Worldâ€™s Best Diving in East Bali
By Fen Fang Lauw
For The Bali Times
These days, anyone who dives beyond their own shores (or is lucky enough to live here) knows the Indo-Pacific is the worldâ€™s richest marine bio-geographical region. It is much less well-known that, within the vast Indo-Pacific, the triangle from Bali to West Papua to the southern Philippines contains the worldâ€™s most diverse tropical marine fauna.
Itâ€™s for that reason when, as a dive shop owner, my clients ask me my favorite overseas dive destination â€“ I answer â€œeast Bali.â€
Baliâ€™s diving came to international attention in the 1980s with Menjangan Island, famous for wall-diving with great visibility, being the first well-known location. Then came the USAT Liberty shipwreck, the worldâ€™s easiest shipwreck at Tulamben on the northeast coast; and Gilimanuk/Secret Bay for muck-diving that equals Lembeh.
I first dived Bali 12 years ago, simply using local operators to take me and my friends out. However three years ago I surfed the internet for other, less-explored sites on Bali, and found one south Bali operator (Annabel Thomas, the British owner-operator of AquaMarine Diving â€“ Bali) who was insistent I try east Baliâ€™s sites.
I followed Annabelâ€™s advice and so found prolific marinelife set against dramatic backdrops of chiselled black walls making these, in my opinion, Baliâ€™s most breath-taking sites. The (at times torrential) rich current which sweeps east Bali accounts for the remarkable health and diversity of both corals and smaller marinelife, while the cold (note: cold!) upwelling from the deep basin 100km south of Bali gives superb visibility and brings the vast numbers of fish, abundant sharks and other pelagics for which the area is famous.
Wanting to be close to the diving, I stay at The Watergarden Hotel in Candidasa (www.watergardenhotel.com) â€“ great place with good food, and other eateries nearby.
Diving out of Padang Bai, with pickup at 08:30, itâ€™s often possible to do three dives although â€“ as conditions are unpredictable â€“ you need to go with the flow and allow your divemaster to decide about sites and whether a third dive is possible. Keep it safe and enjoyable. The unpredictable conditions, with up and down currents, necessitate using an experienced divemaster. I would never dive these sites without one â€“ and I mean a divemaster experienced at these sites, not simply an experienced divemaster.
As the sites are small and the boat picks you up where you surface, geographically you canâ€™t get lost, but even a mild drift means your dive ends way before bottom time or air dictates.
If possible, I do Biaha, a crescent-shaped rock 30 minutes north of Padang Bai, for the dayâ€™s first dive. A beautiful and healthy reef surrounds Biaha, but note the northern rocky slope has some tricky currents. The rugged black wall in the south, with the breaking waves above, is absolutely beautiful and at times it is almost as if the fish are superfluous – but not quite! Your dive can cover almost the entire circumference of Biaha or just a small part, depending on your interests, currents and conditions.
The easiest entry point is on the less-exposed inside of the crescent, near a cave in which white tips sleep. The protected area outside the cave has interesting corals with commensal shrimp and crabs, anglerfish, Leaf scorpionfish, octopoi, cuttlefish and nudibranches.
You can organize a wonderful barbeque lunch on the white beach west of Biaha.
Closer to Padang Bai, outside Candidasa, are two quite different diving locations – Tepekong and Mimpang. Although they are only 500 meters apart, the conditions are usually completely different, meaning if one is undiveable, the other may be fine and then, after your surface interval, the first may have become quite calm.
Mimpang (Batu Tiga) is a ridge of submerged rocks with the three largest breaking the surface. The topography is diverse: sloping reefs, craggy rocks and walls – all with good cover of soft corals, stony, staghorn and table corals, sponges and gorgonians. There are big schools of fishes, many Blue-spotted Rays, Napoleon Wrasses, Moray Eels, Trumpetfishes, and Triggerfishes as well as innumerable reef fish.
From September to November, on the white sand slope (7-10 meters) before the reef, you can find Mola-Mola (Oceanic Sunfish) being cleaned. I have some great video footage from here.
â€œShark Pointâ€ is the deeper south wall and is great for shark-sightings due to strong and usually predictable currents.
Tepekong, basically a 300-meter-long rock, is famous for The Canyon (southwest Tepekong, maximum 40 meters) and offers some of Baliâ€™s most spectacular diving. However, the steep walls, cold water and strong currents make this a site for experienced divers only. Visibility is usually very good.
If conditions allow you to enter The Canyon, and there is no current (a rare occurrence), you can clearly see the dramatic beauty of these stunning, craggy black stone walls. But if there is the usual swirling current, while you can still feel the drama of the site, your view is somewhat obstructed by huge schools of Sweetlips, Bumphead Parrotfishes, Unicornfishes, Batfishes, Groupers, sharks (usually White Tips) and other pelagics, which may include tuna and Mola-Mola. These waters are rich with nutrients that attract smaller fish and therefore larger fish too.
East Tepekong, with its hard, soft and table corals, offers reef- and wall-diving with excellent marinelife that can include occasional turtles, tunas and many kinds of triggerfish.
Finally there is Gili Selang, which lies on Baliâ€™s eastern point. Like all exposed sites, Selang can have ripping currents and is therefore rarely dived. But while Selang itself is very small, the diving extends to the far side of the relatively sheltered bay to the north and so you can do multiple dives without covering the same area; and, as the soft and hard corals are very rich and healthy in the shallows, you can do long dives here.
Further down the slope, the coral is low-growing due to the currents but is still healthy, with lots of eels lurking in the holes. Here you can expect to see turtles, White Tips, Bumphead Parrotfish, Nudibranches, Lionfish and abundant schooling reef fish.
On the southeast corner of the island, the currents can get extremely strong, and it is not always possible to dive here. If conditions are right, you may be rewarded with an encounter with pelagics.
I wish I had space to tell you more about these sites – my advice: try them yourself. You may think you know Baliâ€™s diving, but trust me, until youâ€™ve dived east Bali, you havenâ€™t seen the best.
I dove with AquaMarine Diving â€“ Bali. Email firstname.lastname@example.org; web: www.aquamarinediving.comFiled under: Travel & Culture