The northern region of the Indonesian archipelago is vast, with many and varied dive destinations. From west to east:
- Derawan Islands are on the east coast of Indonesian Borneo – Kalimantan. Expect pelagic action and pristine reefs.
- North Sulawesi is famous mainly for the vibrant reefs of Bunaken and Bangka Islands on the west, and the amazing macro diving in the Lembeh Strait on the east.
- Central Sulawesi is an emerging dive destination with pristine reefs and freshwater lakes.
- South Sulawesi’s main draw card is Wakatobi – a marine protected area for many years with a 5-star resort and liveaboard.
- Maluku Islands are sometimes referred to as the Spice Islands. Diving hot spots here include the macro wonders of Ambon and the vibrant coral reefs of Halmahera.
The international gateways to Indonesia are typically Jakarta and Denpasar (Bali). However, as Manado has both a domestic and international airport, there are some international, and many domestic airlines that fly directly to Manado.
Wakatobi has its own charter flight via Denpasar (Bali).
Scuba diving in Derawan Islands offers abundant marine life with a huge variety of coral reef dives, caves, walls, lagoons, and even a jellyfish lake. Apart from the many turtle encounters you will also see some amazing macro while diving here such as stone fish, seahorses, flamboyant cuttlefish, blue-ringed octopus etc as well as some schooling jackfish and some enormous giant clams.
Bunaken National Park
Bunaken National Park consists of seven islands and is located in the Bay of Manado to the west of Manado. The area is famous for its steep coral clad walls and the great richness of species living here. The drop-offs start in the shallows of 1-2 meters (3-6 ft) and then fall away sharply. The marine park is home to a number of turtles, including the rare leatherback and loggerheads turtles. Most of the walls are topped with shallow coral reefs teeming with small reef fish which make for both an interesting safety stop, and good snorkelling.
The island of Bangka lies at the most northern tip of Sulawesi. The reefs are more like undulating meadows of coral, with a mixture of soft corals and hard corals. This variety of terrain brings with it a variety of fauna, with everything present from nudibranch, leafy scorpion fish, blue ribbon eels, and angler fish, right up to Napoleon wrasse, sharks, barracudas and trevally.
An hour’s drive away from Manado on the eastern side , close to the port town of Bitung is Lembeh Island, which is world famous for its muck diving. It’s a favoured destination of divers looking for the smallest and rarest fish and critters. So please don’t expect colourful reefs and great vis, but do expect Ambon scorpion fish, ghost pipefish, seahorses, crabs and angler fish in all colours, just to name a few. Lembeh is for serious muck divers.
There are often cool currents in the Lembeh Straight, with the water temperature getting as low as 22°C (71°F). This combined with the fact that as a photographer you will be motionless or moving very slowly, a warmer 5mm wetsuit is recommended.
Wakatobi Resort is renowned for its very high standard of luxury accommodation, and guests are always particularly impressed by the richness of various species of marine live. Wakatobi is not a big fish area, but its special attraction is the beautiful house reef with 6 different dive sites.
Halmahera is the largest of the Maluku Islands, in the North Maluku province of Indonesia, between Northern Sulawesi and Raja Ampat. It might not be the easiest place to get to, but all the travel is well worth the adventure as Halmahera is home to some of the highest coral diversity in the world.
The interesting and versatile dive sites around the islands of Saparua, Molana, Nusa Laut, Haruku and Ambon belong to some of the world’s best. They offer stunning coral gardens, steep reef walls and a huge variety of colourful tropical marine life.