Diving Timor-Leste (East Timor)

Diving Southeast Asia’s Budding Dive Destination with the Sony RX100 V
By Jin Woo Lee

I recently did my Divemaster course in Bali. Once I finished that, I wanted to do some more diving, but was unsure where to go. I spent a few days doing online research, but found that my selection for destinations within my budget and timing requirements was quite limited. Most destinations in Indonesia were either too crowded or too expensive, or had accessibility issues. For example, even if I decided not to worry about price and go to Raja Ampat, flying there from Bali would have taken over 20 hours! But then I came across an article about Timor-Leste, a new country that became independent from Indonesia in 2002.


About Timor-Leste

Timor-Leste is not an easy destination to travel to, but its exotic locale makes it more than worth the hassle. Located to the South of the Banda Sea, Timor-Leste has nice wall diving, with good chances of seeing pelagic species. It also boast some beautiful coral reefs, which look as though they were painted with pastels on a canvas. Most international flights to Timor-Leste depart from Bali, Singapore or Darwin. I used Citilink Airline, out of Bali, Indonesia, which was very affordable. The flight took about 2 hours, and I was quite happy with Citilink’s luggage policy and on-time schedule.

I flew in to Dili, which is the capital and largest city in Timor-Leste. It’s a good thing I was there for diving, as there were not a lot of land/topside sites to see (though my laziness when faced with the hot sun didn’t make me too keen to explore, either). If I had to name one thing worth seeing, it was Christo Rei, which was built in 1996 by the Indonesian government to reduce resistance among the Timor people. But overall, I would not recommend traveling to Timor-Leste for topside/land activities.

If you decide to travel to Timor-Leste, there are some important things you have to watch out for. Public security is only available in Dili until sunset. For women, sexual harassment is rampant, such that a taxi may not even be a safe place. Robbery is not common, but it does happen, sometimes with serious consequences.



How is the Diving There?

The people on the East side of Timor Island finally obtained independence in 2002, after being colonized for almost 500 years by Portugal and Indonesia. Ironically, Timor-Leste’s political situation through the years protected its healthy reef systems from tourists. So, underwater photographers will love diving here, both for macro and for wide angle. And small diving groups are a bonus!

I dove with Timor Lorosae for four days, and the conditions were decent. Most dives were easy and warm; the only problem was low visibility due to windy conditions. The dive center offers a variety of diving locations: shore diving, local boat diving and an Atauro Island trip. To be honest, I didn’t expect much from shore diving, but very quickly realized that I was completely wrong. Timor-Leste had done a good job of hiding its beautiful reefs from the world! I also really enjoyed diving Hera Banks, where endless Montipora reefs and large sponges and sea fans were thriving. And Atauro Island amazed me with its crystal-clear visibility and colorful cauliflower coral.



Shore Diving

I went shore diving during poor weather conditions; strong winds over the past few days had resulted in lots of choppy waves and decreased visibility along the shore. However, the shore reef was beautiful! Unfortunately, as I was shooting macro, I do not have any pictures showing the reef, so you will just have to take my word for it. Fortunately, I was able to get a lot of nice macro photos.




Although I have always classified myself as a wide-angle lover, night diving on the shore reef really got me into macro. I tried out fluorescent diving and I loved the shots I took.




Atauro Island


Diving at Atauro Island was awesome, other than a bruised backside I suffered on the boat ride. The waves were very unwelcoming for our two hour ride out to the island, and we did a lot of bouncing up and down. But the sky was clear, and the sun made the diving beautiful. We also encountered pilot whales and larger whales on the surface. How was the visibility? It was amazingly clear! Such that I could see the end of the wall, about 60 to 80 meters down! However, it also meant that Napoleon wrasses could spot me coming and get out of the way of my camera well before I could take a photo. The dive guide also said that, during the right season, pelagic species including tuna and hammerhead sharks could be seen around Atauro Island.




Local Boat Diving


Local boat diving took me to Hera Banks, which was East of Dili. The divemaster explained that the currents there were unpredictable, but fortunately for us, the water was calm and visibility was still amazing. Hera Banks was full of healthy hard coral reef and sponges. It was like walking through a garden of coral.



For next stop, we moved to a jetty close to shore. The jetty was protected from any fishing, helping to keep it as a beautiful sea fan paradise. And bunches of blacklip butterflyfish didn’t mind my camera at all, so I could fill my frames with them.




My Thoughts

I didn’t stay long enough to fully explore what Timor-Leste had to offer underwater. I dove a total of 7 times in East Timor and could only get a little taste. However, I found diving in Timor-Leste was much more relaxing than any other places I’ve been. A flexible schedule made me really comfortable with quiet days. And For those who want nice sunset with a bottle of Bintang or Heineken in quite bar after diving, welcome to Timor-Leste.




Equipment Used

Jin Woo Lee is highly experienced shooting with the Sony RX100 V - one of the leading compact cameras on the market. He has taken amazing photos with it around the world. For wide angle images he shoots the RX100 V in a Nauticam housing, 2x INON D-2000 strobes, INON fisheye lens with dome, and a Sola 800 focus light. For macro he switches out the fisheye lens for a Subsee +5 wet lens. For fluoro diving he uses a 67mm Tiffen yellow filter and 2 Glowdive blue filters fon his strobes.



Jin has been highly interested in underwater creatures since he was in Kindergarten. At the age of 11, he started scuba diving by himself with a GoPro. When he began to lose interest in diving, he found that underwater photography could be a great motivation. For Jin's 20th birthday, he got his own compact camera from Sony and began to shoot underwater photos around Florida and the world to share his impressions of nature. He is currently waiting to complete his mandatory two-year military service in South Korea, but he will be back to field after that in 2021. You can check out his photos on Instagram




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