Dive-centre managers Spencer and Chi provided a guided tour of the site and the plush and well-equipped diving facilities, which includes an air-conditioned camera-room with a small bench and charging area for each photographer.
But the place is also well-suited to those divers for whom photography isn’t everything. We were told that they can choose from 68 dive-sites all within five to 90 minutes of the resort.
Bunaken’s menu includes wall, mangrove, blackwater and muck dives, reefs draped in turtles, and a wreck-dive 45 minutes away. Unusually, there is also a well-equipped technical-diving facility for those who want to explore deeper or for longer.
Outstanding corals at Mike’s Reef.
Next morning, we were whisked across the glassy seas on a modified traditional Indonesian dive-boat, and 20 minutes later reached Mike’s Point, named after an American diver. Guides Didi and Cindy briefed us and the helpful dive-team set up our kit.
From our backward roll we descended to the top of the reef. My first sight was of a school of dancing yellow pyramid butterflyfish twisting and turning in the dappling sunlight.
Didi took us to an area where there was a chance of seeing pygmy seahorses.
A master of spotting macro subjects, he quickly found a Pontohi tucked away on a tiny coral. This type of pygmy seahorse was discovered on the island in 2004 by Hence Pontoh, one of the resort’s guides – and he was on the dive with us.
It was the first Pontohi I had seen, and I couldn’t believe how small it was, but soon appreciated that once you get your eye in, tiny critters appear everywhere.
Macro was never my thing, but technical developments have enabled photographers to capture ever-smaller subjects – and to reveal previously unknown species year by year.
I was equipped with a fisheye lens, so had no way of capturing this delicate creature, but the memory is imprinted in my mind forever.
In the depths below us a pair of whitetip sharks patrolled the wall. These sleek hunters kept their distance and watched us with caution. Sharks can be hard to get close to, especially when you have a camera – some say that electrical signals in the water from the camera/flash can deter them from coming closer.
I tried dropping down and moving in stealthily without extraneous movement, but they saw me coming and swam away, leaving me frustrated.
After exploring for an hour we made our way to the top of the reef, where we saw a wonderful, colourful collection of pristine hard corals.
Cindy with a green turtle,
Large table corals spanned that reef-top, and among them a large green turtle chomping on some soft coral. I moved in nearby and spent a few minutes taking pictures of Cindy, who was also transfixed by the turtle.
Hence caught my eye and pointed out a small but highly venomous banded sea-snake hunting in the coral head. I managed to get extremely close, because it wasn’t interested in us, allowing me to take pictures of a species I have never photographed before.
It can hold its breath for more than 12 hours and dive to more than 250m, and is probably one of the most chilled species under water.
The island has a neighbouring extinct volcano called Manado Tua (or Old Manado). I was not convinced that it was no longer alive because there always seemed to be a lingering cloud hanging above, resembling smoke! The volcano towers up to 800m and continues to great depths below sea level, making it a perfect site to see larger pelagic species.