Early May, 2014 – Our week long stay here at NAD Resort in the Lembeh Strait is coming to a close. Lembeh was mostly Warren’s pick, as he is an avid macro photographer and this place has been at the top of his bucket list for quite some time. It didn’t take more than 1 dive though to convince me he was really on to something!
The strait is an active shipping lane separating the island of Lembeh from the mainland of North Sulawesi, Indonesia. The diver accommodations are all located on the island side, which is where most of the diving is done. As I imagined this place before we arrived, I pictured dirty water, tons of garbage, industrialized shorelines and needing a long shower after every dive. After all, what I’d heard of Lembeh was that it was a weird place for great diving but well worth the effort because of all the strange miniature monsters making their homes in the muck. On the whole…I was very wrong. We have a beautiful view of jungle covered volcanoes on the mainland, the water is varying shades of turquoise and remarkably clear, and our soundtrack isn’t boat engines and heavy machinery but the constant symphony of insects and waves breaking on shore.
Our little dive lodge is tucked into a private cove, out of sight of Bitung on the mainland, the main port town for shipping activity. The accommodations here are basic but clean and functional. The food is good though repetitive, and the diving business is awesome. The boats are big, clean, well set-up, and fast. The camera room is more than any underwater photographer like Warren could ask for, and the diving is organized and punctual with valet service. I haven’t set up my own gear all week and when it was ready to dry out it was all rinsed and cleaned for me. Fantastic! It is 2 divers to a guide here and we rarely see boats from other shops on our sites. There is no place in the world where it is as important to stay close to your guide, so the low ratio really works well. Our guide Aso is a shrimp fiend and has been pointing out for us the tiniest creatures…barely big enough to see with the naked eye! I often ask Warren in the evenings to see his pictures so I can actually get a good look at the things we “saw” during our dives. Word to the wise…bring a magnifying glass for your visit.
There is more variety here too than I expected. There is plenty of black sand dives (ie. muck dives) of course but there are also beautiful coral sites, stunning walls, and rubble slopes. Many sites are a combination of 2 or more types. At its best muck diving is fan-freaking-tastic; I feel like a treasure hunter scouring the bottom for critters trying their best not to be found, which means I feel super victorious and satisfied when I do find something neat! At its worst though, it is incredibly boring. On any trip there are always some amazing dives, some average ones, and some where you just don’t see anything at all. The latter here could put a girl to sleep. Nothing but muck to see as far as the visibility allows, no critters willing to be found, and nothing else to distract from the monotony. Eventually, every tiny rock or piece of garbage starts to resemble a strange creature and you have to look really close to figure out whether it is or isn’t. Lembeh sure can play tricks on your eyes.
We have seen nearly everything on our must-see list, the exception being the deadly blue ring octopus, despite much searching for it. Hairy, shaggy, and painted frogfish. Leaf, ambon, devil, and white scorpionfish (including a baby white one!). Many species of clownfish and anemones. Juvenile and adult barramundi fish. Many different pipefish, ribbon eels, moray eels, sea snakes, and (my favorite…) snake eels. Blue spotted stingrays and flounders. TONS of different tiny shrimp, mantis shrimp, peacock mantis shrimp, crabs, and gobies. The ever-adorable pygmy seahorses, and their larger “common” relatives. Bobtail squid and pygmy squid. Several species of cuttlefish, including the flamboyant variety. Nudibranchs galore. Warren even saw 2 stargazers on a night dive! My favorite was the octopus though. We saw several long-eyed octopi, coconut octopi and a wonderpus. I have a really awesome video of 2 coconut octopi carrying around shells and then trying to disappear inside them that I will upload once I am home, as there is not enough bandwidth here for that big a task. I could watch them all day long! And sometimes it felt like we did, as all of our dives here have been at least an hour long, many between 70 and 80 minutes each. That’s a lot of bottom time!!
Lembeh, I definitely underestimated you. Thanks for being AWESOME :)