N I G E L M A R S H P H O T O G R A P H Y
U N D E R W A T E R I M A G E S A N D A R T I C L E S
A BALI DIVE SAFARI WITH AQUAMARINE
By Nigel Marsh and Helen Rose
Bali is a very popular diving destination, with a wonderful range of dive sites right around this Indonesian island. The island is small enough that many dive operators offer a very different diving experience called a dive safari. Rather than just stay in one spot and do the local dives, a dive safari allows you to explore many of the best dive sites right around Bali in only a few days.
The last time we dived Bali we explored the island’s two most popular dive destinations – Tulamben and Nusa Penida. But with two days available during a recent stopover we decided it was time to try a dive safari and see a few other Bali dive sites. We contacted Bali’s premier dive operation, Aquamarine, and said we had two days to spare and would like to visit a few different muck sites we had heard about at Puri Jati and Padang Bai. They quickly came back and confirmed this was possible, with an itinerary that would see us visit Puri Jati on day one and Padang Bai on day two. They also suggested we stay at Candidasa as a convenient pickup point for both destinations, and suggested the Watergarden Hotel. This all sounded perfect, so they booked the hotel and also arranged for an airport pickup.
For day one it was an early start at 7.30am, as we had a three hour drive to Puri Jati, which is on the northern coast. This is Bali’s newest muck diving sensation, so we really wanted to check it out. The Aquamarine van arrived on time with our driver Gembres and dive guide Parman. They had all the tanks, weights and extra dive gear we required all loaded and ready to go.
It was a pleasant, but long, drive to Puri Jati (for longer safaris to the west coast Aquamarine will generally book you into a local motel), but gave us time to talk to Parman about the critters we would see. The country side we passed through was very picturesque, with views of terraced rice paddies, volcanos, mountains and the sea. We were visiting in April, the end of the wet season and usually a good time to dive, but as we drove along the coast we could see the sea was quite choppy from a brisk on shore wind.
Finally arriving at Puri Jati, we found a brilliant setup for shore diving – a restaurant and gear setup area right next to the beach. Here were toilets, showers and wash tubes. It would be nice to have such a great setup at all shore diving sites. The water didn’t look too clear, brown actually, but Parman was certain this was just in the shallows.
We entered the choppy muddy water and had to swim a distance before the water cleared enough to see our hands. We then descended on a brown sandy bottom to find the visibility 3m, fortunately it cleared to 10m when we swam further out. Parman had told us that Puri Jati is a great spot for mimic octopus, flamboyant cuttlefish, hairy frogfish and many other great critters, usually. But unfortunately, not today. We still saw some interesting critters – a baby cockatoo waspfish, nudibranchs, blue-fin lionfish, mantis shrimps, demon ghoul, razorfish and numerous anemones. But with surgy conditions and a lot of particles in the water, we didn’t think it was worth doing two more dives at the site, and Parman agreed.
Over lunch we voted to forgo one dive and return via Tulamben for one longer dive and hoped that conditions were better there. It was a two hour drive back to Tulamben, so it was after 3pm by the time we arrived. Parmen suggested we dive a muck site we hadn’t dived before called Petitisan, where the local village had built a gear up and wash up area. The surface water here was also dirty, but once underwater the visibility opened up to 15m, and we had a great dive exploring this sandy slope to 26m.
This was more like the wonderful Bali muck dives we have enjoyed in the past. We saw snake eels, ghost pipefish, decorator crabs, mantis shrimps, nudibranchs, dragonets, sand divers and many other critters. But the highlights were a tiny tiger shrimp, an amazing wonderpus and a very rare Mototi octopus, a species we have never seen before.
After being on the road for six hours on day one, we were very happy that day two involved a little less driving as it was only 15 minutes to Padang Bai. Most of the dive boats at Padang Bai head over to Nusa Penida so divers can see mola mola and manta rays, but we were only travelling around the corner to dive Blue Lagoon. A five minute boat ride found us at our first dive site called Turtle Neck. The poor visibility looked like it was following us, as it was very green on the surface, and not the usual blue. The visibility was only 5m on the surface, but once underwater opened up to 15m thankfully.
We followed Parman down a rubble slope dotted with feather stars, soft corals and halimeda weed. We quickly found nudibranchs and shrimps, but then Parman tapped his tank to indicate he had found the star attraction, the resident weedy scorpionfish. We photographed and watched this wonderful fish as it slowly walked across the bottom, and were amazed at how camouflaged it was, even with its pretty yellow colouration.
Exploring more of this rubble slope to 28m we saw ghost pipefish, mantis shrimps, a many-eyed snake eels and cowfish. We then headed into shallower water and explored a coral reef wall, seeing numerous reef fish, a reef octopus and a zebra moray eel. But the best was a tiny boxer crab with anemones stuck to its claws like boxing gloves.
Dive two was almost as good at nearby Jepun, a sandy rubble slope to 25m. We explored a small shipwreck and saw ribbon eels, leaf scorpionfish, nudibranchs, harlequin shrimp, moray eels and even a jawfish sitting out in the open, a very unusual sight.
After lunch it was time for our final muck dive at a nearby site called The Jetty. The dive boat couldn’t get to close to the jetty, as hundreds of fishermen had lines in the water, so we jumped in, descended and swam over. The visibility was still bad on the surface, but clear below and at 20m we hit a very cool and very clear thermocline, washed in from the Lombok Strait.
This jetty was spectacular, the pylons covered in gorgonians, soft corals and sponges, and the sandy rocky bottom was a haven for reef fish and critters. We saw cuttlefish, leaf scorpionfish, pipefish, snake eels, fingered dragonets, oriental sea robins, nudibranchs and many other species. This is usually a good spot for frogfish, but we couldn’t find any today. It was a brilliant dive site, but we had to watch out for hooks, fishing lines and even fishing nets!
Our two day Bali dive safari with Aquamarine was excellent, fulfilling our wish to explore different Bali muck sites. We may not have had the best visibility, but we saw some amazing critters and enjoyed some wonderful muck. Aquamarine dive all the best dive sites right around Bali and can custom design a dive holiday package or a dive safari to suit your time, budget and desired dive sites.
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