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sgietler

Bunaken dive report and photos

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Bunaken Feb 13th - feb 19th

 

My wife and I just returned from a long trip to asia - mainly to see her family and celebrate chinese new year, but also to dive bunaken and lembeh in manado, sulawesi, indonesia.

 

The decision:

 

We looked at philippines, sipadan, and bunaken/lembeh (manado). Philippines was in high season, sipadan and manado were in rainy season. I also read mixed reports on weather/vis in february, and negative reports on the coral. good reports on the fish life though. still, we decided to go, and got a decent deal at the well-known resort SMART. however, since we were booking only 1 month in advance, no one could guarantee sipadan permits, and I heard several stories of people being denied permits due to too many people. So sipadan was out. we weren't going to take a chance on not getting permits.

 

Phillipines was supposed to have good, cheap diving. however, figuring out the logistics was frustrating. And I'm very good at logistics. transportation and resort costs were hard to figure out, and every location I looked at got mixed reviews. eventually I gave up.

 

So we decided on bunaken/lembeh. it was a very wise choice! And it involved the least amount of travel time of all 3 options.

 

Travel to bunaken:

 

The flight from singapore to manado was an easy 3 1/2 hours on silk air. we got tickets online for $240 each round trip, a good deal!

 

At the airport, the resort picked us up. the boat harbor was less than 1 hour from the airport, and then it was a quick 30-minute ride to the dive shop. nice, fast, and easy! No check out dives needed for experienced divers... within 20 minutes of arriving (after filling out some forms), you can start diving!

 

The resort:

 

We stayed at two-fish divers in bunaken and lembeh. they have several good boats, 6-7 guides (all locals), and capacity for 20 divers. lucky for us feb is a slow month at the resort and they were lightly booked. facilities and accommodation were what you would expect in a mid-range dive resort (no pool or AC, food was just ok), but we were happy with everything, and the bungalows were nice, with plenty of space and a nice porch with a hammock. bungalows #1 or #2 have the best views I think, and are closest to the restaurant. we stayed in #2, which had 1 large bed.

 

The bungalows always had drinking water. they also had a nice standing fan. a few shelves made it easy for us to lay out camera gear in the room, and rooms also had a power strip with US converters, how nice!

 

All dive gear, wetsuits, tanks were brought on and off the boat by the staff/guides, and washed for us every night, so we only worried about our cameras. food was served at 7AM, 1PM, and 7PM. dives were at 8AM (2 dives), 2:30PM, and 6:00PM.

 

Penny and I had our own guide the entire time, chris. chris was a great guide with a good eye and I highly recommend him. the boat crew was great too, always helping get tanks on/off. they also supplied us with a rinse tank on the boat for our cameras. coffee, water, tea, and cookies available on the boat at all times.

 

The resort is on the east side of the island, supposedly the "better" side. I heard the other side of the island can get a lot of trash washing ashore. fresh water is also hard to get in bunaken, but the resort is blessed with a well that seemed to supply us with limitless amounts of water for showers, washing gear, etc.

 

The owners, nigel and Tina, were always around keeping things running smoothly. Tina still does a lot of teaching at the resort. they seemed to be very customer focused, and always helped accommodate our requests.

 

We got a package that included lodging, food, water, coffee, tea. juices, soft drinks, and alcohol were extra. Internet was $6/hour (dial-up, quite slow). laundry was extra. There's not much to do here other than diving.

The transferto Lembeh was quick.We left at8:30AM, arriving in Lembeh at 11AM, with time for 3more dives. And we didn't even have to pack up our dive gear!

 

The diving:

 

We did 20 dives over 5 days, including 4 night dives. unbelieveable diversity of coral and reef fish. uncountable amounts of fish. extremely healthy reefs. we requested a lot of advanced sites, which had strong currents (not just horizontal, but also up-currents and down-currents), but this brings out the fish we wanted to see. most people are mainly brought to the well-known "wall-dives" that bunaken is famous for, which are suitable for divers of all levels. they are beautiful, but with less fish, less currents, and less pelagics. we did minimal dives at these sites. And since we were going to lembeh afterwards, we specifically did not dive the better macro sites at bunaken, opting for the sites with the most fish.

 

Almost every site we went to had large numbers of fish, pelagics, beautiful healthy corals at all depths, currents, a huge diversity of reef fish, and a huge diversity of invertebrate life on the wall. Reefs were healthy from very shallow (10ft) down past 150ft. Dives usually start deeper and gradually get shallower as the dive progresses. We had no problems diving air here. Most dives were done as drift dives, with the boat picking us up where we surfaced.

 

Night dives were great. the large basket stars were beautiful, and most prevalant at the two-fish house reef. we did 3 night dives at the two-fish house reef and never got bored. due to the potential for currents, the house reef is dove from a boat only.

 

Many dive sites are 10 minutes away, although some are 30-45 minutes away on the boat. No time limits on dives.

 

The species:

 

I saw everything I had hoped for in bunaken, and more. more fish than I've ever seen in my life.

Napolean wrasse (almost every dive), many turtles, a few white-tips, tuna (many dives), blue-fin trevally (most dives), 12 bumphead parrotfish, large school of barracuda, a few great barracuda hunting schools of fish, hunting school of jacks, mating big-eye travelly (2 dives), hunting giant trevally (2 dives), never ending fast-moving schools of triggerfish, surgeonfish, fusiliers (many dives). schooling batfish. sea snakes, cuttlefish, 1 eagle ray, many leaf scorpionfish, many nudibranchs, countless invertebrates. large numbers of clownfish. many puffers, filefish, trumpetfish, sweetlips, snappers. mantis shrimp, razorfish, schooling catfish, long-nose filefish, schooling parrotfish.

 

 

On night dives we saw countless shrimp and crab species, many lionfish species including many two-spot lionfish, white-tips, cuttlefish, many eels, beautiful crinoids, flatworms, many blue-spotted rays

 

 

The bad luck:

due to a couple of unrelated problems, I was unable to use my strobes for the entire trip except for a few minutes on 2 dives. also, my canister light quit working at one point. well, this in no way stopped me from taking photos, and fully enjoying the dives. it also allowed me to do some dives without the camera, which I really enjoyed. bunaken is definitely the place for that!

 

The photos:

 

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blue-fin trevally. I was hunkered down low in a strong current in shallow water, watching the action around me, and I was lucky to have these fish swim very close to me.

 

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turtle, and butterfly fish along a wall.

 

 

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Fusiliers. On many dives there was an ending stream of fusiliers streaming by. Usually I see them at a distance, but this time they were coming by about 15ft below me in a strong current along the top of the wall. I was at 30ft at the time. I was able to swim down so the school was swimming right at me. At the last second they would change direction slightly to go around me and I was able to get this shot with them very close to my camera, coming by very quickly. Shooting at 1/160th helped freeze their motion.

 

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Reef shot, on a bunaken wall.

 

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Train of sergant majors, at Siladen island, which has amazingly healthy coral.

 

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hunting jacks. I was at 110ft when I saw these jacks swimming by below me. they were hunting and moving at a good pace. I quickly dropped down to 142ft to intercept them, going a few feet below them. they passed right by very close, and I got off a couple of shots.

 

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barracuda tornado. the highlight of the bunaken trip was finding this school of barracuda. we stayed with them for about 20 minutes, and I took a couple hundred shots. However, only in this shot (one of the first shots I took) showed them in the "tornado" formation. perhaps swimming close to them caused them to move into the standardized "polarized school" formation.

 

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barracuda, close up. when you swim towards the school of barracuda, they tend to turn away from you and swim away slowly. you can get close, but its hard to get really close. after about 20 minutes I was able to get a little closer, maybe because they were getting used to me. who knows. I was after 2 shots, one with them all facing me, and a side-shot like this one. Both were very tough because when you get close the barracuda turn away. I finally got one shot with some of them facing me, but it still wasn't what I had hoped for. For the shot above I had to get very close with my fisheye lens, which only happened once, and even then I had to extend my arms fully out to close the final distance and snapped the shutter without being able to see the viewfinder.

 

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Whirlwind of redtooth triggerfish. Besides the barracuda, the other highlight of bunaken was being able to swim into millions of triggerfish swimming around you an entire dive. it was hard for me to take a photo that does justice to the amount of fish moving past you. they are coming in an endless train all around you, for a long period of time. for me, this was diving at its finest!

 

the first time I dove with these triggerfish, I was without my camera. my wife and I just enjoyed the currents, all the fish, and the sharks, tunas and great barracudas we occasionly saw looking for a meal. that night I spent a lot of time imagining the shot I wanted showing everyone the beauty of these fish. I returned for 2 more dives with my camera and took a couple hundred shots trying to capture their beauty, but getting the angle, lighting, and concentration of fish close enough to me was hard, even with my fisheye lens. this was one of my two favorites of the group. for me, it was the "endless supply" factor that was hard to capture in a photo. you just had to feel it over the course of several minutes!

 

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triggerfish in current. I like this shot because it shows the power of the current bending the coral.

Edited by sgietler

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Thanks for the report...very informative. Nice shots, I really like the sargent major shot.

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wow.. great pics... those a some amazing shots of the barracudas...

 

I'm pretty new to uw photography?..was ur strobe not on when u took the fusiliers n sergeant majors?.. cos the colors come out really vivid...

 

if I used a strobe theres always alot of back scatter?.. can u enlighten me?...

 

I love ur close up of the barracudas.... i din get to see that when I was in Bunaken in Dec07.. :)

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thanks alot larry & meimei

 

meimei, no strobes were used in those 2 shots... if you shoot in "raw" mode in bright light, and if your not too deep, you can get some decent colors...

 

alex mustard's "magic filters" will help bring out color even more when shooting without strobes, but I had left mine at home :)

 

many people get backscatter in their shots when using strobes. if you do a search on backscatter in the forums you'll see the tried and true tips on how to avoid it :)

 

scott

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Hi Scott great report.

 

Read this yesterday and have planned to go in early July.

 

Would you spend more time on Bunaken or Lembeh?

 

My partner Alison loves to snorkel but doesnt dive.

 

regards

 

Ardy

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thanks ardy

 

bunaken and lembeh are very different.. lembeh has a lot of small stuff in the sand. (ok, lembeh has some coral/schools of fish, but not a lot). But if your an underwater photographer, you could spend weeks in lembeh photographing these small critters that the dive guides show you.

 

But there's not a lot for a snorkeler to see in Lembeh. I don't think she'll enjoy it much, but I could be wrong.

 

Either location has a large # of dive sites.

 

let me know if you have any other questions

 

scott

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Thanks for that Scott I will do only 3 days on Lembeh although I am an addicted muck diver. Both the 60 macro and 105 macro are a must take.

 

One other question - Do you remember which site you got the flight from Singapore to Mandano from? I looked up flights from Sydney to Manado on Expedia and the prices were around $US3500 return, cheapest with Garuda (not the best airline in the world). That is a trip killer, although a local agent says they can do a lot better than that and I could get a cheap flight from Sydney to Singapore.

 

regards

 

Ardy

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your welcome Ardy.

 

yes, 60mm + 105mm sound like the perfect lenses to use.

 

the website is www.silkair.com

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Thanks for that Scott I will do only 3 days on Lembeh although I am an addicted muck diver. Both the 60 macro and 105 macro are a must take.

 

One other question - Do you remember which site you got the flight from Singapore to Mandano from? I looked up flights from Sydney to Manado on Expedia and the prices were around $US3500 return, cheapest with Garuda (not the best airline in the world). That is a trip killer, although a local agent says they can do a lot better than that and I could get a cheap flight from Sydney to Singapore.

 

regards

 

Ardy

 

 

Suggest you book it as two itineraries, SYD-SIN and then SIN-MDC. It was $5000 Sing$ difference breaking it into two itineraries on the October dates I looked at. I looked at www.zuji.com

Get your SIN-MDC flight either on zuji or silkair.com

 

Good luck

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Thanks Scott and SSea.

 

I will break it into two itineraries as it seems the only way to get there without breaking the bank.

 

We are getting excited about the trip as it was a spur of the READ thing.

 

regards

 

Ardy

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Hi Steve and anybody interested.

 

I tried to break the trip into 2 but it didnt work it was going to cost an extra $US2500 to do this as the flights are totally booked up. So unless we can get on a flight at the last minute it seems this will have to wait until Sept/Oct. Lets hope there are more flights available then.

 

The trip from Singapore to Manado was $US500 each return so I think you got a good deal Steve. Having worked on it for about 2 days and the travel agent gave up after a couple of hours, an inclusive price is cheaper than splitting it. BTW I could go on these dates with Garuda (worst airline in the world) for $US2700 each compared to $US1300 each. When you get the quote for the resort at E776 or about $US1150 paying $5k for a flight is rediculous. We could go on a luxury liveaboard in PNG for $6k.

 

What is happening I thought everybody was staying at home!

 

regards

 

Ardy

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That was a great trip report, Scott. I enjoyed that very much. And the amazing photos, too! I'll be diving with Two Fish Divers at Bunaken and am very much looking forward to it, especially after this.

 

This is probably too late to be of help to Ardy, but is worth noting for divers looking to reach N Sulawesi on a stricter budget.

 

Air Asia recently began service between Kuala Lumpur to Manado. They cost a lot less than Silk Air. The service is also more basic, although not at all shabby by a long shot. The planes are clean and the attendants are friendly. The seats can be cramped so go for the exit rows if you've long legs. The weight limits are more stringent but overage fees still don't bring the total cost to Silk Air levels. Otherwise, I have flown with Air Asia many times and have not had any bad experiences. (Well, the check-in area at KL's Low Cost Carrier Terminal can be a bit of a zoo.) By the way, I'm not in anyway affiliated with the airline, so this is just an FYI for interested parties!

 

www.airasia.com

 

I don't know if there's a significant difference in cost on flights between Australia and Malaysia, though. That's obviously something to consider.

 

Anyway, thanks again, Scott, for a very informative write-up. I'll be so happy if my experience is anything like yours. Happy diving! Cheers!

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which lens did you use in the shots that you posted? which lens did you use for the baracuda shots?

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Scott

Nice report but I do have to ask what was so difficult about logistics in the Philippines? Couldn't a travel agent help?

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hey, that's nice pic of the barracuda.. I haven't seen the tornado at all for this year.. I have been going back and forth to manado for dives, but I thought the barracudas has been ended up in the dinner plates :)

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thanks Wolley

 

octopus, I used the tokina 10-17mm for all of those shots

 

Drew, I'm going to the phillipines next month, I can't wait

 

ftansari - thanks, sorry you haven't seen the barracuda, keep on trying I guess!

 

Scott

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the cheapest way to get to Bunaken from Australia is fly to Bali (under $500) then once in indonesia get your flight from bali to Manado (i payed under 50$ one way)

then if your hotel on Bunaken isent going to pick you up and your on a really strict budget walk out of the airport grounds and get a taxi there it will cost under $2 instead of $20

ian

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