Indonesia’s 18,000 islands, which straddle the equator, define the southwest sweep of the Pacific Rim of Fire. The underwater seascape here rumbles with such a thick stew of life that some of the dive sites have a greater density of marine life than anywhere else in the world. This is overcrowding at its best.
It’s best not to linger on the overwhelming underwater diversity, though. You’ll get dizzy. Better to just break it down by region into digestible bits. You can also hop on a liveaboard to take in a swath of remote territory like Raja Ampat off the west coast of New Guinea, Komodo, North Sulawesi, Bali and the Banda Sea. If you start in the middle, you’ll find Bali. Islam dominates the region, but Bali has stayed old school and retains a strong traditionally Hindu culture. Above the water is color, festival, ceremony, immaculately groomed landscapes, tranquil forested hills and beaches. Below is simply a wonderland. Bali is one of the most popular places in Indonesia when it comes to learning to dive. But, Bali can delight beginners and experienced divers alike. It’s a hotspot for Mola mola encounters, especially from June to October off Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida. For year round diving, the USAT Liberty Wreck, an ex-cargo ship sunk in 1942 that is now a thriving artificial reef in the Tulamben region, is one of the world’s top dives. The Tulamben drop-off and the drop-offs from Menjangan Island justify the trip on their own.
But this is just the first touch of Indo-magic. Moving east of Bali brings you to Lombok and Komodo. Here, currents and surprising cold upwellings pack nutrients into every single niche of this vibrant ecosystem and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Among the plethora of mind-boggling sites is Cannibal Rock, a massive, life-infested coral pinnacle between Rinca and Komodo Island. There’s significant current here, but that brings the circus to town. GPS Point and Batu Tiga promise some head-turning big animal action while Torpedo Point hosts the exotic, otherworldly creatures.
Off of Lombok are the Gili Islands of Trawangan, Meno and Air. Casual, beautiful and tranquil, Gili Trawangan is one of Indonesia’s most popular places – along with Bali – to learn to dive. Its reputation for turtles, cuttle fish, octopus, lionfish and scorpion fish all make it popular with new divers.
North of this region brings you to the epic dive haven of Sulawesi, which is home to Wakatobi, Lembeh Strait, Bunaken and Manado. Wakatobi has one of the world’s most photographed house reefs. This multi-faceted, world-class drop-off is famed for its action and color, with everything from blue ringed octopi and ghost pipefish to resident sea turtles napping among a soft coral and gorgonian heaven.
Off Lembeh, which is famous for muck diving, you’ll want a guide to help you find banded snake eels, pygmy seahorse, octopus, scorpionfish and literally hundreds of extraordinarily camouflaged critters that defy description. The dive site is simple: black sand. But, almost anything could be hiding there. Your most essential piece of kit is a magnifying glass and a beefy macro lens on your camera. Bunaken and Manado are, relatively speaking around the corner from Lembeh and offer a kaleidoscope of wall, shallow reef, big animal and critter dives.
But of all the regions in Indonesia Ampat Raja, which translates as Four Kings, is garnering the most attention at the moment. A laboratory of diversity, you won’t find a thicker amalgamation of life anywhere on the planet. It’s hard to argue with sites that boast more than 1200 species of marine life, all at play right in front of your eyes. It’s a beast of an undersea warzone, as legions of predator and prey make angle for their share of space on the reef. A few numbers to crunch from Raja: 74 percent of all the earth’s known coral on earth; almost 1400 species of reef fish; more than 600 species of hard coral. Trust me. You will not see it all.
Experiencing Indonesia on just one trip is like watching the team warm up then skipping the match. You need to come back several times just so you can start understanding the game.
FAMOUS DIVE SITES:
In addition to being known as a great place to learn to dive, Bali is famous for its walls, current dives, thick curtains of marine life, pristine biodiversity and some unusual big animal encounters including Mola mola (sunfish), mantas and sharks. Plus, the concept of muck diving started here, so there is plenty to distract the hunters of the small. Topside, most visions of paradise start out as something like Bali, so many other places pale in comparison.
- Liberty Wreck — Sunk in January 1942 by a Japanese submarine, this former cargo ship is now an eco-kingdom. In 6-35 metres/25-120 feet of water, this wreck explodes with life, especially at night. But, day dives also deliver all the diversity of a healthy reef along with the drama of a shipwreck the.
- Menjangan Island — A National Marine Park, Menjangan island revels in legions of tropical fish, lush seascapes and pristine coral environments. It also has sea turtles, sharks, rays, eels and whirlwinds of jacks.
- Zen Beach —The sites reputation as a newly explored much diving wonderland is just starting to ripple through the dive world. Like most sites of this description, don’t expect pretty corals, just heaps of hidden creatures that will challenge both your notion of life and ability to describe the freaks of nature you’ll find.
- Nusa Penida — Nusa (which means island) Penida and its tiny sibling, Lembongan Island, are current-washed pelagic attraction devices. Over the healthy hard coral substrate, look for mola, mantas, sharks, eagle rays, turtles and big shoals of trevalley and sweetlips. The currents can be strong as well as surprisingly brisk.
Komodo and nearby Banta and Rinca Islands form a triumvirate that will challenge your senses. Abundance and variety are the rules of the reef. You’re likely to encounter everything from schooling hammerheads to skeleton shrimp. With frequent upwellings and strong currents, the water can be colder than you might imagine. Above water, expect raw cultural and natural heritage.
- Cannibal Rock — Extraordinary invertebrate life covers this lush seamount, which is great for diving day or night. Pygmy seahorses, rhinopias, frogfish, dozens of nudibranchs, Coleman shrimp and a long list of others inhabit the area and you won’t need to move much.
- Batu Tiga — This site is all about the big animals. Washed by current, the waters of Tiga possess a pelagic magic – attracting mantas, sharks, masses of trevally and eagle rays.
- Gili Lawalaut (Crystal Rock) — At slack tide you can explore among the soft corals, sea fans and gorgonians for eels, frogfish and other cryptic marinelife. It’ll also be hard to ignore the not so cryptic sweetlips, butterflyfish and fluttering clouds of anthias.
- Gili Lawalaut (Lighthouse Reef and Takat) — These current dives require a surface signaling device but reward you with sharks, turtles, dolphins, mantas, masses of trevally, surgeonfish and rays. The nutrient puffed seascape is covered in fans, big sponges and sea rods.
One of the dive world’s true treasures, the house reef alone is worthy of the trek to Wakatobi. But, the list of sites here will likely soon become a list of your lifetime favorites. Above the water, the resort and islands are honeymoon worthy. Bring a camera and don’t come alone.
- House Reef — From the small and strange to the giant mantas and resident turtles, you can spend most of your life looking for a more impressive and diverse house reef. Dive in the day or dive at night. Repeat as necessary (which is to say, a bunch). You won’t be disappointed.
- Teluk Maya — Shouting distance from the resort, this shallow coral garden harbors cool finds such as Pegasus sea moths, pipefish, rays relaxing on the bottom and a pygmy seahorse that you can only find here. There’s no need to go deep so plan for long dives.
- Pastel Reef — If you like soft, vibrant corals in thick forests with lots of animals hiding in the gaps, this dive will redefine your ability to comprehend beauty.
- Blade — Play connect the seamounts at this extraordinarily photogenic dive site. Sea fans, sponges and corals spawn in great numbers and seem to have positioned themselves in the most picturesque places on the reef.
This is one of those rare places that is known for excellence in one area. In this case it’s macro diving. But, Lembeh will also surprise you, shock you and defy your ability to describe what you see. It will also fill your head with the sheer wonder and variety of life that can exists in such a moonscape of black sand as is Lembeh Strait.
- Lembeh Strait — The sites do have different names — Nudi Falls, Hairball, Police Pier, Angel’s Window (Hairball is my favorite), but what people come here for is the odd and strange. Hairy frogfish, stargazers, flambuoyant cuttlefish, Ambon scorpionfish, mimic octopus, decorator crabs, seahorses snake eels and leaf scorpionfish all top the list of what divers flock here to view.
Ampat, the world’s most biodiverse underwater seascape, is generally liveaboard country. And, with such incredible biodiversity, saying you’ll see everything you can possibly find is almost a trite – but true – understatement. Above the water is equally as dreamy, with idyllically-designed islands that redefine your vision of island perfection.
- Kofiau —The reefs are crammed with colorful soft and hard corals that hide myriad creatures while blue and gold fusiliers flow like living rivers of color overhead. These coral bommies and gardens harbor some of the highest marine biodiversity in this region. No small statement.
- Northwest Misool — In this blue water mangrove world mazes of the trees meet the color of the reef. If you’re a photographer who likes over/under images, you’ll uwant to take up permanent residence.
- The Passage — A narrow river of sea between Waigeo and Gam Islands, the coral grows pretty much to the surface and you’ll find piles of nudibranchs, sharks, cuttlefish and octopus among the soft corals.
Depths: From surface snorkeling to beyond 40 metres/140 feet.
Visibility: Six metres/20 feet to more than 50 metres/160 feet, depending on area and time of year.
Currents: Strong, cold currents can be found in the Komodo/Bali region and you may have strong currents in places off Wakatobi. But, plenty of sites are virtually current free. Generally, big animals and schooling marine life prefer current and invertebrates prefer quieter coral climes. Either way, you’ll want to dive with a surface signaling device.
Water Temperature: Temperatures range form 20-28° C/71-85° F throughout the year, depending upon site and island. You’ll want to do some research so you come prepared with proper thermal gear.
Dive Season: Diving is available throughout the year. The appearance of certain animals, such as the mola mola off Bali, is seasonal.
Weather: The equator bisects the entire length of the country so you can expect a hot and steamy 28° C/84° F year-round. The wet season runs from October to April while the dry season goes from May to September.
Access: There are direct flights from most countries into Bali and Jakarta. You can access most of the rest of the region from either of those hubs.
Skill Level: From non-diver to advanced. Certain areas in Indonesia are perfect spots for learning to dive while opportunities for advanced divers, especially in current-rich environments, also abound.
Scuba Gear: Most dive centres and resorts offer full equipment hire.
Length of stay: Seven nights will let you sample a portion of the region by liveaboard. But, 10 days to two weeks will allow you to really explore a small area. Truly exploring this vast country could span several trips.
Featured Creatures: You can see sharks, sea turtles, mola mola, manta rays, giant schools of trevally, cuttlefish and macro life galore. The muck diving is world famous, as is the mind-warping diversity of experience. The region also feature several internationally well-known wrecks, such as Bali’s Liberty wreck.
Tipping: Definitely tip your divemasters and liveaboard crews. Tipping is not mandatory, but 10 percent for good service is a general guideline.
Transportation: Taxis and local transportation within towns is available. Rental cars are best for places like Bali. For the rest of the region, you’ll probably be reliant upon your resort for access to the region.
- Halim Perdanakusuma International Airport – Jakarta (HLP)
- Ngurah Rai Airport – Bali International Airport – Denpasar (DPS)
- Pattimura Airport – Ambon (AMQ)
Religion: Predominately Muslin. Hundu in Bali.
Electricity: 220v/50Hz electrical outlets. Plug types can be C, F and G.
Airport Entry/Exit fees: A Visa on Arrival is available for many nationalities. Details can be found on the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia page. Check the consulate’s web page for complete information. The departure tax is usually included with the airfare.
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