The Lesser Sunda Islands or Nusa Tengarra are a chain of large and small volcanic islands that stretch nearly 1400km from Bali in the west to Wetar in the east. We are heading for the smaller islands that lie between Sumbawa and Flores and which make up the Komodo National Park. The largest of these islands are Komodo and Rinca and around these are many small islands and rocks. In fact we start our trip from Bima by going west to the large Teluk Salah bay where whale sharks had been spotted the week before around the fishing platforms (Bagans). It turns out that the whale sharks had been around at night but had disappeared so we end up doing some muck dives along the east side of the bay. We then move overnight to Sangeang Island at the western end of Sumbawa and from here we move into the national park. The dives described below are just a few examples of the excellent and varied diving that can be found here.
Bontoh, Sangeang Island. This dive follows a gentle slope of black sand covered in blocks of coral. Viz was very good with little current and we find lots to see on and around the coral, in fact there is so much going on in the shallower water that we never get deeper than 9m. Lots of reef fish, two small black frogfish and a larger pink one as well as a rather fine cuttlefish (below). We find the eyes of a mimic octopus at the end of the dive but fail to persuade him to come out. I am looking at the anemonefish in a new light since Mark told us last night that they all start as males until the largest one changes sex and then bites the others every day to stop them from changing too!
Castle Rock, Gili Lawah Laut, is a popular dive in the north west of the Komodo National Park. We drop in up current of this underwater pinnacle and then drift onto it at about 27m. We then spend most of the dive at around 17m watching about 8 sharks (black tip and white tip), big schools of fish including sweetlips (see below) and larger fish including humphead wrasse and giant sweetlips. Current gets pretty strong so we attach reef hooks. We then work out way up to the top of the pinnacle at 5-6m where we look at a large octopus while we are doing our safety stop. Crystal Rock nearby is another great site. Here the pinnacle breaks the surface. We see lots more shark plus an eagle ray and lots of other divers!
Manta Alley, South Komodo, is a very fine dive site. There are three areas on the site where you can frequently view mantas: "The Bay" is a shallow area to the south of the site where we watch mantas cruising in a few meters of water. There is quite a surge which makes photography quite challenging. "The Balcony" (below) is deeper and here we watch 20-30 mantas circling the cleaning station at about 20m. After about 40 mins we head up the reef and even as we are hanging at 5m on our safety stop we watch four mantas circling below us. We did not visit "manta alley" itself but here you can watch the mantas hanging in the stronger current that runs between two reefs. In August the temperature here in the south was 23-24C so you need a thicker suit or more layers.
Crinoid Canyon is a dive on one side of a horseshoe of water between the south coast of Rinca island and Nusa Kode. We dropped down to 30m in moderate current and then swam along and up an impressive wall. The wall is covered in hard and soft corals as well as thousands of feather stars of every colour that give the dive its name. Lots of nudibranchs, reef fish and several turtles. On the other side of Nusa Kode, Yellow Wall is another similar and very good dive (below).
Takat Makassar, Lintah Strait, Gili Lawa, is a popular dive site in the north of the Lintah strait between Komodo and Rinca. The dive started as a fast drift from north to south following a string of shallow reefs set between a coral rubble bottom. Five minutes into the dive we meet a manta and manage to find rocks to hang onto and watch him cruise by. Then we drift on spotting unicorn fish and several turtles (below) before the current dies away and we explore a reef covered in brown echinopora coral. Sad to see that a number of dayboats are anchored right on the reefs.
Batu Bolong, Lintah Strait. We plan to dive this fine site on slack and so do about six other boats! We postpone the dive by an hour and manage to avoid the worst of the crowds by going deep. This small island reef makes a very pretty dive site although you can only dive the sheltered side when the current is running and need to be careful not to run into strong down currents as you get to the edge of the sheltered side. Huge numbers of pretty tame anthias, moray eels, and several banded snake eels (below). Another very good and similar dive to this one was Batu Tengah further to the north west.
Shotgun is a dive in a beautiful spot with clear emerald water between the islands of Gili Labah Laut and Gili Lawa Darat. We are prepared to negotiate fast currents and to drop into a 'fishbowl' from where you can get shot out (hence the name) and drift across to calmer water. In fact we are on slack tide so we can explore at our leisure. Fine coral bommies at the start of the dive (below) and then several mantas and sharks as we drop into the fishbowl. Huge schools of jacks, fusiliers and bannerfish as well as other big reef fish. Just no shotgun!
Wainilu is a small island off the north of Rinca where we moor overnight on a couple of occasions. We did a night dive and a sunset dive here. The latter dive was to see the mandarin fish and picturesque dragonets (below) that live in the shallow coral rubble. This is the site where fish expert Mark found an exciting new variety of eel with little horns. We see many eels in the weeds as well as a number of decorator and hermit crabs. Generally our night dives are pretty good and we spot a lot of critters that you don't see in the day although we did have one dive where we found very little and were only saved from boredom when Andre finds a bob-tailed squid right at the end of the dive.