If you are looking for the best places to scuba dive in Indonesia, you need to go to the north-east of Bali. At the end of a curvy road, up and down the hills, between the jungle and the rice fields, lies on a black pebble beach the village of Tulamben. Without the periodical wrath of Mount Agung, Tulamben would have stayed a tiny village in the middle of nowhere. Due to the volcanic activity, the underwater ecosystem has the perfect ground for a very diverse marine fauna. Not only it is an incredible macro diving site where underwater photographers hunt for the Denise pygmy seahorse or the Donut Doto nudibranch, but Tulamben is one of the best wreck dive sites in the world thanks to a curious history linked again to the volcano: the USAT Liberty.
USAT Liberty 1942-1963: the surprising destiny of a shipwreck
The USAT Liberty wreck is one of the most accessible wreck dives in the world as the wreck starts only 25m from the beach and only 5m of depth. Its deepest point is at 30m, it is then accessible for most recreational divers, explaining its high popularity.
In 1942, during WWII, the USAT Liberty, an American cargo ship, is torpedoed by a Japanese submarine between Bali and Lombok. Trying to reach the port of Singaraja, the ship cannot be towed further than the beach of Tulamben. For 21 years, it was not a wreck dive site but in 1963, Mount Agung erupted. The eruption created an earthquake that made the ship sliding into the sea, between 5 and 28m of depth.
More than 50 years later, it is now one of the most impressive dive site thanks to the inclination of the wreck, the light in the morning, the amount of life around it and the excellent condition of the wreck making it interesting to dive. The wreck offers several swim-through where you’ll have to practice your best frog-kick with your fins. Many parts of the ship are visible such as ladders or valves. The USAT Liberty was transporting railway parts from Australia to the Philippines, so if you know where to look you can find rail profiles covered in coral.
USAT Liberty shipwreck : one of the best dive sites in the world
Diving in Tulamben is all about shore diving. Here there is no need to worry about boat logistics. You load your equipment on a jeep, and in 2 minutes you are already on the beach, making you buddy check. With an early start in the day, with 1-hour surface intervals between each dive, you can easily pack 5 dives in a day!
With rarely combined opportunities for wreck diving, muck diving and macro diving, this is the ideal setting for all underwater photography enthusiasts. This is where 4 years ago I started to learn and train with my Canon S95 (Now I have a Canon S110). I was lucky enough to have a divemaster who knew the settings of my camera. I started to use the manual setting with my flash, and just by repeating the dives on a couple of days, my progress what huge on such a short time.
This is why it was such a pleasure for me to be back. I could use my improved skills in better conditions for better shots. Unfortunately after my dives in Scapa Flow and the Liberty, I now feel the urge to buy new gear. I’d like a wide-angle lens to capture the entire wreck and the atmosphere around it and a macro lens for detailed close-up pictures with colourful nudibranchs. We’ll see at Paris or London dive show if I can find a good deal (I feel like my wallet is not going to like it).
My favourite encounters this year on the Liberty wreck were: a leaf scorpion fish, a ghost pipefish, a long nose hawkfish and many nudibranchs I’ve never seen before. I saw a tiny green and purple flabellina and a white and brown nudibranch that looked like a little bunny! With research, I discovered I had met and Flabellina Exoptata and Jorunna Funebris.
Further away from the wreck, the lava flow from 1963 eruption created an underwater wall going down to 70m: the “Drop-off”. If this kind of depth will be reserved only for technical divers, it is also a must dive site for the underwater photographers as its many gorgonians are the home of the pygmy seahorse. My divemaster and I looked and looked again every gorgonian, but were not lucky.
If you can extend your stay in Tulamben, you will also be able to explore Seraya Secrets. It is just a bit outside of Tulamben, on the road to Amed. This dive site is very famous for macro photography opportunities. It seems I have to go back one more time to Tulamben! Everything happens in threes. In the meantime, I think Tulamben deserves to be my list of the best diving in Asia-Pacific.
Exploring the Liberty wreck at sunrise
Because the USAT Liberty counts within the best diving in Indonesia, it can be a crowded dive site. For a small supplement, you can meet your dive guide at 5.30am to descend on the wreck at 6.00am exactly when the sun is rising above Lombok and its volcano, the Mount Rinjani.
3 advantages to doing the early morning dive:
- You will be almost on your own. I did twice this dive, and each time, only at the end of the dive I could finally see another buddy team, not more.
- There are species that you will only be able to see first thing in the morning. This is the case for the bump-head parrot fish. They are quite big, about 50cm long, and surprisingly not afraid of divers while remaining cautious. Usually, you will see them directly at the beginning of the dive as they are in the first 5m of water around the base of the shipwreck. After the sunrise, they go back into the blue
- The low light around the wreck reinforces the mystery and spooky feeling you can have around shipwrecks because of their history.
As Tulamben is a shore diving spot, you can easily scuba dive from sunrise to sunset. It’s a great place for scuba diving addicts looking to dive as much as possible. Dive Concepts centre includes a very affordable hotel and a garden to relax in the shade with fresh mango or watermelon juice at the surface interval. Their dive centre is only 2 minutes away from the USAT Liberty wreck. Their Indonesian divemasters are incredibly skilled and they will make sure you see the best of every dive site.
Phone: +62 812 3684 5440
When to go diving in Tulamben?
The best period to go diving in Tulamben is from May to October. Bali can be dived all year round; you will have just lower visibility conditions for the rest of the year. My first trip to Bali was during the month of January. It is supposed to be the worse part of the monsoon, but it was raining during the night and maybe 1 or 2 hours during the day. It was still warm in the air and the sea. Nevertheless, the rain brings minerals into the sea and reduces visibility. By diving the USAT Liberty in October, I should say I completely rediscovered this incredible dive site. I was hoping to see the huge school of jackfish swirling above the wreck again, but not this time. Every period has certainly its own advantages.
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