UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOP WITH MARK WEBSTER
BALI AND KOMODO - LAND OF FIRE AND DRAGONS
Underwater photographers in search of new subjects and fresh challenges have long revered the infamous island of Komodo as perhaps the richest marine environment. Komodo’s remote location at the confluence of the Pacific and Indian Oceans ensures that it has been visited by relatively few divers. There are no resorts on these islands and so the only way to reach the area is by live aboard boat sailing from Bali or Flores.
After my first night at sea I am woken by an unusual mixture of sounds – the creaking of timbers of the traditionally built Bugis schooner and the hum of modern technology in the form of air conditioning to ensure a cool night’s sleep close to the equator. The Kararu Sea Safari III is a large boat that comfortably swallows 16 guests and a total of 19 crew who are attentive to your every need but in no way intrusive. The boat has been set up with photographers in mind, boasting a long external camera table (with even a padded top) with individual equipment lockers below. In the roomy saloon there is a large charging area with 120v and 220v supplies plus projection screen together with slide and digital projector. Daily E6 processing is offered for those who simply cannot wait to get home. The en suite cabins are spacious and kept spotless and for extra romance or luxury you can select the double suite on the bridge deck.
The usual vessel routing is from Bali sailing east past the islands of Moyo, Santonda, Sangeang, Banta, Lawa Laut and then finally on to the jewels of Komodo and Rinca. Several dives are made en route which provide a taste of what is to come as you get closer to the Komodo National Park. The diving is very varied and the greatest contrasts are to be found when diving both the northern and southern sides of Komodo and Rinca. It is here that the two oceans merge and the northern side often offers the warm clear waters you expect in the tropics, whilst on the south you can expect rich plankton blooms, visibility which varies from 10-30m and chilly currents with temperatures ranging from 18-30c! However, this is what propagates the density of marine life and you can experience anything from whale sharks and mantas to frogfish and tiny shrimps on feather stars in every colour of the rainbow. I should point out here that my whale shark encounter was whilst I was clutching a camera armed with a 60mm macro lens – the only sore point from the trip!
Reef conditions are equally varied ranging from black volcanic sands reminiscent of Lembeh Straits to lush coral encrusted pinnacles and walls, where it is difficult to see bedrock, to every combination in between. There are plenty of wide angle opportunities for even the most demanding photographer and there is a stunning manta dive at Toralangkoi off Komodo Island where these graceful creatures make repeated inquisitive passes close enough to touch. But it is when you stop to examine the macro world slowly and carefully that wealth of unusual critters, for which Indonesia is so renowned, slowly begins to emerge and will keep you engrossed for dive after dive. The reef changes again as soon as darkness falls and night diving should not be missed as this is when some of the most striking creatures make an appearance.
Several days are spent at Komodo and Rinca and there is the opportunity to go ashore at Komodo and meet with those fearsome Komodo dragons and bargain for freshwater pearls and carvings with the locals. However, I found myself itching to get back in the water to make the most of this unique experience which will end all too soon. The return route visits some of the sites dived on the outbound leg but most of the steaming is limited to the night time hours to maximise the diving opportunities. My return journey was preoccupied with thoughts of all the opportunities and subjects I might have missed and eager plans to return and repeat the experience!
If you have the time on your return it is worth spending a few days in Bali which is simply a stunning island. Away from the hustle and bustle of Kuta and Sanur the countryside and soaring volcanoes offer a total contrast to the underwater world, although there is some excellent diving here as well if you have not had enough. I spent a few days at the comfortable Tauch Terminal Resort at Tulamben and could not get enough of the fantastic wreck of the USS Liberty which lies just a few metres from the shore and is absolutely teeming with life. The beach diving here is really remarkable and there are even porters to carry your tanks and BC to the water’s edge. This sounds extreme until you first walk across the volcanic cobbles on the beach and then you are eternally grateful for the service, which pampers your delicate western feet! The reefs to the north and south of Tulamben also offer great diving and photo opportunities and are easily accessed by a short ride on one of the local outrigger fishing boats.
Despite the political woes of the area Bali is quiet and as potentially safe as any other location in the world today. I felt nothing but secure and relaxed and all the Balinese I met were warm and welcoming and grateful for those tourists making the effort to visit. It irks me to know that New York and London can suffer terrorist outrages but our Foreign Office would not dream of advising against travel to these locations, but sadly the same logic does not apply to Indonesia – it is up to you to decide where you will feel safer.
Flights: There are a number of routes from Europe to Denpaser in Bali via Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Jakarta. I flew with Malaysian Airlines and Garuda Indonesia and found the journey to be very easy and the transit period at KL easy and relaxing. Both these airlines offer an extra 10kg for diving/sports equipment.
Time in Bali is GMT +8 hours
Voltage locally is 220V with European style two pin plugs
Air temperature 27-30 and humid
Water temperature 27-29c and 18-25c in the cold currents – 3-5mm wetsuit advised plus hood
No visa required but passport must be valid for at least 6 months
Currently Bali has no requirement for anti malarial pills – but you should consult your pharmacist for the current situation and prophylactic
Currency – bring US Dollars to change locally into Rupiah. Exchange rates are best in the banks and you can withdraw cash from ATM’s
When to go: Live aboards sail to Komodo between April and December. Bali offers diving year round.
Komodo - Land of Fire and Dragons