Indonesia_Bunaken

Here are a few rough notes until I get a chance to write this up in full.

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Bunaken
Bunaken is a small island off the North East of Sulawesi in Indonesia.  It is famous as a diving destination.

Bunaken is also a great location for snorkelers. There is fantastic coral there and a good range & population of reef fish.  Underwater currents can be a pain in the ass for off-the-beach snorkellers, but overall, the island is well worth a visit.

There is a steep wall around Bunaken, dropping vertically from 2 metres to 25+ meters.  The wall has a decent amount of hard and soft coral on it.
In most places around the island, there is strip of good coral on a shallow reeftop just before the wall. This strip is about 30m wide and is the best location for off-the-beach snorkelling.

Closer to shore, there is a 100m wide strip of flat sand & sea grass. You need to swim over this before you get to the decent coral.

MAP Main bunaken 01 JPG TEMP

Area 1
The best coral is on the East coast (Area 1) (Pangalisang Beach).

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Coral diversity & condition is probably best near Lorenzo’s and Sea Garden resorts, but it is pretty awesome all the way up the East coast. You can’t go wrong anywhere between the main jetty at the village and Living Colors Resort.

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The underwater currents are unpredictable and can be a pain in the ass. Currents generally run parallel to the coast and sometimes go from North to South and sometimes from South to North.  As far as I could work out, when the tide is going out, the prevailing current on the East coast is from South to North, and when the tide is coming in, from North to South.  About half the time, the current was mild and manageable.  But the rest of the time it was too strong to swim against, even with fins and overarm stroke.

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To get around this problem, you need to discover which way the current is going and walk to a suitable latitude to enter the water (so that you subsequently get swept to your desired exit point).   Get clues by looking at which direction dive boats are pulling against their mooring buoys on the drop-off.   This is made more complicated by the occasional 100m section of coast where the current runs in the opposite direction to the rest of the coast!  Also, currents in the shallow waters can run in the opposite direction to those at the drop-off, so don’t pay too much attention to boats moored near to shore.  Sometimes there are no boats and no clues, so you just have to get into the water, swim 100m out to the drop-off to figure it out, get out again and walk 1km down the coast to a suitable start point (!)

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Make sure you have an exit point.  There is a handy road parallel to the coast. It is close to the coast between the jetty (in the South) and Living Colors resort (halfway up the East coast). In this stretch of coastline you can easily walk to/from your resort if the current is too strong to swim there.  But note that there is no coast road/access to the sea further North than Living Colors resort, so exit is not possible here.  It is generally not a good idea to swim North of Living Colors unless you have a boat waiting to collect you as sail past the end of the island.

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Have I scared you enough yet?   Don’t worry – if you are sensible and do a bit of observation/planning, it is quite possible to beat the currents and start and end safely on dry land.

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The other notable thing about the currents is that they bring icy cold water, presumably from upwells in the depths. Sometimes the snorkelling is more like an endurance exercise in the Norwegian army! I’m not keen on the cold and I often had trouble staying in the water for more than an hour.  You might want to rent a wetsuit from a nearby diveshop.

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The currents seem to be milder towards low-tide.
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On the East coast, you have to pass through 20 metres of shallow mangrove before you get to the open sea, but this isn’t really a problem because most resorts have carved a narrow walking path through the roots. It is not always obvious where these paths are from the sea-side – so, if you want to exit the water at a specific resort, make a mental note of reference points (tall trees, buoys, etc) when you get in the water there, so you can find the easy exit-point later on.

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OK – I’m all done with the negatives now.  Did I mention that the coral is absolutely awesome ?

TEMP_Bunaken_P7075223.JPG

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Area 2
The area to the South of the village (Area 2) isn’t especially suitable for snorkelling, as there are villagers’ boats coming and going all the time.  It is also a popular dive site, so there are also dive boats whizzing around.

The coral here isn’t quite as good as it is on the East coast.

If you do try snorkelling at Area 2, the spot outside the Church (at the drop-off) has the best coral.  Some diveshops call Area 2 ‘turtle city’,  but you can see just as many turtles anywhere on the East coast and without any hassle from boats.

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The currents in Area 2 run parallel to the beach & drop-off – East/West in this case.

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Area 4
On the West coast there is a long, sandy beach (Liang Beach). There are a few resorts over this side.  There is the usual steep drop-off/wall about 100m from the beach.   I found the coral here to be significantly worse than on the east coast (contrary to what it says in a famous travel book).  At low tides, access through the shallow water can be a little difficult throughout Bunaken, but I found it to be worse over this side.

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Currents run parallel to the coast again and there is no road access to the sea beyond the touristed beach area.

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Other areas:
I would have swam all the way around the island to check-out alternative spots, but the currents (and lack of roads) here made that impossible. Unless you have a boat, you should stick to area 1, or (if you are staying there) maybe area 4.

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Most dive shops will let snorkellers join their dive boats for about 5 euros. Typically, you’ll snorkel for up to 50 minutes while the divers are down, then you’ll all motor to a second location and go again for up to an hour and a half. Dive shops cover divesites all around the island.  As far as I know, you can snorkel at any of these.

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Diving
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There are about 15 dive shops around Bunaken. One or two are famous-brand, 5 five-star padi centres, but you can get better prices from smaller local-run operations. I did a couple of dives with Immanuel Divers at Daniel’s Homestay who were fine.
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Actually, the coral on the East-coast reeftop is more abundant and healthy than it is on the walls and I preferred the snorkelling to the diving. But it depends what you are after. Turtles and Red-Toothed triggerfish are always friendlier to divers than they are to snorkellers and there were plenty around during the dives. The most popular draw of the diving was small (“macro”) creatures that the dive guide expertly spotted hiding in crevices and sea fans. We saw some beautiful tiny nudibranchs and (unusually) a blue ringed octopus that was only 7mm long. You won’t spot these things while snorkelling.
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Don’t expect too much on the big-fish front. There are plenty of turtles, and a few Eagle-rays but other than that – not much. Someone sees a white-tip reef shark about once a week and a Dugong once every two years.

 

That’s it for now  – I’ll write out more details when I get the chance.

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In the meantime, here are a few pretty snorkelling pictures:

TEMP_Bunaken_P6274394.JPGTEMP_Bunaken_P7034732_ Best turtle.jpg TEMP_Bunaken_P7044929_.jpg TEMP_Bunaken_P7044943_.jpg TEMP_Bunaken_P7065048.JPG TEMP_Bunaken_P7075286.JPG TEMP_Bunaken_P7095562_.jpg TEMP_Bunaken_P7095612_.jpg

 

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Written: July 2014    Last updated: July 2014

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One response to “Indonesia_Bunaken

  1. Pingback: Photos: Bunaken, Indonesia | Monkey Ropes

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