North Sulawesi is a destination famous for the Lembeh Straight. This region is known for some of the most amazing macro diving in the world. Unfortunately I’m not that into small things, but was keen to give it a go anyhow! I’d done my research and heard nothing but good things about Two Fish dive resorts. They have three properties, one in Nusa Lembongan off Bali and two in North Sulawesi in Lembah and Bunaken. I went for Bunaken off the promise of the ‘best wall dives in Asia’, it’s a big claim and it didn’t disappoint!
I had a few frequent flyer points stored up, enough to get me from Sydney to Jakarta return. After an overnight at an airport hotel I had a 5am Lion Air flight to Manado. From here the resort arranged a driver to take me to the harbour, then a boat directly to the resort. After the paper work was sorted, resort protocol explained, gear set up for my upcoming dives, I was shown to my room where I promptly caught up on the few hours sleep I was denied from the early morning rise.
My daily schedule consisted of an early start, a trip to the compressor room to test my and label my nitrox tanks for the day, breakfast, two dives, lunch, one dive, shower, bintang, dinner and bed, then repeat!! My ideal life demonstrated in one week blocks throughout the year! I don’t think I could ever get sick of days like this (cue Cat Empire tune).
Here it’s all about the never ending walls. One does need to be mindful of their depth as it is very easy to just keep descending as you have no reference to the bottom. The dive masters usually work between the Lembah and Bunaken resorts and are trained to find the smallest of small creatures. And by the end of my trip the staff here had achieved their objective, they had proven to me that small things are cool, very cool in fact. Nudibranchs, pygmy seahorses on giant ornate fan corals, and the very special pontohi pygmy seahorse! Yep, I had never heard of it either till I saw it with my own eyes! Yellow and white in colour this little guy can easily be passed of for a fleck of paper, so tiny yet perfectly formed.
There was also some big stuff. A few reef sharks, tuna, turtles, eagle rays, barracouta and giant trevally. But the highlight came on my second last dive. A WHALESHARK!!!
I was just me and my DM, cruising along a wall at about 18 meters then out of the blue there she was coming toward us to have a look. At 7ish meters she was just a baby, but she hung out with us for a good few minutes, just enough time for my air consumption to kick into overdrive. It was an amazing experience. My DM told me it’s only the 2nd time in 15 years that he’s ever seen a whaleshark at depth in these waters, so don’t go planning your next trip with these expectations. I was very lucky..
Regrettably there is one thing about a trip to North Sulawesi that strikes you more than anything, rubbish! In this part of the world there is no such thing as a weekly council rubbish collection. Everyone in this small community is responsible for disposing of their own trash. This normally involves burying it, burning it, or just throwing it on the ground. In Australia this would be shameful behaviour, but the locals here (especially the older generations) don’t know any better. As little as 30 years ago this wasn’t so much of a problem as most of the waste was made of natural fibres such as paper and wood. With today’s plastic packaging, the problem is dire. The owners of the resort are doing their best to educate the people of Bunaken Island and offer them environmentally sound ways of disposing of their waste, even offering to get rid of the rubbish for them. But as soon as they have some rain the rubbish from neighbouring city Manado (population 1 million), flows directly into the waters surrounding Bunaken. I collected as much rubbish as I could on every dive, all guests are encouraged to do the same and provided with mesh bags. But you can’t help but feel like it’s too little too late for the marine life, I saw 5 dead turtles during my stay. It was very confronting…
If anyone is keep to learn the art of tech diving then this is your place to do it. They have an in house instructor and all the gear you will need to venture past the depths of recreational diving. I tried tech diving briefly when I was in Egypt and didn’t fancy it too much, but none the less found myself making a b-line for the tech guys every meal time and quizzing them about what they had been up to that morning. They were making dives of over 100 meters searching for a rare type of shark that supposedly exists in the waters surrounding Bunken. At last report they were unsuccessful, but their stories were nothing short of fascinating.
Overall a great place for a few days of rest and relation. It’s affordable, relatively easily accessible, the diving is easy, water is warm and the staff are helpful.