Recently I was lucky enough to spend some time in Borneo, diving off East Kalimantan and staying at resorts Nabucco and Nunukan. The diving I did there was some of the best I have done in a long time. I loved the fact that there were no other dive boats at the sites I visited, the water was warm and quite clear, there were some currents which I enjoy, and so many fish!
Both resorts, one at each end of Maratua lagoon, have day-trip access to several dive sites including the well-known Sangakali, known as a manta ray hot-spot (where I had great manta interactions and was pleasantly surprised by the beautiful coral in the area), and Kakabun, known for its inland lake full of sting-less jellyfish. We spent a surface interval in the lake snorkeling with these magical creatures. The lake is surrounded by dense jungle and is just beautiful.
Nabucco Resort, situated on a small private island, sits at the mouth of the lagoon, where, during incoming tides, divers almost always see a school of thousands of barracuda, various shark species, trevally and more. Other nearby sites are characterised by proliferation of fish, excellent marco life and healthy colourful corals. The resort is relaxed, comprises of 20 rooms, a great sunset bar and a stilted restaurant with magnificent views of the lagoon. I was blown away by the activity on the dives I did here, seeing eagle rays, turtles, tuna, barracuda, black and white tip reef sharks and stunning corals.
Nunukan Resort, a 30-minute speedboat ride away, is another private island resort, situated on the southern side of the lagoon. The house reef is a 4km long stretch of healthy lively reef, sloping to about 40m. There is a large turtle population here, as well as many passing pelagics including eagle rays and leopard, nurse and blacktip reef sharks. The reef is generally very fish-dense, and offers amazing macro-life spotting opportunities with pygmy seahorses, nudibranchs, soft coral and other crabs and leaf-scorpion fish among others. The diving I did here was a gentle drift and I loved the schools of bright reef fish, turtles and numerous interesting critters.
A fantastic add-on is the orangutan rehabilitation centre at Samboja Lodge, about an hour from Balikpapan. I stopped here on my way to Bali and loved it. I visited resident rescued orangutans and sun bears, did an awesome canopy tour on 40m high bridges through the tree tops, enjoyed a slow boat ride down a river and spent time relaxing on the viewing deck at the lodge looking for different bird species. There is a wide variety of wildlife in the area including proboscis and leaf-tree monkeys, gibbons, macaques, monitor lizards, snakes, insects, and more than 260 species of bird.
I highly recommend this destination to people who enjoy drift dives, big things (mantas, eagle rays, sharks, schooling fish in their thousands etc), macro enthusiasts.