Mola! Mola!! Mola!!! A report on my recent trip to Bali

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Hintermann

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This is a slightly delayed trip report from my diving trip to Indonesia last month. As usually is the case, there was a huge backlog of professional and personal things to sort out after I got back from my 3-week trip and to compiling this report took its time.
This trip consisted of two parts; first, 5 days of diving based at Padang Bai in Bali and then a liveaboard cruise plus some land based diving in Wakatobi. This is the report of the Bali part of the trip.
From the UK I had a few flight options but I chose Malaysia Airlines because of their good value, convenient flight times and transit facilities at KL. Singapore Airlines had exactly the same facilities but were more expensive whereas Garuda was inconvenient because I had to fly through Gatwick and Jakarta Airport’s Transit hotel was closed. Flying directly to Bali from Amsterdam on KLM was yet another option but the flight arrived there late in the day with very little rest in between and so I gave that a miss.
Anyway, the outbound flight was very long but uneventful and I managed to get some sleep in the extra leg-room seat that I had booked. With my checked baggage booked through from London to Bali, I stayed overnight in the Transit Hotel at Kuala Lumpur, thus getting over the jet lag. The following morning I arrived in Denpasar, was met at the airport and transferred to Padang Bai Beach Resort, with whom I had booked my diving package. The resort is quite nice with comfortable bungalows, an acceptable in-house restaurant and a well-equipped and staffed “Absolute Scuba” Dive Centre. There was some choice to eat out elsewhere too but not a great deal of nightlife fot those who went looking for it. I was happy was I was there to dive and had booked a busy schedule. The resort provided me with a very good dive guide named Farhan and for the most part it was a one-o-one service.
Day 1: On the first day we started with an easy check five over a reef called Blue Lagoon. It was a straightforward relatively shallow dive but it was bloody cold! The surface temperature was 23*C but there was a sharp thermocline at around 8m after which the water temperature dropped to 16*C! I was thoroughly chilled out in my 3+3mm suit and had to keep swimming around to keep warm. The topography was OK with mainly sparse hard coral clumps but there were plenty of reef fish. We saw a cuttlefish, an octopus, a moray eel, several nudibranchs and the usual colourful reef fish. There was some surge near the surface but otherwise diving conditions were easy.
Rather foolishly I braved my 3+3mm suit for the second dive of the day at Tanjung Jepun. Once again, a thermocline dropped the water temperature to 17*C at about 7 metres but the visibility was good at 25metres+. There were several manufactured wrecks at this site, mostly bits and pieces off fishing boats, a statue of Buddha etc. We saw another cuttlefish, 3 small leaf-fish, a giant frogfish, regal angelfish, cowfish and so on. There was also more coral here and less signs of bleaching.
I rented a 5mm full suit over which I put on my 3mm shorty before the afternoon dive trip to Ferry Channel. The water was ‘warmer’ at 21*C but the ear-splitting roar of passing ferries overhead was an unwelcome distraction. This did not seem to bother the fish and large schools of snappers and fusiliers swam nonchalantly along. I saw several nudibranchs, an ornate lobster, a very long sea snake and a large turtle. There was some down-current towards the end of the dive and ascending was bit of an exercise but we managed.
We went to Tanjung Sari for the first night dive of the trip, a supposed muck dive. Conditions were good and we saw a big-eye peacock flounder, several cuttlefish, lionfish, a hermit crab, banded shrimp, a striped sea cucumber and so on. This site had a lot of hard and soft coral clumps within which many reef fish had turned-in for the night. This included several bannerfish which I had not seen before on a night dive. Once again, there was some surge near the surface as we ended the dive.
Day 2: For this day we had planned a 3-dive trip to Candidasa with the hope of seeing Ocean Sunfish. We first went to the furthest point – Biaha Slope. There was lot of current and surge but great visibility and the reef was lush with lots of coral and fish life. Apart from the usual pretty fish, we saw a scorpionfish, more nudibranchs, a pygmy seahorse, oriental sweetlips and so on. Then we saw the first Mola Mola swimming lazily past and I was able to get close to shoot pictures and a video clip. This strange looking pelagic fish is a sight to be seen. Further into the dive we saw one more Mola Mola and once again got close. The conditions closer to the surface were too rough and so we abandoned the idea of going to the Shark Cave at 12m.
After an hour’s surface interval, we dived at Gili Topekong, another site well known for Mola Mola. The conditions were more favourable and there were several other dayboats around as we jumped in. This reef, like Biaha, was very rich in colourful coral and pretty fish life, which included my favourite clown triggerfish, regal angelfish, pufferfish, oriental sweetlips etc. Unfortunately, we saw no Molas at this site but were compensated by a large reef shark, a moray eel , a blue-spotted stingray and lots of nudibranchs.
We then went to Mimpang, the third well-known dive site in Candidasa. We ate some sandwiches on the boat before the dive over a calm looking sea. Once under, the visibility was excellent and the topography once again very varied and colourful. As we swam among the groupers, pufferfish and angelfish, we saw another reef shark. Then came another Mola Mola and once again I got close to get photos, including one with Farhan in the frame for relative size comparison. About 25 minutes into the dive the conditions suddenly turned nasty with lot of surge tossing us about. Farhan decided that it was better to ascend to about 12 metres in case we had to abandon the dive in a hurry and about 5 minutes after we did so that was exactly what happened. Even was we watched 2 more Mola Molas swim past quite close, Farhan signalled that we should surface fast and we did so, abandoning the safety stop. But the boat was unable to reach us in the in high waves so close to the rocks and we had to surface swim for 10 minutes before being picked-up. As it was a relatively short dive no deeper than 23.2m and we also had spent some time at 12m, we suffered no ill-effects to the rapid ascent.
After returning to the resort and bit of a rest, I was ready for the night dive, this time to Jepun. The sea was now very calm with perfect night diving conditions. We saw lots of nocturnal creatures like shrimps, crabs, sea-shells, etc. Also in the menu were several nudibranchs, moray eels, lionfish etc. The second part of the dive was a slow drift during which we saw a large octopus among other things. It was a really nice, relaxed night dive after the adventures of the afternoon.
Day 3: The early morning dive was a muck dive over The Jetty. It is a now abandoned former mooring point for cruise ships but now the site of illegal fishing practices. We were warned that thin webs and nets laid out by the local fishermen were sometimes a hazard to divers and were warned to follow the guide. So we spent the entire dive under the jetty, meandering between the massive coral-encrusted support pillars. The spot was teeming with fish – groupers, snappers, pufferfish, lionfish, dragonheads, waspfish, sand flounders, pipefish, trumpet fish, boxfish, scorpionfish, frogfish and a very large stonefish which looked like a stay coconut on the sand. It was a very rewarding muck dive.
The next dive was at Temple Reef with its sandy slope interspersed with coral bommies. The water was cold at 19*C to 20*C but the visibility was excellent and no current to cope with. There were a lot of colourful juveniles at this site as well as nudibranchs, moray eels etc. The highlight was lying in wait for an elusive ribbon eel and our patience was rewarded. I was stung on the hand by something unseen during the dive but the pain soon settled.
The afternoon dive was at White Sands, so called because of the whitish gently sloping beach and the proposed name for the huge abandoned luxury resort building on the adjoining hill. The dive itself was good with visibility in excess of 30m but coldish water (21*C). Plenty of colourful coral and reef fish, including a few shy clown triggerfish. There was some surge nearer the surface in the latter part of the dive but nothing to worry us. This was my 500[SUP]th[/SUP] dive overall.
We were supposed to go to Drop Off for the night dive but the conditions were reported to be treacherous and so we swapped to Blue Lagoon. Considering the freezing 16*C during the day dive two days earlier, it was now a more manageable 22*C. This part of the reef was shallow and sandy with coral clumps where the nocturnal critters hung out in the nooks and crannies. We saw a large hermit crab, several shrimps, conches, mini-lionfish, porcupine fish etc. Unusually for a night dive, there were several different varieties of nudibranch about. I saw a small stargazer hiding in the sand as we completed the dive.
Day 4: This was the day a large boat was arranged for a trip to the Nusa isles. We were a group of 8 divers and no one had yet seen an Ocean Sunfish except me. There was some expectation that these critters might turn up, especially at Crystal Bay.
The first dive was at Toypakeh, another site where Molas have been seen. The water was an acceptable 24*C, almost unlimited visibility and there was a stead current along with we drifted, looking at the profuse coral formations and colourful reef fish. We saw oriental sweetlips, emperor angelfish, more nudibranchs and a large turtle going against the current but unfortunately no Mola Molas. Further into the dive the current petered out and we just swam lazily along the reef till it was time to ascend.
The next dive was at Ped Reef. When I dived this last year, there was a very strong current along which we had drifted but this time the current was very weak, going in the opposite direction and in places absent altogether. But the conditions were excellent with great visibility and lots of coral and critters throughout. But they seemed very shy and went into hiding as we approached, even large moray eels. I saw a reef shark out in the blue but again, no mola molas.
After lunch the plan was to go to Crystal Bay in the afternoon, where there is supposed to be a cleaning station for Ocean Sunfish. It was gloriously sunny as we arrived, crystal clear waters promising unlimited visibility on a quiet sea. On the beach were several land-based holidaymakers but absolutely no one was playing in the water, let alone snorkelling. As soon as we kitted-up and jumped in, we discovered why; the water was bitingly cold at 14*C! I never wear a hood and after 5 minutes could no longer feel my ears. Everyone kept swimming around vigorously to keep warm and when no Mola Molas showed-up, divers started ending their dives one by one. I hung on for 38 minutes in the cold and while there were plenty of other things to see, it was obvious that there would be no Mola Molas. I felt sorry for the others but at least I had seen them in Candidasa.
Day 5: I was scheduled to do 2 morning dives only for this 5[SUP]th[/SUP] day of the trip and requested a change of schedule, wanting to return to Candidasa. They agreed for a small ($10) additional fee and off we went. We dived at Biaha first once again and though the water was cold at 19*C, conditions were otherwise better. This time we reached the Shark Cave but unfortunately there were no sharks. Instead we saw a blue-spotted stingray, a large crab and a school of snappers. After exploring the cave we went to the slope and saw nudibranch, a long sea snake, a lobster family and juvenile angelfish among other things. As we started to ascend Farhan spotted a large Mola Mola and we managed to get back down a few metres to play with it.
We returned to Gili Topekong for the last dive of the Bali leg of the trip. Conditions were very good and the guide took me to a deep crevasse in the rocks where several white-tip reef sharks were swimming about. Rest of the dive was routine and we finished b swimming through a dense and picturesque hard coral ’jungle’ which was home to just about every kind of reef fish there was. We had completed the safety stop and were ascending to the surface when we saw another Mola Mola but it was at around 12m and so we could not approach.
After returning to the resort, I had lunch, washed the dive gear, put it all out to dry and spent the afternoon and evening nursing a few Bintang and reading a book. There was not much else to do in the region apart from walking across for a hearty meal later.
The following morning I finished packing, settled-up and took the transport to Denpasar, where I had booked a room at a small hotel near the airport. I did a bit of shopping in the evening, went out for a drink with a couple of Aussies that I had met and tuned-in. The next morning I caught the early chartered flight to Wakatobi.
That is another story.

Here are some pictures. Sorry about the number of nudi shots but I cannot resist when I see those critters. https://flic.kr/s/aHskoPtZMv
 

Luko

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There were still two rhinopias (pink/grey paddleflap and purplish weedy) that could be seen on Blue Lagoon in August.

We (The guys from Gekodive, Alan/OCDiver and myself) surprized guides from Waterworx bullying the rhinos with their sticks and a very unpolite chinese videast enjoying the show for 10 minutes at least without leaving the front row. In some cases I'd avocate for turning off the client's airtank as a fair warning.
Waterworx should teach their guides and their clients animal respect and photo etiquette. Booh for Waterworx Padang Bai!!! :dork2:
 

Seya

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Awesome pictures I looked through most if your albums thanks

Sent from my LG-H812 using Tapatalk
 

bunty99

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I remember last year in oct at crystal bay it was 19*C when i was diving there and I was already freezing. Can't imagine 14*C. Glad you saw the mola though. This year seemed to be great for sightings.

I'll probably try again next year.
 

Wisnu

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Possibly. But can you identify the fish in pic #4745? It is just before the Buddha statue. I also wondered about #4900 but assumed that it was some kind of leaf fish.

it's scorpion leaf fish (Taenianotus triacanthus ) and #4900 is scorpion waspfish (Ablabys taenionotus) both are relatively easy to find in Bali.
 

Pearlman

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Good to hear a first hand account of what I missed. I was in Bali last month but skipped the last two days of diving due to what looked like an infected sinus.
I had to drop my plans for the shark cave Biaha and Topekong. Next year perhaps ...

PS: good pics but why are they so contrasty? did you shoot in low light mode? What camera and gear is it?

Pearlman
 

NatashaS

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Thanks for the detailed report & photos and congrats on your 500th dive. Great to hear about your mola sightings. For years I'd heard about them being seen in Padang Bai/Candidasa but had not heard a lot of details from people who had actually seen them there.

Nevermind the rhinopias he didn't see guys - what about his ceratosoma moloch! (IMG_4875) I've seen far more rhinopias than molochs! :wink:
 
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