Diveline trip to Scuba Seraya Bali
On Monday the 20th November, 35 intrepid divers from Diveline began our journey to the paradise island of Bali! With much anticipation of great diving, good company, and perhaps the odd beer, we were met at the airport by a minibus to begin the three hour transfer to the Scuba Seraya Resort.
Although exhausted by the long journey, we couldn’t help but to be thrilled by the amazing scenery on our journey north to the Tuluamben coat; lush forests of palms and banana trees, spectacular mountains formed like the buttresses of melted candles by the active volcanoes the island offers, coastal views framed by green vegetation, and then our first site of Mount Agung.
Mount Agung is the volcano that has been causing us a little consternation in the weeks preceding the trip; increased seismic activity had seen the area around its slopes evacuated, and the airport closed. The mountain appeared over the roofs of the village houses, and we could see a plump of grey smoke bellowing from it’s crater. One of the party asked the driver if that was “normal”. Apparently, he’d never seen anything like it before! This rather set the tone for the next week. Usually all pre- and post-dive talk is of what you may see, or what you have seen, but there was a lot of volcano chat thrown in there this time.
We were not disappointed when we arrived at the Scuba Seraya Resort; a cluster of 12 luxurious bungalows situated on Bali’s north-east coast. Wedged between the waters of Muntig bay and the holy mountain Gunung Angung, the resort is nestled amongst lush tropical gardens, with its own private beach from where both shore based, and boat dives took place. The villas are built in a traditional style, with wooden frames and palm rooves – the “outside” bathrooms were more luxurious than they perhaps sound, and the Villas also boasted private garden areas complete with plunge pools and day beds.
Most of the group were based here, but due to high demand for the trip, some of us were based at the Bali Dive Resort and Spa, 500 meters up the road. A bus provided transfers between the resorts and we were made to feel incredibly welcome at both!
Accommodation was provided on a bed and breakfast basis, but as the nearest restaurants are a ten-minute taxi ride away, we chose to go full board. The food was plentiful and delicious, and a range of dietary requirements were (mostly) catered for – some things were lost in translation, so it was always best to double check before you actually ate something that it wouldn’t kill you. To be fair to the resort, we had some pretty odd allergies between us!
With dive gear unpacked, stomachs full, and beer needs met, we settled down for a much needed sleep before the first day of diving.
Ruth summed up the diving in Bali brilliantly; if diving in the Red Sea is a Disney movie, diving in Bali is a Tim Burton film; the black sand and luminescent sea life lends a surreal quality to the whole experience. This part of Bali is famed for its muck diving and Mola Mola – otherwise known as Sun Fish. We knew that we were out of season for Mola Mola, so the focus was on finding an elusive Pygmy Seahorse.
As expected, the first dive was a shore-based check dive. To enter the water was across a relatively steep but short, and very stony, beach. This definitely isn’t easy entry for any divers with physical limitations. Black sand and stone made up the sea bed, and combined with an overcast sky, the dive had an eerie, twilight quality to it. The marine life was very different than we are used to in the Red Sea; lots of tiny interesting critters hiding on the sea bed; the pops of psychedelic colour standing out against the dark sands.
It also provided a good base for Carol and the student divers to complete their open water dives. Big congratulations go to, Matt Winters, Ben Dunn, Lee Fox, and Aniese Queen on passing their Open Water qualifications, to Orin Queen on passing His Junior Open Water qualification! And an even bigger ‘Look at the size of that Volcano!’ Go to Ben Dunn and Lee Fox on passing their Advanced Open Water Certifications, with obvious thanks to Carole Vickers and Gary Young, for their amazing Instruction, and to Graham and Marc for their assistance.
Although unlimited shore-based diving was included in the package, the diving this afforded would not have been enough to keep us interested for the full week. However, some really good diving was available just a few minutes away by boat – so this is an expense worth planning for.
The first site we explored was the Liberty Wreck, a United States Army cargo ship torpedoed by Japanese submarines in 1942, the sip was beached until the Mount Agung erupted in 1963. The 130 meter long wreck now lies on a sand slope in 5 to 30 meters of water and provides
The liberty ship was hit by a Japanese torpedo then was beached near Tulamben. In 1963, the eruption of Mount Agung caused the vessel to slip off the beach, and it now lies on a sand slope in 9 to 30 m of water. The wreck is about 130 m long with the shallowest part at about 5 m deep and the deepest on the other side of the wreck at about 30 m deep. There are a few fun swim-throughs, and an abundance of diverse life, from cleaner-shrimps, to parrot fish, electric clams, bat fish, butterfly fish, star fish and sea stars in huge numbers, and a big Napoleon Wrasse put in an appearance for us too!
Just to the south east of Tulamben Bay lies Emerald Reef, an artificial reef sitting on a sandy slope. The reef is home to cuttlefish, gobies, a variety of nudibranchs, ghost pipefish, lionfish, scorpion fish and the usual cast of reef dwellers and coral munchers! The reef also provides the promise of the elusive Pygmy Seahorses who reside on the gorgonian sea fans – alas we did not find any. As you proceed down to 20 or 30 meters the reef becomes richer with large barrel sponges, and with luck Thresher Sharks. The small drop-off sees elephant-ear sponges, hard corals, and some large Napoleon Wrasse.
The Wall or drop-off in Tulamben Bay is an old lava flow from Mount Agung and is a two minute boat ride from Scuba Seraya. The dive starts of a steep sand slope with nudibranchs, flounders and starfish. Sponges, shrimps, ghost pipefish, and a variety of crinoids peppered the wall as we descended between the large sponge formations. As we continued, the slope develops into a reef, becoming a vertical wall providing an array of hard and soft corals.
This is the dive we found our Pygmy Seahorse! After what felt like forever of the dive guide pointing, and us looking, the silhouette of the seahorse appeared out of its camouflage on a large fan-coral. This was a definite highlight for us, and caused much excitement.
Some twenty plus years ago, neutral Ph concreate pyramids were dropped onto the sandy bottom to produce a dives site now known as the Pyramids. About 20 minutes by boat from the resort, the journey was worth it in its own right, providing stunning views of the coast as we travelled south. Kris also learned what you do on a dive boat with no head if the need arises – much to the amusement of the rest of us! A short swim from the boat was the best eel garden I’ve seen, blue spotted rays accompanied us as we swam to the pyramids. They pyramids now provide home to myriad reef dwellers; moray eels, lionfish, shrimps, Clown fish, and an abundance of unidentified (by us) brightly coloured fishes. The swim back to the boat took us across a beautiful coral garden at about five meters. Although we didn’t see any, sea turtles are occasionally found in this area.
The Coral Garden is located a short boat ride from the resort, about 300 meters from the Liberty Wreck. As the name would suggest, the site is a coral garden, thought it has been supplemented by a number of sunken statues. This is a really accessible site, ideal for beginner divers, and great for a spot of underwater photography. Green, white, and blue anemones hide a variety of clown fish, Red-tooth Blue Trigger fish dart around the coral, cleaner shrimps, ribbon eels, pipe fish, cornet fish, and truly lovely coral make this a great site to explore. If you are really lucky, you may even see a black-tip reef shark.
The Alamanda Reef is a steeply sloping reef dominated by dome hard corals, soft corals, and a variety of Gorgonian fans. From 20 to 30 meters, a ridged reef with large barrel sponges is rich with marine life. A snake-like sea cucumber and a very large puffer fish, along with checkerboard wrasse, clown fish, were notable company on this dive. Although pygmy seahorses are often seen in this location, we didn’t find any!
The Batu Kelebit Reef is named after the local fishermen. Two large pointed crests of lava provide interesting pinnacles to explore, one is always submerged, the other provides a handy marker for diving the area. The sand channel between the two reef ridges is covered by fire coral, and descends to the reef edge which is covered by a diverse growth of hard and soft corals, and sponges. The current brings plankton that accumulates at the reef edges, so when the conditions are right some of the large pelagic appear; white-tip reef sharks, schools of jacks, tuna, and in season even the elusive Mola Mola have been spotted in this area.
The island of Nusa Penida is visible from the resort on a good day, and it was to here we travelled to look for Manta Rays on Sunday morning. This was the day that the volcano began to get really dramatic, and as we awaited our boats at Padang Bai we found ourselves being covered in a layer of volcanic ash. A boat ride across to the island and through the channel between Nusa Penida and Nusa Ceningan rewarded us with great views, and with a mounting sense of anticipation we arrived at Manta Point.
Mantas were confirmed in the area when Matt, one of the divers to qualify on the trip, was the first into the water and was greeted by a large Manta swimming under him. Once everyone else was in and under, we proceeded to the cleaning station where Mantas are known to hang out. As you can imagine, with the promise of seeing Manta Rays, this area was a bit of a case of diver soup with the added interest of large swells, but it was worth it for the site of a majestic Manta Ray gliding over us, and around to attend the station. The swim back was also thoroughly worth it, with a stunning garden of leaf coral providing ample interest.
After a packed lunch on the boat, the second dive of the day was at Toya Pakeh, although partially protected from the current flowing thorough the Ceningan Channel, this dive was a fast drift dive along the reef. The upside of the current is rich coral, attractive formations, and big Gorgonian fans that host large numbers of marine life; clouds of anthias as well as scorpionfish, moray eels, trumpetfish, puffers, and Giant trevally.Starting at 6m, this lovely reef of beautiful soft corals and thriving hard corals gave us clouds of anthias as well as scorpionfish, moray eels, trumpetfish, puffers, and Giant trevally. As you descend a little deeper, schools of jackfish, batfish, sweetlips, and the occasional Napoleon Wrasse can be found. The downside of the current was that there was a lot of litter in the water; plastic wrappers, bottle tops, straws and other detritus. But this was still a lovely dive.
When we arrived back on Bali, it was clear that the volcano had continued to rumble while we were away, and particles of ash were visible in the air. We had decided to stop at the Monkey Temple on the way back, but before we got there, we were stopped by the local police and issued with face masks. Undeterred, we payed a visit to the monkeys, feeding them bananas, and watching them use the power lines as a monkey superhighway. This was a lovely end to a good days diving!
Upon returning to the resort, it was apparent that things had begun to get serious; boat diving had been cancelled for the day for those who didn’t head over to Nasa Penida, and there was suggestion that we would be imminently evacuate. With our five-day dive package complete, some of us intended to dive on Monday, as flights weren’t due to depart until late on Tuesday evening. However, the volcano had other ideas!
At breakfast on Monday morning, we were told there would be no diving that day, as the situation with the volcano could change at any time. The Bali Dive resort was closing at ten, and the decision had been taken to evacuate us all after lunch to a hotel in the Capital. And thus, phase two of the adventure began.
The effect the volcano was having on the area was readily apparent as we made our way back to Denpasar; river beds that were previously dry were flowing with volcanic mud. This, combined with torrential rain, made for an interesting journey; mopeds looked more like jet skis travelling along the roads and facemasks combine with ponchos was the look of choice! We arrived at our hotel, and were all checked into our rooms, and met with the news that the airport had been shut – we were unlikely to be travelling home on Tuesday as planned!
Luckily, we are a hardy bunch and were determined to make the best of the situation. The delay in travel gave us time to relax by the pool and read a book, take a tour of the island above water, find new places to eat, and most importantly – the local supermarket where beer, wine and spirits could be purchase. The hotel was fully booked, and I’m sure it wasn’t just the arrival of Dive Line that resulted in the hotel bar being drunk dry! Evenings on dive holidays are usually reasonably sedate affairs; alcohol and diving don’t mix, and most of us don’t have the energy for late night partying after a hard day’s diving.
The group had flown with several different airlines; some of which were better than others at handling the rebooking of their passengers! A huge thank you needs to go to Gary and Scuba Travel who both worked incredibly hard to make sure we all got home ok. Gary worked tirelessly, through the night at times, and Scuba travel handled the frustrations of non-responsive airlines with aplomb.
Overall we had a fantastic trip! The diving was interesting, different, and at times awe inspiring. The staff and dive guides were great (if a little scarce on briefings). The resorts were beautiful, and the volcano added another dimension to the whole experience; I don’t suppose there are too many divers out there who can say they’ve watched a volcano erupt!