Diving locations.

Maldives

Thailand

Malapascua, Philippines

Bunaken, Sulawesi

Raja Ampat

Lembeh

 

Bunaken

Bunaken is a small island off the Northern coast of Sulawesi near to the town and airport of Manado. The island sits in very deep water and there are fabulous wall dives on all sides. Neighbouring islands provide more diving if you run out on the main island. It is a popular diving location because of the proximity of Manado airport - less than an hour away. There are direct flights to Manado from Singapore and Jakarta making it accessible for long weekends from those locations and easy to fit into longer diving trips to SE Asia.

The diving

Bunaken is visited by the dive resorts on the island and also on the mainland. If you stay on the island then at least you get one dive in before the crowds arrive! The most impressive walls are along the South side of the island but other dives are also good, if more broken. Like all wall diving you need to keep an eye on depth, particularly on second dives, or else your computer will be telling you to ascend after 20 minutes. Unlike some other diving spots in SE Asia Bunaken still has good marine life with big shoals of reef fish and turtles on every dive as well as sharks, schools of barracuda and other larger stuff if you are lucky.

Malapascua map

 

Alung Banua is one of the most popular dive sites on Bunaken. We dived to about 25m and then spent the dive drifting up and along the wall. Very fine hard and soft coral. The fish are not so abundant, probably thanks to local fishermen, although we did see a fine turtle, big schools of butterfly fish as well as several nudibranchs. There is a nice chimney to swim through on the dive.

Lekuan 3 is another popular dive site. We follow the reef down to some pinnacles and a drop off then follow the wall. Very good coral again as well as several turtles. We also see some of the smaller stuff - a candy crab on soft coral and the orangutan crab. We finish the dive in coral gardens at 5m watching anemone fish.

Timor 2 is on the east side of the island - less impressive walls here but still good diving. More good stuff to see including a yellow leaf scorpion fish, large turtle with 2 remora (above), puffers and reef fish.

As you get round to the North of the island Sashiko Point is a very good site. Steep sloping rather than shear wall it had millions of redtooth triggerfish when we were there and a spectacular top of reef to explore at the end of the dive.

Raymond's Point to the west of the island is a good place to see mandarin fish.We watch them in the late afternoon, in broken coral rubble at around 6m.

I also love the night dives here - very spectacular on these walls and also if you are lucky you can see the giant "Spanish Dancer" nudibranchs (above) as well as lots of crustacea including sponge crabs and shrimps.

Logistics

Bunaken Island is a 15 minute cab ride and then 30 minutes by boat from Manado airport, North Sulawesi. You get good views of the island and its neighbouring volcano from the plane as you land. Silk Air flies directly to Manado from Singapore in around 3hrs and there are quite a few internal Indonesian connections from Jakarta and elsewhere. Diving in Bunaken can easily be combined with a visit to Lembeh and there is a nice contrast between Bunaken's wall diving and the muck diving in Lembeh.

On our first visit we stayed at Raja Laut, (above) a small eco resort run by Italians Roberto and Amadeo. When we visited in August 2014 there were 4 bungalows - another 2 have since been built. These were very comfortable - no A/C but we were never hot with a fan and cooling breezes - no bugs either! Diving was well run and organised and the food was simple but good. Highly recommended.

Second time we stay at Living Colours (above) - also good and a bit larger with 10 rooms. This resorts is run by a couple of Finns. The dive centre is at sea level with restaurant and rooms set in nice gardens at the top of the cliff. Again fairly basic but comfortable and good service. Some of the other dive resorts on the island look very run down but Cha Cha Nature resort has also been recommended to us.

The dry season in Bunaken is March to November but being the tropics this does not mean it won't rain. Likewise you can have good weather and diving at other times. Water temperature ranges between 26-30C - it was 29C in August so perfectly warm in a 3mm wetsuit. Bunaken is not a luxury diving location - everything is pretty simple here. There is a small town on the island but not much to see (or buy) so make sure you bring everything with you.

For info on my trip to Raja Laut including more photos above and below the water click here