyed including fire dart gobies, loads of nudibranchs, leaf fish etc.. Schools of fish hang out under the wreck and while fun to try to shoot, I have to conclude that a single strobe (in my hands) and the inside or under of wrecks isn't that great but this gives an idea -
Our final two dives were at Cafe Garam further down the coast. What a great way to end the diving part of this trip. Two fantastic muck dives -
And now I've reached the photo upload limit so will have to upload the rest and longer trip report on my website. But these last dives were breathtaking. Classic start - acres of grey sand, suddenly turns out there are dozens of blue spotted sting rays in that sand and then when you reach some tyres used for mooring boats and the place comes alive. Amongst other things three beautiful juvenile emperor angel fish a perfect foil for three fat ugly stone fish. A great way to end a trip that was characterised by dives ending with huge smiles and lots of chatter about what we had seen and the passing around of cameras to view the evidence.
Of course topside there was plenty of laughter, good food, fru fru drinks, and wonderful landscapes. While it sounds like a hectic itinerary, our experience, thanks to the Underwater Tribe crew, was relaxed and happy. We were very, very well looked after. I can't wait to go back.
Top Tips -
1. Add this on to the next time you are travelling to Asia
2. Dive Bali with Underwater Tribe. It is clear from the itinerary, staff etc. that these people are photographers and will know what you are looking for. Not so the Phi Siren but that's a different story for another time.
3. Take open heel fins - the entries were pretty easy but I was glad to have dive boots.
4. Take plenty of insect repellant - the higher the proportion of DEET the better
5. Make the most of the driving. Julian and Niko were more than happy to stop at photogenic locations even if it did mean falling behind that dratted truck again.
6. Don't leave your exotic disease immunisation shots to the last minute - this didn't work so well for me
7. Bali is a pretty lovely place after all, but I still strongly recommend you avoid Kuta at all costs
8. Get washing done whenever the opportunity presents because sometimes you move on too quickly
9. Depending on the time of year - adding Nusa Penida with Mike and Luca would probably work very well.
10. There is absolutely nothing that an expert, Balinese massage can't cure.
Big shout out to Luca, Miho, Mike, Made, Niko and Julian. Thank you so much for introducing us to the wonderful diving opportunities right at our door step. YAY