Lonely Planet calls Nusa Lembongan “the Bali many imagine but never find” – you might know what we think of the Lonely Planet, but when we found out our friends at Fusion Freediving and Yoga were running a trip to see the manta rays through here, we just couldn’t resist.
The public boat from Sanur is cheap, fast, and despite getting a little wet on the way to the boat, reasonably comfortable. Stepping out onto the beach at Jungut Batu we really didn’t know what to expect, but after a short walk down a dusty track, we were happy to find our room at Secret Garden Bungalows to be above expectations. Cute little concrete bungalows surrounding a nice garden and pool – not quite as peaceful as it could be due to the onsite dive shop and their ever-present air compressor, but blissfully quiet and resplendent in geckos early in the morning or in the evening. Lonely Planet also promised a “mellow place” and so far, so good!
As a side note, the Aquatic Alliance offers free bi-weekly lectures at the Yoga Shack in Secret Garden Bungalows, all about the ocean life in this part of the world. The manta talk we went to was fascinating and comes highly recommended – particularly to wet your whistle for getting into the water with these amazing creatures.
The annual “Silence of the Sea” day forbids all boats and water activities for a 24 hour period, to thank the sea for all it provides the rest of the year. What better day, then, to take off on a scooter and see what the island itself has to offer. Generally, the answer is: dusty, barren countryside and badly potholed roads! Dream Beach, the nicest beach on the south of the island has a killer rip that keeps you out of the water – silence of the sea or not – but for 50k (or for free, if you drop in during happy hour) you can use the resort’s fancy double infinity pool. If you’re feeling brave, you can check out Devil’s Tear – a rip in the already rugged coastline that sucks in huge swells of water before expelling them in a cloud of spray that looks and sounds like dragon’s breath. Feeling even braver, and you can check out the world’s dodgiest suspension bridge while riding a bike over to tiny Nusa Ceningan. After doing a drive-by sprouted coconut grab from the plantation among the mangroves on the east coast, you can check out the seaweed farms that surround the island, and then settle down for an epic sunset from one of the many beach side bars over Bali to the west.
If there’s one thing the silence of the sea taught us, though, it’s that Nusa Lembongan is all about the water. Freediving, scuba, snorkelling, jet ski, banana boat, water slide, kayak, glass bottom boat, paddle boarding, surfing – pick your poison. The craggy coastline is absolutely epic – particularly once you get over to the big dive sites in Nusa Penida, and the water is crystal clear. Here are some things to do in Nusa Penida also.
Freediving was first, and after a short ride we were out at Manta Point for something we’d been looking forward to for ages. The water here is breathtakingly cold – and disturbingly, at this location, absolutely full of trash. This, coupled with the excitement of seeing our first mantas up close and personal, made the freediving a little bit hard to concentrate on and we found our breath holds were not quite what they were in the classroom or peaceful Amed Bay. No matter though – the mantas are huge, and fearless, and as two, three, four of them fly and circle around you, either at the surface or below the water, the experience is unparalleled.
We followed this with a stop for coconuts in Crystal Bay before doing some cave diving and finally, a 2km drift dive along the coast of Lembongan itself. The drift dive was like an incredible roller coaster – finning down to 10 or 15 meters and getting ripped along by the current is one hell of a ride. The team at Fusion is, as always, friendly, professional and simply great fun – we didn’t want our day to end.
Next up was scuba diving with the team at Big Fish. We headed out to Manta Bay and were keen to see how the experience was different with all this equipment and the ability to stay underwater for effectively unlimited time. Again, the water is absolutely freezing – this is not like other tropical diving you might have done. We were all shivering after an hour in 20 degree water, even after doubling up on wetsuits. Here we got our first glimpse of the Giant Manta – some of them made even ‘gianter’ by virtue of being pregnant! It’s a popular dive site, that’s for sure, as twenty or thirty scuba divers all lined up and watched these massive creatures at their cleaning station. Scuba gear spooks the rays, and the visibility wasn’t great, so we were left watching these graceful creatures from a distance – their dark shapes moving eerily through the water was quite magical, but it just couldn’t compare to how close and personal we got the previous day. Back on the boat and we exchanged knowing glances while our fellow divers gushed over the incredible close encounter.
After a brief surface interval, we dropped back into the water at Crystal Bay. The water is even colder here, the thermoclines change the texture of the water and you can actually *see* how cold it is. That was quickly forgotten, as we almost immediately spotted the elusive mola-mola, or sunfish. These massive – and massively weird – creatures migrate through these waters for three months of the year, and to see one is quite a treat indeed – especially at such a shallow depth. Seeing something so incredible as soon as you enter the water leaves you wondering how the dive can get any better, but the massive and colourful corals here are as close to anything you might see in the Komodo National Park. Conditions aside – not only the cold, but the currents and surge here are quite extraordinary – the visibility, flora and fauna made this one of the best dives we’ve ever done. Just believe that we were happy to get back into the sun and warm up.
Nusa Lembongan definitely lends itself to an exploration, beyond the day trippers from Bali who pull up on cruise boats and spend the day banana-boating and tanning on oversized pontoons in the bay. One let down for us was the food – of variable quality and generally overpriced, we perhaps had two or three satisfactory meals in our six day stay. When the dive shop staff leap to the defense of the island’s food, and then struggle to name two good restaurants, it does tend to enforce the fact that this is not an island known for it’s cuisine. But like most things here, it’s all about the sea – so perhaps it’s our fault for wanting to go play with the fish rather than eating them…