By Ken Thongpila
Tulamben, one of the most famous diving destinations in Bali, is located on the northeast coast. It is one of the richest marine biogeographic zones in the world with a stunning diverse underwater ecosystem. This area offers great diving conditions suitable for any level of diver, catering especially for the underwater photographer who likes to be able to shoot wide-angle and macro in the same area.
Occasionally you may see Molas (sunfish), whale sharks, manta rays or reef sharks. You will certainly be impressed by the coral diversity, tropical fish, nudibranch and numerous species that live here.
I stayed at Liberty Dive Resort for five days and four nights with a package that included unlimited diving. I did twenty dives in total, costing US$775 which included a single room with air conditioning and hot water for six nights, Wi-Fi, breakfast daily, all dive charges, transfer from and to airport or any hotel in Bali, two boat dives, nitrox dives and a personal dive guide.
Many airlines fly direct from Sydney to Denpasar, a trip of less than seven hours. On arrival in Denpasar the resort car transports you to Tulamben, a journey that takes about three hours.
Liberty Dive Resort is one of the new facilities located in the village of Tulamben and is perfectly located as it is only 150 metres to the United States Army Transport Liberty shipwreck. The rooms come complete with air conditioning, fan, en suite bathroom with hot and cold water, refrigerator and mini-bar, tea and coffee making facilities. The accommodation has a verandah with table and chairs overlooking the swimming pool. One of the most rewarding pleasures was taken after two to three dives each day, a relaxing massage which cost rp80,000 or US$10-15.
I traditionally began my day around 6 a.m. by diving on the wreck first, followed by a relaxed breakfast and a laze in the swimming pool. The second dive took place around 10am before lunch and a third dive around 2.30pm for the nudibranch hunts followed by the massage. Occasionally I also explored the depths at around 4.30pm or took a night dive at 6.30pm.
Almost every dive site is accessible from shore and the duration of each dive was around fifty to seventy minutes. After I prepared my diving gear at the resort dive shop, a staff member transported it by motorbike to the beach. After a mere three minute walk with my camera and dive gear, I was able to begin diving the wreck.
At 120 metres long, the USAT Liberty Shipwreck is one of the world’s most famous shipwrecks. It shelves from five metres to about 30 metres at its deepest point and lies approximately 30 metres offshore almost parallel to the beach; it is a thoroughly enjoyable experience for all divers.
The wreck offers a great mixture of large fish and beautiful corals, sponges, gorgonia fans, schooling jacks, barracuda, giant gropers, blue spotted stingrays, bumphead parrot fish, moray eels, leafy scorpion fish, frog fish and nudibranchs.
The ’Drop Off’ affords a beautiful landscape with many overhanging rocks and giant gorgonian sea fans that descend down to more than seventy metres. An impressive cleaning station is located under overhanging rocks where shrimps clean emperor angelfish, yellow-faced angelfish and blue-banded angelfish.
The ‘Coral Garden’ is between the Liberty wreck and the Drop Off. It starts at a depth of three to fifteen metres with beautiful hard and soft corals making it an ideal spot for snorkeling. This is a choice site for practicing photography. It abounds with peacock mantis shrimp, blue ribbon eels, ghost pipe fish, cuttlefish, octopus and black tip reef sharks.
The ’Slope’ is between the Liberty wreck and the coral garden. This dive site is renowned for nudibranchs; indeed nudibranchs are literally everywhere. The Slope descends from three metres to greater than sixty metres but the greatest diversity of marine fauna can be found at the ten to twenty metre level.
’Seraya Secrets’ is a ten minute drive from the resort. I took in two dives there subsequent to my initial morning wreck dives and breakfast. The resort kindly organised to have a vehicle deliver me to and from the dive. Seraya Secrets is the best for macro diving in this region, the deeper areas ranging from nine to thirty-five metres. Macro marine life such as harlequin shrimps, frogfishs, seahorses and nudibranchs can be found here.
I would recommend you stay close to the wreck and begin your first dive early (about 6 a.m.), get your wide-angle lens out as you will be assured of seeing school bumphead parrotfish and schooling jacks. Later in the day the wreck can become very crowded later as the day trip from Bali arrives around 11 a.m. Boots are also recommended as the beach entry/exit is somewhat rocky.
Visibility is usually eighteen to twenty-five metres, lower during rainy weather. The air temperature is 25-32°C, the water 26-28°C. The best time to dive Tulamben is between August and November. Generally December through to early April is not good as conditions deteriorate due to strong winds and rough seas. Also if you need a visa, it’s better to get it before you land in Bali.