Thorough Daily Reports

Trip report on Diving Manado 2003 by Brata

Day 1

Garuda Indonesian Airways flight number GA 600 left Soekarno Hatta International Airport Jakarta for Manado slightly late from the schedule on the afternoon of the 8th of May 2003. I flew with my dive buddy, Robbi Sukardi, and Daniel Gondo, the owner of Tasik Ria Resort Manado. I planned to stay in Manado, Celebes for 6 days with 5 days specifically planned for diving Manado, Bunaken. I was determined to also make a special diving trip to Lembeh Straits which is famous for its macro diving, as well as to Bangka Island, North West of North Celebes, in which I heard that the water is so clear and unpolluted that visibility there like in Bunaken, Manado can reach up to 30 meters and that the lively soft corals are beyond comparison to other great dive sites.

After 3.5 hours of flying we set foot at Sam Ratulangi International Airport, Manado. It is a medium sized, clean and well-maintained international airport. We were greeted by Tasik Ria Resort Manado friendly staff who would then take us to the resort, about 20 km from the airport or Manado city. We arrived at the resort around dinner time where I met my other dive buddies who arrived from Bali earlier, tanned from Bali's sun and ready to dive. We ate our hot dinner and chatted about many things. However I can see that everybody was not in the good mood to converse, they all just wanted to go to sleep after long flight and be ready the next day to dive.

After finishing our dinner, Kim Hessel the Master Instructor from Eco Divers, a dive operator from Tasik Ria Resort, came by and made us sit for another 15 minutes to brief us about rules, regulations, norms and most importantly safety of diving in North Sulawesi / North Celebes waters. At first I thought this would be a painful and boring session, however I was soon proved wrong. In fact Kim provided us with very important and interesting information of diving in Bunaken, Celebes, diving Manado and surrounding area. Finally, Bunaken.... here we come.............!

Day 2

We had breakfast at around 7:30AM, bright and early. By 8:30 we all were ready at the jetty next to a beautiful 16 meters full fiberglass specially designed dive boat which can carry a maximum of 18 divers comfortably. Our boat, Aquatica, must be the best and prettiest dive boat around Manado. We all were very excited, greeted by friendly boat crews and dive masters that would make sure that our diving trip is a memorable one. We were actually quite blown away by the service of the crews provided to us. They were so well organized and friendly. We left the jetty immediately, sailing northwest to Bunaken Island. Our equipment was prepared, installed and ready for diving with us. The boat ride to Bunaken Island took around 1 hour, but since the boat was so specious and the sea was so calm, it felt like only a short boat ride to Bunaken Island. 15 minutes before our first dive we were called by the divemasters to be briefed for our 1st dive.

Our 1st dive was at Lekuan 3 dive site, off Bunaken Island. This was a wall dive with good visibility. There was abundance of many kind of fishes, especially trigger, butterfly and angel fish as well as beautiful soft and hard corals, around 15 to 20 meters depth. The dive itself was very easy due to gentle current which guided us through the curves of the wall. This was a good dive site to start our day diving at Bunaken Island.

For our second dive, we were taken to Mandolin dive site, southwest off Bunaken Island. The dive is similar to previous one at Lekuan 3. It was a wall dive with good colorful fishes and corals. After our second dive, a set of lunch consisted of chicken curry, stir fried vegetable and rice was provided on the boat.

After lunch we sailed back to the resort jetty to prepare for our third dive at the outer house reef of Tasik Ria Resort. At first we were somewhat suspicious of this dive site. Most of so called house reef is usually mediocre at best. Our dive master assured us that there would be plenty to see at their house reef. He was right. On our diving, we met the strange and weird sea animals like ornate ghost pipefish, crocodile fish, stargazer and plenty of scorpion fish.

We went back to the resort feeling satisfied and happy. The dive sites were immaculate, the service was unmatched and the togetherness was valuable.

Day 3

After a quick breakfast I was ready to rock and roll diving again. I was right at the jetty with my buddies at around 8:00 AM. This time we had to leave earlier since our planned 3 dives for the day would be conducted at Bunaken and surrounding area. The first dive site we visited were Tanjung Pisok off mainland Sulawesi, in front of Manado city. The visibility was not that spectacular at best 15 meters, this was actually OK considering that the weather was overcast and cloudy. We saw some big fish like Napoleon Wrasse and Bumphead Parrotfish. Again when we got to 10 meter, I started to see more and plentiful beautiful corals.

We sailed of to Mantehage Island north west off Bunaken to Barracuda Point dive site for our 2nd dive for the day. This dive site was once destroyed by irresponsible fishermen who were using explosive for fishing. No bomb used for fishing anymore but since the corals needed years to re-grow, we still saw the damage and that was quite disturbing. I actually did not see any Barracuda while diving here, even though I was told that a school of barracudas normally found in the shallow of these waters.

We went back to Bunaken to do our 3rd dive. The site chosen by our divemaster was Lekuan 2. This was a world class wall dive with a bit of current. We found lobster, banded seasnake and many other anemones commonly found around Indonesia waters. What was actually spectacular here was the wall itself. There were plenty of curves, overhangs and table corals which had in years molded and shaped the wall to become what it is today. The current was just enough to help us doing drift diving without any difficulties, very relaxing in fact. Common fishes were abundance and the soft corals were colorful. This particular dive site deserves a 5 stars rating for a wall dive site.

Day 4

This was the diving day that I had been waiting for quite sometimes, diving Lembeh Strait. This Lembeh strait dive site is a world famous diving sites for its macro diving. It is home for many hard to find creatures of the sea. This dive site is good for serous divers, even though the water is not as clear as that of Bunaken, this place is a really good and worth it dive site to be visited. For our first dive Lembeh, we took a traditional wooden boat from the local jetty and sailed north for about 15 minutes to our first dive site. The diving Lembeh was slightly deferent from that we did at Bunaken. The Lembeh water was colder and the bottom was made of sand and silt. Inexperienced divers may kick the silt that would worsen the visibility. This site had some reefs, but the attraction comes from its macro dive. You must see the anemones, soft corals and sea fans more closely to see what actually live there. We found pigmy seahorses, colorful shrimp, giant hermit crab and scorpion fish.

After 1.5 hours of SI accompanied by a nice lunch on the beach, we took of for our 2nd dive of the day. This time we went to a dive site called Hairball. This dive site was similar in many respects to the first dive site less the reefs. Divers must be cautioned since there were plenty of scorpion fish especially around a submerged logs and coconut shells. Overall we found plenty of macro living things. Diving at Lembeh Strait is something that I would remember for a long time.

Day 5

Day 5 of our diving trip was truly a special one. We left the resort at 7AM heading to Bangka Island. This island is situated northwest of North Sulawasi, about 3 hours away from Manado by boat. Warm breakfast was provided on the boat. Some divers read books, some took nap and other prepared their camera during the 3 hours boat ride. A 3 hours boat ride seemed very excruciating, but not on this trip. The sea was calm, the sun was shinning, the boat was stable and the crews serenaded. Without us knowing it, we were called for a briefing as we were 15 minutes away for our 1st dive off Bangka Island.

This 1st dive was actually the most memorable one. The water was colder but the visibility and the underwater sea lives were unmatched. We went down to 40 meter and the visibility was excellent, it was like heaven. The corals and fishes were undisturbed, and the sea squirts were so colorful. The trumpet fish swam elegantly around the sponges uninhibited. At 20 meters, we found a banana nudibranch, one of the rarest sea creatures around.

After SI and lunch at the beach, we jumped in for our 2nd dive, similar to the 1st dive, this dive site is immaculate. If you ever go to Manado/Bunaken Island for diving, you must find a way to dive at Bangka Island. The dive here was an exotic and pleasing experience for me. In fact some of my buddies who arrived late at Manado and did not make it diving to Bangka Island were so gloomy when I talked candidly about this splendid dive site.

Day 6

Off the coast of Manado, there lay at 35 meters below surface a cargo ship wreck. The ship sank 50 years ago (according to locals), but there is no proof of that. We decent to a murky water with limited visibility, at best 3 meters. The ship itself was intact and in a very good condition, but the poor visibility was not helping. Later the boat crews told us that there are 3 river mouths around that area, making diving there somewhat unpleasant.

Our 2nd dive for the day, which was also my last dive for this trip, was conducted at Muka Kampung dive site. The dive here was much better, the visibility was good, the corals were lively and the fishes were colorful.

Notes: since Brata only did 2 dives that day, he did not create the report for the third dive which is the best dive that day. (Erwin Kodiat)

Day 7

Overall the diving at Manado area was great. What made it so special was the fact that the dive sites were well preserved and the local communities seemed to be aware of the importance of these dive sites to draw in tourists' dollar. After the Bali bombing and SARS outbreak in Singapore, the number of tourists visiting Manado dive sites have been declining. I saw a number of resorts closed down their operation. I must say that now is probably the best time to go to Manado. The plane ticket is cheaper than usual and the locals could not be friendlier.

Many thanks to Tasik Ria Resort of providing excellent accommodation and service, and many thanks to Eco Divers of making sure that this diving holiday is a memorable one. I salute all dive masters and boat crews of making our diving trip fun and safe.