North Sulawesi Bunaken/Lembeh Photo Workshop Trip Report

Its been a bit of a whirl the last couple of weeks and as I type this out still in the grip of a slight jet lag haze, recalling some of the amazing sights and experiences above and below the waterline,it often seems as if I am recalling a fantastical dream set in a Jurassic Park style world populated with weird creatures.

Dream it was not though, and I met our jolly group looking surprisingly good considering the journey they had just taken from the other side of the planet.

 

Dream it was not though, and I met our jolly group looking surprisingly good considering the journey they had just taken from the other side of the planet.

Sulawesi is a large island in the Indonesian archipelago, and we were to spend our first week of the workshop hosted by Dan Green and the team at Tasik Ria Spa Resort, in North Sulawesi, a short boat ride from Bunaken National Park famed for its impressive wall dives and abundance of marine life.

After a short welcome cocktail and some delicious sashimi we had an overview of diving protocols and procedures from Monica, Dan’s partner who heads up the dive team at Tasik.

Now very weary some opted to have a bite to eat and then off to bed, whilst others availed themselves of the free jet lag massage introducing them to the fully featured spa the resort boasts.

 

Our very first dive of the next day at Coconut Cape a local dive site 20 mins from the jetty, set a precedent for what was to become a bumper fortnight of amazing creature sightings.

Just up ahead around 40 mins into the dive one of our guides Geoffrey got very excited and beckoned us across to see a tiny creature famed for its striking markings and extraordinarily venomous bite.

The egg sized Blue Ringed Octopus, was benignly foraging around the reef looking for food, oblivious to the group of divers agog at its vivid blue rings and toxic potential.So not a bad start so far.

 

 

Our next two dives proved equally exciting with a lot of our group encountering first time sightings and more importantly photographs of Sea Snakes, Frogfish and tiny colourful shrimps like shards of broken pottery.

 

 

 

 

 

Post dive, we were greeted daily with fresh coconuts, tops hacked off with a machete and then a straw stuck in followed by fresh sashimi and Bintangs at the aptly named Sunset Bar to watch the predictably stunning solar display.

Sunset Bar at Tasik Ria Resort

After the sun had stopped showing off it was now my turn, and this was the time most days when I delivered lectures about underwater photography, white balance, exposure control, and most importantly for this trip the use of macro lenses.On the Bunaken side where Tasik Ria is based, most of our daily dives started with a trip out to Bunaken National Park with its walls every inch of which is covered by soft and hard corals.

 

Turtle asleep in the reef wall at Bunaken

Here we would regularly encounter huge turtles, often wedging themselves into a crack in the reef wall for a quick forty winks. As you rise up these vertical gardens schools of butterfly fish and red toothed trigger fish obscure the view twisting and turning en masse in the current.

 

 

It really does feel incredibly abundant and teeming with life here and its very unusual to encounter another dive group.

 

After a dive or two usually shooting wide angle at Bunaken we would travel back towards base where we had our choice of the local sites in and around the resort. These are generally muck dives or a gentle amble amongst the shallow sea grass.

This part of the world is known for its fine muck diving, or critter diving as our friends across the pond call it.

A lot of the more interesting marine life here could quite happily live its entire life on the palm of your hand, so you need to start focussing your attention and lenses on much smaller stuff than you may be used to.

Luckily the local guides here are amongst the best in the world at finding stuff for you to photograph.And armed with pointer sticks of a variety of dimensions and lengths, they pride themselves in challenging our puny western eyesight.

Seriously, some of this stuff is the size of a grain of rice and how they find these amazing beasts for people to shoot beggars belief sometimes!

Nudibranch shot using a narrow depth of field or DOF.

Once you get bitten by the muck diving bug, often at sites that look battered untidy and rundown, it really gets under your skin, and for me it became a daily occurrence to be excited and amazed by what I was witnessing. And I clearly was not alone. Stuart Patterson one of our group said to me on day two that so far this had been some of the best diving he had ever done, and he has been to Komodo, Raja Ampat and the Cocos Islands, so quite a compliment.

At Tasik they even managed to throw in a wreck dive for us, and of course being Indonesia its covered with life of all shapes and sizes, most notable were some of the fattest and campest Nudibranchs I’ve seen.

 

Very quickly our week at Tasik flew by and on the last diving day Dan laid on a photo trip to a local street market before we went out on the boats. This was an opportunity for me to teach our clients how to shoot in low light and get some great street shots and portraits to add to their collections.

Its a pleasure doing this sort of thing in Indonesia as the locals are some of the friendliest you’ll ever meet.

No one wants any money from you and they are always happy to pose for photographs, before our hour in the market was up, we grabbed some freshly made Upangs which are a sort of cinnamon doughnut hot enough to burn the roof of your mouth with locally produced coffee, which is so strong it perhaps should be illegal!

 

Our last, coffee fuelled day diving at Tasik and we got a great Giant Cuttlefish encounter, alien and weirdly sentient creatures, approaching really close and then fleeing off only to come back again and again. So mesmeric was this display we didn’t get that many shots, happy just to witness these amazing creatures.