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The east of Bali is mainly known for the US Liberty, a war II wreck that lies close to Tulamben. But this is by far not the only thing to be see here. There are many rare animals living in the small reefs and sandy areas close to the wreck. The excellent diving in this area makes it well worth an extended visit, specially for photographers interested in critter diving. Further south around Amuk Bay are several dive sites, very varied, from easy diving on a slope to current swept islands like Gili Selang, Gili Biaha or Tepekong with a good chance to see sharks, Mola Mola sunfishes and other really large animals!
Tulamben is located on the northeast coast of Bali at the foot of Mount Gunung Agung (big mountain). Tulamben is mainly known for the US Liberty wreck that lies close to the shore. The US Liberty is a cargo ship that was torpedoed in the Lombok Strait on the 11th January 1942 (during the second world war) by the Japanese. She was towed by two destroyers towards the port of Singaraja but she was taking on too much water, so she was beached at Tulamben. Her cargo was salvaged by the local people. During the disastrous eruption of Mount Agung in 1963 she was pushed off the beach, broke in half and was left in her present position close to the shore of Tulamben. The stern is somewhat intact, the mid-ship section is all broken and the bow is again in pretty good shape. This wreck is a very popular dive site and it gets crowded around the middle of the day, when divers and snorkelers from Sanur or Lovina arrive. Best stay over night in Tulamben itself and dive there early in the morning (better visibility, fewer people and perhaps you will see the resident large group of bumphead parrotfish). There are other dive sites in Tulamben that are also very nice and well worth a visit.
Please notice that they have a porter system in Tulamben. The Diving Helper Club is a collective that will haul your diving equipment to the dive sites. The beach of Tulamben is covered with large black pebbles that make it very difficult to walk with heavy gear without turning an ankle. Getting in and out of the water is challenging enough (hold on to your dive buddy and time your dash to the shore so there are only small waves!) and I was always glad someone else carried my gear. For the same reason it is advisable to wear booties.
The US Liberty wreck: entering the water from the black pebble beach can be quite difficult, but after about 30 meter you reach the black volcanic sand. The wreck lies on a sandy slope parallel to the shore, roughly southeast (stern) to northwest (bow). Part of the superstructure is close to the surface (about 5m) and can also be reached by snorkelers. The wreck is about 120m long, the deepest point is around 30m and it is nicely covered with corals and sponges. This is not a very difficult wreck to dive on (see my report on wreck diving in the Philippines), there are only a few places where you can penetrate, all towards the bow. When you make your safety stop you can just lie on the sand and observe the animals that live there. Night dives at the wreck are something special but should only be attempted if you are good with your buoyancy! We saw flashlightfish (turn off the lamp), special cowries, nudibranchs and many spider crabs.
Paradise Reef (or patch reef) and the
River: These two dive sites lie between the wreck and the drop off.
I usually started at the drop off (have the Diving Helpers Club carry the tanks
there) and went down to 25m to see the cleaning station just slightly to the
left of the drop off on the sand. Then I would head towards the Paradise Reef.
If you are good on air, you can leisurely dive the whole stretch, otherwise
you just get out, before you run out of air and walk back. Most of the dive
is shallow (3m to 15m).
Specially the River is a great place to do so called muck diving and find rare animals such as the harlequin and the robust ghost pipefish, several species of eels and even the mimic octopus, boxer crabs or the harlequin shrimp! If you are lucky as we were, you might also see an eagle ray or a couple black tip reef sharks, a big barracuda or Spanish mackerel! During raining season the river might bring a lot of sediments, so diving there is not so good. This dive site is also very good for night dives.
Tulamben Drop Off: about 500 m to the east of the wreck and close to the temple, the underwater wall drops to a depth of 60m (the top is around 3 to 5 m), sometimes there is a slight current. There are three coral covered lava spurs that reach down to 50 or 60m but usually you dive at the one that lies to the west of the temple. The other two reefs around the corner are also worth exploring. On the first spur at 30m is a huge Muricella gorgonian fan, it must be over 2m in diameter! Just beautiful!
Batu Klebit: After a short boat trip you reach this dive site southeast of Tulamben beach. There are some rocks close to the shore, around which you can dive, and some large reefs a bit offshore. You dive on a slope with nice hard and soft corals and sandy areas in between. You can also choose to do a rather deep dive - to around 30 to 50m - to see the underwater plateau. If you are lucky you see big pelagics such as tunas, sharks, manta rays, barracudas and sometimes even sunfishes. Visibility is usually quite good.
Kubu is a small fishing village in the north of Tulamben and can be reached by car in about 10 min. There are two dive sites, one in the north (or left) and the other in the south (or right). A hightlight is the pygmy seahorses (Hippocampus bargibanti) you can find here. A really great place for muck diving with nudibranchs, shrimps and crabs.
Seraya House Reef: lies a short distance south of Tulamben. You dive just on the beach in front of the scuba Seraya resort. Getting in and out can be a bit difficult because of the waves but it is well worth the effort. The dive starts on a black sand slope sparsely covered with sponges, small corals and white hydroids. There are numerous species of nudibranchs to be found as well as the thorny and the common seahorse. There are several ridges some covered more densly than others lying too the right side of the cage (a project to grow corals). On 17m lies a cleaning station, a coral block just coverd with hingeback shrimps. A morey eel seems to be a permanent resident here. The big surprise were a pair of Harlequin shrimps who live under a small coral block. These rare shrimps with their large flat claws show beautiful colors of white, pink, blue and yellow and there are also frogfishes and ghostpipefishes living here.
Noisy Reef: When I asked - why this funny name - I got the reply, that the young fish inhabiting this reef make noise. Actually it is true, some cracking noise is always heard while diving here. Noisy Reef is situated just in front of the parking area for Seraya (west of the resort). This dive site is similar to the Seraya House Reef, but at the top the rocks are all covered with small hard corals and sponges. However there are stretches of sand between and when you get closer to Seraya the stones are more covered with hydroids and algae that attract nudibranchs. When diving there I basically looked for slugs (plenty of them), but I also found mantis shrimps, spider crabs, a robust pipefish and a small frogfish. If you like muckdiving it is worth to do both dive sites. There are also some Jacks and large triggerfishes but it is not a place to see very much fish.
There is more diving in Batu Niti which lies about half a kilometer to the east. Batu Niti is a volcanic ridge with a lava flow that drops into the sea.
Amed: The town lies on the shore of Jemeluk bay (Teluk Cemeluk), only a few kilometer south of Tulamben. There are usually a lot of jukung (local fishing boat) lying on the shore which are worth looking at since they are often nicely painted. You dive along several walls nicely covered with corals, sponges and sea fans. We finished the dive on a slope with a nice coral block covered with black corals. We saw a small Napoleon, a bluespotted ray and some nice nudibranchs. You can also dive just in front of the harbour of Amed on a sandy area which has several artificial reefs.
Kafe Garam: Coming from Tulamben at the entrance to Ahmed lies a small dive site not visited often. From the Kafe Garam Resort you walk to the beach and then just in and slightly to the left. Follow the sand slope which is dotted with black featherstars and don't forget to look inside because you are likely to find a black robust ghostpipefish hiding inside and plenty of small squat lobster. I also espied a mimic octopus which was putting up his arms in display before it desappeared inside a hole in the sand. To the left is an artificial reef made with tires, concrete elements and a small cage which lies between 18 and 20 meters depth. Here you have to keep your eyes peeled for harlequin ghostpipefishes, we found 9 of them, some in pair and some really small filigree baby ghostpipefishes. There are shrimps everywhere and several large stonefish - a record number of 8 stonefishes! - are hiding under and on the artificial reef. You continued the dive up the slope and slightly to the right where there are some small areas with sponges, anemones and again with stonefishes and special scorpionfishes. Two cuttlefishes swam close to the surface and a coconut octopus and sanddivers were hiding on the sandy area on top. A nice dive site but only for people who like to search for small critters - pure muckdiving!
Lipah Bay: lies approx. 3 kms southeast of Jemeluk. There is a small wreck of a Japanese steel freighter at 6 -12 meter encrusted with gorgonians, sponges and black corals and with a lot of glasfish. Nice hard coral cover with a lot of anthias and he even found some pygmy seahorses and a lot of nudibranchs.
This small island lies at the very eastern tip of Bali between Tulamben and Padang Bai. Reached either from Ahmed (half hour in a small boat) or from Padang Bai (1 hour by speedboat) since the road there is quite bad. Gili Selang lies at an exposed position right in the currents that flow through Lombok Strait (see Indonesian Throughflow). You dive in a very current-swept area, so this dive is only for experienced divers.
Gili Selang: The island looks like it just broke away from the mainland. There is a narrow channel on the west side, but you start your dive in the north and if you are swept along the east side of the island you end up just south of the island where there is an area to escape the current - so take an experienced boat driver along in case you get swept away. This is a very nice dive site and covered everywhere with soft corals - probably the healthiest corals in Bali - but also a lot of fish and a good chance to find turtles, bumphead parrotfishes, tunas and whitetip reef sharks.
Three fingers: lies approximately half a kilometer south of Gili Selang. This dive site consists of three rocky outcrops with nice coral reefs around them and black sand on one side. If the current is not too strong you can actually dive around all three rocks. A nice dive with nudibranchs, moray eels and colorful cleaning shrimps but also groups of bumphead parrotfishes and lots of fish.
Waterloo: this is a new dive site close to Biaha but on the mainland side. It was named Waterloo because while discovering this dive site Jürgen and Irene from diving groove saw a big male Napoleon wrasse chasing after two unwilling females. Since there are sometimes strong currents, it is not always possible to dive here. If conditions are right this is a really nice dive sites, good coral cover and the possibility to see sharks and other pelagics. There are also large groups of the endemic yellowtail sawtail (Prionus sp.) here. I specially liked the shallower area - there is a wall with overhangs, small caves and swim-throughs which is interesting.
Amuk Bay, with the villages of Padang Bai in the south and Candi Dasa in the north, is about 6 kms across and located along the south side of Bali's eastern point. Close to Candi Dasa there are two larger islands, Tepekong and Biaha, as well as an area with small rocks called Mimpang or Batu Tiga. The diving in this area is astonishingly rich. If you are interested in special small critters you should be diving around Padang Bai. But there are also several excellent dive sites for sharks, rays, large schools of fish and this is one of the places where Mola Mola ocean sunfishes are regularly sighted. Water temperatures are quite chilly, we had a bone-chilling 18° C on one of our dives, there is always a bit of surge but visibility is normally quite good.
White Beach (No. 1) (Bias Tugal) lies south of Padang Bai. This is a steep slope nicely covered with corals and sponges. Look at the outside of the large barrel sponges for Wally's squat lobster (Lauriea siagiani) and on the Muricella gorgonians for pygmy seahorses, but don't forget to look out in the blue for the Mola Mola sunfish that come here sometimes!
Padang Bai Channel (No. 2) This dive site lies about 100m from the shore in the area where the ferries leave for Lombok when they cross overhead during a dive, it can be very noisy here indeed. You go down deep on the wall and make a drift dive. Look underneath the overhangs for sharks, large black rays and turtles and enjoy the schools of batfish or small barracudas. In August to September there are often Wobbegong sharks (they come from Irian Jaya or Australia) and Mola Molas here. The shallow area where you finish your dive is also very nice with dark sand and coral boulders. There seems to be quite a collection of nudibranchs living here as well as moray eels, ribbon eels and even some well hidden devil fishes.
Padang Bai Jetty (No. 3): If you are into small critters then you shouldn't miss diving just below and around the Jetty on the beach of Padang Bai. Even with high tide the depth here is no more than 2 meters and you have to choose the right time, when there is as little swell as possible. We did two dives and saw sea horses, robust ghost pipefishes, a pipehorse (Syngnathoides biaculeatus) and special scorpionfishes under a coral rock and a whitefaced waspfish. However I recommend you take one of these inflatable boeys along with you, so the boats going in and out from the jetty know where you are.
Blue Lagoon (No. 4) (Tanjung Sari) is a small beach northeast of Padang Bai. You start the dive on a sandy slope the dive on a large wall and on several large coral blocks. It is a very good place for small animals like nudibranchs and flatworms, but we also always found at least one frogfish as well as ribbon eels and sometimes a catshark. But the most interesting sight was a redish Rhinopias- scorpionfish (Rhinopias eschmeyeri), a rare fish that I had only found once in Lembeh Strait (Sulawesi) sitting in about 16m, next to a large coral block! Actually two years later we found three Rhinopias here, two different species, one lilac with a lot of appendages (R. frondosa) and a pair of brick red and pink Rhinopias (R. eschmeyeri). Our dive guide said though, that she hadn't seen them for over a year, so I guess we were also just very lucky. One of my theorries is, that Rhinopias scorpionfishes like cold water and if it is too warm for them they live deeper down. Seems they are mostly seen here in July and September which are the coldest months as far as water temperatures go.
Mimpang (No. 5) is also called Batu Tiga (three rocks) although there are actually 4 small exposed rocks that come to the surface, on the center rock there is an eagle nest. This is a slope and a wall with hard and soft corals and some gorgonians. This is the best place around Padang Bai to see sharks but also a good place for Mola Mola. It's also amazing to just watch the big schools of fish that gather over the upper parts of the reef. The currents here can be strong, but are said to be predictable.
Gili Tepekong (No. 6) (the Goat Island) is only about 50m long and not very wide with deep waters on all sides. Off the southwestern tip of Tepekong is a well known dive site, the Canyon. Tepekong Canyon is lined with some large black boulders of basalt nicely covered with soft and hard corals. It is possible to encounter large pelagics like sharks or even sunfish (Mola Mola) and always large schools of fish! Usually the water is cold and there are strong currents, so this site is for experienced divers only and conditions have to be right to dive here. Close by are some large rock pillars. You can also dive on the east of Tepekong. This is a deep dive. Expect wall diving, strong surges and sometimes down currents. The best time according to one of the dive operators are the three days just after new moon.
Gili Biaha (No. 7) (Likman island): There is
a blowhole which spouts jets of water, so Biaha looks like a large whale! This
dive site is not for beginners, since the cold currents coming from the Lombok
Strait create unpredictable water movements like a washing machine! The inside
area of the crescent (the east side of Biaha) has a cave large enough for several
divers to enter (4 to 5 m high). In the cave there are nearly always several
whitetip reef sharks. However don't enter this cave, if there are enough waves
to create waterspray from the blow hole, because this means, that the surge
is very strong and dangerous.
On one dive conditions changed in the middle of it and we were hit by a very strong surge from above just at the entrance to the cave. The bubbles from the crashing waves reached down to 12 meters and everything turned dark. With it came the water pressure and my ears took a real pounding - it felt like I had dived down 5 or 10 meters in a short second, so strong was the water pressure - and I had to equalize like crazy! My computer registered the pressure change and told me, I had just gone down and up again much too fast while I actually stayed in place. We got out as fast as possible and when we surfaced we saw the blowhole blowing water with every wave.
Night dives are excellent in Tanjung Sari (Blue Lagoon). The dive site offers three different zones for diving - the sandy slope, the wall and the large coral blocks - each with distinctive animals living there. For example the slope and wall are covered with filter feeders like feather stars, brittle stars and basket stars and there are always crabs and shrimps crawling among them. Nudibranchs like Spanish dancers and some scorpionfishes are found on the sandy area and the coral blocks seem to attract a lot of animals as well. Apart from the sleeping angelfishes there are also lobsters and cleaning shrimps. The leaffishes you tend to see during the day are hidden, but we saw other predators - several black giant frogfishes were clinging to the coral head down and actively luring. In the shallow part, hidden among the corals we found another two frogfishes - the shy nocturnal spotfin frogfish (A. nummifer), a small species that is nearly never found during the day.