I’m overheating already, in my 2mm short wetsuit, standing in the full sun on the pebbled beach. Amin, my divemaster from Crystal Divers, obligingly hoists up my tank and BCD and I strap myself into it. The glittering, calm water beckons. It’s an easy entry at Tulamben’s dive sites – I pick up my mask and fins, then walk into the gentle waves.
Once we descend, the conditions are unbelievable. Visibility stretches into the big blue for at least 20 metres, compared to the usual 5-8 metres I am used to in Sydney waters. The water is warm. To my left, the dark hulk of the USAT Liberty sits, a WWII wreck at 5-30 metres. It’s my first wreck dive, and I could not have asked for a better one – easily accessible, warm water, good viz. The site is the top 11th dive site and the third best wreck dive in the world, according to Scuba Travel.
The list of fauna at the wreck include visiting schools of jacks (or trevally), barracuda, giant gropers, blue spotted sting rays, bumphead parrot fish, moray eels, lion fish, scorpion fish, leafy scorpion fish, frog fish, nudibranchs, bat fish, blue lined surgeonfish and a whale shark that visits approximately twice a year! (Source: Diving Bali – Tulamben Shipwreck) We weren’t lucky enough to see the last, but the wreck dive was a truly magical experience.
Our second dive of the day is at the Coral Garden, where there is an entire garden of eels, waving in the current like a “sea of question marks.” There are also lots of tropical fish, clownfish playing hide and seek in their anemones, and trevally. We spot a barracuda when we first descend, but he swims away like a lightning bolt of silver in the big blue as soon as he spots us.
Amin has briefed us on the fire coral abundant at this site – take it from personal experience, don’t accidentally brush against it the red, spongy coral – they aren’t called fire coral just for their colour! We also bump into (pun intended) three large bumphead parrotfish, foraging for food. Serene and complacent, they allow us to get pretty close to them before losing interest and swimming away.
At the Wall, or Drop Off, the anemones glow like otherworldly spaceships, their cargo of clownfish darting in and out. There is constant movement in this underwater world, waving coral, kelp, dorsal fins and tails cutting through the current, the reflection of light on silvery scale as schools of jack swivel as one, and our own bubbles, rising to the surface. We spot moray eels, resting in their cracks in the rock, and lionfish, resplendent in their finery. There are also some lovely sea fans, which splay out from the sheer wall like giant screens.
Diving in Tulamben is relaxing, easy and extremely fun – the water is warm, the viz is excellent and the wildlife diverse. There is diving year round due to the pleasant water conditions with optimal diving in September to November, but if you are after large pelagics like mantas or sunfish, go in April/May for the former and August to October for the latter.
Good to know:
- Based on a recommendation from a Danish divemaster, we dived with Crystal Divers, who are based in Sanur and we cannot recommend them highly enough. We paid approximately AUD$150 per person for three dives, with all gear hire (though we had our own mask, fins and snorkel). They also rent out cameras, which I suggest you hire – the photo ops are fabulous, especially with the black sand contrast.
- The roads are not in the best of conditions, so budget extra time to get to the dive sites if you are not staying in Tulamben itself.
- If you are passing through the heartland of Bali to get to your dive site, stay awake – the scenery is spectacular, and you will pass by villages, possibly a religious procession, while the imposing peak of Mount Agung, the highest peak of the island, looms over most of your journey.
- Our trip was in April, and temperatures were warm and comfortable. Water temps stayed constant at about 29 Celsius, with the occasional encounter with a cold water current at depth.
- Keep an eye out for the women who carry the tanks down to the beach from the transport vans – they balance two at once, on their heads, while barefoot. Amazing!
- There are freshwater showers at the site to rinse off at the end of the day. You’ll have to pay your own way for lunch, but the local restaurant in Tulamben has cheap and delicious options.