Bunaken diving

white mouthed moray eelThe Bunaken Island National Marine Park, located in Manado Bay, North Sulawesi, is made up of five islands; Bunaken, Siladen, Manado Tua, Montehage and Nain. It’s one of Indonesia’s most popular dive destinations. That’s because it offers world class wall diving on amazingly diverse reef walls in clear blue water.

Visibility at Bunaken is excellent, from 20 metres to over 40 metres. Water temperature is a warm 27-30°C year round. All in all excellent diving conditions.

Most of the diving around Bunaken is on coral and seafan covered walls. Underwater photographers love the clear waters and colourful reefs which are great for wide angle seascapes. The marine life is prolific, from tiny nudibranchs to turtles, eagle rays and reef sharks. The area is a marine biologists dream with one of the highest biodiversity levels anywhere in the world. New species of fish are still being discovered. Sperm whales are sometimes seen migrating through the park and Orca’s have been reported by divers.

Something else often spotted by divers is litter, there is too much of it in the waters around Bunaken. Garbage disposal in Manado city basically involves chucking rubbish into the sea. It’s a disappointing distraction from the otherwise beautiful reefs and something that the marine park authorities are working to address.

How to get to Bunaken

Manado city is easily reached with a 3.5 hour flight from Singapore, the islands are a further 30-60 minutes boat ride away. Divers can either stay in a Manado resort or on one of several dive resorts on the islands.

Many divers choose to combine a trip to Bunaken with a trip to the nearby Lembeh Strait.

When to dive Bunaken

Bunaken can be dived year round but the best season is April to November. The Christmas and New Year periods are popular with holiday making Asian divers but the sea can be choppy at that time. Currents on Bunaken walls can be strong but are usually manageable for all levels of diver.

Bunaken Island dive sites

There are several dive sites around Bunaken Island, mostly drop offs just off shore:

Bunaken Timur (Bunaken East) is one long reef wall down to 40m running all the way from north to south down the east coast of Bunaken Island. The reef needs several dives to see it all and is usually a gentle drift but when currents are strong a large distance can be covered. Divers should also be wary off up and down currents.

Bigger fish to look for includes eagle rays and black tip reef sharks. Green turtles are often seen. All the usual reef fish can be found here as well as lots of macro critters like leaffish and ornate ghost pipefish. If you’d like a challenge, try to count all the species of butterflyfish here, there are 33 different species!

Lekuan I,II & III are three prongs of the same reef to the south of Bunaken Island. They are three seperate dive sites that are suitable for all levels of diver with crystal clear water and weak currents. The dramatic walls are not just popular with divers, the fish like it here too! Large schools of bumphead parrotfish charge around the reef. Green turtles can be seen on coral ledges, it’s not uncommon to see five or six on each dive. Napolean wrasse can often be spotted too. As with most dive sites in the area, critter hunting divers will also love it here. Coral crevices are full of nudibranchs, crustaceans and small reef fish.

Fukui Point off south west Bunaken Island was named after a Japanese Instructor who first dived here. It’s more of a slope than a vertical wall and makes a pleasant change after all the other Bunaken wall dives. Maximum depth is around 30m and currents are mild. Highlights of this dive are the resident Napoleon wrasse plus schools of batfish, trevally and snapper that come to use the cleaning station services.

Mandolin, on the south west tip of Bunaken Island is exposed to the flowing water through the channel between Bunaken Island and Manado Tua so currents can be strong. The wall here is also quite deep, down to around 45 metres. The site is made up of exquisite soft corals, large gorgonian seafans and forests of whip corals. Large Napoleon wrasse are common here and reef sharks are occasionally seen. Smaller species include pygmy seahorse in pink gorgonian seafans and porcelain crabs in bubble coral.

Mikes Point, located in northeast Bunaken Island, was named after underwater photographer Mike Severns. East of Mike’s Point is Sachiko’s Point. These two similar wall dives are great spots for bigger marine life including schools of eagle rays, white tip and black tip reef sharks, barracuda, trevally and tuna. Schools of reef fish cover the hard and soft coral covered walls. Large gorgonians and barrel sponges are home to an astonishing amount of marine life. Currents can be strong here.