The island nation of Indonesia straddles the equator between the Indian and Pacific Oceans and lies at the heart of the ‘Coral Triangle’ - the epicentre of the world’s marine biodiversity. Nowhere on ...
At Tulamben, on Bali’s northeast coast, one of the world’s most accessible wrecks lies just off the beach - that of the Liberty. Lying on its side just meters from the black pebble shoreline, the wreck offers a perfect opportunity for visitors to dive into history and witness the power of nature to transform a metal hulk into a thriving ecosystem, festooned with soft corals and sea fans.
For most people Tulamben is synonymous with one thing only - the wreck of the Liberty which lies just meters off the beach. However, this area also has some fantastic diving on the reefs to the east and west of the wreck and is also well known for its biodiversity - in fact, Tulamben has some of the highest numbers of fish and invertebrate species recorded in Indonesia.
The wreck of the Liberty lies roughly 40m from the beach, with the shallowest parts in just a few meters of water. The boat lies on its side with the bow pointing to the north and the superstructure facing the deeper water away from the beach. To dive the wreck, divers simply gear up on the beach and swim out across a sandy plain to reach the stern of the vessel. From here, divers descend past the superstructure into the deeper sections where they can investigate the hold and engine room, swim out to the bow section or search for the remains of the stern gun. Exploring the structure of the wreck is an amazing experience in itself, but for most visitors it is the sheer diversity and amount of life that has been attracted to the wreck that makes it so special. The entire wreck is carpeted in soft corals, sponges and other encrusting life, all surrounded by clouds of reef fish, both big and small. The Liberty is famous for its schools of jackfish and bumphead parrotfish as well as some large resident great barracuda. There are lionfish, sweetlips and anemonefish, big snappers and emperors, batfish, schools of sergeant majors, filefish, pufferfish and boxfish, as well as lots of interesting macro life to be found once a diver starts to focus on the smaller life. Bigger fish are often spotted around the wreck and it is not unusual to see turtles, reef sharks, eagle rays and even Mola mola during the summer months.
Tulamben also has some fantastic sites that can either be dived from the beach or are accessible by boat to the east and west of Tulamben. The Drop Off, located to the east of the bay where the Liberty is located, has a sheer wall section dropping off into the depths and some big sponges and sea fans, especially in the deeper sections. This site is well known for sightings of bigger fish when the currents are running around the headland, but also has some beautiful schools of fish in the shallows. Further east are Batu Kelabit, Amalanda and other sites, all reached by boat. These dive sites feature short wall sections separated by saddles of coral and sand chutes. There are some nice areas of corals, big sponges and sea fans, and fields of the feathery hydroids that are so common here. These sites have great general reef life and are good for spotting big cuttlefish in the shallows, reef sharks cruising in the deeper water, small schools of snapper, sweetlips and goatfish, and critters like leaf scorpionfish, nudibranchs and the occasional ghost pipefish.
Heading west from the wreck are several sites, the closest being Coral Garden or Paradise Reef, with its sloping coral reef extending out into the bay. This area is well known for its biodiversity and is a great location to spot interesting juveniles, ribbon eels, camouflaged scorpionfish and the elusive cometfish. Macro life is also prolific here and there are always lots of interesting nudibranchs and crustaceans. Beyond the bay are several other locations reached by boat including the well known muck diving sites at Seraya and the new wreck at Kubu.
Tulamben is perfect for snorkelers as so much of the marine life that has been attracted by the wreck is visible from the surface. Snorkelers can spot the big school of jackfish swimming above the remains of the hull, lots of fish life in the shallows and even turtles and the bumphead parrotfish at dawn. The waving carpet of garden eels on the sand flats is an amazing sight, easily experienced without the need for a dive. Beyond the wreck, Coral Garden is also a great spot, but The Drop Off is probably the best site for snorkelers with its shallow corals and schooling fish such as snappers and goatfish.
Other locations such as Seraya and Kubu to the west are not ideal for snorkeling, but the eastern reefs and headlands offer plenty to see and easy conditions, with currents taking snorkelers along the reef and past all the marine life.
Despite being just a few hours from the main tourist areas, the villages along Bali’s north east coast still retain a peaceful, more rural atmosphere. Like Amed to the east, the scenery is quite different from that in the south of the island - being in the rain shadow of the volcanoes means that the area is much drier and fields of cactus are a common sight. The area is also a great deal quieter, with fewer tourists and as a result, less facilities outside of Tulamben itself. Visitors can easily get out of the village to appreciated a more rural Bali, free from the hawker-hassle of places like Kuta with its constant soundtrack of 'You want transport?'
Tulamben actually started life as a fishing village - albeit one with a WWII wreck run aground on the beach. Everything changed in 1963 when Mt Agung erupted and sent a lava flow down to the coast, pushing out the hulk of the Liberty from the beach and beneath the waves in the process. Tulamben survived the eruption and gained an incredible dive site - the rest is diving history.
Today the wreck of the Liberty attracts divers from all over the island - some on day trips from the south, others staying in in the north - all drawn to the site by the promise of a dive on what has to be one of Indonesia's best and most accessible wrecks.
Tulamben is a 3 - 3.5 hour drive from south Bali, depending on traffic. The road is the same one that leads visitors up past Padangbai, Candidasa and to Amed, before turning north west along the coast to Tulamben. All of the resorts can arrange transport for guests or they can simply hire a driver from the south themselves. From Tulamben, the road heads north and west towards Singaraja, then onwards towards the western half of Bali.
Many divers visit Tulamben as a day trip from south Bali but given the length of the journey and the many accommodation options, we would recommend staying in Tulamben for at least a few nights to get a better appreciation of the area.
From its origins as a fishing village, Tulamben has grown into a well-established tourism area that hugs the road east and west of the village, with plenty of small dive centres, homestays and some very nice resorts and private villas. Accommodation can be found for any budget and many of the dive centres will work in conjunction with a partner resort so you can easily book a ‘dive and stay’ package. The bigger resorts typically have their own in-house dive centre, pool and restaurant.
Diving in this part of Bali is year round although there is often a period of rough sea in the early part of the year, and colder water in the summer months of June through to August. Probably the best time of year to dive at Tulamben is from September through to November or December. The area is a little quieter out of the main holiday season and the cold-water upwellings of the summer months ensure a bloom of life several months later.
Like the rest of Bali, the wet season runs from roughly November through to March, whilst the dry season runs from May through to September. Water temperatures are normally 26 - 28C with cooler upwellings in the summer months.