Lying across the Badung Strait from Sanur is Bali's premiere scuba diving destination - the clear waters of Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida islands. With its adjacent deep water trenches, the main attraction of diving at Lembongan Island is the common encounters with the curious and otherwise very rare oceanic sunfish, or mola mola.
Sunfish are pelagic fish growing 2 metres long. They are found in tropical and temperate waters, feeding off large plankton and jellyfish. They have large, blunt heads, heavy bodies and stubbed tails, with elongated dorsal and ventral fins that can span 4 metres. You will never misidentify a sunfish! They can often be seen at cleaning stations with attendant cleaner wrasse. They are most often seen in this area from July to September.
Blue Corner at Lembongan Island can be one of the most exciting dives of your life but you will need to make sure that you listen very carefully to the advice you receive from your divemaster. When you descend to about 18 - 20 meters the current grabs you and you begin the natural rollercoaster ride of a lifetime. There is plenty to see as you race by, as the currents bring with them lots of food for the residents of the reef. The Nusa Lembongan currents also attract pelagic fish so keep an eye out in the deep blue for them and sunfish.
Ped is the most popular dive site on the nearby Nusa Penida north coast, as it tends to offer currents milder than some of the other sites at Lembongan. Healthy low lying hard coral reef banks slope gently to 20 metres, then down to 40 metres. Occasional manta rays and schools of chevron barracuda add to the rich variety of smaller fish which seem to prefer the calmer waters of Ped.
Wonderful barrel sponges and gorgonians can be seen in the deeper waters, and sea snakes can be seen on almost every dive. With the reef extending up to within 5 metres of the surface your safety stop will allow time to spot moray eels, titan triggerfish and the brilliantly coloured emporer angelfish. Be careful not to touch the reef as the local scorpionfish are notoriously difficult to spot.
Crystal Bay is perhaps Nusa Penida's best dive site. It is located in the south west of the island and features a shallow bay, carpeted in corals. The bay provides shelter from current and is a good place to start your dive. Apart from the superb corals in the bay, the big attraction here is that this area is a favourite spot for mola mola, which gather to be cleaned on the slopes of the reef just outside of the bay.
Along the remote cliff edges that form the southern coastline of Nusa Penida is a site called Manta Point. Here the sea is quite shallow, cool and can have strong surge. The water is often quite murky too due to the plankton which attracts mantas, often in small groups. The manta rays come here to feed and often stay for quite a while, seemingly oblivious to the attentions of observant scuba divers. If you give them space then you can watch them circling about for most of the dive in depths ranging from 18 metres up to the surface.
Blue Point, or Jack Point, offers an excellent snorkelling destination on Nusa Penida and interesting shallow sites which can be enjoyed by divers of all levels of experience. If you descend below 12 metres however, the currents become strong and more experienced divers can enjoy a great ride over unusual corals.
Keep an eye to the deep water as sunfish and white-tip and black-tip reef sharks are regular visitors to this dive site. Given the possibility of strong currents it is a good idea to have your own safety sausage and a signalling device for attracting attention at the surface. Expect to encounter chilly thermoclines in the deeper water.
Diving conditions around Nusa Lembongan Island and in the Nusa Penida MPA can vary. While there are plenty of locations which, at the right time, can be perfectly suitable for the less experienced divers, those who actively seek strong current will not be disappointed. The currents can usually be predicted from the tide tables but at certain sites they can increase (sometimes reaching 5 knots), decrease or shift direction with no advance notice, and may also vary dramatically with depth.
All divers should be aware that the upwellings from the deep water south of Bali, which keep visibility here clear, can also make the water rather cold so you may wish to pack your scuba gear accordingly.
Nusa Lembongan & Nusa Penida Reef Basics: Sunfish and pelagic encounters
Depth: 8 - 40m
Visibility: 20 - 45m
Currents: Can be very strong
Surface conditions: Can be rough
Water temperature: 20 - 26°C
Experience level: Intermediate - advanced
Number of dive sites: 12
Diving season: All year round, but can be difficult June to September
Distance: ~35 km east of Kuta (2 hours)
Access: Lembongan Island daytrips and Bali dive resorts