By MICHAEL D’OLIVEIRO
There are few places on earth where you can find the strange-looking Mola mola, and exotic Bali is one of them.
Bali. The name conjures up visions of beautiful, golden beaches like Kuta, Legian and Seminyak, not to mention great bargains in art and craft items in laid-back Ubud.
Scuba divers, though, can think only of the Mola mola when in Bali.
The Mola mola, also known as the sunfish, is one of the ocean’s rare and amazing oddities. With its large oval body and ridiculously flimsy-looking flippers, the Mola mola looks like a science fiction-inspired cartoon creation.
Its eyes are as a big as soup bowls and, even better, this fish loves divers.
Bali is only one of two spots in the world where the Mola mola can be seen. The trouble is, these critters have a fussy time-schedule for appearing in shallow water. Also, they prefer certain temperatures — the colder the better!
The sunfish’s favourite rendezvous spot is off the small island of Nusa Penida, southeast of Bali.
From my villa in Seminyak, we took just 20 minutes to reach Sanur, where the dive operator Blue Season Bali is located. Here, the divers congregated, the usual paperwork was done, and then we were off on a short ride to the beach to the waiting boat.
Thankfully, the trip out took no more than 45 minutes. Our first dive site, Crystal Bay, was an unnerving experience.
I tolerated the cold water temperature to check out the corals, which seemed healthy and vibrant. There were plenty of fish around, including porcupinefish, pipefish and nudibranchs.
However, the current that we swam against became increasingly stronger, and it was soon apparent that we had been caught in the mother of all surges.
Kicking against the flow, we soon decided to hold on to ledges by the tips of our fingers and wait it out, hovering diagonally, looking like airborne superheroes with air tanks for capes.
Comically, as we found ourselves suspended in mid-surge, struggling to avoid being swept away, two feelers and a pair of beady eyes popped out from under the ledge I held on to. I pulled myself forward and came within inches of a mantis shrimp.
Looking startled, it scuttled back into its hole before comically peering out again. Some really big tunas zoomed ahead of our group, but not much else was happening so we cut our dive short and headed back to the surface.
The second dive at Tugu was a real coral fest. Tonnes of soft coral spread out before us like a landscaped royal backyard. It was also a much better improvement in terms of currents. We descended, following the steep slopes of Nusa Penida’s west coast.
Calmed by the gentle undertow, the fish life seemed to spring to life, with lionfish and other reef inhabitants out and about. The highlight was a pair of huge pipefish, which stumbled upon our group.
Almost 2m long, they stared wide-eyed at us (as we did them) before dashing off past us. We hardly finished shaking our heads in amazement when we chanced upon a lone cuttlefish. Flaring colours, it too made a beeline for the angled horizon behind us.
In between dives, I was quite surprised to see a number of dive instructors and divemasters in our group chatting away in different languages.
Blue Season Bali’s dive boat wasn’t exactly spacious, which made relaxing a bit difficult. The answer? Climb up to the roof which doubles as a sun-deck.
Lunch was duly provided, and the ample drinks kept us chatting. All of us were hoping to see those glorious Mola molas.
Finally we made our last dive at Sental, just further down. The drift remained as gentle as before.
With the sun warming our bodies through the shallower water, we got our most leisurely dive yet as we observed a flurry of fish life, including more lionfish, smaller pipefish and even a couple of triggerfish.
I didn’t get a chance to see the Mola mola, though, and that was a genuine disappointment. Perhaps the waters were just too warm.
The fact that divers a couple of days before us had seen a huge bunch made me envious. Then again, Bali underwater is a lot more than just the sunfish, popular though they are.
The healthy reefs and healthy fish population are apparent, even if they seem like any other dive site in Malaysia. If you’re looking for a holiday filled with excitement and discovery, you should now add Bali’s dive sites to your list.
Just pray that the water’s cold, for maybe then you could end up peering back at a Mola mola.
Getting thereAirAsia and Malaysia Airlines fly daily to Bali. Once there, travel by car for around 30 minutes (from Legian or Seminyak) to the dive centre office in Sanur. From there, it’s another 15 minutes to the boat.
IVING A three-tank diving trip with Blue Season Bali to Nusa Penida costs US$145 (RM507) per person, inclusive of lunch, drinks, transfer from centre to the boat and equipment.
INFO For enquiries, contact Blue Season Bali at Jalan Danau Poso, Gang Wanasari 3B, Sanur, 80228 Bali, Indonesia, call: +62 361 270852 /842, fax: +62 361 270842 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit www.baliocean.com
Full Article: Thestar