This is a report of our rebreather dive trip to Bali and the Komodo National Park. If you are interested to see what the diving was like, or what Bali is like, then make sure to check out the video episodes we've released!

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Enjoy!
Liesbeth

The plan

Last year in November, while rain was pouring down, days were short and grey, and people were getting depressed with the cold and dark days ahead of them, we decided it was time to burn some of those hard earned frequent flyer miles and hotel bonus points on a most luxurious holiday in paradise. Which included loads of sunshine of course! And great food, nice beaches, blue water, and – needless to say – fantastic diving… I still had fond memories of another trip to Indonesia, touring around the different islands such as Bali, Java, Lombok and Sulawesi, and convinced the husband in no time that this was the place. At the same time, we wanted to find out if there was anything happening towards technical diving around the archipelago.

Indonesia

Looking at the map, we were astonished by the sheer size of the Indonesian Archipelago. In fact, it’s the largest archipelago in the world, spread out from Australia in the East to Malaysia in the west. With a tropical climate, and monsoonal dry and wet season, it houses the second largest rainforest in the world and an enormous biodiversity. Located on the overlap of tectonic plates, it’s also the site of many volcanoes and earthquakes.
Indonesia has a population of over 230 million. With different ethnic backgrounds, different religions and languages, over 50% of the population lives from agriculture.


The logistics


How we got there


Getting to Indonesia from Europe typically means flying from a main hub like London or Amsterdam with Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines or Malaysia Airlines into Hong-Kong, Singapore or Kuala Lumpur. From then on it’s only a 2 hour leg to the Island of the Gods, Bali.
So, living in Antwerp, we decided to drive up to Amsterdam, which usually takes 1.5 to 2 hours by car. Obviously not this time! After a stressful 4 hour dive, with plenty of traffic jams and car accidents (not ours!) we still got checked in on time to enjoy the Singapore Lounge at Schiphol airport. Packing our diving and video gear had proved to be a challenge, but we just made it with half a kilo to spare!

We flew Singapore Airlines from Amsterdam to Singapore and then to Denpasar (Bali), and stayed in the Conrad Bali Hotel, as it’s part of the Hilton Family, and - as said before – we had some free nights to spend.

For the diving part, we ended up choosing the Archipelago Fleet for a liveaboard trip to the Komodo National Park. The park is actually a unique collection of 175 small to tiny islands, most of which are uninhabited. Also, it houses the famous Komodo Dragon, the largest lizard on the planet.

The customs incident


Arriving in Bali, we had a close encounter with customs. This was the first time for us to be confronted with plain old corruption, as one of the officers took us in and demanded a “special filming permit” for our two cameras. He claimed we had to leave our camera’s behind and obtain a permit from Denpasar, ānd we had to pay a deposit of 30% of the video gear! As we didn’t really have the time (or the money!) to get to the bottom of the case, we paid him off. What a great reception committee!

Anyway, our entire luggage made it and we were glad to see the hotel to relax for a few days before departing on our trip to Komodo. The Conrad Bali is just stunning. It’s happily situated in Nusa Dua, on the road to Tanjung Benoa, the peninsula in the south of Bali. With spectacular landscaping, sweeping views over the ocean and super service it’s one of the best hotels we’ve stayed at.

Meeting with Buck

We met up with Buck, the manager of the Archipelago Fleet, and sat down and talked about the upcoming liveaboard trip. Good news! After all the hassle, misunderstandings and difficulties he finally had managed to get all the equipment on board to allow rebreather diving. It was their first attempt to do so, and fixing the arrangements for tanks, oxygen, filling whip and sorb had been a real pain, but they cleared it just in time!

Flight to Flores

After 3 days of doing nothing really, we were eager to leave for Komodo. The local flight from Denpasar to Labuan Bajo on Flores took a little over an hour and was uneventful. We met our fellow divers right before takeoff. There were only 6 of us, so the week promised to be relaxing, not just for the guests, but also for the 20 person crew. Upon arrival, we were out of the terminal in no time (this time, no annoying customs) and were taken to the Adventurer II, our home for the coming week.

Schedule for the trip

Our schedule was as follows: Saturday check dive close to Flores. Sunday north Komodo. Monday and Tuesday diving the south, close to Rinca. Wednesday dive Manta Point. Thursday back to the North. Friday sail to Bima.


The liveaboard: the Adventurer II

This phindisi schooner was specially built for diving, and the first thing we noticed was the amount of space on the boat: big cabins, enough storage space for all the diving gear, dedicated camera tables and power plugs, large dining deck, sundeck. The lower decks were built by a shipyard, and the top decks by a carpenter. This resulted in a big construction, not too stable in rough seas, but excellent space-wise. Next thing is the outstanding service on the boat. The crew will do everything for you, and on many occasions we were pleasantly surprised by the high standard of service, always done with a smile!

The cabins were the largest we’ve seen so far, with good air-conditioning, big beds, decent mattresses, storage space and separate shower and sink. They are spread over two decks, some on the same level as the dive deck, some on the living deck above. All cabins have big windows. There are twin cabins, a double cabin, doubles with an extra bunk bed and single cabins.

The living area consists of an air-conditioned room where all meals are served, connected to a shaded area outside where we had many meals when it was not too hot. The food was some of the best we’ve had on a liveaboard, with enough variety, fresh vegetables and a good mix of international and Indonesian dishes. The top deck is a real sun trap with wooden loungers. On the same level as the dive deck, was an area we solely used for our cameras. There is a big plasma screen, so you can check your footage, and a library with movies, which we never used. Sometimes, when the boat is fully booked, this room is also used as a dining area.

The dive deck is located on both sides of the boat, with the tanks lined up along the wall and individual crates for small equipment under the benches. Suits are rinsed by the crew after every dive, and then hanged for drying on the bow. Before the dive, you will find your suit nicely folded next to your tank. Depending on the number of guests with cameras, wooden tables can be mounted on top of the dive benches, covered with towels. After a rinse in a dedicated camera tank, you could work on your housing and take only the dry camera inside, very practical! Towels are provided for each guest to use outside. The crew again will take care to dry and store them. The bow is also used as a briefing area, with a whiteboard to draw the divesite. After briefing, the group will split up and walk down the stairs into the two tenders on each side of the boat.

The belly of the boat is crew only area. We had the opportunity to visit the kitchen and dining area, clean, well organized, but small and warm! And finally, we also paid a visit to the captain’s wheel house. It’s got all the equipment you would expect from a modern liveaboard.

The diving ops

A typical day on the boat starts around 7AM, when continental breakfast is served. Right after, guests get ready for the first dive of the day. After the dive, you will be served your choice of cooked breakfast, such as omelets, eggs benedict, or Indonesian style breakfast. Then it’s time to rest. Mid-morning, around 11AM, the second dive is planned, with a buffet lunch after. A third dive is scheduled around 3PM. Snacks are served for those who are hungry (again), and then a nightdive. A three course dinner is served after the last dive.

To get to the dive sites, your set is loaded onto two aluminium tenders, so you don’t have to carry anything! Your fins stay in the tenders for the day, and the crew will assure you have all the right equipment. Just walk down the ladder and step into the tender, piece of cake. After the dive, again the crew will make sure your set is placed in the right spot on the boat and they will fill the tanks for you. We were diving rebreathers, and this was a first for the Archipelago fleet. The crew was very eager to learn about the system, and after only one time explaining about how it works, how to carry the rebreathers, what not to do etc., they handled our rebreathers with utmost care!

Talking about technical diving, there is not much out there in Indonesia for the technical diver – yet. Archipelago is planning a rebreather only trip next year, working together with APD, to become one of the only rebreather friendly liveaboards in the area. For this trip however, getting the logistics sorted out proved to be a challenge. We ended up diving with 4litre tanks, bought by the Archipelago Fleet, soda sorb was on board, and as there was no booster pump available yet, we had 2 big oxygen tanks to use for the 2 of us, which was plenty.

The diving

If you say Komodo, say current. This place is definitely not for beginner divers. We had everything from “no current” (i.e. manageable), over down current and shifting current to screaming currents where we literally were flying over the reef. Diving at full moon, the tide differences were twice as big as on other days, and currents behaved likewise. You never knew until you got to the dive site what it was going to be like. Right before every dive, the divemaster rode out on the tender to check the current for us, and on some occasions, diveplans were changed at the very last minute because it was too dangerous to dive. On one dive, I saw Peter going at full speed banging into the rocks. Unfortunately this manoeuvre scratched the dome port of his underwater housing. Bugger!

But, man did we see a lot of marine life! First of all, corals were in pristine condition. We’ve never seen such a diversity and in such an excellent state! Hard corals such as brain corals, staghorn, elkhorn, soft corals, fans, in different shapes and colours, and the’re everywhere from deep down to right below the surface. Then there are the fish! Take anything from schools of small anthias, to big tuna or jacks. From tiny pygmee seahorses to adult turtles. Throw in some manta rays, white tip and black tip sharks, a couple of moray eels and groupers. Then add schools of surgeon fish and sweetlips. Shake well, and poor over good to excellent visibility, and you get an impression of what diving in Komodo is like.

We also had the opportunity to visit Rinca, one of the larger islands, and home of the Dragon. At 7AM our small group was lying stomach down in the sand, when two Komodo dragons came out of the bushes to find some food. They are long tailed big lizards, with yellow forked tongues and wrinkled skin, and they are dangerous! When we realised they can pull a sprint at 20km speed, I wasn’t too keen on getting up close and personal.

The climate


Indonesia has a tropical climate all year round, but we decided not to challenge fate, and went in the dry season. During our stay, not a single drop of rain. Komodo is one of the driest areas of Indonesia anyway, and rainfall is mainly from December to March (northwest monsoon). From April to October, it is dry season, when the eastern monsoon brings the driest weather. Temperatures are always in the 30s during the day, and the water temp varied from 26 Celcius in the north to the “colder” area in the south with 23 Celcius. We used a 5mm wetsuit, which was just fine for us rebreather divers. On OC however, especially in the south and especially during longer dives, a hood can come in handy.

Bali

After a full week of diving, getting up early and being busy all day long, we were ready for a lazy week of sunshine, and for some sightseeing around Bali. Back at the Conrad, we organised a day trip to the North of Bali, and chose a car with driver over the Internet. Putu, our guide, was born and raised in Ubud, the artist’s village, and he took us for a trip to the volcano, Gunung Batur. We spent lunch at the lake which is situated inside the crater, after visiting a typical Balinese house. We met with local craftsmen carving stone and wood sculptures, and saw temples and ceremonies on our way.

Another day we went to the fish market in Jimbaran. Fishing boats were still loading off enormous tuna, sold on the spot to the local restaurants. Other boats were preparing for the night, with fishermen loading ice sticks onto the boats, to keep the fish fresh. Later that night, we had dinner right on the beach in one of the many restaurants that prepare the catch of the day. In the bay, we saw hundreds of little lights floating on the water, and we realised they were the same fishermen, working through the night.


The rest of the time was spent relaxing, enjoying the sun before heading home. We arrived safely in Amsterdam after an overnight flight with a stop in Singapore. Our entire luggage made it back safely, and without customs hassle this time. Looking back at the footage today brings back fond memories of our trip, and confirmed our decision to return to Bali even more.

Hope you enjoy the videos!
Liesbeth