2009 Dec 26th to 2010 Jan 9th – Manado, Gorontalo
We started planning our trip in Apr, confirmed everything by June & the destination was Christmas Island! In mid Nov, 1 mth to our trip, AIOTA (the airline) restructured, all our plans were derailed. We started scrabbling to find other suitable destinations & short-listed a few (Maldives – resorts too expensive during holiday period, Philippines – might be too crowded) & in the end, thanks to Bee & Bok’s recommendation, we decided on Gorontalo but since 2wks at Gorontalo seemed a little excessive, we decided to spend a few days in Manado too. Looked like we were having streak of bad luck with airlines – Silkair also gave us a minor problem…
Anyway all looking good, with Michael & Janet arriving in S’pore around mid-night of 23rd Dec, we did some sight-seeing (including a nice visit to the Botanical Garden & chilli crab dinner) & then flew to Manado on 26th Dec on Silkair (S$412). We stayed a night at the Ritzy Hotel (Rp660k per room, inc b/f), which also arranged for the transfer (Rp160k). The hotel was conveniently located “down-town”, with a nice pool which offered wonderful view of Manado Tua and the breakfast was quite good!
Safari Tours & Travel picked us from Ritzy at abt 7am & we began the scenic drive through North Sulawesi to Gorontalo, on its very cute safari bus (with zebra stripes!). It was supposed to be a 8-9hrs transfer but in the end, it took more than 11hrs. The transfer was US$300. The good news is, Wings (Lion Air) started a daily 40mins flight from Manado to Gorontalo, late January 2010!!!
Our accommodation at Gorontalo was arranged by the talented manager of Miguel’s Diving – Ranjte Allen, the author of Gorontalo: Hidden Paradise (this beautiful book, photographed by William Tan, Stephan Wong & Takako Uno, could be bought from Miguel’s Diving & could also be found in NLB!). Hotel Oasis (the locals pronounce it as Oh-Ah-Sis) was our home for the next few days (26 Dec to 4 Jan), the rooms were comfortable & functional, with tv, a/c & hot shower. Insect repellent was essential & so was a pair of ear-plugs, if you don’t need to wake up for prayers at 4:30am. The multi-talented hotel owner – Oni, prepared our breakfast – Chinese-styled fried noodles/ rice/ vermicelli, which was really good & he also doubled as driver. We would leave the hotel at abt 7:30am & it was a 10mins drive thru the town, to the dive shop at the riverside, to board the boat. There were days when the tide was low & we had to board at the harbour, or at the beach. I preferred boarding the dive boat at the beach because it seemed much like a “proper” dive holiday! Furthermore, the beach was really quite nice. The 1st dive would be around 8:30+am, 2nd dive abt 10:30am, then lunch, after that, 3rd dive at abt 1:15pm, we would return to the Oasis abt 3:30pm.
I was a little surprised that our dive holiday was not on the beach (please refer to the map). On Miguel’s Diving website, it stated that it would take abt 10mins to get to the boat but I thought that we would be near the seaside and didn’t envisualise Gorontalo to be a such a busy town. Although it didn’t have any high-rise buildings yet, 2-storey shop-houses lined each side of the all the streets and it even had a small, air-conditioned “mall” of sorts, which housed a supermarket & games arcade. Other than mosques, there were churches and under-construction – a large Confucius Taoist temple and also a Buddhist Temple.
This was our package from Miguel’s Diving – 8 nights @ Gorontalo Oasis Hotel (air-conditioned room & breakfast), 20 dives (tanks, weights, bottled water, transport), Lunch, No airport transfers in Gorontalo, USD620 per diver twin/double share including tax, Non-diver rate (on the boat) : USD190 twin/double share including tax. Jian’s 7 nights & 17 dives pkg was USD550. Lunch was cooked by the wife of the boat captain, it was rice with vegetables & fish, and home-made chilli & fruits, way better than the ones we had at Sipadan (she had vested interest to provide a good lunch )… The guide Yunis & the boat & dive-shop crew took care of setting up the gear & washing it after diving, very nice!
Diving at Gorontalo was phenomenal! The pristine reefs were very beautiful & the muck sites were great! Lots of life everywhere, we saw pods of Risso dolphins on our way to dive sites on 2 days. A fellow S’porean diver – Jovin scooped out some sea-weed/sea grapes & managed to shook a pipe-horse out! Ranjte & Eunis were expert spotters, emperor shrimps, orangutan crabs, crinoid shrimps, spiky soft coral crab etc etc… & diving with Ranjte was a good learning experience, he was always pointing things out & writing the names on his dive slate. My favourite sites were Jinn Caves Loop and Sand Castle. Jinn Caves Loop had a mysterious feel to it & the reefscape was more special than the “usual” slopes/ walls combo, read the site description here. We descended from the Cove and came to the beautiful “gate”, which was encrusted with colourful corals & feather stars, then we turned left & explored the beautiful reef, upon return to the Cove, Ranjte found a pair of whip gobies on the white whip coral. This photogenic & brave cuttlefish made this dive extra special, she was hunting at the ledge & was totally cool with me. She gave me my favorite photo of the trip. (Glad that I stopped eating cuttlefish awhile bk! )
Sand Castle was an amazing muck site. The fine sand bottom required good buoyancy control. We had never seen so many anemone fishes sharing each anemone, with several porcelain crabs & several shrimps! Plus, it was the egg brooding season of anemone fish! Then there were harlequin ghost pipefishes, robust ghost pipefishes, nudibranches, cockatoo waspfish, Ambon scorpionfish, cowfish etc etc… We did 3 dives there but I could have done many more more here! Another muck site: Mistic Point was great too! “Pikaccu”, Egretta & Flabellina nudibranches, robust ghost pipefish, emperor shrimps on large sea cucumbers!
Other reef sites that we dived at: Sand Bowl, Traffic Cone x2, Mirabella, Shadow Lands x2, Swirling Steps, Traffic Jam, Sponge Wall, White Point, Honey Comb, Fallen Rock (an eagle-ray was hunting!), West Point, Sand Channels & Cliffs. The Salvador Dali sponges were very beautiful & unforgettable. We had such lively company, on the first few days, we joined Jovin, Philip, Josephine, Kylie, Adeline & Andi, who were there 1 day before us, when the last 5 of them left, Lili joined us, then Danny & Angelique & their 3 lovely kids joined us…
Ranjte had prepared a rough map of the town, so that the divers could get our dinners (we got around with the tuk-tuks). We tried many of the available options: Golden Fish x2, Sea food at the roadside x2, Mawar Sharon (Chicken Place), Padang Place, Agung & New Esther, most of the food was spicy but quite tasty!
Photos taken in Gorontalo here Gorontalo
http://www.facebook.com/v/255258973051 Video of the Risso Dolphins (Sorry for the low-res conversion…)
We had intended to return to Manado via Express Air on 4th Jan but since it was no longer receiving flight subsidy from the provincial govt in 2010, it promptly cut the twice weekly flight to once a week! So we had to take the longer route, take Sriwaja Air to Makassar & transfer to Lion Air, airfare was abt Rp 1.2mil.
Minahasa Divers arranged for our transfers, accommodation at Sedona Manado & 3 meals daily. 6D/5N (12 dives) package was US$520 per diver, based on twin/triple share. Non-diver package US$357 per person. The payment was made in S’pore to Minahasa Divers’ representative/ manager before we left for the trip. Sedona Manado had huge, beautiful grounds & swimming pool & the rooms were large & very comfortable, we could even use the wifi from the room! I would say that the room was the best we had for a long time… The buffet breakfast spread was sumptuous – bread, buns & cakes, fruits & salad, local food, egg station, noodles, porridge and waffle! Lunch choices were hotel-quality fried noodles, fried rice or club sandwich (all came with very nice fried chicken wing). Buffet dinner was good, although with less selection (it was plentiful!) – fruits, rice, pasta, vegetables, tofu, curry, beef/chicken/fish.
Diving from Minahasa Divers’ biggest boat was comfortable, the boat was stable & there was a proper toilet on-board. The guides & boat crew took care of the setting up & washing of gear, we got a fresh beach towel every morning – we were getting very spoiled. The diver to guide ration was 5-6 to 1. At Manado, we got started quite late, met at the dive-shop at 8:30am & the boat would leave the dock at abt 8:45am, the boat ride to Bunaken took abt 45mins & on 2 mornings (5th & 6th Jan) we got distracted by huge pod of common dolphins! We would do 2 dives at the Bunaken side, have lunch and then the boat would make its way back to Manado side for the 3rd dive of the day. At Bunaken, we dived at Muka Kampung (very nice wall dive & pygmy seahorse @30m, green sea turtle), Fukui (hard coral & broken rubble, giant clams), Mandolin Point, Lekuan III and Raymond Point. At Manado, we did Tanjung Pisok & 2 dives at Sedona House-reef. These were very nice muck dives with good rewards eg several Harlequin Shrimps, Blue Ribbon Eels, a small banded sea snake, a baby white dragonet, octupus and an assortment of nudibranches.
We went to Lembeh on 7th Jan, with another 2 divers from Russia. We had to pay US$30 extra each, which was quite reasonable, considering the amount of logistics involved. Lembeh did not disappoint. At Hairball, we saw a pregnant sea-horse, cockatoo waspfish, nudibranch etc. At Nudi Retreat, we saw a very small pygmy sea-horse, several nudibranches & a pair of pegasus sea-moths & the highlight was an electric clam, plus a large band sea-snake which came to inspect his territory & scared us silly! At Jahir, it was a busy dive! A humongous school of juvenile cat-fish stirred up sea-floor & messed up the visibility! Also saw a good sized barramundi cod, a giant orange frog-fish perched on a large orange sponge, 2 banded pipe-fish, moray eel & its many cleaner shrimps & a white-eyed moray eel & its neighbour – a scorpion-fish.
We had an exciting & beautiful dive at Tanjung Kopi, Manado Tua on 8th Jan. The current was very strong (the dive guide was a little nervous) and it was cold and the visibility seemed endless (at least 30m). We saw giant trevallies, a large school of bat-fish & a small school of large barracudas hunting. At the reef, there was a good sized napoleon wrasse and nudibranches. Would remember this big current, action-packed dive for a long time to come. Jackie was our fav MD guide & Rafly was also very nice.
Photos for Manado segment here Manado photos
We came back to S’pore on 9th Jan, wanted to bring Mike & J to try the chicken rice but the car couldn’t start! It was nearly 8pm, when the repairman came by to change the car battery… What a trip! We did managed to bring them to the Raffles Hotel (on Mike’s list) & the Esplanade & had some nice pizzas which they have been craving for the last 2 wks.