“Is it really even a fish?” you may wonder when you see some these incredible creatures from Hairy frogfish to flamboyant cuttlefish, photographed on one of my dives. But it sure is! Many of the critters - as they are called in the Lembeh Strait, next to Northern Sulawesi - are astounding to see and to watch.
Volcanic rock lines the Lembeh Strait, so beaches and the bottom of the strait are covered with dark charcoal-coloured sand.
As I do a back roll off the boat into the water, with my dive master by my side, the scene is dim and murky, with nothing in sight save the silty bottom of the Kasawari Bay, near to the lodge.
It crosses my mind that perhaps we have dived into the wrong place. When I spot a flat fish with two eyes on one side that is buried in the mud, I fin towards it. The fish manoeuvres from its perfectly camouflaged position, swims ahead of me, then settles back into the fine silt. Is it a flounder, or could it be a sole?
I will check in a fish guide when I get back to the lodge.
Feeling encouraged, I flash an “okay” sign to my dive master, who then points upwards to show me a Flamboyant cuttlefish. It is emanating light and changes colour as I observe it. This is a big thrill for me and counts as a super-special find. Smiling to myself, I now begin to realise why this area is considered the best muck diving in Indonesia and possibly in the world.
During the huge Tsunami in the Indian Ocean in 2004, benthic creatures were raised from the deep and flung onto beaches in Asia. Scientists and lay people alike, were fascinated by some of the adaptations to the dark conditions of these denizens that usually live fathoms under the ocean. During my first muck dive with Dive into Lembeh I wonder if some of the sea life that is shimmying out of the mud are cousins of these bizarre and mysterious animals, despite the fact we are only 15 metres from the water surface.
A few of the animals that present themselves during my Lembeh dive are highly venomous, so I view them from what I hope is a safe distance. The Blue ringed octopus - no bigger than 20cm in length - is considered to be our planet’s most deadly creature. It has a serene manner and gorgeous colouration, belying the toxic bite using its beak that leads to complete paralysis of the muscles of prey. When this cephalopod feels threatened, its iridescent rings flash an increasingly bright blue, indicating time for me to move away.
My dive guide extends his closed fist towards an animal, the underwater sign for danger, which alerts me to a Stargazer, with a large downward facing mouth, immaculately camouflaged on the sand. Completely motionless - appearing like an encrusted rock - it waits patiently for prey, then rapidly ambushes and snatches a small fish.
It feels far too soon when my dive guide signals for me to surface, leaving behind this wonderland with its surprises all the way. After the ascent we chatter about our awe-inspiring dive, as we dry ourselves with fresh towels, eat slices of pineapple, then head back to the lodge. Euphoric after my muck dive, I am further impressed with Dive into Lembeh when we are met by two Indonesian ladies presenting hot deep fried banana and some hot chocolate. Back in my suite, after a refreshing shower in the al fresco bathroom, I melt into the private hot tub on my verandah deck, to rest, watch the sunset over the ocean and reflect on one of the most magical dives of my life.
Supper is a relaxed, barefoot affair at a communal table, in the open air dining room. Steve Coverdale, the gracious host and owner of this shipshape lodge, joins us to hear about our dive, adding some tales of his own experiences in the astonishing dive and snorkelling sites close to Dive into Lembeh. The meal is most welcome after our adventure. We tuck into a series of Indonesian dishes, which we share, so it is a festive evening. Reluctant to leave the stimulating company, yet knowing that I need to bank some sleep, I nip down to the water’s edge, where my dive gear is stored in a personal wooden cupboard, to check that my torch, magnifying glass and safety buoy are ready for tomorrow’s muck dive. Strolling through the tropical garden with its palm trees, past the swimming pool reflecting a waxing moon, I am deeply thankful to be here.
Via Singapore Airlines
Flights from ORTI in Johannesburg and Cape Town International Airport depart everyday. Three additional flights (SQ481) will depart from OR Tambo International Airport on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday evening at 2230 hrs and arrive in Singapore the following day at 1455 hrs. The return flights from Singapore (SQ482) will also depart on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday afternoon at 1635 hrs and arrive in Johannesburg at 2110 hrs on the same day.
Flight time to Singapore is usually ten hours twenty five minutes.The A350-900 has an extra wide body and high ceiling. Air is filtered to remove impurities and is completely replaced every 2-3 minutes.
Business Class is exceptional, with fully reclining beds, personalised service, plus fine cuisine and wines.
From Singapore, fly SilkAir to Manado, where Dive in Lembeh can organise a driver to transport you to the lodge. The journey is a pleasant 2 hours through pretty landscape and small villages
Visa for Singapore and Indonesia: No visa is required for South African passport holders
Highly Recommended Accommodation in Indonesia:
If you extend your trip, consider experiencing exciting muck dives, from White Sands Beach Resort in the Lembeh Strait.
For coral reefs, with pelagics, stay at Tasik Ria near to Bunakan Marine National Park, in Northern Sulawesi.
To dive the renowned area of Raja Ampat, visit MahaRaja Eco Dive Lodge, on a private island. Simply stroll off the white sands of the beach or off the wooden pier, to snorkel and dive with Bamboo sharks, Wobegongs, Dugongs, nudibranchs and turtles. Plus hundreds of reef fishes.
Highly recommended accommodation In Singapore:
The Jen Tangolin has chic, compact rooms with quirky décor - expediting some cute selfies - a fifteen minute stroll from Orchard Road, the famous shopping belt for designer fashion and other kinds of retail allure. Tuck into the Chilli Crab at Ah Hoi’s Kitchen, one of the four hotel restaurants.
The Outpost Hotel Sentosa is a trendy adults only hotel, with clean black and white design, amenities by Appelles and an infinity pool looking out onto the harbour. Choose between sea, island or pool view rooms. Note the high tech room toilet, a cutting edge design where two guests may set individual programmes for front or back spray, temperature of water jet, whether water oscillates or streams freely, heated or cooled seat and preference for night light on the seat.
Crowne Plaza Changi Airport is perfect for a luxurious overnight stay, walking distance from Terminal 3. Multi-cultural breakfasts are served from open kitchens. I loved my room facing the runway, as it is quiet, with an absorbing view of aeroplanes - one of my passions - through floor to ceiling windows.
What to take:
Singapore and Indonesia are hot and humid all year round. Lightweight, breathable clothing - especially pure cotton - is best, with a hat or portable umbrella to protect you from the sun, or a flash rain shower. Consider comfortable closed shoes if you would like to walk to explore in Singapore or nearby villages in Lembeh, but sandals or even slip slops will suffice. Remember your wetsuit or skin for diving or snorkelling.
Have lots of fun!
To read more of Gillian McLaren’s travel features click here
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