2009 Bali Photoquest with Martin and Sylvia Edge, Scuba Seraya Resort, Bali.

Author: Rachel Horsfield. Main image by Ibrahim Roushdi

The fun began right at the beginning of the trip as I took a flight from London to Singapore on the Singapore Airlines new A380 aircraft. It’s a marvellous plane, and of course Singapore Airlines provided a great service. The in-flight entertainment is a cut above the rest. I was lucky to be able to spread out across 3 seats and after just one Singapore Sling I slept soundly for 10 out of the 12 hours to Singapore! Arriving in Denpasar I was greeted by the Scuba Seraya representative and we were soon on our way, in a comfortable car, for the two hour transfer to the resort. It was midnight by the time I arrived and so it was dark as we drove through the warm Balinese night. I just glimpsed brief flashes of lights in the town and heard the strange and exotic call of night insects or maybe frogs which seemed to be welcoming me to the tropics . Though I could see little of the surrounding villages and countryside, the atmosphere made me feel that my holiday had begun! My driver told me that a volcano was quite close to the resort, though the dark cover of night meant that this would not be revealed until the morning. And indeed the next morning it was revealed! The resort was surrounded by lush green vegetation and the volcanic backdrop was especially impressive, rising proudly behind the resort and ringed by clouds.

My first morning was a leisurely introduction to diving at Scuba Seraya with a shore dive on ‘Seraya Secrets’. How fantastic to have such a fabulous dive right on my doorstep for two weeks! ‘Seraya Secrets’ is a ‘muck dive’ sloping off to around 25 meters, however, one could quite happily spend an hour sitting at just seven meters! ‘Seraya Secrets’ begins with ‘The Dome’, a man-made structure covered in chrinoids and soft corals, guarded by some very tame batfish. These must be the most photographer friendly batfish in the world, a photographers dream! Seraya Secrets is home to ‘Hilary and Rachel’, mother and daughter yellow moray eels, a multitude of shrimps and lionfish of all sizes, some of which are especially cooperative, fanning their spines and fins for all to see.

The next day was day one of the Photoquest, housing, strobe arms and o-rings everywhere! For the first day or so, many were just getting used to being back in the water with their camera, and to add to the excitement it was announced that the winner of the competition to be held at the end of the Photoquest would win a week at Scuba Seraya Resort for two people! Let the shoot-out begin!

There were two main draws for photographers on this trip; the first being the diving flexibility and superb diving management. Scuba Seraya allow divers to dive off the shore at any time and the dive staff get very upset if you try and carry your own equipment! The staff are used to handling all shapes and sizes of photographic equipment and will help you in and out of the water or the boat – you will only see your gear when you want to wear it in the water! I could get very used to this type of diving! The second big draw is The Liberty Wreck, a WW2 steam ship lying on her side in anything between 5 and 25 meters of water off the shore, a 5 minute boat ride from Scuba Seraya.

The Liberty Wreck is a different dive each time you descend through the huge school of jacks that call the shallowest part of the wreck their home. This is a great opportunity for sun burst shots and the jacks will let you get right inside their swirl. The Liberty Wreck is so full of life that in some way one must be grateful that she sank, though no loss of life occurred when she went down. Her body is pierced with small holes and openings, many of which are too small to enter. Some parts of the wreck have formed swim-throughs and the famous pillar room could be a dive all on its own, with several long coral encrusted struts forming any number of diagonals and angles to fill your frame. Sometimes George, the resident barracuda will swim through to join you – George is very friendly despite the dragon-like appearance of his teeth! I witnessed one Photoquester hold his camera port just millimeters away from his nose for a good 10 minutes! The pre-Liberty dive debate was always ‘macro or wide angle?’ Beautiful soft corals drip from every edge of the ship, hot pinks contrasting with cobalt blues, fan corals and coral nets framed with tangs and damsel fish and some very accessible anemone fish are just some of the things to make you go back for more. I always love a dive that can entertain me on my safety stop and The Liberty does just that , whether hovering in the cloud of jacks or sneaking up to the sweetlips on the shallow sandy shelf, this dive has enough to keep any diver occupied until 10 bar!

Most evenings Martin would do a short talk on some element of photography, be it composition, techniques, subject selection or how to get into the mind of the underwater photographer. No need to carry the tome with you when the walking talking book is right there in front of you!

Three other dives on this trip really stood out. ‘Drop Off’ began at around 5-7 meters and ‘dropped off’ as far as you like! Both macro and wide-angle subjects abound and I enjoyed spending all my no-deco time shooting a large anemone, home to 3 or 4 anemone fish. Yes, I know everyone shoots anemones and anemonefish and I am not going to win any competitions, however cute my subjects are, but no-one could resist them as they posed in such appealing ways. Others photographers spent a good deal of ‘memory’ on the various nudibranchs and yawning scorpionfish. A fellow guest even spotted the elusive Mola Mola at 30 meters. How lucky is that?!

‘Japanese Wreck’ is well worth the 30 minute car ride to the small bay where the boat – full of your gear ready set up - is waiting for you. The small tug lies in about 3 meters of water but one can easily be distracted to look for the pygmy seahorse at a mere 13 meters. But take a magnifying glass! The boat is covered in soft corals, crinoids, sea-fans and anemones and right in the heart of the vessel is a huge, ever shifting school of glorious glassy sweepers.

Every dive destination on the planet seems to have a dive named ‘Coral Garden’ but Tulamben’s ‘Coral Garden’ is a suitably apt name! It could also be named ‘Anemone City’ as close to the entry point there is a carpet of small anemones interspersed with larger ones each one home to 4 or 5 different species of anemone fish. This was my 150th dive (Thank you Mike Woolley for being my buddy at this seminal moment in my life) and what better way to celebrate than to be graced with the presence of a black tip reef shark, ribbon eels and a small group of enormous bumphead parrot fish – the bison of the reef.

Many truly fantastic images were captured during the Photoquest and the standard of competition was extremely high. There were 18 entries for the competition and judging was conducted by all members of the Photoquest group, plus all the dive staff and management of Scuba Seraya Resort! Massive congratulations must go to Ibrahim Roushdi who won by a landslide for his shot of spiralling jacks against the sun, taken on The Liberty. In second place came Mike Woolley with his lovely shot of Batfish and in third place came Spike with a yawning scorpionfish. Congratulations to both.

Scuba Seraya is a wonderful, small resort set in immaculate gardens filled with swathes of pink and white bourgainvillia. It’s marvellous position is right on the beach and is surrounded by palm trees. Standing on the beach listening to the waves crash under the clear starry night sky can be very romantic! The beach-front patios are the best place to enjoy a cool Bintang, a glass of wine, or maybe a pot of green tea, before strolling to the open-air restaurant for dinner, where we had the choice of eastern or western menus.

I took a brief trip to the north west of the island to stay and dive at Mimpi Menjangan, a very different location to the Tulamben region. Diving at Menjangan is truly stunning, the walls drip and ooze with every colour and shape of coral. I was very lucky to have a flat calm day with visibility of around 20 meters! The walls at Menjangan are so filled with macro critters that you could miss the black tip and white tip reef sharks skirting by. I saw more scorpion fish on one dive than ever before. The dive guide pointed out orangutan shrimp, sail-fin blenny, peeping jawfish and the fastest mantis shrimp in Bali! Ashamedly, I had forgotten to turn on my camera before getting in the water …

I really wish I could have stayed longer at Menjangan. Not only was Menjangan Island diving truly amazing but the beautiful Mimpi Menjangan Resort was fantastic. I had a Courtyard Villa with a hot tub. The huge bedroom had an enormous bed (very comfortable!) and the bathroom was modern and clean and partially covered but amazingly private as it was surrounded by tropical vegetation. Yes, I should have stayed longer …

Martin and Sylvia Edge are leading a trip to Lankayan in Borneo in February 2010, the Raja Ampat Photoquest in October 2009 and The Sulawesi Photoquest in 2010. Please contact us for further details and availability.

Holidays to Scuba Seryaya and Mimpi Menjangan can be arranged at any time and offer excellent value for money. Singapore Airlines have some great ‘deals’ available at the moment, making Bali a truly great value destination. Talk to us about the possibilities.

Batfish (Mike Woolley)

George, the resident barracuda on the Liberty (Rachel Horsfield)

Lionfish (Rachel Horsfield)

Anemonefish (Rachel Horsfield)

Blue Ribbon Eel (Shannon Conway)

Fish portraiture (Shannon Conway)

Martin Edge finds a novel use for his port cover. (Rachel Horsfield)

Jolly Photoquesters (Rachel Horsfield)

Jacks on the Liberty Wreck (Rachel Horsfield)

Anemonefish (Rachel Horsfield)

The pillar room on the Liberty wreck (Shannon Conway)

Tulamben reef (Shannon Conway)

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