It’s 7.30am Friday morning at Changi Airport, Singapore and I round up all the divers. I found JB first, then Vesi and Rebecca. Suzanne had already checked in for the flight. Unfortunately Tobis had to cancel the day before.
The four of us checked in for the Silk Air flight to Manado, Indonesia then went and found Suzanne, who was busy waking up with coffee. We boarded still slightly sleepy, had our chicken or fish meal (not sure whether this was classified as breakfast, brunch or lunch?) and more coffee. Beer was on offer, but we had to say no because we planned a night dive at Lembah upon our arrival. The flight took around 3 hours.
Our first dive was a sunset/night dive at Lembah and there was so much to see. Cuttlefish, pipefish, lion fish, hermit crabs, pufferfish, decorator crabs, juvenile sweetlips, clown fish, pigmy seahorses, ghost pipefish, eagle rays, honeycomb eels, loads of nudibranchs, sea fans and the coral was colorful and plentiful.
Phew, so much in one dive and so many more to go.
We had an awesome dinner on the KM Blue Horizon Live-on-Board (LOB) and relaxed whilst JB and Madie (one of our Dive Guides and Dive Masters for our trip) did another dive at 9pm.
Our plan was one day at Lembah and then we head off to Bangka.
The next morning on our way to the first dive site “Nudi Retreat” we spotted a few dolphins.
Oh the sun comes up around 5am at Lembah, so we were all up early.
Wow. Wow Wow! Nudi Retreat was out of this world. Look left, look right, so much to see.
7 Pygmy seahorses were on one sea fan, several on another, mantas shrimp, cuttlefish, razor fish, octopus, barramundi cod, electric clams, stonefish, black ribbon eels, juvenile sweetlips, banggai cardinal fish, boxfish, porcupine fish, lion fish, filefish, burrfish, curious clown fish, and so much colour in the sponges and coral.
Everyone was smiling, even the burrfish.
Dive number two was a muck dive and once we were onboard we all headed straight for the fishID book to figure out what we just saw. Besides the obvious flat fish, scorpion fish and lion fish, there were some strange looking critters on this dive. There were wasp fish, a dragonet and a walking mushroom urchin which has to be the weirdest thing I have seen. It had wood, rocks and plastic stuck on top.
Dive three was a mandarin fish/night dive. We jumped in at 5.15pm and watched the mandarin fish for at least 30 minutes. There were so many of them. I was amazed. I was expecting just a few, but there must have been hundreds of them. The poor males were chasing the females for 20 minutes for 5 seconds of love.
The sun went down around 6pm and we ventured down a bit deeper and saw cowry shells, baby cuttlefish, flat worms, pipe fish, shrimp, moray eels, banded boxer shrimps and a decorator crab. But the craziest and funniest thing was pointed out to me by Vesi. It was this orange crab with an orange sponge stuck on its back and it was running around everywhere. He hid his body under a rock and all you could see was the orange sponge. Perfect camouflage.
We decided that 75 minutes underwater was enough and surfaced. We had a nice dinner and a few refreshments and headed to Bangka.
We woke at Bangka to a wonderful sunny day. We jumped straight into the first dive at 7.30am, which was a pinnacle that housed thousands and thousands of every variety of reef fish. At one point at about 25 metres, you could not see out into the blue because of the schooling fish. The coral was extremely healthy and colourful.
We saw one turtle but unfortunately no sharks and you all know why – stop eating shark fin soup people….
The second dive at Bangka was just as good. A few less fish and some damaged coral, but there were some impressive bolders covered in soft coral and surrounded by fish.
About 45 minutes into the dive we started to see bigger fish, barracuda, trevally and hump head parrot fish. I followed a small hump head for while and it took me to meet its grand dad, this humphead was easily 2 metres long. I could not get close enough for a decent photo of the monster. There were some sandy patches that looked perfect for white tips to rest on, but again no sharks.
Dive three and four were also nice with lots to see. Several frog fish, crocodile fish, lion fish, a black and white banded sea snake, several morays, various kinds of dragonets and amazing walls to a depth of 20 metres covered in soft coral and teeming with small fish.
On the forth dive we were looking for critters on the rocky bottom just out from the wall and we swam around corner and the rocky bottom turned into bright white sand, it was an amazing transition.
The only problem was the water temperature dropped a couple of degrees too and from here on everyone including me was cold, but we soldered on and did a 70 minute dive. We decided to end the dive because it was getting dark and my finger tips were numb. When we surfaced we were greeted with pouring rain and 1.5 metre swell. So we headed for a sheltered bay and called it a day for diving. That night we headed to Bunaken.
We arrived at Manado Bay at midnight to see the fireworks for Chinese New Year. It rained most the way and started to rain again early in the morning. We had to wait a while for the weather to improve a little before heading out to Bunaken Island. The skies were finally clearing a little bit.
The first dive at Bunaken was a little disappointing, not much reef fish and only one turtle and one black tip reef shark. The second was much better, just the way I remembered it from last year, loads of reef fish along the wall with ten or more turtles, huge wrasse, lobster and the best part was we only had to fin the last ten minutes of the dive. The current was pushing us along the wall at a nice slow pace. At one area the current picked up and pushed us along quite fast until it went around he corner and then stopped.
During the dive Suzanne and Vesi were attacked by trigger fish. Only the girls were attacked, they left the boys alone. I was with Suzanne when she fended off one trigger fish only to be attacked by another, then another and then another. It was one after another for about 100 metres. I was laughing the whole time. Vesi suffered similar attacks and decided to not push her luck anymore and ended the dive. The trigger fish completely ignored me, they just swam past me as close as a metre or two and went straight for Suzanne No one was bitten, the trigger fish were just protecting their nests and did not bite anyone. But still it was funny to watch.
The third dive at Bunaken was to see the last two remaining giant clams. Originally there were five. The shells of the other three are still there. An empty and an errie reminder of what was. They are all about 1.5m long.
There was some nice coral and a lot of broken coral. At the beginning of the dive, under the boat, was a huge napoleon wrasse. The trigger fish were there again, but they were harmless this time. During our safety stop there was a mantas shrimp walking around on the broken coral. We did a short night dive at Bunaken and saw a baby cuttlefish (about 2cm long), a hawksbill turtle, ghost pipe fish and some crabs. We then headed for Manado Bay for our last two dives of the trip. They would be morning dives.
In the morning, it was still raining and we heard that the weather was so bad that Bunaken was closed. Lucky for us, we were at Tasik Rai Jetty and the seas were calm so we would be able to enjoy some overcast critter dive sites. It was a slow start to the morning due to a late night the night before watching an entertaining movie.
We did two critter dives in Manado Bay Tuesday morning. We saw flamboyant cuttlefish, several ghost pipefish, frog fish, lion fish and all the usual suspects. The rain was still about and it looked like it was not going to clear.
We had a BBQ Tuesday night to close the diving trip, then one more night on the boat and then off to the airport Wednesday morning for our Silk Air return flight.
The diving was awesome and I would love to spend some more time in Lembah, next time round. Bangka was ok, Bunaken was excellent.
The KM Blue Horizon LOB is a great way to dive Manado, Indonesia especially if you want to visit various locations like we did. It is new and clean, small but comfortable with friendly knowledgeable crew.
Also I am very pleased to share with you, that the photos were personally taken by me. I hope you enjoy them!
Additional photos may be viewed on our Facebook page here – 20 to 25 Jan, 2012 Chinese New Year in Manado