North Sulawesi, formerly called Celebes and part of the Dutch state colony of the Netherlands East Indies from 1905, gained its independence in December 1949, becoming part of Indonesia. Sulawesi is the world's 11th largest island (Ellesmere Island - Canada [10th] is about 5% larger, while Great Britain [9th] is about 10% bigger). Cyprus is the 81st largest, 18 times smaller! The Lembeh Strait is the 12km long stretch of water that separates Lembeh Island from the North Sulawesi mainland. It is considered by many to be the "muck-diving" capital of the world, a veritable treasure trove of weird species of sealife. The town of Bitung, which is the main port for the northern part of North Sulawesi since the port at Manado silted up, is situated about half way along the strait.
North Sulawesi is on the Pacific Ring of Fire and has several active volcanoes. In fact on the Sunday we left Cyprus one of the volcanoes, Mount Lokon, erupted and produced a loud blast that could be heard six kilometers away from the top of the Tompaluan crater. The eruption produced lava and spewed volcanic ashes about 1km into the air. A few weeks earlier it had erupted and dusted parts of the provincial capital Manado with a half centimeter layer of gray ash.
The next day we arrived at the airport for our onward flight to Manado via Lion Air, which has the slogan "We make people fly"! At the check-in we were told that we were 9kg over the baggage limit (we knew this , so weren't surprised). We were told to take a slip to the cashier's office to pay (IDR250,000 - about US$25, considerably cheaper than Easyjet!). Unfortunately, they wouldn't accept Euros, only Rupiahs, which I didn't have, or a Visa card, which I did have. Unfortunately after about 5 minutes they found that their Visa card reader was broken, so they could only accept Rupiahs. The cashier didn't speak very good English, so she went to fetch her supervisor, all the while people were crowding in and trying to get their bills paid too. The supervisor suggested I go to the nearest ATM, which was outside the terminal and get some Rupiahs.
I eventually located the ATM, only to find the screen obscured by a pop-up message in Indonesian. Nevertheless I fed in my card and typed my pin. A new screen appeared, also almost totally obscured by the pop-up. I had no idea which button to press, but decided the lowest one on the right was probably OK. It was, but I nearly had heart failure when I saw I had 1.2 MILLION Rupiah in my hand, until I did a quick calculation and figured it was equivalent to about €100! Then I had to figure how to get my card back. Luckily a kind gentleman behind me showed me what to do and I could rush back into the terminal building to Sue, who was keeping my place at the cashier's desk.
After paying the bill I went back to the check-in desk. By now there was a queue a mile long, so Sue suggested that "when in Rome, do as the Romans do", which in Manado airport basically means jump to the start of the queue. No-one seemed to mind and the girl on the desk took my receipt and handed us our passports and boarding passes without batting an eyelid. Then we paid IDR40,000 departure tax each and caught our flight to Manado. On the return journey we had to pay IDR40,000 departure tax at Manado and IDR120,000 international departure tax at Jakarta. Also, when we flew into Jakarta on the return trip we arrived at the internal terminal 1, where we then collected our bags and took the free shuttle bus service to terminal 2, the international terminal from where the Emirates flight was due to depart. I think that next time we'll go via Singapore instead, even if the connecting flights don't marry up so well.
When we arrived at Manado airport we got our bags and were met by Eddie, the driver from Safari Tours who drove us to Bitung, which took about one and a half hours. During that time he gave us a running commentary of where we were and what we were seeing, which was very interesting and informative. At Bitung docks we were met by Zee and Bella and taken by boat to the NAD resort, where, after a drink and registration we were shown to our chalet. We could now finally unpack and get ready to do a dive on the house reef later in the afternoon
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NAD is a real diver's resort, not set up for casual holidaymakers - no swimming pool or stunning beaches. It is also well appointed for underwater photographers, both professionals and newbies. There is a camera room, where you can set up your camera equipment before and after the dive and a computer room for transferring photos and such-like. A new large bar area was being built upstairs while we were there. A free (but sluggish) wi-fi connection is available. We mainly used it for e-mail and to check on our return flights. There is a small jetty where the dive boats moor. There are two types of accomodation at the resort: the normal rooms and the Deluxe Chalets (see the NAD website or the Trip Advisor report). We stayed in a deluxe chalet that was of a good size and clean, with air-conditioning and an en-suite bathroom. This was more than adequate for us. There was more than enough cupboard space for our clothes, again as usual, we brought too many clothes. We were each allocated a crate in which we kept our dive gear. This was stored in the dive centre overnight. The crate was loaded on the boat by the dive personnel each morning and the kit was cleaned by them when it was brought back. Beer and soft drinks were available, but not wine or spirits, since the price of this is much too high to make it a viable option. We had brought some vodka and gin with us and purchased a couple of bottles of Sprite following the afternoon dive to have a gin/vodka and Sprite each evening before dinner. We also brought a very nice bottle of Maratheftico red wine to have on our wedding anniversary. On that evening Sue made cocktails for our circle of friends there and Zee got the cook to bake us a very tasty cake.
Everyone, including the hosts, shared a long table for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Breakfast consisted of cereal, toast, eggs done the way you asked for, and lovely fruit, including Neil's favourite - pineapple. Lunch and dinner also had fruit as well as soup, vegetables, rice/potatoes, usually a spicy chicken/beef/pork dish and cake - the same cake you got next day on the dive boat, yum! Rio looked after us in the restaurant and the chef was open to suggestions, such as when we mentioned how much we liked sashimi and it magically appeared as a starter for dinner on our anniversary.
Almost all of the dive sites were stunning because of the weird and wonderful creatures you could find. In many cases there was sand and rubble, but the creatures that the guides spotted there were incredible. If you have ever tried to take a photo of a Pygmy Seahorse sitting on a coral fan the same colour as the seahorse, you will know how difficult it is: first to spot them, even when the guide is pointing to them, then to get them in focus. The challenge that this sets is part of the fun of the dive. We took over 3000 underwater photos on this holiday, whittling them down to 900 when we got back home.
We used to download the photos (almost all of which were in JPEG format, rather than RAW) onto the iPad each evening for two reasons, firstly as a safety measure, in case something were to go wrong with the memory card in the camera; secondly to get a better view of what we had managed to capture than could be seen on the camera LCD screen. The iPad is great for this, it's lighter than my laptop and easier to transport and fire up. However I wouldn't edit the pictures there, I'd rather wait till I got back and tidy them up using my home PC. The main reason being that it's relatively easy to get the photos onto the iPad, but Apple don't make it easy to copy gigabytes of pictures off this tablet, whereas with a PC/laptop it's simple to do this using a USB memory stick.
On a large number of the dives we saw some absolutely fabulous frogfish. In one instance there were 4 of them within spitting distance of each other. We really wanted to see and photograph a Hairy Frogfish and it was fantastic when Steven our guide found one for us. There were a large number of nudibranchs, one of which was called locally the "solar-powered" nudibranch. We also wanted to see and photograph a Blue-ringed Octopus, whose bite is one of the most venomous of all underwater creatures, causing paralysis and death. Michael Crichton wrote a novel "State of Fear" in which an eco-terrorist used blue-ringed octopuses as a means of assassinating his victims. Again Steven found one for us, it was about 4cm in length and we didn't know what it was at first until we looked at it on the camera's LCD screen and saw the blue rings when we focussed in for the shot. Other octopuses that we saw, apart from the "normal" variety, were the Wunderpus and the Mimic octopus, both of which are fantastic.
Of the really small critters we were dying to see an ornate ghost pipefish, which we did and which is shown as the title photo above. Amongst other things we saw Seahorses and Sea Dragons, crabs, some smaller than the size of your little fingernail, Dragonets, Harlequin (and other) Shrimp, Leaf fish and Flying Gurnards. There were some lovely Cuttlefish on some of the dives, including a Flamboyant one. On the Nudi Retreat dive there is the most amazing Electric Clam in a fissure within a shallow cave. It is brilliant red and you can see it pulsating with flashes of electrical activity all over its body. I have never seen anything so strange before. To see a video of this and other weird and wonderful creatures taken by Inge Onderwater, she and Rion, her husband, were two of the divers we met at the resort, watch it below, or go to: http://youtu.be/74iSVcvgZMk.
One day we spoke to Zee and Simon to say that five of us wanted to do some diving at the northern-most tip of North Sulawesi. A boat was laid on and we travelled along the mainland coast for a couple of hours until we reached the Paradise Resort. Here we dived Paradise Pier, which was amazing. Besides the large numbers of small critters that we saw, when we swam under the pier itself you couldn't see the surface because of a shoal of thousands of Glassfish. There were large Batfish and schools of Barracuda. There was a thermal vent spewing out a very hot water spring. There were Nudibranchs and a myriad of fish and soft corals that were growing on the pier struts - it was amazing. On another day we took a different day trip, though this time not so far away, to the other side of Lembeh Island itself. This too was a good day's diving featuring a couple of wall dives.
We would definitely recommend the Lembeh Straits as a diving holiday destination and the NAD Resort in particular as a resort and dive operator. We would very much like to return to NAD in the future. The opportunities it provides for taking fantastic photos of fabulous critters are amazing. For more (higher-resolution) photos and videos, click on the PHOTO and VIDEO ALBUM icons at the top.
|Date||Depth (m)||Time (min)||EANx||Lembeh Dive|
|10 Oct||2.1||11||-||NAD House Reef - test dive for weighting purposes|
|10 Oct||3.7||62||-||NAD House Reef - testing Sue's new Canon G12/WP-DC34 camera/uW-housing|
|11 Oct||18.9||49||30%||Nudi Falls - crabs, pygmy seahorses, nudibranchs, Sea Wasps - excellent dive|
|11 Oct||24.7||65||31%||Serena - loads to see, Clownfish, Ghost Pipefish, Barramuni, Devil Scorpionfish|
|11 Oct||24.7||52||31%||Batu Sader - Pinted Frogfish, Snake Eels, Nudibranch, shrimps|
|12 Oct||26.2||51||30%||Makawide - Coral outcrops, Seahorses, Anemones. Nudibranchs - amazing dive|
|12 Oct||22.3||60||31%||Jellyfish crab, Leaf shrimps, Scorpionfish, Lionfish, Octopus - great dive|
|12 Oct||23.5||63||31%||Pinta Colada, Small Blueringed Octopus, weird Crabs, loads of fish - fantastic dive|
|12 Oct||9.1||44||31%||Police Pier - MANDARIN dive, very privileged to see this spectacle - FANTASTIC dive|
|13 Oct||26.5||69||31%||Nudi Retreat - Hairy Octopus! Pygmy Seahorses! Electric Clam - superb dive|
|13 Oct||10.7||69||32%||Hairball - big Seahorses, 4 Hairy Frogfish! Dragonets, Leaf Fish - excellent dive|
|13 Oct||18.0||64||30%||Pante Parigi - Clownfish, Pigmy Pipefish, Red Painted Frogfish - good dive|
|14 Oct||20.1||67||31%||Paradise Pier - Frogfish, Eels, Ghost Pipefish, "painted" pier struts- INCREDIBLE dive|
|14 Oct||23.2||61||32%||Yellow Pawpaw - Spotted Rays, Eels, Nudibranchs, lots to see - brilliant dive|
|14 Oct||15.9||66||31%||Batu Mandi - Wall dive, fantastic colours and shapes, tiny yellow Seahorse- excellent dive|
|15 Oct||24.1||60||31%||Hairball II - Hairy Scorpionfish, Devil Scorpionfish, much to see - lovely dive|
|15 Oct||24.7||70||32%||Tanyung Kabur - WoW again! 2 baby Cuttlefish (1 hairy!), Pantoi Seahorse - brilliant dive|
|15 Oct||13.7||73||32%||Aer Prang I - 2 Wonderpus, a large Octopus, Clownfish eggs ets. - good dive|
|15 Oct||12.8||59||32%||NAD House Reef - Shrimps, Crabs, Eels, small wreck, Large Grouper - night dive|
|16 Oct||29.3||54||32%||Angel's Window - Pigmy Seahorse, Cowries, Robust Gost Pipefish - fabulous dive|
|16 Oct||23.8||62||31%||Rojos - Lots to see, amazing Stonefish, Hairy Scorpionfish, minute Frogfish - great dive|
|16 Oct||23.2||57||30%||Makawide Pier - Mini Frogfish, Shrimps, Crabs, Prorcupine Fish - good dive|
|16 Oct||20.4||66||30%||Nudi Falls - Incredible tiny Squid, Eels, Crabs and Shrimops- really good night dive|
|17 Oct||23.5||62||30%||Critter Hunt - Nudibranchs all over the place, large Moray Eels - good dive|
|17 Oct||15.9||70||32%||Tandrosa - Much to see, Flamboyant Mantis Shrimp, Dragonets, fantastic Urchins- lovely dive|
|17 Oct||24.2||65||32%||Nudi Retreat - Testing the YS-01 strobe, Robust Pipefish, fabulous Frogfish - nice dive|
|18 Oct||14.6||63||31%||Pulau Doua - Fabulous Crans, amazing wall, huge Octopus, loads of fish - lovely dive|
|18 Oct||22.3||60||30%||Pante Deco - Amazing wall, several Frogfish, lovely corals & sponges - bautiful dive|
|19 Oct||31.7||62||31%||Makawide II - Much to see, Eels, Solar-Powered Nudibranch, Shrimp - fabulous dive|
|19 Oct||18.6||70||31%||Nudi Falls - Amazing Frogfish, tiny Shrimps, Hermit Crab, Nudibranchs - fabulous dive|
|19 Oct||18.9||62||31%||Nudi Retreat - Ribbon Eels, Flambouyant Mantis Shrimp, lot of fish - good dive|
|19 Oct||6.7||52||30%||NAD House Reef - lots of fish and Nudibranchs, but poor visibility - Okay dive|