The Great Wall Dives of Bunaken

I had always always wanted to go to Sulawesi. I think I did some brief research at some point in time and know that there’s plenty of hiking to do there. And since I started diving again, there’s more reasons for me to head eastward, away from the dive crowds of Phuket, Tioman and Bali… Furthermore, after diving at Pulau Weh, Sumatra, I was blown away by the beauty of such pristine dive sites.

So I planned a trip to the beautiful island of Bunakan, the mysterious Lembeh Straits, finishing off with a one-day sightseeing trip in the Minahasa hilly region.

The waters are crystal clear!

After comparing flight options (it was Silkair vs Garuda – taking into account flight experience, safety, transit times and cost), we decided to take the direct 3.5hr flight from Singapore to Manado. We had booked a few nights with Two Fish Bunaken. However, instead of using their airport transfer option (which was a hefty $35/pax), we decided to find our own transport along the way. Sure enough, there was no lack of touters once we stepped out of the airport, as well as at the jetty. Our stay at Two Fish was amazing – Upon arrival, we were greeted by friendly staff and went through a detailed briefing and orientation. The compound had:

  • A dining area where all our meals were served. And I must say this, THE SAMBAL IS TO DIE FOR. Spicy, but oh-so-good;
  • A bar where we spent the nights drinking beer, learning the local card game from the staff and listening to them play some local songs;
  • A study area where we flipped through fish identification books while filling up our dive logs;
  • And a pool where we spent our free time frolicking around.

When we had some time, we also took the 30 min walk into Bunaken Village. There isn’t much there save for a village church (which actually looked quite impressive for a village church), and the main Bunaken island jetty where we’d have alighted if we took the public boat.

The dive sites are amazing. Bunaken is famous for wall dives and we were not disappointed. Every dive was full of marine life – big fish like tuna, barracuda, turtles (unfortunately we didn’t spot any eagle rays or reef sharks though) and macros like nudis, stonefish, gobies, and even the pygmy seahorse! The visibility was easily 25 to 30m. We did everything you can imagine – night dive, drift dive, dawn dive (!) and even mandarin fish dive, where we head out to look for the elusive beautiful mandarin fish.

After 4 days at the quiet peaceful island of Bunaken, we moved over to the eastern side of Manado, the Lembeh Strait, where the busy port of Bitung was. As you can imagine, the landscape was vastly different, with big ships anchored at the shore, and boats plying the jetty area. We knew it would be muck diving at Lembeh, but little did we know what we were in for! It is so vastly different from Bunaken. While everything was laid in the open for you to gawk at in Bunaken, it was like a treasure hunt in Lembeh where you had to really look out for things, and be really stealthy to catch the action.

To read more about the differences between Bunaken vs Lembeh, check out my other post here.

As with all diving trip, we had that one day of preflight surface interval to kill. So we chartered a taxi to take us around to the Minahasa region. We had lunch at one of the seafood restaurants along Lake Tondano and visited volcano Mt Mahawu where we could see Bunaken island and Manado city from the city. We also visited Lake Linow, which is said to be a colour-changing lake due to the sulphur content. Not quite sure about the extent of colour change, but we did see a slight change from blue to green (but aren’t most water bodies this colour anyway? Haha.) As there is a cafe at the lake, we spent a good bit of time drinking tea (and beer) and snacking on banana chips, before making the journey back into Manado City to spend our last night.

Trip Summary: Dive Trip to Manado – Bunaken Island and Lembeh Straits (July 2016)

  • Day 1
    • Flight Singapore – Manado
    • Taxi to Manado Jetty (IDR 200,000)
    • Chartered boat to Two Fish resort on Bunaken Island (IDR 400,000 / 45mins ride / Call Fandi at +62 0813-5600-6638)
      You can also have the option of taking the public boat (IDR 50,000), but we saw the boat. It looked overcrowded, chaotic and awfully hot and cramped. Everyone was seated inside and there were no windows save for a few glass panels.
  • Day 2 – 4: Diving @ Bunaken with Two Fish Bunaken
  • Day 5
    • Chartered boat back to Manado Jetty (IDR 500,000 / 15 mins)
    • Taxi from Manado Jetty to Bitung Jetty (IDR 350,000)
    • Chartered boat from Bitung Jetty to Two Fish Lembeh (IDR 250,000)
  • Day 6: Diving @ Lembeh Straits with Two Fish Lembeh 
  • Day 7:
    • Boat from Two Fish Lembeh to Bitung, arranged by resort (IDR 300,000)
    • One-day sightseeing trip around Minahasa hilly region
    • Stay at Swiss-Belhotel Manado
    • Dinner at Tuna House (Public announcement: This place serves cheap and fresh tuna steak that are sooo juicy.. I can almost taste it now! Map:
    • Massage at Tikala Shiatsu (Again, this place is worth mentioning because the massage is the best I ever had. So strong, yet not sore. And it’s cheap and clean. No unwanted business. Book in advance. Map:
  • Day 8: Home sweet home 🙂

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