Underwater Photographer's Guide to Tulamben
Situated on the northeastern edge of the island of Bali, Indonesia, the fishing village of Tulamben has gained increasing recognition of its excellence as a dive destination. Almost all tourists here are divers – the black cobble beaches and the single road lined with dive resorts do not cater to anything else. The diving is certainly the best in Bali and as diverse as one could ever hope for in a diving destination.
Tulamben is heaven for the budget diver and the underwater photographer. The three sites on the main beach and half dozen sites in the Tulamben area can keep a diver occupied for weeks! All dives in the area are done from shore and equipment rentals can be dirt cheap – a tank rental may cost under $5. Reputability comes at a price, so if you are going to dive cheap, it’s best to be experienced and use your own equipment. Budget diving does come with adventurous perks – a faraway dive operation often means a ride on the back of a scooter with your gear between the driver’s legs!
USAT Liberty Shipwreck
The highlight of Tulamben, of course, is the USAT Liberty shipwreck. At over 120 m in length, this shipwreck is arguably one of the best wreck dives in the world. The vast size of the WWII cargo ship creates massive “walls” and jungle gyms of corals for divers to swim around. Countless species of fish dart in and around the wreck, and rainbow colored nudibranchs and frogfish hide in its crevices. Beautiful and iconic yellowline sweetlip perch and batfish hang out around the shallow edges of the wreck. Among some of the prettiest rainbows of soft coral that I have seen can be found along the stern and adjacent to the hold. A night dive here almost guarantees a sighting of massive, sleeping bumphead parrotfish. Although Tulamben is known for its macro photographic opportunity – the wide angle opportunities at the wreck are unbeatable. Beware of diving at peak hours – growing popularity has introduced crowds of divers on the wreck daily, especially divers that are “bused in.” However, diving at other times can often yield an empty wreck.
Coral Garden & Drop Off
Just south of the shipwreck lies two equally spectacular sites. The first of these is the Coral Garden. Situated along the same black sand slope the wreck sits on – Coral Garden is an ideal site for finding critters. Cuttlefish, harlequin shrimp, leaf scorpionfish, and ribbon eels are all frequent inhabitants. Various statues, including a popular Buddha statue lie at the southernmost point. Perhaps the most spectacular thing about coral gardens is the fields of large anemones and anemonefish that start only 2-3 meters below the surface. Farther south, at the termination of the beach is the third (arguably the best) site in Tulamben – the Drop Off. Here, schools of fish resembling rush-hour traffic swim over a vast, beautiful coral wall. Coral here is healthy and huge – some sea fans are larger than a diver! A ton of life hide in the cracks and crannies of the wall. Currents pick up as soon as you round the point – I personally got stuck fighting to get back to the beach against current for half an hour on a full moon. Beware of the tides!
Tulamben would not be a haven for underwater photographers without its iconic muck site – Seraya Secret. Though it isn’t much of a secret, the site is just south of the main Tulamben beach and has facilities catered to underwater photographers. Seraya is the perfect opportunity to photograph some of Tulamben’s famed critters among dark, black sand. This is a great place to see pygmy sea horses, juvenile emperor angelfish, frogfish and countless species of nudibranch.
Although Tulamben may be out of well-trodden tourist areas of Bali, it has something for every type of diver. It’s best to see it now before its growing popularity catches up with it!
Learn more about scuba diving Tulamben, Bali on Bluewater Travel.
About the Author
Nirupam Nigam works as a fisheries observer in the Bering Sea collecting scientific data for NOAA fisheries. When he doesn’t work he travels and dives when he can – preferably on the west coast of the USA.
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