Top dive locations – Nusa Penida, Lembongan and Ceningan
Nusa Penida is the largest of the trio of islands which include Nusa Lembongan and the smaller Nusa Ceningan which lies in between. The islands are located approximately 20km off the south-east coast of Bali, Indonesia. Together, they are some of the top dive locations in Indonesia
The most well-established of the islands is Nusa Lembongan, originally a surfing and scuba-diving haven for those who wished to escape the growing hustle and bustle of mainland Bali. Since the late 1990s, Lembongan has been the focal point for scuba diving, but most of the diving takes place around Penida. Until recently, tourism was mostly confined to Lembongan, as all but one of Penida’s villages refused to allow development.
In the last few years, Nusa Penida itself has opened for business, with a number of dive centres now established on the island. Likewise, Ceningan is also home to a number of new dive centres, accommodations and restaurants. Together, all three islands make an excellent scuba diving vacation destination. Some of the dive sites do become very busy with divers coming across from Bali. One of the best reasons to stay on Lembongan, Ceningan and Penida is to make sure you get to the top dive locations before the crowds descend.
Underwater, divers can expect to find some spectacular and vibrant coral reefs. There is also a good chance to spot some big critters. The islands are famous for sightings of southern mola and are home to a resident population of reef manta rays. In amongst the coral is a vast array of critters both big and small, and plenty for macro photographers to find. If, that is, the famously strong currents allow them to stay still for long enough!
TOP DIVE SITES
Crystal Bay is one of the most famous dive sites in the area. There is a shallow, sandy bay with a gentle slope down into the depths. The Bay is fringed with coral reef, but the best is around the huge rock that sits in the middle of the bay. Here, a shallow reef plate drops spectacularly into the depths, filled with coral and critters. This is one of the best places to spot Mola ramsayi, the southern mola, between July to October.
They are often called mola mola, (ocean sunfish) but are not quite the same. Nevertheless, they are huge bony fish, and an absolute delight to see, especially when they gather in numbers for cleaning. The currents here can be strong and unpredictable, so stay close to the reef at all times.
Penida North Shore
The long northern shore of Nusa Penida is home to a single, unbroken coral reef. A shallow reef plate filled with staghorn coral and huge anemones slopes off into the depths. The shore is split into a number of dive sites with different names. SD, Ped and Sental are three of the most popular.
They are quite similar in terms of topography, but each has its own outstanding set of feature. Huge pinnacles, large bowls, lots of smaller coral outcroppings. Currents can be extremely powerful and change direction suddenly, but they are usually easy to manage. Molas often pass by in the blue and can sometimes be spotted at cleaning stations along the reef. It’s a great place to spot mantis shrimp.
Manta Bay and Manta Point
Reef manta rays can be found all along the southern coast of Nusa Penida. At Manta Bay, juveniles gather in the shallow water for feeding. Sometimes a whole dive is spent at five or six metres watching them swooping and rolling through the clouds of plankton. Lots of snorkel boats visit the bays, so it’s good to get out early with the local dive centres. Manta Point (also called South Manta Point) is a cleaning station, where adult manta gathers to have their parasites removed.
Sightings are never guaranteed, but there is a better chance of seeing a manta than not seeing one. Sometimes a single ray, other times more than 20. If there’s no manta, the reef is full of blue spotted rays, turtles are common, and nurse sharks and wobbegongs can be found in the cracks. There is little current, but the south coast is prone to huge waves and very strong swell. It’s really easy to deal with, and still suitable for confident novice divers. Paralenz required!
One of the most diverse sites on the islands, Toyapakeh has a little bit of everything. Situated at the end of the channel between Penida and Ceningan, there is a chance to explore part of Ceningan Wall before turning and heading into the gently sloping, coral-filled reef. Scorpionfish, lionfish, banded sea krait (snakes) and octopuses.
Giant trevally hangs out in groups a little off the reef, as do schools of jacks and batfish. There is a series of small pinnacles with sandy patches in between, a great place to find ribbon eels. There’s always a chance that a mola will turn up, and larger pelagics, including whale sharks, have been known to pass by.
Need to Know
All three islands are easily accessible by speedboat from Bali. The best dive centres will arrange a pickup from the airport or hotel, book the boat and deliver you to your accommodation. The journey takes approximately 30 minutes and can be quite bumpy.
Currents around the islands can be strong and unpredictable. Along Penida’s north shore they are mostly linear and quite easy to deal with. Sites such as Blue Corner and Crystal Bay are prone to down-currents which can be dangerous if you stay off the reef. Listen to the briefings carefully and always stay behind your guide
Water temperature can drop as low as 15 degrees C at certain times of the year, and cold thermoclines are almost always present somewhere. A minimum of a 5mm full suit is essential, hoods are strongly recommended.
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