“Muka,” a +2600-foot wall off of the northern tip of Sulawesi, has almost all you could hope for in a dive—from the very tiny to the substantial, from the flora to the fauna. What’s more, Muka’s extraordinary beauty will likely be around for a long time, unlike other tropical dive spots that are threatened by underwater blasting, cyanide fishing and mangrove cutting. This is because Muka is located in Bunaken National Marine Park, an exquisite underwater preserve that sprawls over 220,000 acres.
There are several dive resorts located in the marine park – Mantehage, Nain, Manado Tua, Siladen, and Bunaken. I chose to stay on Bunaken Island at Two Fish Divers Resort, for its low rates and friendly staff. The food is delicious and plentiful, the European dive instructors and Indonesian dive guides are knowledgeable, and access to dive spots is quick and easy (plus, they have wireless Internet! Always a bonus for this “wired” diver). Two Fish offers shore dives and boat dives to more than 30 dive sites, most of which are within 10 minutes of your cottage door.
On a 50-minute dive to 65 feet, my group saw several spectacular sights. Tropical wonders like Moorish idols and parrotfish became almost mundane in comparison to all there was to see in these waters, and the many varieties of butterflyfish and other flecks of purple, gold, turquoise and hot red all quickly went from being fascinating highlights to merely the backdrop for other, even more unique, wonders.
In particular, among other dive spots in Indonesia, Bunaken is known for the small things – the amazing array of miniscule miracles hiding just beneath its sapphire waters. Miracles like the pygmy seahorses (a new species of which was discovered recently in Indonesia). Or another one of my favorites—albeit a relatively common sight on this reef—Anna’s Magnificent Slug. Aside from its fabulous name, this nudibranch of lavender with bold white, black and yellow stripes is only one of the hundreds of varieties of nudibranches to be found in Indonesia.
In some ways, it’s not surprising that Bunaken sizes up so well next to other magnificent dive spots. Its location off northern Sulawesi puts it at the epicenter of the Coral Triangle – the heart of the world’s coral reef biodiversity. And truly, Bunaken’s coral reef, plant and animal life is phenomenal.
Next on my list? One of Bunaken’s famed muck dives, where one can anticipate giant frog fish, many kinds of eel, and several varieties of ghostpipefish.
A helpful overview of the major dive sites off Sulawesi’s coast, including maps, unique dive safety considerations and information on each dive site’s highlights: http://www.starfish.ch/dive/Sulawesi.html