Sunday, August 11, 2013

Diving Nusa Penida off Bali (no mantas and no mola molas)

August 10-11, Bali Diving Academy, Nusa Lembongan
My logged dives #1235-1238

August 9

I just sent an email which began like this: "Here in Nusa Lembongan the power has been off for several hours but we appear to be at a warung with a generator and I might be able to send this."

We were having a really great vacation meeting my family in Bali and then traveling to Komodo for some dynamite diving.  Dusty had to return to Bali to sort a visa problem but Bobbi and I caught a slow boat to Lombok and met up with Dusty on Gili Air, which was so relaxed I will continue to wish I was back there for a long time to come.  The diving was not bad either, the sunsets were phenomenal, and the food was cheap and irresistable (pepes fish was always an excellent snack).  Things were great as we caught a boat from Gili Air to Padang Bai on Bali but civilization kicked back in on the mini-bus transfer to Sanur, Dusty's choice for our base on Bali, and launch to our next diving destination, Nusa Penida via the surfing / diving mecca of Nusa Lembongan, a short speed-boat ride half an hour due east from Sanur.

Dusty had dived here on his last trip to Bali, while Bobbi and I were pursuing options around Komodo.  He had caught a dive boat to Nusa Penida from Sanur but had figured out that it would be more economical to base himself in Nusa Lembongan and save the trip across the channel, which doubled the cost of diving Nusa Penida from Sanur.  Dusty had gone on a manta / mola mola dive where he was supposed to look for sunfish in Crystal Bay on his first dive.  They took him to Manta Point instead where he saw lots of mantas in shallow water with easy current, but by the time they had made it back to Crystal Bay, the morning dive boats (not coincidentally, including one from Bali Diving Academy) had seen mola mola but his group missed it.

The Lonely Planet Guide paints Nusa Lembongan, the island over from Nusa Penida, as a place where one can recapture the old bali, cheap beer, fabulous sunsets, where "time is measured by rooster crow and the fall of a coconut," which made us want to base ourselves there for a few days.  They omitted to mention the roar of the motorcycle.  And in most other respects, I'm afraid Nusa Lembongan was a disappointment, compared to other places we visited in Indonesia.

The fast boat left Sanur more or less on time and got us to Nusa Lembongan during the ideal time to find a room, when the last nighters would be checking out.  Our strategy was to set Bobbi somewhere with our bags and go looking for rooms, which would be very difficult in August.  After many cold calls, Dusty and I managed to luck into a place on the beach, just $20 a room with cold water and fan (when there was electricity). But many others not so lucky were desperate for accommodation into the afternoon, through there may have been luxury rooms for them on the hillside in the upmarket enclave around the bay there.

We chose Bali Diving Academy to help us fulfill Dusty's mola mola dream, since their divers had seen the mola mola when Dusty was denied his on his previous trip to Nusa Penida.  We had tried the place next to our hotel, Scooby Dooby, but they were fully booked for Aug 10, the first day we planned to dive. Having arranged that, we had time to kill in Nusa Lembongan   We tried one place for lunch but the one lady cooking and waiting tables was so slow to make even a watermellon juice, and then when she brought it she retreated rather than try to negotiate our order, so we moved to a warung on the waterfront for a mediocre meal.  We went home for a nap after that but when we woke up we found power was off and our devices only half charged. We took the computers out to the open air restaurant and tried to order a Bintang, but there was none, and due to no power, no internet of course.  We decided on a long walk to take in the multiple hues of the sunset on placid harbor, but eventually we found a place with nice food with an open air sea view (Bintang no problem anywhere but our hotel), and an owner who had good taste in quiet gamelon music and the good sense to anticipate the power cuts by maintaining a generator that would power his router and connect his customers to the Internet.  But there was still no power when we got back to our rooms late that evening, though it did come on at night, when we all leapt from bed and plugged in our devices and resumed sleeping with a breezy fan.

Apart from its lovely seaside restaurants, and the resorts on the hillside if you have only a little more money or don't feel upmarket, Nusa Lembongan was not a particularly stimulating place, with not much to do after glorious sunset if you're bored with Bintang and not particularly hungry, once it's too dark to surf.  

August 10

We found the diving to be a little disappointing as well (though in fairness, we met a divemaster there who had worked on Gili Air and said she preferred Lembongan to the Gilis).  We left harbor in the morning in anticipation of fulfilling Dusty's dream of seeing a sunfish or two, but arrived in Crystal Bay with a dozen other dive boats all waiting for the current to subside.  When we finally went in, the water was full of bubbles from other divers, all vying for position, clinging to (killing) the reef in the process, as far out in the current as they dared.  In any event we are told sunfish like cold water and are seen when it's 23 degrees in the water.  Today it was 26 and they didn't appear.  After half an hour hooking into rocks and fighting current at 24 meters, then retreating to higher ground, we were back in the shallows where the dive was ostensibly over. The other divers in our group had buoyancy issues and ran low on air early and we managed to get 52 minutes in by hanging out in the sand under the boats.  Still we saw a couple of sea snakes, some young barracuda in the clear bay, garden eels in the sand, and a cuttlefish, a well rounded representation of wildlife there, but not what we'd come for.

"Well, maybe there are mola mola on the north side of Nusa Penida" we were told, so we went there for our second dive, where the reef starts at 5 meters and goes down to 200.  Our dive site was the reef between SD Point and PED (whatever, they also call it informally, "endless reef"). Here, the current swept us along in a rapid drift dive.  The reef was healthy and vast with a big variety of coral, but most of the sharks have been harvested here, and there was nothing present that divers pay a lot of money to come and see.  There were big puffer fish, blue triggers, and the usual reef critters, a nice dive, a pleasant 28 degrees this time, but nothing to point my GoPro at, the first dive that's happened so far this trip in Indonesia.

We decided the next day we would opt for mantas.  We were told they were almost guaranteed off Manta Point, and they probably were, but we had hit the time of month where for these few days only the sea swells would be too high for Bali Diving Academy to take us there, so no telling what the other dive companies would be doing (Scooby Doo was not going there either, we found later), but it was looking like we'd be spending two days diving Nusa Penida and seeing neither of the big draw fishes (though of course they told us the sites we would be taking us to tomorrow, sometimes they see mola molas there ... we'll believe it when we see it).

I started writing this in my room but at 4 p.m. the power went off and now I'm working on battery, which I want to conserve in case I want to use the computer later.  Sods law, I had JUST started recharging it when that happened.  Electricity seems to be a morning phenomenon in Nusa Lembongan  as is diving, and internet, so evenings are a bit redundant here, unless you fancy a Bintang binge.  Well, sunset now, so off to see what the night holds.

August 11

We heard that the Bali Diving Academy trip that went to Crystal Bay the morning of the 11th did manage to see mola mola, but by then we were resigned to whatever the sea and our dive program managers would offer, and under their guidance we enjoyed our last two dives off Nusa Penida and Nusa Lembongan with neither sunfish nor mantas.  Our first dive off a village called Buyu and was done in the company of another half dozen boats, so there were a few dozen divers in the water heading along the reef at different levels.  This turned out to be to our advantage as the leader of the group above us was pointing agitatedly at something that turned out to be a shark, which his group drove out of rest and across our path, and then it came back and I possibly got it on my GoPro.  But apart from the beauty of the reef, there wasn't a lot here remarkable, except the turtle I saw as we were doing our safety stop.

Our last dive, off the north of Nusa Lembongan, at a site called Mangroves, was a lovely reef plateau with a freight train current that made it a bit of an amusement park ride.  Again we didn't see much apart from the large puffers and lovely coral.  It was a challenging dive, and our guide said at the end of it that she enjoyed leading a group that could handle current (for a change).  She had also said earlier on the boat that if someone was low on air at 50 bar we would come up, and she revealed she hoped it wasn't her, because we were so good on air, she said (a compliment to our family's diving skills).

It was fun because it was diving but if I had it to do over I'd choose a time when Manta Point was doable and leave time for more mola mola dives, if that were my goal (Bobbi and I have seen them before :-).  We all agreed that we enjoyed Komodo a lot more, and I thought the dives on Gili had more variety and less current, and more interesting things to see (and  were much more pleasurable to hang out in).  However, if you go to Nusa Penida chances are good that you will see mantas and / or mola molas, through I guess our experience shows there are no guarantees on anything that moves in the water.


  1. It is unfortunate. but this can happen to everyone. there might be some sort of rules and a specific time, and of course, who knows this is the divemaster of each dive safari there. but it looks like you've done a very nice diving activities. at least you have an experience that can be shared with many people. nice post.

    1. Thanks for the comment Kerry. One purpose of this blog is to report what we see. Often we strike it lucky and see incredible things, but I think it's important to let people know what to realistically expect; that is, to be prepared to not have expectations met. But as you say, diving is beautiful and we encounter nature on all our dives, so we are appreciative of that yet try to present a balanced and factual view of what we find when we arrive at places where a lot of people go diving.

  2. Good to see this helpful information here, Thanks for sharing with us....

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