While I found peace and hints of paradise on land in Nusa Lembongan, the real reason for visiting has more to do with what’s below the water’s surface. The majority of my friends in Southeast Asia work in the diving industry, and over and over again I had heard them sing the praises of the diving off this South Bali island.
I couldn’t wait to jump in myself.
My budget was stretched pretty thin after The Philippines and also I was pretty short on time. Taking those factors into account I signed up for just one morning of diving — one dive spent hopefully swimming with manta rays at aptly named Manta Point, and one spent looking for mola molas at Ceningan Wall. The entire trip, including a tasty lunch of the local specialty mie goreng set me back 602,550 rupiah, or around $62. While that price does include a discount for having my own gear, I did have to borrow a full 7mm wetsuit. My little shortie would not have cut it in these waters!
While I was overwhelmingly lucky to have an out-of-this-world experience night diving with manta rays in Hawaii last fall, I had never seen one during a typical day dive. And they are the kind of creature that has near-mythical status among divers. Once will just never be enough.
So as we suited up and jumped into the rough waters at Manta Point, I anxiously awaited a sighting of that instantly familiar silhouette.
I would not be disappointed. The seas were rough and the visibility poor, making photography difficult. But don’t let the mediocre photographs fool you — this was an incredible, beautiful experience. In fact, the very plankton that muddies the water is what attracts the manta rays in the first place; a good reminder to myself that sometimes pictures aren’t the most important thing.
We were absolutely spoiled with the show nature put on for us that morning. At times I actually wasn’t certain what direction to look in, because there were mantas coming from so many different directions. Often I’d be lining up to take a photo of one ray, and the current would surge and I’d turn ever so slightly and see another one soaring just inches away from my head.
Normally, seeing one manta ray glide by on a dive takes an enormous stroke of luck. So being surrounded by upwards of ten for an entire hour long dive was indescribable. Experiences like this really humble me and remind me how privileged I am to see so much of this great world.
When it was time to head back to the boat, a puffer fish came by to say goodbye and to remind us that it’s not just the big creatures worth diving to see!
While manta rays are very common at Manta Point, we would need quite a bit more luck for our second dive. The shy mola molas are rare to see under even great conditions, and we were not there in the peak season. Still, divers had spotted them twice in the days prior, and so our hopes were high. The local divemasters warned us that if we didn’t see mola molas, the dive site was rather unimpressive, but it was a gamble we were willing to take.
Right off the bat, I realized that their idea of an unimpressive dive site was very different from mine.
Within minutes of descending we had spotted colorful pufferfish and angelfish, an elusive stonefish, and a sea snake as thick as my arm. While I was supposed to be staring off the wall into the deep looking for a mola bobbing by, it was hard to tear my eyes off the vibrant reef below me.
Eventually, we did admit conceit on the molas. It just wasn’t our time — but how could I feel ungrateful after the manta show we had been treated to? I was cheerful and chipper as we swam back towards the boat and visually combed the sand for flounders, nudibranchs, and cuttlefish.
Diving on Nusa Lembongan was worth every rupiah. I really loved Lembongan Dive Center — they were professional and safe, our divemaster offered to take my camera and take photos of us underwater, and we enjoyed socializing with the incredibly hospitable Indonesian crew in the evenings.
Divers, if you are heading to Bali, you’d be crazy not to make a detour over to Nusa Lembogan. Tell the mantas (and hopefully the molas!) that I said hi.