Warning: Most of the following ramblings were produced while off gassing with several Bintang. There are a reasonable number of words, so if you enjoy the Daily Hate Mail, just look at the pretty pictures
It has been 5 years since we went abroad on a dive trip, coincidentally that included Bali, but only as a stopping-off point on the way to/from Nusa Lembongan.
Obviously, due to Covid, travel has been on the back burner, but we did manage to get to Kruger National Park in February, after having it cancelled three times during the pandemic.
Anyway, I was drunkenly perusing Google flights one evening, and noticed there were flights to Dominican Republic for a reasonable price. A bit more digging and I found flights to Bali at a decent enough price. So, Dom Rep - cheaper flight, more expensive everything else. Or Bali – more expensive and longer flights, cheaper everything else. Given my penchant for macro, and the title, you can guess which I picked.
It is a fair old distance to travel for just 2 weeks. Indeed, we try to go away for 3 weeks at a time, but the current contract I am working on is very busy, and I can’t leave the Etch-a-Sketch knob twiddlers unsupervised for too long!
Nobody flies direct from the UK to Bali, and anything other than economy class from the UK is ££££. So, wifey and I started in Sweden, where we picked up business class flights to Bali with Thai Airways for around £2k each (much better than £4k each for starting in the UK).
First off, a quick hop with Norwegian to Stockholm, and an overnight stay in the Radisson airport hotel. Baggage allowance was 2x 23 kg each in the hold, plus 15 kg in the cabin. We only ended up with one hold bag each, of around 22 kg, plus we were under on the cabin baggage.
Thai Airways from Stockholm to Bangkok was 11 hours on an A350, which was a new aircraft for us. It was nice enough, although the overall service from the cabin crew left a lot to be desired. We then had 4 hours in the lounge in Bangkok before the 4-hour flight to Bali, which was meant to be on a 777. However, a last-minute equipment change meant we were on a Dreamliner, which was another new aircraft for us. Unfortunately, due to the last-minute change our pair seating was now one behind the other in the window seats. Given most people sharing the middle seats appeared to be strangers to one another, I am sure Thai could have figured it out for us to be able to sit next to each other. Baggage allowance was 40 kg each in the hold, plus a measly 7 kg in the cabin. I was well over on cabin baggage, as I had both sets of camera kit setup as a basic single strobe configuration. However, as it was a rucksack, the staff didn’t even bother looking at it. Wifey also had spare capacity, so if we had to rejig, we could have.
A nice enough way to fly
I appreciate it is extravagant to fly long haul business, but at 6ft 4, I do not want to spend 15 hours folded into an economy class seat. Been there, done that, and I value my comfort now more than when I was younger. Starting in Europe does add extra faff, but, even when considering the cost of the extra flights and accommodation, it saves a massive amount of money. Also, the journey is all part of the experience, so why not make it pleasant, rather than something to be endured?
The driver met us at the airport and whisked us off to our home for the next 12 nights, Matahari Tulamben Resort. Alas, due to a massive cremation ceremony/street party, the 2hr15 drive took around 3hr30.
We have both dived here before, way back in 2008, and I always felt like I had unfinished business there, as it is where I managed to get bent on the second dive of a 3-month long trip ☹
We did look at doing a twin-centre trip, with half of the time spent on Nusa Penida for the Mantas and Mola-molas, but we decided to simplify and stick with Tulamben. We also considered some time in Padang Bai, about an hour south of Tulamben, but discounted it for no particular reason.
Tulamben is most well-known for the USAT Liberty wreck. Located about 40m from the shore, it ranges from 5m down to around 28m. However, Tulamben also has loads of macro life, and as you will know if you have read my previous ramblings, I love shooting macro underwater.
It is a quiet village, basically a road with some dive centres and hotels either side. I expected it to be much busier than it was in 2008, and while the number of divers seemed greater, there doesn’t seem to be more restaurants or dive centres. There are, however, a lot that have popped up but now appear to be shut down, probably due to covid.
Matahari is right on the water, and they have built their own dive site in front of the resort, Suci’s place, named after the owner. They have placed various statues, shrines, and structures to encourage coral growth and give the fish and critters plenty of places to live.
Dive centre, right on the beach
As noted above, the room we had was clean, comfortable, and had AC, which is welcome when the average temperature was 31c in the day, and around 25c at night.
Pool, from the restaurant
Matahari is at the budget end of the scale in Tulamben, but the room was clean, comfortable, and keenly priced. The air con was cold, and the showers were hot. IMO it represents good value for money for those who are here to dive, although they do offer a variety of different massages/spas/pampering, if you or your partner are into that sort of thing.
For our last night on the island, we moved to a hotel next to the airport (The Patra Hotel) so we could have a lie-in and leisurely breakfast before the flights home. Given the fairly regular traffic issues, it also removes a lot of stress of trying to get the airport at a certain time, battling through hordes of other vehicles. TBH, I have never stayed in a worse organised hotel in my life and would look elsewhere if you want to stay near the airport.
There is a schedule, with dives at 0630, 1000, 1230, 1500, plus a night dive at 1800. We typically did 1000, 1230, and 1500. However, this always felt a bit rushed, particularly between the end of the 1230 dive and the start of the 1500, as you are changing batteries on a couple of camera setups, plus trying to jam some lunch in. When we went to the ‘macro’ sites a bit further away, we left the resort at 0900 and would do 2 dives with an hour’s surface interval, being back at the resort around 1230.
We repeated a lot of sites, which for me is a good thing. By going back to the same site repeatedly, you get to know the layout of the site, where certain critters can be found, and can go in and experiment with underwater photography, be that using a snoot or trying some supermacro.
The shore entries in Tulamben can be a little tricky. Scrub that, they are a pain in the backside! There are large round pebbles that are awkward when wading in with full kit. Thankfully, dive kit is ferried to the site by the local ladies, who just stride over the pebbles/boulders in a pair of flip flops with a kitted cylinder balanced on their head, laughing at our soft Western feet.
The water was 28c on every dive, with the odd thermocline, so a 3mm suit was enough. I did bring a hooded vest as well, simply because I would be doing three dives some days, and when doing macro photography, there are not massive amounts of finning involved. It is quite easy to spend an hour in an area about 50x50m. However, I didn’t feel cold enough to bother using it. Wifey used a 3mm full suit as well.
Unfortunately, just a few days into our stay a fairly fresh onshore wind picked up, which caused a reasonable amount of surge and waves to be present. This, coupled with the rocks, made entry and exit very tricky at times.