DIVING IN NUSA PENIDA
Abundant Pelagics, Some Fierce Currents
Nusa Penida, across the Badung Strait from Bali's southern tip, offers some of the best diving to be found anywhere. But conditions around Penida and its two small sister islands-Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan-can sometimes be difficult, with unpredictable currents reaching four or more knots. This is not a place for beginner divers, inexperienced boatmen, or engines in less than perfect condition. Also, Upwellings from the deep water south of Bali, which keep visibility here clear, can also make the water uncomfortably cold. Even if you are an expert diver, contract with one of Bali's well-organized diving services to dive Nusa Penida, and make sure that You get a reliable boat and a guide with plenty of experience.
The currents in this area can usually be predicted from the tide tables, but they can increase, decrease or shift direction with no advance notice, and vary dramatically with depth. We recommend that your guide bring a buoy, and that you do not wander off by yourself. The dive locations are all close together, and an experienced guide can easily shift you to an alternate site if the conditions at your planned location are unsatisfactory.
Dive boats to Nusa Penida leave from Nusa Dua or Sanur, or from Padang Bai. (See map page 101.) From either of the resorts the 34-kilometer (18-nautical-mile) trip takes 1.5 hours; from Padang Bai, just 17 kilometers (9 nautical miles) from Penida, it takes 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the boat. You can also rent a speedboat at Padang Bai (about $110 round-trip) to shave tlip time to the minimum, but if you do, make sure your dive guide knows the boatman. 'ne chap could fall asleep while You're under and be out of whis-tle range when you come up with the current. It has happened.
Coral Walls and Pelagics
Most of the dive spots are around the channel between Nusa Penida and Nusa Ceningan.The standard reef profile here has a terrace at 8-12 meters, then a wall or steep slope to 25-30 meters, then a fairly gentle slope to the seabed at 600 meters. Pinnacles and small caves are often encountered. At 35-40 meters, long antipathatian wire corals are common, spiraling outward more than 8 meters.Pelagics are the main attraction here, and you have a good chance to see jacks, mackerel and tuna. Reef sharks are so common that after a while you stop noticing them. Mantas are frequently sighted. Perhaps the most unusual pelagic visitor to Nusa Penida is the weird mola-mola or oceanic sunfish (Mola-mola), a mysterious large, flattened fish with elongate dorsal and ventral fins, and a lumpy growth instead of a tail fin.
Dive guide Wally Siagian says he has seen a mola-mola here about once every 15 dives. On two occasions he has been able to swim up and touch the bizarre, up to 2-meter-long animals. The most common dive spots are just south of the dock at Toyapakeh, or a bit further cast, at Ped, the site of an important temple of the same name, Sam palan Point, and "S.D.," named for the sekolah dasar or primary school there. There are other dive spots down the northeastband southwest coasts of Penida but these areas, swept by tricky currents, require an experienced guide and more time than is available in a daytrip to reach.
A Dive off Penida
We were staying at Baruna's Puri Bagus Beach Hotel in Candi Dasa when the opportunity came to dive Nusa Penida. One of the hotel's minibuses picked us up early, and after a 15-minute ride dropped us off at Padang Bai, where the large diesel - powered Baruna 05 dive boat was already waiting for Us. We waded through waist-high water to load our gear, and were soon on our way for the hour-and-a-half trip. The boat anchored off the Ped/S.D. area, and we dropped into a practically currentless sea. From an initial 7 meter depth, we followed the slope of 45 degrees down to 37 meters. There good hard coral cover, and an occasional pinnacle reared 5-6 meters from the slope. We crossed a big school of black triggerfish mixed with a few sleek unicornfish. A small cave in one of coral knolls held a densely packed school of pygmy sweeps (Parapriacanthus ransonetti). These greenish, semi-transparent fish feed at night on small plankton attracted by the bioluminous organs located just in back of their pectoral fins.
Early in the dive we crossed paths with a large black-spotted stingray. He allowed us to approach to within just over a meter, but after just one photo flew off to his next appointment. Shortly after we saw a hawksbill turtle, one of the largest we have ever seen.This 1.3-1. meter animal flippered off before I could approach within decent camera range.
The rest of our dive passed through busy schools of tailed and lunar fusiliers and occasional schools of longfin bannerfish. We saw several groupers and even more sweetlips, and an occasional clown or Titan triggerfish. A good-sized barracuda observed us from above. Visibility was good, in the 15-meter range. When we ascended we noticed the surface current increased markedly since we seen in pairs or small began our dive. Wally complained that we had not spotted any big sharks, which are common in this area.
We motored a bit further west along the coast of Nusa Penida, and dropped anchor a few hundred meters from the dock at Toyapakeh. We descended through a slight current (less than 1 knot) into veritable clouds of peach fairy basslets (Pseudanthias dispar), each the exact color of a blue-eyed Nordic tourist who had done too much time in the sun. The anthias were mixed with large aggregations of firefish, which are more often increased markedly since we seen in pairs or small groups. A long stretch of our dive route-this at 25-30 meters- consisted of an almost unbroken thicket of pastel-tinted Dendronephthya soft corals. A school of two dozen or more greater amberjacks swam several lazy circles around our group, mixing sometimes with a larger school of bigeye jacks. As we started upwards, we saw a huge black spotted moray, with about 1 meter of its snaky body sticking out of its lair.
We surfaced just at funnel mouth of the channel between Nusa Penida and Nusa Ceningan. The local fishermen were unfurling the sails of their jukungs, and we climbed back on board just as the current began to pick up speed. The Baruna 05 tied up to dock at Toyapakeh, and Wally borrowed a bystander's bicycle to go fetch us some food. While he was gone, a fisherman pulled up in his outrigger, a bought a just-caught 20-kilo yellowfin tuna for dinner.
Just before sunset, the current picked up,to 5-6 knots. We watched the jukungs literally shoot through the channel on their way out for a night's fishing. Others, taking advantage of the wind and a back current, headed for "mainland" Bali in the direction of towering Gunung Agung. This was one of the finest sunset shows I had ever admired in Indonesia.
The tuna we bought ended up as sashimi and charcoal-grilled tuna steaks, and combined with a lobster Wally had snatched from a grotto on our first dive, we had a splendid supper. We then spread our mattresses on the top deck, and settled down to drinking beer. A few little boats fished around us with bright pressure lamps, and we drifted off to sleep.
The night was surprisingly cool, and I woke up at midnight to a sky full of stars. I quickly discarded all thoughts of a night dive as I heard the current rushing by the boat. The beer had taken its usual route, and I relieved myself overboard creating swirling bioluminesce on the water's surface.
Another Dive at S.D.
The next morning, after the sun had warmed us thoroughly, we headed back east along Nusa Penida's coast to begin our next and last dive where we had ended the previous morning: in front of the long, red-roofed elementary school.This was a drift dive, in a 1.5 to 2 knot current that occasionally "gusted" to 3 knots. The fish hovered effortlessly in the current as we sped by. Swimming diagonally, we approached two large map puffers, and several smaller, but exquisitely patterned cube trunkfish. We also took a closer look at a hallucinogenic scribbled filefish.
Between two coral knolls we came on an aggregation of some 40 sweetlips.The fish were split into four groups, all facing the current. The sight of these attractively patterned fish was too much to just pass by, so we carefully grabbed onto some hard corals and crawled along the bottom for a closer look at the sweetlips show. Perhaps feeling there was safety in numbers, these magnificent animals allowed us to approach to within 2 meters before they drifted off to find a new spot just a bit further away. While we watched our sweetlips, a turtle rose up just ahead and, with no effort at all, swam off straight into the current. Then, a huge grouper, well over a meter long, appeared out of nowhere, buzzing one of our group before disappearing just as suddenly. Consulting the fish books later, we came to a consensus that our visitor was likely to have been a blotchy grouper (Epinephelusfuscogattus). We later saw triggerfish, a barracuda and a reef white-tip shark; still, it was anticlimactic.
Reproduced from Bali Vision.