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
SEKOTONG – INDONESIA’S BEST KEPT DIVING SECRET
By Nigel Marsh and Helen Rose
Indonesia is blessed with many wonderful dive locations, but most of its famous dive destinations are so popular that you often find yourself sharing dive sites with dozens of divers from dozens of dive resorts. This is not the case at Sekotong as few divers visit this area even though it has lovely reefs and incredible muck diving, it is really one of Indonesia’s best kept diving secrets.
Sekotong is located on Lombok, an island already famous amongst divers for the Gili Islands. Hundreds of divers, especially backpackers, arrive on the Gili Islands each day, but few head south to explore more of this lush tropical island. Sekotong, located on the south west coast of Lombok, is situated at the end of a large bay dotted with countless islands which are known as Lombok’s secret Gili islands. Positioned on a picturesque beach not far from Sekotong is the Cocotinos Resort and Odyssea Divers, one of only two of dive operations in the area.
We first heard about Sekotong several years ago after well-known Australian underwater photographer David Harasti visited the area. David raved about the muck diving and critters, comparing the area favourably with Indonesia’s best known muck diving, the Lembeh Strait. A big call you may say, but we viewed David’s wonderful pictures from the area and were extremely impressed so booked for five days in November.
A quick twenty minute flight from Bali found us at Lombok’s Praya Airport where our driver from Cocotinos Resort was waiting for us. After an hour drive, along some of the best roads we have seen in Indonesia, we arrived at the resort late in the afternoon. Cocotinos Resort is set on a three hectare coconut grove and fronts a lovely 300m long sandy beach. We checked in and were shown to our spacious garden villa. The resort is rated four stars and has comfortable rooms, a day spa, a large pool, a bar and restaurant and a range of water sports on offer. You are a bit of a captive audience, as there are no other restaurants in the area, but the food at the in-house restaurant is excellent and reasonably priced, as are the drinks.
Odyssea Divers run the dive operation at the resort and have a well-equipped dive centre and operate daily boat dives and snorkel trips. Upon arrival they collected our dive gear and the next morning we found it all set up on the dive boat, ready for us to explore the rich waters of Sekotong. Odyssea Divers schedule a morning double dive and an afternoon single dive every day, plus night dives on demand, and have around twenty dive sites they regularly explore.
With the two of us the only divers staying at the resort we felt rather spoilt as we could pick and choose what dive sites to visit, and for our first dive we requested a visit to Wills Beach, a dive site named after David Harasti’s son and the premier muck diving site in the area. Most of the dive sites are ten to thirty minutes from the resort, a short run in the dive boat over calm bay waters. Arriving at Wills Beach our dive guide Mamang gave us a quick briefing then it was into the water.
We descended to a sloping sandy bottom to find the visibility 12m and the water temperature 28°C; this was the wet season so the visibility was not the best, but still fine for macro photography. We quickly found cuttlefish, shrimp gobies, mantis shrimps and several nudibranchs. We followed Mamang down the slope to 20m, finding large soft corals and sea pens sprouting from the sand, and quite a few anemones as well.
Every few seconds we would hear a ‘tap-tap-tap’, indicating that Mamang had found something interesting for our cameras; sea moths, commensal shrimps, spider crabs, mating nudibranchs, upside down jellyfish, snake eels, hairy shrimps, pipefish; it was just an endless parade of critters. But Mamang saved the best until last, as heading back into shallow water he found a wonderpus. We photographed this incredible octopus for several minutes, and then another ‘tap-tap-tap’ called us over to see a coconut octopus, then a minute later another wonderpus. For a first dive this was pretty incredible.
For our second dive we headed to Rangit Barat for a reef dive. The reef at this site was very pretty with lovely soft corals, sponges, gorgonians, hard corals and sea whips, but we by-passed the coral to head straight to the rubble at 20m as here were two lovely painted anglerfish. The rubble proved to be home to some interesting critters; nudibranchs, mantis shrimps, jawfish, pipefish and several blue ribbon eels. We then explored the corals to see small reef fish, a good variety of invertebrates, including a zeno crab, but few large fish.
After lunch it was time for more muck diving at Kura Kura. This dive started with an unexpected bang when we found two Ambon scorpionfish in only 4m of water. We then explored a sandy slope to 20m and saw cuttlefish, flatworms, sea moths, jawfish, shrimp gobies, mantis shrimps, pipefish, spider crabs, octopus and a very cute cockatoo waspfish.
Over the next few days we revisited both Wills Beach and Kura Kura and were not disappointed by a second visit. At Wills Beach we saw a long-armed octopus, shrimpfish, two anglerfish and an ornate ghost pipefish, while at Kura Kura we saw a pipefish with a blenny sitting on its head and a brilliant yellow coloured velvetfish.
Each site we dived seemed to have its own special critters. At Sunken Reef it was harlequin shrimps, while Whip Reef had some very bizarre nudibranchs, and at Rangit Timur it was pygmy sea horses, zeno crabs and orang-utan crabs. Odyssea 3 was another lovely muck diving site where we saw demon ghouls, snake eels and some very unusual nudibranchs, including a few species we had never seen before. While Gili Gede had the prettiest corals, and was home to moray eels, batfish, crayfish and hairy squat lobsters.
We didn’t see a lot of big stuff, apart from a hawksbill turtle, a white-tip reef shark, a blue spotted lagoon ray and the odd passing pelagic fish, but Mamang did inform us that they encounter schools of pelagic fish at times and he has also seen a number of dugongs while diving, as several of the muck sites have sea grass where the dugongs feed.
We had four fantastic days of diving at Sekotong and didn’t get our macro lens off the cameras. While we enjoyed 10 to 20m visibility, there were a lot of particles in the water, due to the wet season conditions, so we left the wide angle lens in the camera bag. But with so many great critters to photograph even if we had 40m visibility the wide angle lens probably would have remained dry.
If looking for a wonderful critter spot in Indonesia that is close to Bali, with a great resort, friendly staff, lovely food, no crowds and incredible diving then look no further than Sekotong and the Cocotinos Resort.
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