The journey to Indonesia was a mere 52 hours which included a 5 hour stop over in Dubai and a 15 hour stop over in Bangkok. What made it worse was that I didn’t sleep at all until the last leg of my journey which was a 4 hour flight to Bali. At that point I was so exhausted that I slept from the moment the plane took off until the moment we landed. Soon enough though I was out through customs and treated to the traditional Asian welcome of “Taxi” as soon as I stepped out of the airport doors. I was heading to Kuta beach which is infamous in many ways mainly due to the Bali bombings but also for the Coasta Del Sol vibe that hangs around the town with all its surf shops and all its Aussie holiday makers. After a short taxi ride I was in the guest house where later I was meeting up with Gary and Tish
. After a well earned shower (you get a little sticky after 52 hrs without a shower!!) and a sleep we all met up and were having a bite to eat and a good old catch up on adventures and forth coming events. One of which was being tomorrow which was a liveaboard (a diving boat) that would take us around the Islands of Komodo and Ringa in 9 days and 28 dives later.We were picked up in Kuta on a rainy afternoon and shuttled to the port where we jumped aboard the impressive looking Mermaid 1. We were lucky to get the trip and even luckier to get it half price. We were welcomed aboard the beautiful 28m, double engine steel boat and we signed the usual forms and disclaimers and were shown to our shared cabins which were deluxe (loads of room, comfortable beds, hot shower, dvd player and lots of fluffy towels) to say the least.
We quickly departed from Benoa port and set course for Moyo Island, north west coast of Sumbawa. Indonesia itself is over 5,000km long and boast around 7,600 islands with 85,000km2 of coral (about the size of Ireland) which is around 14% of the world coral reefs it also has around 25,000 types of fish species which compared to the Caribbean which has 600, it puts the diversity of Indonesia into context.That night it was meet and greet with our fellow divers and from the start we knew we where in professional company. Every diver packed an amazing array of diving equipment and massive cameras, I felt like a novice in comparison but then again I was traveling and not on holiday and about to lug 30kg of kit around the world with me.
On board was Stephen Wong and Takako Uno – husband and wife professional photographers whose work has taken them around the world from ocean to ocean and pole to pole. There work has been published in many journals, books and their help and stories throughout the trip provided us with great entertainment and help. after a few beers it was off to bed in anticipation and excitement of some great dives ahead of us! The first dive the next day was at Angel Reef, Patang Bay and Satrona Reef where we were treated to a myriad of colours, fish and macro life. There were Nudibranches by the hundreds, white tip reef sharks, schools of bannerfish, morays and ribbon eels galore. After 4 dives in one day and just as many meals we were soon all discussing the days diving over a cold Bintang beer and looking forward to more adventures the next day. I have to mention at this point the food aboard was amazing, big breakfasts, huge lunches, snacks in between dives and a massive dinner. You certainly pick up an appetite when diving and the chef toyelled away in the galley preparing a mixture of Thai and Western food every serving. This was also the first time that I embarked on underwater photography after purchasing a underwater housing for my Canon IXUS 90 during my stay back in the UK.
Day 2 took us diving around the Sangeang Volcano where we dived almost the volcanic ash and the hot bubbles that rose from behind the sand. The volcano last erupted 1996 so its still classified as active! lucky to say we were not treated to any such activity but the diving again was first class. Highlight of the dives on Seaguang Lighthouse, Hot Rocks and Gazer Beach included frog fish, octopus, more nudibranches, Pegasuses (nicked named Dead Birdfish due to its lack of activity), loinfish and snake eels and watching loinfish feed by the power of our torches during the night dive.
Day 3 took us closer to Komodo and we dived looking for Pelagic stuff – sharks!! The dive sites of Crystal Rock, Takat Toko and Batu Bolung being the best of the lot where on Takat Toko we swan to the drop off point (25 meters down before it drops off to 100m+) to hook on to the rocks with reef hooks and watch the White tip reef sharks come and check us out! There was an amazing variety of bigger fish, one Manta, Trevallys, Tuna, Sharks and a Great Barracuda around 6ft long.
Day 4 was back to the macro / small stuff around the island of Ringa on the the dive site called Rhino Rocks. The temperature of the water had changed dramatically at this point and where I was diving in boardies and 2 rash vests the day before the temperature plummeted from 27degrees to 24! you may not think thats much but even in a 3mm shorty wetsuit, another 3mm full wetsuit I came up after 70 mins shivering!! The best part of this dive was being able to see the Holy Grail of diving photography – Rhinopias – a very rare type of scorpoinfish and also a rare Blue Ringed Octopus, about the size of your hand.
Day 5 then took us on a tour of Komodo Island at 7am in the morning (I’ll blog this trip later) and then we dived Cannibal Rock for the rest of the day spotting one more Rhinopias, Barramundi Cod, Manta shrimp (which i was lucky to observe one hunt and catch as they are well know for their explosive punch) and turtles. Again very cold diving and the warm food was a welcome to warm us all back up again!!
Day 6 took us off to south of Komodo Island to search for the Mantas in the aptly named Manta alley. First of all we attempted a dive off Lankoi Pinnacle well know and hardly dived due to its strong currents. Diving down we knew why, I was immediately swept down to 40m by a strong down current in the space of less than 30 seconds. Scary enough until then we attached ourselves to the pinnacle with out reef hooks where we were thrown up down, left and right, outwards in the blue and then smashing back in to the pinnacle. The excitement of it, and the hard work made the dive last only 30 minutes due to heavy breathing. All other dives were anywhere from 60 mins to 90 mins which goes to show the verousity of the currents. Next dive was at Manta alley (but only one lone Bamboo shark that passed 2 meters from me) where unfortunately we saw no Mantas so we hopped on board and headed over to Takat Hakpillar to drift dive and possible see mantas. No luck again but we saw a massive school (around 40) of Humphead Parrotfish (up to 2 meters long) and a porcupine ray.
The last days took us back to some of our favourite dive sites – Crystal Rock and Takat Toko to see more of the big stuff where we were also treated to a Giant Trevelly and Tuna feeding frenzy. This fish (again up to 2 meters long) sure can shift when there is food on offer. They didn’t seem to mind us hanging around watching them at work whilst we were also treated to seeing around 9 White Tip Reef Sharks (2 meters) and a Grey Reef shark (3 meters). On our last day were dived the site Sumbawa Surprise and bing a muck dive in relatively shallow waters would probably not interest the usual diver however we were in for a real treat. It had been mentioned that a Wonderpus (a very rare octopus) lived there and we were not disappointed!! I thought I had blown it as it was stopped on the first dive just in time for my battery to die on me, but luckily we found it again on the second dive. We were also treated to many Ornate Ghostpipe fish, Seahorses, Indian Walkman and a White V Octopus.
All too soon we were setting a course back to Bali and the 9 days had gone so fast. With so many pictures and so many sightings it is hard to put them all down without boring the socks off non divers. This was by far the best diving experience I have ever had and I have never seen such an array of aquatic life and it has really opened my eyes further to the amazing life beneath the waves. Special thanks goes to Debbie our divemaster an amazing spotter and also the crew hands.For other and more stunning images please visit Stephens and Takakos websites –www.stephenwong.com & www.takakouno.com