Indonesia has long been on my list of dive destinations not only because of its biodiversity, but also because of its diving diversity. All the choices between big animals, lush reefs, small animals, and arguably the best muck diving in the world make it difficult which part of Indonesia to focus on. My background has been big animals, so I wanted to have an opportunity to see them, but I also wanted to branch out and try something new. Since my work schedule sort of dictates when I can travel, so once I decided on when I could go, I selected where I could go.
I decided on the end of August. I had always wanted to go to Raja Ampat, but August just isn’t really a good time to go, so Komodo soon became the obvious choice. I searched the internets high and low for “Komodo Liveaboard” and the boat I kept seeing was the Arenui. They had a few spots available for my timeframe, so I sent them my check and started gearing up to go.
The Arenui usually conducts cruises to Komodo embarking out of Bali or Labuanbajo. The cruise I was on embarked out of Bali and disembarked out of Bali. This is nice because getting to or from Labuanbajo requires a domestic flight, and the Indonesian airlines can be a little, well, let’s just say they don’t always fly when they say they are going to fly. Plus you don’t have to worry about possible baggage limits on domestic airlines. Others would argue that embarking from Labuanbajo gets you to Komodo faster so you can spend more time there, and that’s where the best diving is. Not in my case (more on that later.)
The international airport in Bali is Denpasar. It took close to 30 hours to get there from Nashville, and let me just tell you, when I got off the plane in Denpasar, the lines for customs can only be described using a phrase that contains the prefix “cluster”. Ya get what I’m sayin’. It’s cray. A visa is required for travel to Indonesia, and you get obtain one on arrival at the airport. I planed my trip well in advance and got my visa before I left using a company called passports and visas. It was a little extra money, but in my opinion it was worth it to not have to stand in another line in the un-air conditioned room. Aside from standing in line forever, getting admitted into the country was relatively painless, even if it was hot.
I spent a night in Bali, and was transferred to the boat early the next morning. The Arenui was anchored in a marina that required a short boat ride out to our home for the next 11 days. The crew was very efficient, and by the time I got onboard, our bags had already been moved to our respective cabins.
You are greeted by many smiling faces and a fruity drink as soon as you arrive onboard. You are escorted to your cabin by the cruise director, Debbie, who gives you a thorough tour of your accommodations. Rooms are either a full/queen sized bed or two twins. Each room is named after a Hindu god, and decorations are in accordance with the particular god. I was in Ganesh. I found the room to have adequate storage with a closet, several under the bed drawers, and even a desk and chair. Electrical outlets are 220, so bring a converter. The bathroom in Ganesh is small, but this is a boat, so that is to be expected, but I found this one a little more narrow than other liveaboards I’ve been on. The shower, sink, and toilet are all crammed into 1 narrow room. Speaking of the toilet, it is western style, and equipped with a hose and nozzle affectionately referred to as the “bum gun.” If you are not used to this type of thing, it takes a little getting used to, but you can be a pro after a little practice. Why would you want to obtain skill with the bum gun… because all toilet paper goes in the wastebasket. Yeah. Kinda gross, but considering the fragile state of boat septic systems, it beats the alternative of a stopped up pipe for 11 days. A lot of people were thoroughly disgusted when I told them about this, but this is what travel is about. Get over it, you’re in freaking paradise and the diving is amazing.
The main salon/dining area of the Arenui is comfortable and fairly roomy. I never felt cramped for space in this area, in fact in never felt cramped for space at all on this trip. There’s 2 long tables with benches on either side, 2 small tables on the periphery, and 2 couch type things in the corners. Are large buffet at the front of the salon is where all meals are served. It has lots of storage underneath with cups and glasses, as well as a fridge that is always stocked with sodas and beer. Sea water is purified and collected in bottles which are loaded into a water cooler. The salon area also has 4 areas for cameras equipped with electrical outlets. 2 televisions are located above the buffet for viewing maps during dive briefings and watching movies at night.
The dive deck is adequate for the 14 divers on this trip. Each diver gets their own cubby space, and a basket. Prior to a dive you load your gear into your basket, and the crew sees to it that it makes it onto the tinder. There are separate large rinse tanks for cameras and gear. Several clotheslines are set up to dry wetsuits.
The upper deck of the Arenui is just plain awesome. The bow end of the upper deck has 2 large reclining chairs that easily acomodate 2 people, as well as 2 round tables with benches around them. This allows for outside dining, and even though the crew repeatedly asked us if we wanted to eat dinner outside, we never took them up on it. I have no idea why. Directly behind the bow portion is the wheelhouse, and behind that is the stern portion. It has couches, and multiple reclining chaise lounges. They lay all the way flat which is nice because the Arenui has a masseuse onboard, and this upper deck area is where the massages take place. The stern portion of the upper deck is almost always covered by a large canvas shade, so it never gets hot up there. Let me just tell you, if you’ve never has a massage out at sea after a day of diving, it’s amazing. Just do it.
I’d take a cruise on this boat just for the food. It was far and away the best of any live aboard I’ve ever been on. First breakfast was served around 7:00 am. Fruits, pastries, etc. Your order for second breakfast was taken at this time so it would be ready when you returned from the first dive. Eggs to order, French toast, pancakes, bacon, as well as some local foods were all on the menu. One thing that amazed me, was that after about 2 days onboard, the staff became familiar with your routine such that your coffee would be ready for you when you awoke and arrived in the dining area. Lunch and dinner was usually a combination of fish, beef, pork, and chicken. There was also usually a pasta as well as a salad. Dishes were flavored Western style, with a bit of local flair if you wanted to try it. Overall, the dining experience on the Arenui was exceptional.
Well, this is what we were there for right? A typical day on the Arenui includes 3 day dives as well as a night dive. The conditions is and around Komodo National Park in August/September had water temps in the mid to upper 70’s, most depths 80 feet or less, but occasionally as deep as 100 feet. And yes there is current as Komodo is known for, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that only about 15-20% of dives had current that was significant. On dives with strong current, it was really strong, and we all used reef hooks. One site has some strong surge, and the divemaster called the dive.
Dive briefings are thorough and are accompanied by some really cool maps that are projected on the flat screen TV’s in the salon. Preparation on the dive deck is a little crowded, but not bad. Dive groups are staggered so one group gets ready and goes, then the other gets ready and leaves just after them. 2 steel frame boats transport you from the Arenui to the dive sites. The crew pretty much takes care of everything for you. Your tank an BC stay on the tender, and the crew refills them after each dive. Each tank fill was right around 3000 psi with a few times it was up around 3100. Any additional gear, including cameras, is placed in your own personal basket and is waiting for you on the tender.
Each tender has 2 dive masters and approximately 7 divers. All entries are backroll from the tender. The guides underwater were very good at finding all the little critters, and are very safety conscious. They were very mindful of everyone’s “wishlist” and did a good job in helping us find everything we wanted. They request that you come on board with 200 psi which is less than the customary 500 psi, but someone one our trip went below that level and they “reprimanded” the group. ultimately you are responsible for your own safety.
Dive sites had a lot of what Indonesia has to offer. There are lush reefs, walls, drift dives, and to my surprise, amazing muck diving. The boat had a slight mechanical issue that required us to stay at a muck diving site for an additional day, and it was worth it. Mimic octopus, harlequin shrimp, peacock mantis shrimp, juvenile harlequin sweet lips, emperor shrimp, Coleman shrimp, nudibranchs, and frog fish in every color you can imagine were all there. the site is called “Unusual Suspects” and is also know as “Bethlehem” in refrence to being BETter THan LEMbeh. I’ve not been to Lembeh so I can’t comment on that.
On our particular cruise, the conditions around the island were pretty rough around the typical manta ray sites, and we did not get to dive them. Our boat a least tried one, but that was an aborted dive. Other boats around the island did as the Arenui and stayed away from those sites. This was a bit of a disappointment, but it couldn’t have been prevented.
Underwater photographers will be glad to know that there are several tables available to spread out your gear and charge batteries and strobes. Even if you have a large DSLR rig, the Arenui can easily accommodate your needs. Additionally cruise directors Debbie and Jerry are AMAZING photographers, and they are more than happy to help with any photo needs, as well as help you get the shots you’re after.
As far as what you can expect to see, well, pretty much everything. There is more biodiversity in this part of the world than anywhere else. The coral reefs seem to stretch on and on, and that creates a home for an endless number of species of marine life. Being a fan of sharks, I knew that we wouldn’t see many, but we did see some. White tip reef sharks, and gray reef sharks were seen at site called “Castle Rock”, but they didn’t come very close. However, there are plenty of other animals that are encountered in Komodo that aren’t seen anywhere else… blue ringed octopus, Mandarin fish, ghost pipefish, black hairy frog fish, blue spotted rays, pygmy seahorses, several different species of shrimp, and crocodile fish just to name a few.
Check out some of the critters I meet in Komodo…
When you return to the main boat after your dive, the crew springs into action and takes care of all your needs. They help you get out of your wetsuit, rinse it, rinse your camera gear and dry it, collect all your gear, and hand you a dry towel and hot chocolate or fresh fruit. It is so nice. Hot fresh water showers are available to rinse all the salt off.
AND THEN THERE’S THE DRAGONS
Not insignificantly, Komodo has the dragons. You miss a dive or two to go visit them, but it’s well worth it. I detailed our visit with the Komodo dragons in this post.
Komodo National Park is arguably one of the world’s premire dive destinations, and in my opinion the Arenui is an amazing boat in terms of esthetic beauty, service, and dive operation. I’m sure that there are other less expensive liveaboard options in Komodo, but if I’m going to travel that far to dive I want the best, and I believe that the Arenui and it’s crew deliver!! I already want to dive again with them, but next time I hope to hit Raja Ampat.
How about you, what’s your favorite dive destination or live aboard? I’de love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.