North Sulawesi, Indonesia
The Center of Life’s Diversity
As you last recall, we tried to include all 50,000 miles (70,000km) of shoreline of Indonesia in one article, then we briefly mentioned three dive resorts on the northern edge of Sulawesi Island where some 390 species of coral, 90 resident species of fish, and where some 1,650 species of fish commute to work daily to and from the Bunaken National Park which is considered Grand Central in the incredibly bio-diverse Coral Triangle which stretches from the Philippines down over to Malaysia and across to the Solomon Islands.
One of the most famous dives here at Bunaken Park is Lekuan 1, which is a 120ft (40m) wall dive where away from the wall you might see pelagics as big as whale sharks.On the wall you might find pink pygmy seahorses, and small orange colored orangutan crabs, colored corals, sponges, and perhaps a turtle resting on a ledge. Sachiko’s is another wall dive where you might encounter black tip sharks, schools of bumphead parrotfish, or napoleon wrasse. Ron’s Point is a site for advanced divers where two currents entwine and tunas, black tip sharks, leaf scorpions, and pontohi seahorses are spotted. In addition, at any of these sites, you may see emperor anglefish, bluestripe snapper, pinkish basslet, two-lined monocle bream, frogfish, and a plethora of small shrimps, crabs, and other invertebrates.
The resorts we mentioned were the two Murex Dive Resorts, and Lembeh Resort & Critters@Lembeh. From Singapore, Bali, and Jakarta, as well as several other airports you can fly right in to Manado, the capital city of northern Sulawesi. It’s a big bustling modern city with KFC and McDonalds, innumerable blue taxi buses filling the streets, yet there are also regions where you can taste cooked to order local foods from outdoor vendors, visit street markets, and enjoy a ride on an ornate decorated horse drawn carriage.
We think that there is something for everyone in Manado, but if you came here to completely relax at a secluded dive resort or do some serious muck diving, its time to leave the big city.
Murex Resort Manado, thirty minutes south of Manado, is actually one of two sister resorts. They opened the pioneer resort for divers in 1987. The former private estate in Kalasey has koi ponds and lush tropical gardens and three rivers run through the property. The house pool is 12ft (4m) deep for dive training. The sister resort, Murex Resort Bangka, is situated on the white sand island of Bangka Island. Murex Bangka has a more secluded Robinson Crusoe atmosphere with air conditioning from 5pm to 7am.
Besides the dives at Bunaken Park, the Manado Murex Resort house reef has newly marked dive trails and at night is a great place to watch Spanish dancer nudibranchs swim in the water. They also do boat dives at City Extra, which is a muck dive with seahorses, ghost pipefish, and down the slope you might find frogfish, mimic octopus, and black and blue eels. At Tanjung Bulo there are some 15 different species of nudibranchs, cuttlefish, harlequin shrimp, and sea snakes. Molas Wreck is a Dutch cargo ship that 70 years later has lots of coral growth and sponges. After diving the wreck divers typically go check out a nearby reef.
The Murex Bangka house reef can be a shore dive if the guides say the current is not too swift or it can be a boat dive. Here you will see tons of coral that make up the fringing reef and tons of sea life as well. Batu Goso is a boat site with several steep pinnacles (5- 35m). It’s a drift dive where you can see white tips, black tips, turtles, grouper and multi-colored corals. Across the waterway on the Sulawesi coastline is Paradise Pier. This is a muck dive site at the old paradise hotel pier. Hot springs are located at the bottom of the steps. Frogfish, seahorses, octopus, squid, and batfish apparently don’t mind the warmer water. Sabora has nudibranchs, pygmy seahorses and a great place for night dives. Sahuang has jacks, dogtooth tuna, barracuda, red-toothed triggers and colorful corals.
The Passport to Paradise 12 night program lets you stay at 4 nights at Murex Manado, then a boat transfer with one or two dives on your way to 3 nights at Murex Bangka, and after your stay there, another boat transfer with one or two dives on your way to Lembeh Resort where you will stay 5 nights with additional nights available. When you depart it is a 10 minute boat ride and a 90 minute van ride back to Sam Ratulangi International Airport in Manado.
Lembeh Resort on Lembeh Island is the perfect spot for diving Lembeh Strait. The resort is home to Critters@Lembeh dive center, and Cameras@Lembeh Resort; this is definitely a professional diver’s as well as a non-professional diver’s resort, but they also have a spa and pool for non-diving intervals. There are over 60 dive sites in the strait, but just to inform you, don’t expect 100 plus feet of visibility here. What you will see is a black sand and silt substrate with patches of reefs, discarded man made objects, lone anemones, a few wrecks, and even small rocks with absolutely breathtaking rare creatures of every size, color, and texture. This is Mecca for underwater photographers. An anemone with clown fish, an old bottle with a blue ring octopus inside, or a rock with a frogfish leaning against it fill your camera frames and image cards on almost every dive. And when we say frogfish, we are talking hairy frogfish, clown frogfish, painted frogfish, or the newly discovered Lembeh frogfish to name of few. Fish moving across the sand or mimic octopus or mantis shrimp burring themselves in the sand are common sites too. Keep in mind that there are also multiple species of shrimp, octopus, pipefish, and nudibranchs often seen on the same dive. Some oddity fish you will find include: stargazers, crocodile fish, Pegasus sea moths, bobtail squids, devilfish, rhinopias, and candy crabs, but it’s not just about these fish, as the strait is also home to juvenile pelagic fish that are drawn here for safety and plentiful amounts of zooplankton.
For the best place to find mandarin fish, you have to look no further than the Lembeh Resort house reef. Some of the other favorite dive sites include Nudi Falls (nudibranchs), Jahir (night dives), Tk 1 (everything in this village bay), Hairball (frogfish), and of course the Mawali, a Japanese cargo wreck, which sunk in 1943 and now resembles a coral reef with occasional straight edges.
As you can see, we’ve run out of space again, and we haven’t even mentioned land activities such as horse back riding, guided treks into rainforests, volcano trekking, white water rafting, or birding to see the endemic species of birds found no where else in the world. Also, the 6 national parks, 19 nature preserves, and 3 marine preserves of Sulawesi along with the freshwater fish, freshwater shrimp, and the highly cave adapted freshwater crabs will have to wait for another time. Sulawesi has so much to see and explore, but none of these spectacular marine creatures can truly shine unless immersed by the light from your own camera or dive light.
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