Saturday, January 06, 2007

Bali Underwater Photos-December 2006

Tulamben, Bali, and environs, has always been one of my favourite destinations for a short dive trip. In my humble opinion, it is often overlooked by divers planning a trip to Indonesia, which offers several world-class dive alternatives. I continue to find Tulamben to be a place of discovery and adventure. A World War II shipwreck, dramatic drop-off, patch reefs and rich black volcanic sand slopes offer a plethora of nice underwater photography opportunities. Other parts of Bali provide plenty of easily accessible top side diversions for those interested in the island's people, culture and geography.

The Air Asia Indonesia flight from Jakarta to Denpasar, Bali, passed without incident. The airline has a strict 20 kilogram checked baggage limit, which I easily exceeded with my dive equipment and a few t-shirts and shorts. The excess baggage fee of 15,000 rupiah (approx.US$1.60) per kilo, is not exorbitant. Please note however, that as of 01 January 2007, the checked baggage limit for the airline has been reduced to 15 kilograms.

Despite the late arrival of my flight (approx. 11:00 PM), my preferred Tulamben dive resort operator, Tulamben Wreck Divers, ( had a driver and air conditioned vehicle standing by to take me on the 2 1/2 hour drive to Tulamben. Given the late hour, we made good progress to the resort, and by 2:00 AM I was snug in bed ready for my next day of diving.

Tulamben Wreck Divers is a relatively new (2003), small dive resort in the Tulamben area, and seems to be building up a good reputation, given their clean, comfortable, reasonably priced accommodations, with spacious rooms, hot water showers, nice swimming pool, tropical garden environment and, of course, well organized dive operations. The resort was established by Western Australia's Tony Medcraft (former operator of Exmouth Dive Centre), and is aptly managed by competent local staff under Tony's guidance. All dive sites in the area are within easy reach of the resort either on foot, or by small local boat.

My first day of diving was purposely at an easy pace, as I spent some effort working out some trim and strobe issues. With those issues sucessfully put behind me, I looked forward to a productive two days of macro underwater photography.

For Christmas Eve (24Dec06), my dive guide, Made, had made arrangements for me to rent a small, colourful, local fishing boat to take the two of us on the leisurely 20-minute boat ride from Tulamben to Seraya. We made an early start, leaving the resort at 7:30 AM, and were in the water by 8:00AM. While we were readying the boat for departure, a nice Chrstmas Eve bonus was a pair of dolphins who were frolicking off the Tulamben Beach!

Unlike Tulamben which has a very rocky beach, Seraya has a gently sloping black sand beach, making for a very easy shore entry. Our first two dives were to be at the famous Seraya Secrets. Made had briefed me that most of the tiny critters had moved to deeper waters, which would limit our time with them, given the depths. After our second dive, we enjoyed a nice lunch at a pleasant resort directly facing the Seraya beach. Our third and final dive of the day, was to be Noisy Reef, which is also a shore entry dive, with the entry point only a hundred metres or so down the beach. Here are a few macro photos from the Seraya area:

"Hoover" the nudibranch.

A pair of Harlequin Shrimp (Hymenocera elegans)

Shaggy Frogfish (Antennarius hispidus)

Whiskered Pipefish (Halicampus macrorhynchus)

Pygmy Seahorse (Hippocampus bargibanti), about the size of a grain of rice.

Warty Frogfish (Antennarius maculatus)

Coleman Shrimp (Periclemenes colemani)

The very rare Tiger Shrimp (Phyllognathia ceratophthalma)

Zebra Crab (Zebrida adamsii)

Unidentified crab in crinoid

Christmas Day was to see us making another very early start. The morning sunrays had barely hit the majestic dormant volcano, Mt. Agung, visible behind Tulamben Wreck Divers resort, when I was up and doing my final checks on my photo rig. By 7:00 AM, the dive operator was gently ringing the chimes, signalling the famous Tulamben Dive Porters to come and pick up our dive gear for the short walk to the entry point for the Liberty Wreck.

One of the famous Tulamben Women Porters carrying two complete sets of dive gear at the Liberty Wreck shore entry point.

As we descended below the mirror-like surface of the calm seas, a startled, small, black-tip shark made a quick turn out to deeper waters, leading the way out to the Liberty Wreck, which lies about 35 metres off shore. The wreck is a World War II cargo ship, which was hit by a Japanese torpedo in the Lombok Strait, 11 January 1942. Still afloat, she was towed as far as Tulamben, where she was beached in an attempt to salvage her and her war-time cargo. She lay there on the beach, until 1963, when the horrific tremors caused by the eruption of the nearby Mt. Agung volcano rolled the Liberty off the beach and sunk her in her final resting place.

The wreck offers a very rich variety of coral and undersea creatures which are a field day for underwater photography. Thankfully, currents are rarely an issue at this site. However, it is important to get here early as crowds of divers like to come to the site for the day from other parts of Bali.

The advantage of staying at Tulamben, is that one can get an early start and thus avoid the crowd of divers that routinely come for the day from other parts of Bali.

Swimmer Crab (Lissocarcinus laevis)

Denise's Pygmy Seahorse (Hippocampus denisei)

Orangutang Spider Crab (Achaeus japonicus)

Soft Coral Crab (Hoplophrys oatesii)

Nudibranch "Bumper" Cars.

The day was rounded out with dives at the beginning of the Drop Off, with the shoal of swirling Jacks, along with the River Mouth and Coral Gardens, which had some nice macro surprises.

Hinge-Beak Shrimp

Commensal Shrimp (Periclemenes soror) on Sea Star

Crinoid Squat Lobster (Allogalathea elegans)

Crinoid Shrimp (Periclemenes cornutus)

Ornate Ghostpipefish (Solenostomus paradoxus)

Leaf Scorpionfish (Taenianotus triacanthus)

Blue Ribbon Eel (Rhinomuraena quaesita)

The rarely seen yet colourful Twin-Spot or Fu-Manchu Lionfish (Dendrochirus biocellatus)

Yes, indeed, it was a productive few days of underwater photography at Tulamben! I can hardly wait for my next opportunity to get back there and discover more of the delights in and around Tulamben.