Macro Mecca!

Author: John Boyle

John Boyle celebrates the hidden delights of the Lembeh Strait, from Kungungan Bay Resort, Sulawesi

When a fellow guest on board FeBrina announced he was going to show us some slides he'd brought with him I discreetly positioned myself at the rear of the saloon planning to sneak off to my cabin as soon as the lights went out. Five dives in Kimbe Bay that day, and still not recovered from the long journey out to PNG; all I wanted to do was get some sleep.

But as the first slide appeared on the screen I was transfixed. What was I seeing? Almost thirty years of diving had left me believing that I'd seen just about everything. But as a parade of amazing creatures flashed up on the screen I realized just how wrong I was!

Hairy Frogfish, red setter Ghost Pipefish, Devil Scorpionfish, Mimic Octopus, solar powered nudibranchs, Flamboyant Cuttlefish, Ambon Scorpionfish... and all photographed in just one place - Lembeh Strait. I knew I just had to get there very soon!

Three years on my assistant, Fionn, and I have spent over 1,000 hours underwater there and produced three films ‘Critters’ and ‘Night Critters’ and ‘Coral Critters’ filmed exclusively in the Strait. Yet after all this time, every dive can throw up something new.

Not only is Lembeh Strait a treasure store of unusual marine life, it is also an ideal place to observe behaviour. I've seen Pygmy Seahorses mating, Oriental Snake Eels fighting, cuttlefish laying eggs, a huge mantis shrimp spearing a puffer fish, octopus catching their prey, a tiny Flamboyant Cuttlefish hatching from its egg, and jawfish engaging in behaviour that I am still trying to explain!

And despite all the time I've spent there, I still have creatures on my wish list that others have found is the Strait but I myself have not yet filmed.

Kungkungan Bay Resort is a dedicated dive resort unlike anywhere I have ever stayed. The comfortable and spacious individual bungalows built from local wood all front onto the Strait so you can watch the fascinating parade of Indonesian shipping that passes by - from dug-out canoes to inter-island ferries and a bewildering variety of other vessels.

For me the dining facility is the jewel in the resort's crown - it never closes! There is no such thing as set mealtimes and though most guests tend to follow a fairly regular routine, if you want to have steak and chips after a midnight dive or breakfast late in the afternoon you can do it! Or in my case home made mango ice cream and coconut tart at any time! There is an extensive menu of both international and Indonesian cuisine and one of the best vegetarian menus that I have ever come across.

The large open plan restaurant built out into the Strait also becomes the social centre of the resort, a place just to chill out on the terrace or watch the regular evening talks, slide and film shows by visiting photographers and marine experts of whom there are many - the guest book reads like a Who's Who of the underwater world!

With only twenty rooms the resort is never crowded. There are four dive boats, each carrying a maximum of eight divers and dive sites are between two and fifteen minutes ride from the beach. Four dives a day are scheduled including night dives and there is unlimited shore diving immediately in front of the resort. Once your equipment is set up at the beginning of your stay the boatmen do the rest - all you need to do is roll back off the boat!

There is also a well laid out camera room with both 110 and 240 volt supplies; and E-6 processing is available on site so you can see your shots sometimes the same day.

Because many of the creatures are small and well camouflaged local dive guides accompany each dive. There are no rules - dive with them if you want, or go your own way. But the guides are so expert at spotting critters that I personally always prefer to have them around!

Many of the dive sites are pure ‘muck dives’ on what at first appears a most unpromising substrate. But it is these sites that often produce the most unusual creatures. The more distant sites towards the mouth of the strait are more typical coral dives, and there are also a few wrecks to explore, as a change from critter hunting!

So complete is the experience at the resort that many people don't leave until it's time to go home! But that's a mistake, as there is so much to see in the immediate area of North Sulawesi - local villages and markets, the Minahassan Highlands with their volcanoes and waterfalls, Tankoko Reserve with its rare species of monkeys and birds. And everywhere the people are friendly and helpful - this is not a region where you will be hassled or pestered by the locals. You'll soon discover why North Sulawesi is known as the Land of the Smiling People!

Getting there is as easy as any long haul journey can be. Fly to Singapore and you can get a direct connection to Manado's international airport, a three and a half hour onward flight. Resort staff meet you there for the ninety minute drive to the resort.

As they say about the critters at Kungkungan - if you can't find it here, you probably can't find it anywhere!

A Stargazer peers from under the sand in Kungkungan Bay.

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