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 ...
The peaceful islands of Bangka and Gangga lie hidden at the very northern tip of Sulawesi and in recent years, have become well-known amongst discerning divers looking for an alternative to the busy destinations further south. Bangka and Gangga’s stunning beaches, tranquil atmosphere and interesting diving attract visitors who come in search of reefs filled with colourful soft corals and schools of fish, current-swept underwater pinnacles, seagrass beds and sandy bays, as well as sighting of dolphins and the rare, resident dugongs. And with several beautiful resorts in the area, divers can escape the crowds and discover that perfect Celebes experience.
The diving around Bangka and Gangga is markedly different from that at Bunaken or Lembeh and is characterized by fringing reefs and rocky pinnacles, strong currents, prolific and colourful soft corals and plentiful fish life. However, just like the rest of North Sulawesi, guests can expect a fantastic diversity of species. Divers have a good chance of encountering everything from big Napoleon wrasse and huge schools of snapper, to the minute Hippocampus pontohi pygmy seahorse and colourful leaf scorpionfish, all on a single dive. The area has plenty of interesting reef critters, and even sites where guests can spot blue-ringed octopus and mimic octopus. The Bangka area also has resident dugong and whilst never guaranteed, guests report underwater encounters with these vanishingly-rare animals every year. The seabed around the islands is generally shallower than at Bunaken and so the average visibility is a little lower. However this shallow seabed funnels the currents past the islands, meaning perfect feeding conditions for filter-feeders such as the spectacular soft corals that festoon some of the sites.
Bangka’s signature site is at Sahaung which features several ridges of rock that descend from the shore to a sand bottom at 30-35m+, all separated by a jumble of large boulders and shelves of rock. The dive starts by dropping down one side of the ridgeline to where the current hits the rock. This area is a fish magnet and the entire slope of boulders is covered in a huge school of blue-line snapper and anthias. On the other side of the ridge, the boulders and ridges are covered in spectacular red, orange and yellow soft corals and there are some big sea fans and tubastrea corals, once again with schools of snapper and anthias. The whole site has plenty of general reef fish with lots of small groupers, butterflyfish, surgeons, redtooth triggers, bannerfish and batfish and there are normally H. pontohi pygmy seahorses to be found hiding away. The currents here can be strong – hence all the filter-feeding soft corals. Sahaung’s other sites have large, isolated pinnacles on a sand and rubble floor at around 30-40m, again covered in fans, soft corals and often, large schools of baitfish and glassfish. Given the strong currents in the area, we always recommend divers carry a safety sausage.
The reefs off Bangka and Gangga Islands are teeming with fish life and vibrant, colorful soft corals and guests will be amazed by the diversity of species, both large and small, that can be seen on the reefs around the islands. This world-class snorkeling destination boasts coral encrusted rock pinnacles, abundant marine life and numerous white sand beaches just waiting to be explored. Bangka is a real “Robinson Crusoe” tropical island destination. Snorkeling around both islands is possible all year round and the resorts offer stunning house reefs just a step off the beach. Guests can encounter schools of yellow snapper that gather around bommies, dense schools of colorful reef fish darting in and out of the corals and even passing pelagic cruising by in the blue.
Situated at the northern extremity of Sulawesi, at the point where the Celebes and Molucca Seas first meet, this beautiful and isolated area is made up of six islands – Bangka, Gangga and Talisei, along with the smaller islands of Kinabohutan, Tamperong and Tindila. Collectively the entire area now takes its name from the largest of these, Bangka. There are few people living in the area – just four villages that rely on fishing and farming copra and cashew nuts to make a living - and despite the boat traffic rounding the tip of Sulawesi, Bangka feels like a much more peaceful place compared to Bunaken or Lembeh.
The area around Bangka and on the mainland facing the islands has more than 30 world-class dive sites characterized by fringing reefs and pinnacles, strong currents, abundant and colourful soft corals and teeming fish life, and like the rest of northern Sulawesi, there is a fantastic diversity of species. For many years, divers would visit Bangka as part of a day trip from Bunaken, Manado or Lembeh but today there are some beautiful resorts on the islands, making this area a fantastic - and peaceful - alternative to staying in the busy destinations further south.
The closest airport for both international and domestic flights is at Manado with frequent flights from Singapore - a good connection for most Asian and European destinations - as well as regular domestic flights from Jakarta and Bali via Makassar, on Garuda and Lion Air (Wings). From Manado, land transportation to the north takes just over an hour and then there is a 20 minute boat ride to Bangka or Gangga.
In the past, day trips trips to Bangka and Gangga were offered by the resorts in Bunaken and Manado, or those in Lembeh, meaning a long boat trip there and back. However, there are now several resorts and dive centres on Bangka and Gangga where guests can stay and dive both the Bangka area, and Bunaken and Lembeh - doing the day trips in reverse! Several companies also offer diving in and around Bangka as part of multi-destination packages or during a day-long transfer from Manado to Lembeh by boat. Guests simply load up their baggage in a car that is sent across to Bitung, then traveling to Bangka by boat for a couple of dives, and heading to Lembeh in the late afternoon and completing their transfer. If you are interested in a multi-destination package featuring Bangka and Gangga, please get in touch.
The dive seasons around Bangka are similar to those of the islands to the south. March to June is generally dry with good visibility, whilst the wet months of November through to March, and the windy conditions around July to October, can mean slightly lower visibility. During July and August, the water temperature can drop to 25 - 26C and this is often the best time for critters and macro subjects. Some of the sites can be quite exposed to waves and if you are traveling up from Lembeh or Bunaken by boat, a rough sea can make the boat ride pretty miserable; in fact, many operators around Manado will not make the trip if the seas are bad. However once at Bangka, there are plenty of sites to choose from and shelter can always found somewhere. If guests are keen to explore more of Bangka and Gangga, we recommend staying at a resort in the area rather than making day trips from Manado or Lembeh.
Murex Resorts in partnership with Lembeh Resort offer guests the ultimate way to explore Sulawesi - the ‘Passport to Paradise’. Dive from 3 different resorts in Manado, Bangka and Lembeh and explore all that this extraordinary area has to offer. This package includes 13 nights accommodation, 30 dives and all transfers by boat. Upgrade to Deluxe Ocean View Cottages or Cliffside Suite at Lembeh Resort. Upgrade to nitrox fills throughout.
Best time to visit: Year round, best May - July, September - October
Best time to visit: Year round, best August - December