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BALI, Island of the Gods

BALI, Island of the Gods

Apr 2013

Photographs Tobias Friedrich

In January 1942 an American cargo ship, the “Liberty” was moving trough the tropical waters of the Lombok Straits when a torpedo from a Japanese submarine struck her. The crew worked hard to to assess the damage and radioed for assistance.  They were taking on water and the military cargo was burning. The US destroyer “Paul Jones” rushed to assist in the rescue efforts but the 7 300 ton vessel was not easy to move. They attempted to tow the barely-floating vessel closer to the former capital, Singarja.

The vessel continued to take on water while the crew tried to salvage what they could, including their personal belongings. The additional weight of the water made the towing impossible so the captains decided to push the cargo ship towards a beach near the village of Tulamben.  They succeeded in beaching the ship in the shallow waters and the crew were all rescued. For many years the wreck loomed above the tropical beach, a rusting reminder of a past war. 23 years later, in 1963, a nearby volcano erupted. The flowing lava not only destroyed many villages and made people homeless, but also changed the landscape pushing the wreck underwater where she lies today. This disaster became a blessing for divers planning a trip to Bali.

The U.S.S. Liberty has become a famous dive site attracting countless day visitors wanting to dive the wreck because of it’s intresting history. But it’s not just about the wreck, which has slowly broken up over the years, but also the stationary school of big-eye trevallies, who cruise over the wreck  not scared off by a divers’ presence.

The early bird does well at this site. There are less divers on the wreck, and you might see the school of bumphead parrotfish that sleeps around the wreck at night and feeds at the reef during the day. There is a good chance to see a big barracuda or a pygmy seahorse, it’s this diversity that makes this site so spectacular and unique.

In Tulamben one of the best resorts in this area  is owned by the ‘Tauch Terminal’, which means Dive Terminal. You might expect to find a very busy and disciplined place, but it’s not. The TTT, as it’s known, is an oasis for visiting divers. It’s ideally situated just inside the resort close to the lagoon, right in front of the Liberty site and the beautiful house reef. Two pools, two bars and a spa area offer options for non-divers as well. From the breakfast table you can have a look at how many divers are currently on the Liberty by checking the amount of bubbles on the surface.

You can then decide if you want to do a dive on the wreck or visit another site Bali’s northeast has on offer. I recommend avoiding the wreck between 9am and 3pm because this is prime day-tourist time and it gets busy. In the very early morning or late afternoon, the wreck is nearly empty and provides the best light for photographers. During the day visit other dive sites nearby that can be dived from the beach or by small fishing boats, which take the divers not even ten minutes away from the resort. The dive sites around the terminal are ideal for macro photography; thousands of “critters” seem to be coming and going constantly. New species are being discovered regularly, so it will be difficult to get bored on these dives.

There are world-class drift dives off the island of Nusa Penida situated in the southeast of Bali. The island can be reached on a day trip from Tulamben. It takes 45 minutes to get there if departing from the harbour in Padangbai. The island is famous for regular visits by manta rays and sunfish, or Mola-Molas, as the locals call them. Bali is not the only place to meet a Mola-Mola, but it is one of the rare places where this bizarre looking animal can be seen full-grown. To see them you need the cold current that only runs between September and November close to Nusa Penida’s south coast.

You might think a cold current can’t be that bad in the tropical 28° Celsius warm seas of Bali, but you’ll be surprised. The temperature can drop below 16° and you get chilly in a 3mm wetsuit. If you plan to visit Nusa Penida during Mola-Mola season, pack a thicker wetsuit or drysuit. Visitors should be prepared for crowds of tourists rushing to Bali and Nusa Penida. During the high season, the best spots are so crowded with boats that it’s nearly possible to get to land with dry feet. Because of this it’s not the worst idea to waive the Mola-Molas and to visit Bali during the off-season. At Nusa Penida for example, the manta rays are around throughout the year.

The serene reefs off the northwest of Bali also have a lot to offer visitors.  Pemuteran is a small village far away from the big tourist centres in the south of Bali. Pondok Sari is one of the oldest resorts in this area. “I started in 1991 with a hostel for backpackers” says Rolf Lohmann, the owner of the resort, which now boasts over 80 beds.  “Here I could do my own thing.” The decor is a fascinating mix of antique furniture mixed with local crafts. Beautiful carvings, rustic doors and ornate antique pieces Lohmann bought from furniture dealers on the nearby island of Java are displayed everywhere in the resort. That gives all the rooms an individual character. Lohmann describes his resort not as a four star, as it is rated, but as a three star with five stars for the ambience. And it’s definitely worth it.

The dive centre here is part of one of the biggest dive groups in Germany. Swiss born Dieter Merz is partner and manager of the centre. “We offer only two, maximum three dives a day so that families have the chance to relax and spend time together.” “We do so even if conditions allow for three to four dives a day in a two week time period.” It’s the right approach. 

You can start with the house reef, which is interesting because of the “Bio rock”. This is the name for an artificial reef project where predominantly hard corals are being grown. The growth is boosted with the addition of electricity, which lets the corals grow up to five times faster. The rest of the house reef is nice, but not spectacular.

I recommend visiting the other dive sites in the area, which are only between 5 to fifteen minutes away by speedboat. If you prefer a longer day of diving try one of the day trips on offer.  Head to the island of Menjangan, which is just off Bali’s northeast coastline. The dive sites are in view of the cloudy volcanoes of the neighbouring island of Java and divers can drift past coral covered walls, home to many reef fish and turtles.

There is also a very special and unique day trip for those who love the small stuff. Gilimanuk Bay or the so called “Secret Bay” is a famous muck diving spot and unfortunately no longer a real secret. Many dive centres take their guests to this lagoon daily to see the assortment of incredible creatures. “Muck diving” is best described as diving in a large sand or mud field filled with a lot of garbage. It’s not easy to see this as a fun dive, but this special mix of mud and garbage creates a habitat for some of the most extraordinary animals on our planet. Have you heard about an LSD mandarin fish or a striped poison-fang mimic blenny? No? Then the Secret Bay is worth a visit.

Dive Notes

Bali is one of more than 17 000 islands that make up the Indonesian archipelago. The word ‘paradise’ is used a lot in Bali and not without reason. The combination of friendly, hospitable people, visual culture infused with spirituality and spectacular beaches with great surfing and diving have made Bali Indonesia’s number one tourist attraction. Eighty present of international visitors to Indonesia visit Bali and Bali alone.

The popularity has a flip side — like many places in the island’s South, parts of Kuta have degenerated into a congested warren of concrete, touts and scammers. Many make a living by overcharging tourists. This negativity aside Bali has managed to retain its magic. Bali is a wonderful destination with something for everyone, and though heavily travelled, it is still easy to find some peace and quiet.

Avoid the South of the island if you want a more traditional and genuine Balinese experience. Take note of tourist season, Bali can get very crowded in August and September and again at Christmas and New Year. Outside these peak seasons, Bali can be surprisingly quiet and good discounts on accommodation are often available.

A lot of the major airlines fly into Indonesia so its possible to put your own trip together. There are also specialist travel operators who can help you plan a dive or surf trip to Bali that will suit your budget. It is easier to pay for as much as you can in advance.

Try to sample the local cuisine. Drink bottled water and try the local Bintang beer.


Source: The Dive Site