Second time to the luxurious Lembeh Resort, also booked through critters@lembeh. We were arranged adjourning garden rooms, which were very conveniently near the restaurant. 🙂 SL took her advanced open water with patient Lauren, it was a good time to tune up her buoyancy and dive confidence.
Fandy was our guide for most of our dives there. It was good to see that he had gained much experience since our last trip to Buyat and still very enthusiastic about his job. 🙂 The dive guides will record all the critters we saw during the dive on the dive slate, guests can conveniently take a photo of the dive slate. 🙂 At check-out, the dive centre will prepare a list of the dive sites that we had visited.
After being transferred from Bangka, it was in the mid afternoon, so we went for a check-out dive at the house reef. Saw anemone shrimp, pipefish, signal goby, pinnate batfish, coral crab and nudibranch.
The sweet LR staffs brought a surprise birthday cake to our room for T’s bday!
27 Dec 12
Nudi Retreat 2 – strong current. Whip coral shrimp, pygmy seahorse, octopus and nudibranch. TK3 – crab with fire urchin, devil scorpionfish, stonefish, a pregnant seahorse, mantis shrimp, baby filefish, figered dragonet, stargazer snake eel, emperor shrimp hitching a ride on the nudibranch and box crab. Aer Prang 2 – coconut octopus, slender pipefish, black saddle snake eel, orangutan crab, zebra batfish, cuttlefish, baby sweetlips, nudibranch, commensal shrimp. Dusk dive – Mandarin dive – mandarin fishes hiding amongst broken staghorn corals – only 1 pair mated, flatworm, dwarf cuttlefish.
28 Dec 2012
Tanjung Kubur – Porcelain crab, robust ghostpipefish, zebra batfish, napoleon snake eel, juvenile barramundi cod, juvenile bi-color parrotfish, zebra oyster, nudibranch, BLUE RING Octopus! Critter Hunt – scorpionfish, jawfish, velvet ghostpipefish, moray eel, blue ribbon eel, cuttefish, cowfish, pygmy seahorse, moray eel, pinnate batfish, solar powered nudibranch (spotted by me!), nudibranch, mantis shrimp with eggs! (finally!). Pintu Colada 2 – scorpionfish, blue spotted stingray, juvenile barramundi cod, banded pipefish, razorfish, seamoth, baby filefish, black ribbon eel, peacock mantis shrimp, pale chin moray eel, snow flake moray eel. Night dive – Jahir 1 – carpet sole, cuttlefish, scorpionfish, blue spotted stingray, squid, painted frogfish, fireworm, flounder, cockatoo waspfish, robust ghost pipefish, spanish dancer, longhorn cowfish, moon head sea slug.
29 Dec 2012
Hairball 2 – Fingered dragonet, napoleon snake eel, orangutan crab, star grazer snake eel, flounder, crinoid crab, devil scorpionfish, hairy frogfish, scorpionfish, warty frogfish, peacock mantis shrimp, cockatoo waspfish, cowfish, nudibranch. Makawide 2 – banded tozeuma shrimp (1st time!), ornate ghostpipefish, fimbriated moray eel, thorny seahorse, orangutan crab, painted frogfish, spiny squat lobster, nudibranch, harlequinn sweetlips. House Reef – double ended pipefish, pipefish, barramundi cod, LEMBEH SEA DRAGON (!!!), spiny squat lobster, unicornfish, harlequinn sweetlips.
30 Dec 2012 – Guide: Ramly
Pulau Abadi (a working harbour) – flambouyant cuttlefish eggs, baby flambouyant cuttlefish, sea spider, peacock mantis shrimp, nudibranch. Aer Bajo 3 – 3 tiger shrimps! A pair of ambon scorpionfishs, emperor shrimp, fingered dragonet, crab on fire urchin.
More photos here
When we met Claudia & Leon at ADEX 2011 in April 11, they were promoting a new set-up location in Raja Ampat. T & I had heard so much about this premier dive destination & often spoke about saving enough money to afford this dream… The photos of the resort & the island Pulau Pef & most importantly, the diving looked wonderful & with a 20% discount for the quad share room, the price was quite reasonable (in comparison with other locations)… & to be stay & diving at a new location was very attractive to us, so we contacted our usual dive buddies – M & J who were quick to agree to let us join them on this adventure (because they could have jolly well afforded a twin share bungalow :-P). To make the airfare worthwhile, we decided to stay for 2 weeks. We paid the deposit while Claudia & Leon were still in Sg to save on the transfer fees. 😉 So we began our 8 months count-down to our trip.
M & J flew in from SFO through HK on Cathay on Thursday, then on Friday evening 25 Nov, we flew Garuda to Ujung Pandang (aka Makassar). The aircraft was a little jaded but at least 20kg of baggage each was included in airfare ($778 for 2) & air tickets were purchased online.
Departure: 19:10 Singapore, Singapore – Changi, terminal 3
Arrival: 22:20 Ujung Pandang, Indonesia – Hasanudin
Airline: Garuda Indonesia GA849, Duration: 3:10
Stayed a night at the airport hotel booked for us by the Raja4divers (R4D http://www.raja4divers.com/) team, if I am not wrong, the cost was 375,000Rp or 500,000Rp. It was ok, clean with shower stall but shared toilets outside, they have a “real” cuppacino machine which M highly recommended… But please be warned, ear plugs are a MUST here, unless you can sleep like a log! Our flight to Sorong was at 8:40am on Express Air, which was ok, baggage allowance was 15kg. Domestic flights were arranged by R4D, total cost for 2 US$740 (exchange rate 8,500 to 1 USD & 10% handling fees)
Express Air: IDR 2,518,000 (Makassar to Sorong), Lion Air: IDR 3,177,000 (Sorong to Makassar via Ambon) Total amount: IDR 5,695,000
We met Sabine, the dive intructor & the rest of the new guests at the small, dusty, Sorong airport, it reminded me of the small domestic airport at Maldives, only that it was more rundown than that… The team was very kind to bring us to use the toilet of the Je Meridien Hotel which stood opposite the Sorong Airport. We were then driven to the port for the 2hrs boat transfer on Pef I. Dolphins were spotted, the scenery was quite monotonous until we reached the Passage area, the cliffs & the rocky islets are those that frequently graced magazines…
The R4D Pef team threw us a welcome party, the coconut drink, their friendly faces, warm smiles, joyous singing & cheerful music refreshed the tired travellers. The bungalow was rustic & huge – 128sqm, about 50% bigger than our flat. No aircon, only the fan & the natural sea breeze. The patio had stairs to the sea, lizards, crabs, birds & frogs were visitors to the open air bathroom. The tide was a little low but I tried to snorkel among the seagrass, still searching for my 1st encounter with a dugong… Island time was 2 hours earlier than Sg. After watching the sunset, we proceeded to have dinner at the “restaurant” – more like the kitchen/dining – a longhouse on stilts… Dinners & lunches were casual sit-down meals at the long table, with several dishes (fish, poultry, vegetables) shared among 4 to 6 guests…
Next morning (27th Nov), we had the checkout dive at the house reef – Karang Sembilan at 10:30am, it was a wonderful introduction to Raja Ampat! School of batfish just at the jetty, pipefish, 3 species of nudibranchs, whip gobies & 2 wobbegong sharks!
The usual schedule was to meet at the jetty for dive briefing at 8am, 2 dives in the morning with snacks during the surface intervals, then return to Pef for lunch, plus the 3rd dive at 3pm. My dive buddies were quite lazy, so I only managed 2 night dives during our 2 weeks there… 😉
This is the list of the dive sites that we had visited & some notes:
27/11 – Karang Sembilan (House Reef) & Yembraimuk Utara
28/11 – Wofoh Selatan, Manare & Tanjung Gam
29/11 – Day trip to Fam Island – Fam Slope, Melissa’s Garden & Climbing to the peak of Fam Island, then afternoon dive at Fam Wall.
30/11 – Manta Sandy, Arborek (Jetty) & Apibok Wall. Lovely manta cleaning station, up to 8 mantas! Arborek Jetty was also very beautiful, great place for photography.
01/12 – The Passage x 2 & Selat Yembraimuk. *The 1st dive at The Passage was quite easy & delightful, colourful soft corals, 3 cute cuttlefishes, flatworms, nudibranchs & even a electric scallop, then we drifted until the end. For the 2nd dive, we 1st visited a cave system, when we joined the “main traffic”, the current was quite strong, it was quite hairy “flying” through the “river”. However, there was not much danger, as the area was quite shallow…
02/12 – Mandy Sandy, Batu Dalam. Last dives for B & M, they had requested to revisit Mandy Sandy & who would say no? 😉 Another wonderful dive with the beautiful reef manta rays.
03/12 – Wasrer at 11:30am & Rep Pef at 3:30pm, then night dive at 6:30pm.
04/12 – Yes Bekar, Sop Ikan & Rep Yembraimuk
05/12 – We lost a dive day due to the bad weather… It was a scary storm.
06/12 – Batu Meka, Rep Krupuk & Batu Deka East. The eye of the storm had passed but the sea was still very rough at the front, so we had to launch from the mangrove area.
07/12 – Nikson’s Garden, Rep Jembatan & Batu Kapal
08/12 – Tanjung Teening, Ref Pef & Nikson’s Garden. Night Dive at house reef. Last day of diving & it was wonderful to dive the beautiful Nikson’s Garden with the dive guide – Nikson, 1 of the 1st, if not the 1st Papuan dive guide.
Other guides we dived with laughing & singing Danci, serious Yoris & Yolda, all well trained by Sabine & Armin. Although the visibility ranged from 10 to max 20m & average at 15m, the beauty of the dive sites was unforgettable, the colours dazzling. Wobbegong sharks at most of the dives, as Armin said, just follow the glassfish. 😉 There was a school of juvenile black tip reef sharks at the shallow lagoon at Pef. We met schools of large barracudas, bumphead parrotfish, numerous large lobsters & some very large (but very shy) groupers & Napoleon wrasses [reminder to self: they were able to grow huge because they are smart & avoid humans]! Macro stuff like cute nudibranchs, pipefish, pygmy seahorses etc.
The resort & operations were well managed by Maya. Yanni & the rest of the staff from housekeeping & kitchen were always so friendly & warm. The other guests at the resort were mostly Europeans. It was a huge surprise that they hadn’t heard about the “Sound of Music”, a movie that was about Austria, the Alps, WWII (a little)… I was in the school choir & “Edelweiss” & all the songs from that show are my all-time favourite…
The staff gave us a warm send-off, most of them were also leaving for their holiday as the resort was closed for 1 week before their peak season. We stayed at the Je Meridien Hotel, Sorong for 1 night, which was quite nice… When we were boarding the very early morning flight, it was raining heavily, the work ethics of the Papuans was impressive, they tried to keep the passengers dry, although they were soaked…
Wonderful introduction to Raja Ampat, how we wish we could afford to join M & J’s 2nd trip to Pef in Nov 2012… Guess they would have another delightful fortnight at the magical island…
Cost of 2 weeks: USD 4175 (not inclusive of the 20% discount), Boat Transfer USD120, Raja Ampat Marine Park Fee IDR 500, 000. Airfares as above…
Other photos here: Photos on FB (FB account not req’d) https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150441214288052.372546.694213051&type=3
This is new! Virtual Tour of Raja4Divers Pulau Pef (22 Nov 12)
I had wanted to return to Timor Leste for a long time. Took part in a marine expedition to Timor Leste in 2004, then, I was a newbie diver and had to take the AOW to be better prepared for the expedition. Better prepared I was not but my genial buddy – a dive instructor & team-mates made sure that I didn’t drown when we did the coral transect, fish count or the benthic survey (all usually at less than 15m deep) & the 10 good days or so we spent at Atauro Island – off Dili (capital of Timor Leste) was etched in my mind. It was not just the good diving, it was the pristine beauty of Atauro & the warmth of Timorese that I fondly remember.
Come 2011, I am 200+ dives more experienced and a lot older… haha… However, I was still not better prepared! As in, I didn’t spend much time planning for the trip, as we were busy with a shark conservation awareness event until end of April. At least, I knew that flying Merpati Airline from Bali would be cheaper than flying directly from Singapore. So, we planned to dive in Tulamben for a few days before flying to Dili and my “newbie” diver brother & “to-be certified” sister-in-law joined for the Tulamben leg. We booked discounted flight to Bali on KLM @S$253 and embarked on our dive trip on Saturday, 14th May. We were very pleased with the in-flight food & the personal entertainment system provided and of course the generous leg-room of a full service European airline was also much appreciated.
Tony Medcraft – owner of Tulamben Wreck Divers once again gave us (even my bro) a free upgrade to the Penthouse – lovely view of the coast in the front & view of the majestic Mt Agung from the back. Remember, this was T & I’s 3rd visit to TWD – this unexpected gesture really ensured that us felt like coming home!
The next day, dive guide Nyoman met us at breakfast and asked where we wish to dive at & at what time? That was why we loved diving at Tulamben, we always got to choose our preferred dive site & when we wanted to dive it. Of course, for our 1st dive we had to greet the famous Liberty Wreck. Nyoman knew that we were “experienced” divers & proposed that we plunge to the depths to find the pygmy seahorses. At more than 30m, we saw the 1st pair of pygmy seahorses on this trip. I think pink is the true colour of these tiny lilac pygmy seahorses & their gorgonian seafan home. In the 52mins dive, we also saw 2 white leaf scorpionfish, nudibranch, flatworm & a huge school of big-eye jacks. I enjoyed swimming with the huge school of jacks, found it a very calming & therapeutic experience. After lunch, our 2nd dive was at Coral Garden, it was another good 54mins dive that yielded a poor moray eel with a huge gash on its head, plus its entourage of cleaner shrimps and a few huge groupers were hanging around – hoping to make a quick meal from the wounded moray eel? A blue ribbon eel & a black one, crinoid shrimp & orangutan crab. The 3rd dive of the day was our 1st night dive at Tulamben! The bumphead parrotfish were resting at the bow of the Liberty wreck & they were pretty annoyed at our torches. We saw 2 mantis shrimps – Golden & Red, several hydroid decorator crabs, cleaner shrimps, a beautiful ghost pipefish & a large Spanish dancer.
On the second day, we had an early morning dive. By 7am, we were already in water heading to the Liberty Wreck. Spent a lot of the time in the 1 plus hr dive with the school of jacks again & this time there was a giant trevally trying to blend in with its “lesser” cousins. We also saw orangutan crab, garden eels, nudibranch & bumphead parrotfish. 2nd dive at Coral Garden yielded an unexpected visitor – a black tip reef shark! Contrary to “popular” belief (aka lies), sharks are not ferocious! This 1+m shark scooted off into the bad viz when it was 50m from us. Ketut showed us a crutch of anemone eggs on a pebble. I spotted an octopus. We had another night dive at the Liberty Wreck, that yielded soft coral crabs, crinoid shrimp, zebra crab & ghost pipefish.
For the third day, we (all 4 of us) booked a 2 dives day trip to Amed with Ketut of Marta Dive. Ketut had been with a dive shop at Amed for many years before striking out on his own. The drive to Amed was very scenic & Amed seemed to be a serene place too. We stopped at a village pavilion, suited up & waited for the 2 small local fishing boats to take us diving along the beautiful coast. The dive site was abt 15mins away. In the strong current, Ketut showed us to a huge patch of garden eels at 20m and a pygmy seahorse, and then we saw a school of trevallies. We also saw an octopus, blue spotted stingray. During the 2nd dive at Pyramid there was an installation of several artificial reef structures made in the shape of what else but the Pyramid, adorned by colourful soft corals & served as hiding place for snappers. A small hawksbill turtle tolerated our presence for awhile, it was wonderful to finally meet a turtle in Bali, hope that it will be safe, grow old & reproduce. Glad to see that my newly OW certified sister-in-law managing these 2 dives well. We dived at the Liberty Wreck again upon our return to Tulamben, saw the pair of pygmy seahorses again, said good-bye to the big-eye trevallies & met a friendly good-size napoleon wrasse! I think the Tulamben area is still a safe haven to these valuable fish – trevallies, bumphead parrotfish, sweetlips, groupers & napoleon wrasse! Hopefully more sharks will return…
Tony gave us another upgrade for our last night to the new villa rooms at the new wing about 5mins drive away. The guys had to give us a drive to the main stretch for dinner. My bro went for a night trek to Mt Agung, he reported that it was quite a hard hike to the peak of the highest mountain on Bali. When he got back, we grabbed a quick lunch and started the long drive to Ubud when they spent a couple of nights at & we spent 2 nights at the small, intimate Golden Elephant Hotel at Ulu Watu, all the villas have their own pools.
After 2 restful nights, we boarded the morning Merpati flight to Dili – the capital of Timor Leste on 20th May. A Balinese ex-colleague helped to book the Merpati tickets (@ less than USD 450 for 2 pax) through a travel agent.
Timor Leste – 20th to 28th May
We paid for our visas upon arrival & passed the customs office quick enough but the enthusiastic officers checked our luggage quite thoroughly… Kathy was the new trainee DM from Dive Timor Lorosae who picked us up.
Dili was much busier than I remembered it to be, the houses looked more tidy though. Even the building that Castaway Bar of Dive Timor had become more solid, we had most of our meals there (not cheap but the portions were Australian). We didn’t do much the rest of the day, just read whatever there was & dipped in the very nice (but deep, also used for dive training) pool & walked along the water front & discovered that the Chinese & Japanese Embassies had huge compounds. The next day, we got to dive at Atauro! There was supposed to be snorkellers on board but due to the strong winds & big surfs, DT advised them to cancel, so there was just another 2 leisure divers & us with DM Will & Greg the captain. It was a rough crossing & T got pretty sick.
We dived at the west side of Atauro, it was inhabited, probably due to further distant from Dili. The 5 of us were the first people to dive at Will Wall, it was named after Will, who had completed his DM training & leaving service. There was strong surface current, so we dropped down quickly. The underwater conditions were great – good visibility of 30m & not much current. The reef was pristine, large sea fans, lots of red tooth trigger fish & anthias in the shallow, not unlike the pristine reefs of Gorontalo. We saw a nice size painted spiny lobster hiding in a crevice at around 20m, hope this painted spiny lobster will be able to avoid all of its many predators & hungry, greedy humans & live a long life (>30years). 2nd dive was at another section of Will Wall. A curious & big dog-tooth tuna came by to check us out, I spotted many juvenile Giant Clams at the shallow. As we were leaving Atauro, there was a large pod of pilot whale, 1 of them surfaced very near our boat & made me jump! That evening Dili celebrated the Timor Leste 9th Independence Day.
The next day, we took the transport from Compass Travel back to Atauro & we spent 2 peaceful nights at the Kuo-in Eco Lodge, which was run by the local NGO Roman Luan. There was no flush toilets at Kuo-in, our “contributions” were made into compost & the bath water was recycled by the reed beds & used to water the plants. Such a lovely place! There was no traffic on Atauro, to get around the locals either depend on their small fishing boats or “motorbike-lorries”. Beach front accommodation plus 3 local meals cost less than $30 per person per day. We went “trekking” up the village hill, practicing my forgotten “bon giorno” & “bon tarde” with the locals on the way. The reward of the steep climb over rocky, unpaved road, “littered” with goat dung was the gorgeous view of Atauro & the reef. Also visited the dormitory where the expedition team stayed at, the dormitory had been converted to a “hospedaria” sewing workshop run by the UN & opposite it was a local handicraft place where the deaf/ mute could learn a skill. We spent time interacting with the kids during the evenings & even “organised” a beach clean-up, the kids were happy to labour for some sweets & chocolates. There were a lot of plastic cups & other plastic debris along the shore – affluence is a double-edge sword… With great reluctance, we left Kuo-in to get to Barry’s Place to be picked up by the Compass Travel’s speed boat. We met a pod of common dolphins in the channel between Atauro & Dili, it was such a joy! In the evening, we went to Christo Rei where there was a huge statue of Jesus Christ (a gift from the central government during the Suharto era) and enjoyed a spectacular red sunset.
25th May was my last dive day in Timor because I caught flu after. Marianne led us to dive at Tasi Talu where we missed a dugong; we could hear it but didn’t see it… It was a good dive – a beautiful white thorny seahorse, a flabellina nudibranch, a sap sucking sea slug and a cuttlefish. After a nice lunch prepared by DT, we went to another shore dive site at Dili Rock East, the wind & surf had picked up considerably & there was quite a strong current. It didn’t stop us from having a good dive – we saw a crocodilefish, a school of juvenile catfish, 2 banded pipefishes, ribbon eel, nudibranch, marble shrimp & a 1st for us – a pair of coral mushroom pipefish!
T dived at the Christo Rei & Sandy Bottom with Greg the next day; they saw a school of bumphead parrotfish at Christo Rei! & at Sandy Bottom, a flying gurnard, an Emperor Shrimp, a whip coral goby & lobsters. The following day, I tagged along to snorkel at Behau Village & Secret Garden, about 50km from Dili, Will is the DM for the day, it was also his last dive day at Dili.
On the last morning, we went to the Dili museum to find that it was closed on Saturday. Anthonio drove us to the airport for our flight to Bali where we lazed at the airport lounge for a few hours, enjoyed a beautiful sunset & then came home around midnight.
Today, 4months on, as I am preparing for next 2 dive trips, I am still missing the serenity & simplicity of Atauro.
Cost of diving at Timor: 2 tanks dive at Atauro – US$160 each (inclusive sandwich lunch + water + soft drinks). 2 tanks local shore dives (w/in Dili) – US$90. 2 tanks local shore dives (outside Dili – inclusive of local lunch + water + soft drinks) – US$110. Note that usually, we were the only people diving (another 2 guys for Atauro trip, another 1 guy for outside Dili “safari”), when I was ill, T was the only paying customer…
Cost of meals – typically US$7 upwards for “main dish”, good size portion. The food at the Night Market was cheaper (e.g – US$2 for 1 fish, $0.50 for a chicken wing etc), catering to the locals the market has no electricity, water etc 😉 …
Other suggestions: get more small change like 1 & 5 usd… Oh, Bahasa works for the older cab drivers & bargain w them for short distant travels… Get the dive shop or hotel staff to help with telling & bargaining with the cab driver on other places like Christo Rei…
This dive trip started to take shape shortly after we (M, J, T & me) met Danny, Angelique & their lovely kids at Gorontalo in late 2009/early 2010… They spoke enthusiastically about a new dive area called Buyat Bay, North Sulawesi, just 1.5 to 2hours south of Lembeh (by boat). Critters@BuyatBuyat Bay Buyat Bay (Page 18 has a map of the dive sites of the surrounding area). New places are music to our adventurous souls. T & I wanted to include Lembeh into our itinerary & A was able to join us. The history of this area is quite intriguing – it used to be a gold mining area, so rumours of pollution & such kept “plunders of the seas” away & left the area pristine. Alex Mustard said that it has 100% coral coverage! Dive Photo Guide – Buyat Bay & here is another by the Freuds for WWF Coral Triangle Photo Expedition. WWF Coral Triangle Buyat Bay There is a very nice new video by the Critters team (dated May 2011).
Danny & his critters@buyat & critters@lembeh teams took care of all the logistics of this trip & even managed to get Nitrox installed at Buyat Bay. We just had to get our Silkair tickets to Manado & luckily A, T & I have enough Krismiles to claim our tickets. M & J came into Sg 2 nites before our flight out on Friday morning, we had a nice dinner on Thursday.
The Silkair flight was customary full on the 12th Nov, Friday. There were many divers from other countries & many with large amount of equipments. The airline have updated the upholstery of the plane to a more refreshing beige colour. We had a nice conversation with an Filippino man from Dumaguete who was working for a mining company & he was en-route to Ternate. We reached Manado at 1:05pm as scheduled, after a 3hrs 30mins flight… There was a long queue at the Immigration Counter, Manado had also switched to finger-printing its travellers but only 1 of the machines was working! Boy, we were glad to see Angelique & team, Danny was on the flight out to DEMA. We left the airport 2+pm & 2 Toyota SUVs sent us to Buyat Bay, we stopped en-route for some local peanuts (at M’s request & Danny’s recommendation) in the picturesque highlands, the peanuts were great – especially the white ones (putih). The scenery was quite nice but after an hour or 2, the cool highland air lulled me to sleep & I was pretty shocked that it was almost dark when I woke! Thought it was like our Gorontalo epic-journey all over again! Nay, it was just that it got dark pretty early, the drive was just slightly more than 3hrs.
Jerry & Fandi introduced themselves as our guides, actually these 2 hardworking young men were much more, they were also our hosts (they took care of many little things) cum translators, they had their meals with us & took us for village visit. The crew at Buyat were all super nice and as we were there for a week 12-19 Nov, we had time to build rapport with them and we were pretty happy with the food – mixed of western & Indonesia dishes, guessed the kitchen crew had a lot of practise when they were the mining company’s staff. The compounds & the surrounding scenery of the bay, the hills, is beautiful, very green, lush, clean & peaceful. It was a real pity that we were too lazy to explore the nearby villages.
We had 19 dives from the Buyat base, 17 were at unique dive sites. The dives are about an hour, maximum depth 25m. This area is not very deep & doesn’t have dramatic steep walls. The dive boat (captained by the affable Mr Benya) was secured at the Lakban Harbor – Rotatotok Bay, as the guards could get a good view from across the road. Our dive boat was considered quite big around that area, we didn’t encounter big boats during our stay, there were only small local boats (sampan) with small engines or even non-engined… As the days started quite early & got dark quite early, we started our dives day typically at 7:30am for a hearty breakfast & met at the dive boat at 8:30am, to get around the picturesque cape will take 10-15mins. Usually we had 2 dives before heading back for lunch and the afternoon or night dives were at the nearby area (less than 20mins).
13 Nov – Dive 1 @ Pulau Racun aka Poison Island – wide-angle locale, the arch is the main attraction, lots of staghorn corals, we saw a friendly broadclub cuttlefish. Dive 2 @ St (Site) 2, also wide-angle, lots of pristine hard corals, the table corals were particularly impressive, we saw a large crocodilefish. Dive 3 @ Two Rocks – white-sand “muck” site, Terence spotted a large black pipefish, we encountered a Napoleon Snake-eel (1st for me), a marbled Snake-eel, stingray etc.
14 Nov – Dive 4 @ Poison Island – the group tried to locate my missing macro lens, which I dropped yesterday. Dive 5 @ St (Site) 2, we saw a school of beautiful Razorfish. Dive 6 (Night Dive) @ Napo Basaan – white-sand “muck” site, M spotted an interesting hydroid decorator crab, it had a hydroid-like “horn”, also saw a small cuttlefish & a scorpionfish.
15 Nov – Dive 7 @ Fifty-fifty – “proper” “grey” sand muck site, Fandi spotted a tiny 1cm painted frogfish, a Napoleon Snake Eel, a pair of Robust Ghost Pipefish, a juvenile circular Batfish, we also saw a mantis-shrimp getting into a fight with a small octopus (Octopus vs Man vs Mantis Shrimp). Dive 8 @ Fifty-fifty – I spotted a small octopus hiding in a shell, Fandi spotted a tiny 1cm squid, we saw a HUGE stingray (at least 1.5m in diameter) stirring up the sand & creating an impressive “sand-storm”. Dive 9 – The End, sloping reef, not very impressive but any dive was better than no dive… 😉
16 Nov – Dive 10 @ Pulau Tulang (Bone Island) – wide-angle haven, massive hard corals, the broccoli-like, brain-like huge coral boulder was especially impressive & Alex Mustard has a beautiful photo of it in A.Mustard Buyat Gallery 09 (#12), another interest was that huge school of small orange fish hiding in a gigantic sponge & 2 leaf scorpionfish are also residents in the sponge & I spotted a reef octopus. During the surface interval, we “visited” the floating fish farm & saw the Biggest fish of this trip in the nets – lots of coral groupers & even blue-fin jacks & batfish! Dive 11 @ Tanjung Merah Muda, hard corals & whip corals make this site quite interesting. Dive 12 (Night Dive) @ Batu Dua – hard corals & coral rubbles, T spotted a beautiful Pipefish, I spotted a bright red Reptilian Snake-eel & we also saw a cute shrimp and a white juvenile Devil Scorpionfish.
17 Nov – Day trip to further sites. Dive 13 @ King Fisher – very beautiful site soft corals of various colours adorning the boulders, strong surge, schools of anthias & other reef fishes, we spotted several peacock mantis shrimps. Dive 14 @ Pay Dirt – another beautiful soft coral site, also lots of colourful coral reef fishes. A spotted a banded sea-snake here. These 2 sites reminded me of Maldives – so many fish (although fish here were small), such as red-tooth triggerfish, butterfly fish etc…
After lunch on board, we went into a seaside village – Desa Tumbak, we passed by a primary & a secondary school & chanced upon the villagers’ Haji gathering, where the mutton/beef was being distributed. The village kids were shy at first but after awhile, a group of them started to follow us around & posing for photos. Dive 15 @ Ujung Tumbak – a totally new dive site, we were the first to explore it! Black sand, with some patches of corals & a large area of staghorn corals . Jerry managed to spot a fat nudibranch Ceratosoma miamirana while snorkelling (as he had been unwell from flu) & free-dived down to tap me, as I was trying to capture a photo of the scopionfish yawning, imagine my shock when I turned round to find nobody, it was a relief when I saw him when I finally looked up! We had a good dive – encountered an elegant Crinoid Squat Lobster, an Orange-edged Sap Sucking Sea Slug, nudibranchs like the Yellow Tipped Phyllodesmium (our 1st!), flabellina & Reticulated Chromodoris, a school of razorfish & a tasselled Scorpionfish among other critters.
18 Nov – Dive 16 at Kume’eke (30 Goat Slope) – very nice hard coral site with some leather corals & whip corals, there was a banded sea snake hunting & beautiful nudibranches – a Blue Dragon, 2 Yellow Tipped Phyllodesmium (spotted by M!), 2 Tryon’s Risbecia Nudibranch. Dive 17 @ Tanjung Buyat – visibility was poor with some current but we had a wonderful dive. There were 8 yellow pygmy seahorses on a seafan (yellow of course)! We also saw a very feisty jawfish & nudibranchs like Baba’s Phyllidia & 2 Loch’s Chromodoris. Dive 18 @ Mimic’s Point – it was only 5mins boat ride away, dark silty bottom, muck dive. Very interesting dive, we saw a fat & a thin emperor shrimps, a black thorny seahorse, a very cute snake blenny, 2 sea snakes (maybe it was the same one), lionfish, many anemones with their resident anemonefish & some with porcelain crabs & cleaner shrimps & there were a school of colourful bannerfish hiding amongst a patch of sea-grass. After our dive, we finally decided to find strength to climb up the hill to the lookout area, the view of the sunset was beautiful but must bring insect repellent!
19 Nov is the day we headed to Lembeh. Dive 19 – Napo Gorango, still in the Ratatotok-Buyat vicinity. Good for wide-angle, coral bommies, large sponges and a huge area of cabbage corals, encountered a giant moray & a Tryon’s Risbecia nudibranch. Then the boat sailed for another 1 hour north (towards Lembeh Straits) to Pantai Kora-kora (Turtle Beach) where we had 20th dive. It was a shallow dive – white sandy area + coral bommies & some red-tooth triggerfish, we saw a blue-spotted stingray, a few common nudibranchs like the b&w Pustulose Phyllidiella, Reticulated Chromodoris (Chromodoris reticulata) , Chromodoris kuniei & Chromodoris annae & I spotted many spotted crabs in the cauliflower corals. We had lunch on board & reached Lembeh Straits in 30mins. We were surprised to see so many huge cargo ships in the straits, the straits was buzzing with activities, definitely busier than 2007.
We were met by Mr Deky – operational mgr of the gorgeous Lembeh Resort & the front office mgr who showed us to the rooms 3A & 3B. We were very impressed with the huge & beautiful rooms (more like suites), in the LR website Lembeh Resort Accommodation, they are referred to as Cabins, but cabins remind me of camps. Our “suites” are just next to each other, each has large verandah with paranormal view of the Lembeh Straits, sitting room, a huge bedroom & a toilet with 2 shower areas – indoor & outdoor. Even the well-heeled M & J said that that was the most beautiful room they had stayed at…
By 3:00pm, we had gotten ready for our 1st dive in the straits & our last dive with Fandi for the trip – he was due for a well-deserved short break. Dive 21 @ Air Bajos 3, muck diving – black sand, limited viz but the critters! Just naming the more interesting ones like the Showy Headshield Slug (Philinopsis cyanea), those 2 orangutan decorator crabs (1 yellow & 1 orange), the Star-gazer Snake-Eel (the real star-gazer continued to elude me), 2 Multi-pustuled Mexichromis nudibranchs & the star find was a beautiful Rudman’s Phyllodesmium nudibranch – Phyllodesmium rudmani, which looks like the Xenia Soft-coral. Dive 22 @ Serena Besar was our 1st night dive at Lembeh! Just realised that we didn’t do any in 2007! 😦 Anyway, it was a wonderful dive – Day Octopus, a bright red, evil-looking Spiny Devilfish, a delicate looking yellow Thorny Seahorse, a reddish Cockatoo Waspfish, a very small & cute bob-tail squid, a beautiful Harlequinn Swimming Crab, a decorator crab so burdened that it was difficult to see it, a large Tiger Mantis Shrimp & a Jebb’s Flatworm – Pseudoceros jebborum. The wonderful day was completed with an excellent gourmet dinner…
20 Nov Dive 23 @ ROJOS – 2 beautiful Emperor Shrimps feasting near the anus of a fat sea cucumber, 2 Cockatoo Waspfish, a female Broadclub Cuttlefish, a green Robust Ghost Pipefish (1st green coloured one for us), a most beautiful Yamasu’s Cuthona nudibranch Cuthona yamasui (also a 1st), near a Multi-pustuled Mexichromis, then a majestic Ambon Scorpionfish, a beautiful Serpent Pteraeolidia Pteraeolidia ianthina, then another 2 beautiful
Emperor Shrimps on a slim sea cucumber.
Dive 24 @ TK 1 – a strangely beautiful Hairy Frogfish “fishing” with its lure, a Pipefish, a Flasher Scorpionfish, then the much prized find – a small & stunning Wunderpus! (it was worth the 3 trips to Lembeh!), a beautiful Serpent Pteraeolidia Pteraeolidia ianthina & an white-eyed moray “rooming” with 3 other morays of different species. Dive 25 @ Jahir 1 – an Orange & Black Dragonet, a red Frogfish, an orange Flasher Devilfish, a Black-finned Snake-eel, a Black Scorpionfish, a fuchsia Spiny Devilfish, a dark brown Cockatoo Waspfish, a crutch of Flamboyant Cuttlefish eggs in a coconut shell, then another Wunderpus! (bigger than the last one, the body was fist-sized), 2 beautiful Purple-Edged Ceratosoma nudibranchs. T & I were the only ones doing the mandarinfish dusk dive @ Pintu Colada, we saw many mandarinfishes & a few mating encounters, a network pipefish & I spotted a beautiful golden mantis shrimp.
21 Nov was our last day of diving, A & T weren’t feeling well so they skipped the dive. Dive 25 @ Maka Wide 2 was a little “dramatic”. Another guest on the boat had a small “panic” attack & M had to abort the dive after abt 5mins, when he found some water in the casing of new his u/w camera! So effectively, Andi only had to guide me. We had a wonderful dive at this less mucky site – a Spiny Devilfish, a Giant Hypselodoris Nudibranch (I guess in beautiful, not size), a pipefish, a school of juvenile catfish, a black ribbon eel, a beautiful snowflake moray eel, a mantis shrimp, a Reticulated Chromodoris nudibranch, many schools of cardinalfish (trying to evict the resident anemonefish) & my own star find – a beautiful pinnate spadefish/batfish! Dive 26 @ ROJOS was our last dive for this trip & T recovered enough to join & M was there without his camera… We saw a black Thorny Seahorse, 2 Cockatoo Waspfish, an Elegant Crinoid Squat Lobster, a Pegasus Seamoth, an Ambon Scorpionfish, T spotted a Black-Finned Snake Eel with shrimps, a Broadclub Cuttlefish, a green Robust Ghost Pipefish, 2 Emperor Shrimps & a Flamboyant Cuttlefish! Was really delighted to see that Flamboyant Cuttlefish feeding, such a beautiful critter! & an excellent closure to our dive trip!
We spent the morning of 22 Nov doing last minute packing, then payment at the dive centre (with the friendly Jules & Sharon) & bidding farewell to M & J, who proceeded to Bangka (where they reported 4 flamboyant cuttlefish on 1 dive!) & the excellent dive guides – Andi, Oxin, Joni, Fandi & Jerry & Hergen (mgr). What an incredible trip, we had a marvellous time! 😀 Many thanks to all the staff of critters@ buyat, critters@lembeh & Lembeh Resort & especially Danny!
Slept most of the way from the Police Pier to Manado airport. :p Met S, a fellow Scubaboarder on the flight, he went to Raja Ampat after Buyat Bay… A & T had a bad case of stomach flu & I came down with flu 1 day after & didn’t get to meet up with S… 😦
More photos can be viewed here. Facebook Album