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Trip Report - Central Sulawesi - Tompotika Dive Lodge

Discussion in 'Indonesia' started by J Miller, Mar 24, 2019.

  1. J Miller

    J Miller Angel Fish

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Puget Sound
    40
    19
    8
    As I packed, checked my list, and re-packed for my upcoming trip to Tompotika, (Central Sulawesi, Indonesia) I could not ignore the mild sense of anxiety I was feeling. It was a good anxiety, but still it was anxiety. Perhaps it was because I was trying a new packing methodology (checking in my housing), or the fact it would take (4) plane rides and a (3) hour bus ride to get there, or anticipation of the cool critters I may encounter, or the fact I won’t be connected with my family for the next 15 days. Regardless, I found to best way to deal with anxiety in any area of life is to prepare or over-prepare in my case.

    I looked at my spreadsheet for the 10th time and finally declared “I am ready to go!” I left Seattle at 8:30am on the 14th of February and oh my, was I in for a surprise. The entire trip (door-to-door) took a whopping 54.5 hours (only 35 hours on the return).

    Once we settled into the resort, things went extremely smooth. The food service was excellent and we were treated with refreshing drinks after every dive. The dive rhythm each day was as follows:

    7:30am swim to the boat for dive #1 - We would typically splash around 8:00am.
    Return to the dive lodge and eat breakfast

    11:00am swim to the boat for dive #2 – Splash around 11:30am.
    Return to the lodge and eat lunch

    2:30pm swim to the boat for dive #3 – Splash around 3:00pm
    Return to the lodge, recharge batteries

    5:30pm swim to boat for optional night dive – Splash around 6:00pm

    The morning dives were usually reserved for wide angle diving on open ocean walls and pinnacles, whereas the afternoon/night dives were reserved for macro diving at small reefs and muck locations. In general I would say the diving was pretty easy with live boat pickup. I did get blown off a wall and had to ascend solo on one dive, but the captain circle my SMB within 2 minutes of deployment. Visibility varied from 80’ to 10’ depending on the currents and rain fall. Most dives were longer than 60 minutes in length and not extremely deep. They did provide aluminum 100 tanks, but no Nitrox, so the extended surface intervals were nice. My personal dive stats were as follows:

    • Deepest (3) dives were; Ondoliang 95’ Dive #30, Entre 2 MERS III 90.8’ Dive #26, and Ali Baba 1 88.3’ Dive #8.

    • Longest (3) dives were; Pualu Dua 98min Dive #14, Pulau Dua 92min Dive #7, and Smile Point 85min Dive #21.

    Overall the diving was on par with Anilao (from a critter standpoint) and on par with Fiji (from a reef standpoint). The variety of structure and critters made for a great diving experience. Speaking of critters, my top (5) critter encounters were as follows:

    1. The Bobtail Squid @ Pulau Dua Dive #41 – This was top on my critter list and being able to see this on my very last dive was a great treat. The colors of this squid were memorizing. However, the behavior was vastly different from our local Stubby Squid species. In the Puget Sound, mid-sized Stubby Squid will migrate up into the water column when they have had enough of the blinding strobe action. They typically will hover for photo ops for a good 3-5 minutes, displaying their tentacles. The Bobtail squid simply buries itself, after a couple photos, it will pop out, hover about 2” from the ground and re-bury itself. I really wanted to see it in the water column for a comparable PNW Stubby Squid shot, but I did not want to harass the little critter, so I settled for some beautiful “sand” shots.

    2. Reef Squid @ Mbelang Dive #33 – My dive buddy, Val, alerting me to a beautiful (and large) reef squid at around 50’. I quickly switched to my red focus light and pursued this skittish critter to around 80’. The squid was flashing and not wanting to be photographed. Once I slowed my pace and approach cautiously, it allowed me to get some very nice photographs.

    3. Black-tip Reef Shark @ Batu Tetek Dive #15 – This was the dive I was blown off the reef by current. Prior to that incident, there was a depression at the top of the wall. As I approached the depression, a black-tip shark quickly shot into view and darted away. Afraid I had scared it, I patiently waited for its return and the scuba gods reqarded my patience with an amazing encounter. The shark circled several times as I peered over the wall. My dive guide, Sofyan, wanted to know what I was watching and I signaled shark. I could see him smile through his reg, he settled down next to me and enjoyed the multiple passes. Although I got one terrible photograph, the experience of seeing a shark close enough to look into its eye is one I will cherish forever.

    4. Pygmy Seahorse @ Jenad Side Dive #38 – Although we had seen several Pygmy’s (this area had them on full display), they are extremely difficult to get photographs of. Surge, size, and location all play a role in the difficulty level. I really try to photograph these in a very respectful way by avoiding to poke or hit the sea fan, which is sometimes extremely challenging. This way the sea fan polyps will open up, providing a unique photo opportunity. This encounter was unique because the sea fan was at the base of a rock with a sand bottom. I struggled for several minutes in the surge to capture a shot. Frustrated, I swam away from the rock and reassessed my position. I noticed a flat sand bottom next to it, so I decided to inspect, dump my air and gently stand next to the rock on the sand and shoot up at the Pygmy. The sea fan just so happened to be about 6’ in height, which was perfect. The Pygmy was also on an outer branch, posing perfectly. I settled in and took several photos. I love it when the stars align like that.

    5. Crocodile Fish @ Nemo Rock Dive #16 – The previous day my dive buddy, Zack, said he saw a Crocodile fish. I was really excited with the news, because I had always wanted to shot a close-up of the Crocodile fish’s eye. Toward the end of a pretty non-eventful dive, my dive master pointed out a Crocodile fish in the open. As I approached the fish jetted away and I thought, “Darn, just missed my opportunity.” A few minutes later, he noticed me searching the reef, so he joined in and quickly re-spotted it. However, it was wedged between two large structures. I hovered over the reef, positioned my body vertically, and extended my camera down to capture the eye. I was trying to be really careful now to hit the fish or the structures I was in between. I’m happy to report success on all accounts.

    Similar to Anilao, I went through my photographs by critter. This makes it easier for me to relive the encounters and really communicate my experience/interaction with the amazing Indonesian sea life. I must admit that the number of Nudibranchs and Seahorses was pretty amazing. In Anilao, I captured (67) different species of Nudibranch/Slugs. In Tompotika, I believe I captured over that number. That is a pretty amazing comparison.

    Enjoy the photos and please comment on the ones that make you feel good.

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  2. drrich2

    drrich2 Solo Diver

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Southwestern Kentucky
    7,512
    4,516
    113
    Great macro.; especially that red Pic #4, really surreal looking.

    Never been to the Indo. region; mostly I hear around Raja Ampat and Komodo, and then there are a smattering of others I hear of, including Sulawesi, and I wonder 'where does that fit in?' What let you to pick Sulawesi over other options? Just curious, because I have no idea.

    Richard.
     
  3. AlMitch

    AlMitch Manta Ray

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Singapore
    799
    367
    63
    Great trip report!! Thanks for sharing.
    I'm very glad to hear that they came back to the resort after each dive...
    Some really great pics.
     
  4. chillyinCanada

    chillyinCanada Solo Diver Staff Member

    9,239
    5,282
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    I'm very excited to see this report. I was diving in Raja Ampat in January from the liveaboard MSY Seahorse. The company that acquired Seahorse last year also owns Dive Lodge Tompotika. I was just looking at the brochure this morning!
    How long did it take you to get to Lodge once you had reached Southeast Asia? And how did you do that?
     
  5. J Miller

    J Miller Angel Fish

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Puget Sound
    40
    19
    8
    Thanks, that was a tough shot. I handheld one of my strobe on the other side of the scorpionfish. Took a few shots to capture that one.

    This was my first time to Indo, so I can't comment on how it compares. My buddy who has been there a couple times selected the place. It was a really great lodge and location. Almost no pressure on the dive sites and no trash either.
     
    chillyinCanada likes this.
  6. J Miller

    J Miller Angel Fish

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Puget Sound
    40
    19
    8
    Thank you very much. It was nice coming back each time as well.
     
  7. J Miller

    J Miller Angel Fish

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Puget Sound
    40
    19
    8
    Getting there was tough. The domestic flights and layovers were challenging. Here are the travel times.

    • Drive to Seatac – 1 hour (same on the return)
    • Seatac Airport – 3 hours (saved 2 hours on the return)
    • Flight from Seattle to Taipei – 13 hours (saved 3 hours on the return)
    • Taipei Airport – 3.5 hours
    • Flight from Taipei to Jakarta – 5 hours
    • Jakarta airport (hotel) – 9 hours (saved 5.5 hours on the return)
    • Flight from Jakarta to Makassar – 2.5 hours
    • Makassar airport (hotel and 2 cancelled flights) – 12 hours (saved 10.5 on the return)
    • Flight from Makassar to Luwuk – 1.5 hours
    • Luwuk airport - .5 hours (added 1.5 hours on the return)
    • Luwuk to Tompotika bus transfer – 3.5 hours
     
    drrich2 likes this.
  8. chillyinCanada

    chillyinCanada Solo Diver Staff Member

    9,239
    5,282
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    Omg 3.5 hours by bus/van!

    So much easier to go to North Sulawesi

    Perhaps I should take price into consideration. Are you willing to share what you paid the resort?
     
  9. J Miller

    J Miller Angel Fish

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Puget Sound
    40
    19
    8
    I know. It was a long ways out there. However, Tompotika is the only dive operation on those reefs. They were pristine.

    I’ll have to double check what I paid. I can’t remember off the top of my head. I’ll let you know.
     
  10. chillyinCanada

    chillyinCanada Solo Diver Staff Member

    9,239
    5,282
    113
    Feel free to send me a pm rather than post here and thanks!
     

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