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MANADO – A LITTLE BIT OF EVERYTHING IN INDONESIA

By Nigel Marsh and Helen Rose

 

Most divers that head to the Indonesian city of Manado are there to dive the fabulous coral walls of the Bunaken Marine Park. These wonderful walls offer some of the best reef diving in the country. However, during our stay we quickly discovered Manado has much more than just walls, as we also enjoyed muck dives and explored a brilliant shipwreck. By the end of our stay we learnt that Manado had a little bit of everything.

 

Manado has been a popular diving destination since the 1980s, as offshore from this city in northern Sulawesi are several islands surrounded by clear water and colourful coral reefs. The most famous of these islands is Bunaken. The marine park maybe named after the island, but it encompasses four other islands and parts of the adjacent mainland. These islands rise from deep water, with depths between the islands varying from 200m to 1800m, and each is fringed by incredible coral walls.

 

Dozens of dive resorts are located around Manado, but for our holiday we stayed at a resort north of the city and close to the marine park, the wonderful Cocotinos Manado Resort. This fabulous boutique dive resort is located in a small fishing village at Wori Bay. We felt relaxed at the resort from the second we walked through the door. Accommodation is in very spacious and comfortable air-conditioned bungalows which are set in a pretty tropical garden. The resort has a large pool, a day spa, restaurant, bar and dive centre.

 

Arriving late at night we didn’t get to appreciate the wonderful setting of the resort until breakfast the next morning. The resort is located in a pretty bay, with black sand beaches and views of the islands of the Bunaken Marine Park. But we quickly learnt that the view was best enjoyed at high tide, as when the tide went out a typical Indonesian problem was exposed, lots of rubbish. So we swam in the pool and reserved our ocean time for diving only.

 

The dive centre at Cocotinos is operated by Odyssea Divers, who have several dive boats and schedule three dives daily, plus night dives on demand. After a very filling breakfast (all the meals we had at the resort were superb, a great mix of Asian and western cuisine), we walked down the jetty to the dive boat to find our dive gear already setup.

 

The boat then set off for the morning double dive to the Bunaken Marine Park. It is a 50 minute journey, but we had barely set off before a pod of dolphins was sighted. This became a daily event. The water was calm and blue, with our eyes drawn to the island next to Bunaken called Manado Tua, as it dominated the seascape with its 600m high dormant volcano.

 

Before we knew it we had arrived at our first dive site, Fukui, which turned out to be one of the only non-wall dives at Bunaken. It was still a wonderful dive with 25m visibility and a sloping reef covered in healthy hard corals, soft corals, gorgonians and sponges. Drifting along we saw a multitude of reef fish and invertebrates, but also schools of batfish, fusiliers and masses of pyramid butterflyfish. We were also surprised to see several green and hawksbill turtles, a rare sight on most Indonesian reefs, but they occupied every reef we explored.

 

Next up is was time for a proper Bunaken wall dive at Lekuan 1. This sheer wall of coral starts at 4m and plummets into several hundred metres of water. With a gentle current we did a drift dive along the wall, admiring the gorgonians, sponges, sea whips, black coral trees and soft corals that decorate every available outcrop. Our guide Fian pointed our nudibranchs and a pair of Pontoh’s pygmy seahorses, but before the end of the dive we had also seen squat lobsters, orangutan crabs, feather star clingfish and many other macro subjects. We had heard these walls were great for wide angle photography, but the macro life was also extraordinary. Numerous ledges cut into the walls, provide shelter for pufferfish, gropers, squirrelfish and resting turtles and whitetip reef sharks. It was a wonderful wall dive with masses of small reef fish.

 

After lunch it was time to explore one of the mainland sites closer to the resort. These sites are a combination of reef and muck, and were all excellent. At Posi Posi 1 we explored a sandy slope to 20m, investigating the wreck of an old timber boat where a Jenkin’s whipray was resting. The sandy slope was home to seahorses, pipefish, snake eels, mantis shrimps and garden eels. Fian also pointed out two of the smallest frogfish I have ever seen, barely 5mm long! At the end of the dive we explored the corals in the shallows to see a leaf scorpionfish, cuttlefish, lionfish and many reef fish.

 

Over the next few days we followed a similar program, diving the Bunaken Marine Park in the morning and explore the local reef and muck in the afternoon. All the wall dives we did at Bunaken were wonderful. At Lekuan 2 & 3 we explored the drop off to 25m, seeing an incredible variety of reef fish, and also a few pelagic fish like mackerel, trevally and rainbow runner. We also saw a dense school of midnight snapper, and at the end of each dive explored the hard coral gardens in the shallows.

 

Bunaken Timur 1 and Sachiko’s Point were other magic wall dives with turtles, sea snakes and several large Maori wrasse. While at Alung Banua we explored a large cave that cut deep into the wall. Pangalisan was another impressive wall dive with masses of blue triggerfish and fairy basslets. But our most memorable wall dive was at Siladen 1, off the south side of Siladen Island. We were drifting along the wall when a pod of bottlenose dolphins suddenly cruised by. Over a dozen dolphins swam around us for a minute, but never close enough to get a decent photo.

 

Some of our favourite dives were the afternoon muck dives. At Wori Bay Point, the visibility may have been poor at only 6m, but we saw a giant frogfish, ornate ghost pipefish, ribbon eels, nudibranchs, shrimpfish and hermit crabs. The most entertaining part of the dive was finding three demon ghouls having a fight or maybe it was an argument over mating rights. They were pushing each other around and displaying their colourful fins. But the most interesting thing of all was they were doing all this on top of a half-buried stonefish.

 

The best muck dive was only a few minutes from the resort at a site called Odyssea Point. This site had pretty coral gardens in the shallows and a grey sandy slope. With 20m visibility we found snake eels, seahorses, ghost pipefish, mantis shrimps, cuttlefish, harlequin crabs, commensal shrimps, squid and a banded sea snake. We enjoyed this dive so much we returned for a second visit.

 

But for a bit of variety one morning we didn’t dive Bunaken, and instead headed down the coast, close to the city, so we could explore the area’s best known shipwreck, simply called the Molas Shipwreck. Little is known about the history of this shipwreck, it was a Dutch cargo ship that sank in 1942 and today rests in 25m to 40m on a sandy slope. Descending on the wreck we were pleased to discover that we had 30m visibility, allowing us to see half the length of the 60m long vessel. Following our guide Ronni we did a slow circuit of the ship, starting at the shallow bow. We saw winches, davits, the cargo hold, a toilet and the props. The wreck is covered in brilliant corals and sponges, although lacking in fish life, but was still a superb dive. We ended the dive in the shallows, seeing nudibranchs, ribbon eels, moray eels and jawfish.

 

Over five days we enjoyed a great variety of diving at Manado, but we know we only scratched the surface of this fabulous dive destination, as there are many more dive sites along the mainland and at Bunaken Marine Park that we didn’t have time to visit.

 

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