Diving and a little Rest and Relaxation at NAD Lembeh March 2018 – by Maggie Russell
Bad weather, a delayed flight and subsequent missed connection with an unexpected visit to Jakarta Airport meant I was very pleased to see a smiling driver wearing a NAD T-Shirt holding up
a card with my name on it right outside the arrivals hall at Sam Ratulangi International Airport, Manado at 10:45pm. The drive of around 45 minutes ended at Bitung where I was met by an
equally affable speed boat driver to transport me to my home for the next couple of weeks, the diving resort NAD in Lembeh Straits, North Sulawesi Indonesia.
The speedboat driver was also one of the NAD night staff. I stepped off the boat onto the floating jetty and was escorted to the dining area and presented with a drink and a meal of barbecue meats
and pasta with tomatoes, olives, salad and fruits whilst he took my bags up to my room. I had not realised how hungry I was and even though it was late I thoroughly enjoyed my midnight meal. A
note from Sonja said not to worry about getting up early the following morning, they were not expecting me to turn up for the first dive of the day, leaving at 07:30! I went up to my room, a very
comfortable individual ensuite air conditioned bungalow with terrace and massive bed, a deep mattress and heaps of pillows – pure bliss. A welcome pack of snacks and the great British
essential, a kettle and tea/coffee making facilities. I put the kettle on, made a cuppa and although late forced myself to unpack and then I slept…
The next day dawned bright and sunny, I woke at 09:00am rested and over the jet lag, a bonus for being so tired from the journey. I put my dive gear outside my room into the crate provided and
then went for a late breakfast, all the other guests were diving. As well as breads and cereals there was a choice of eggs followed by fruit and freshly prepared juice of the day.
I caught up with Dive Manager Sonja who gave me a tour, she was very proud of the resort and really happy to have joined Zee and Simon Buxton, the owners and operators of NAD dive resort
located on its own private beach in Lembeh Island. They have been very very busy over the past couple of years making many improvements, large and small. At the far end of the resort are the
families living quarters and a large aquaponic greenhouse where fish and water are married together to produce a great variety of fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs. Brilliant.
Next is a massive covered open air bar and resting areas with heaps of seats and tables. There is a large flat screen here for photo and video presentations as well as lots of books on fish and
critter identification. Then Sonja showed us the photo center, Wow! As well as many individual stations, all equipped with their own lights, towels and sockets able to take any type of plug (no
need to pack an adaptor) the room has air conditioning and fans, a large drying cabinet, computers and a comprehensive tool kit. They have a variety of excellent DSLR, mirrorless and compact
camera set-ups to hire. Obviously I would recommend you contacting them before your visit if you want to hire a set up for all of your stay but it was reassuring to know that if my camera broke or
housing flooded my holiday would not be ruined by not having a camera to use.
In the dining area there is a coffee machine and tea making facilities with jars of home-made cookies. There are large drinking water refilling stations in the dining room and bar area. NAD try
very hard to minimise the use of plastic so there are NO small plastic drinking water bottles. Instead you have a large glass carafe with lid in your room that you can refill, well done. I just wish
more places I stay at were as environmentally conscious. It really is simple, it just takes the right mind set of not becoming a throw-away society.
Next to the open-air restaurant is the landscaped garden equipped with hammocks and loungers as well as a small pool, Jacuzzi and beach area where there are Kayaks to use if you wish to
explore. There is a great house reef which you are welcome to dive whenever you like. Directly behind the beach are the group of poolside and garden rooms which can be configured with
double or twin beds, some can sleep up to three people. Each air conditioned room is ensuite with a shower, and each has its own veranda. Behind these and at a slightly higher level, away from the
main building are the bungalows. Whilst I was there they were in the process of refurbishing and extending one of them. Each bungalow has great views over the bay with a private balcony. They are ensuite and all are air conditioned and have a fan if you prefer. There are a couple of “Executive bungalows” which now feature an additional day room that can be used as a resting
area, office or as a child’s room if needed. Smoking is only allowed OUTSIDE so no smell of stale cigarette smoke in any of the rooms. It was obvious that there is a good maintenance operation at
work here, all the rooms and public areas looked bright, clean and well maintained. Zees’ impressive artwork on the walls and Simon, Sonja and the dive guides great photos of fish and
critters everywhere give this resort a really friendly welcoming high class dive resort feel. They are hoping in the future to build some budget rooms with shared facilities in the main building.
My tour completed I went and assembled my underwater housing, strobes and camera at my personal work station in the camera room. No lugging of the camera to and from my room.
Paperwork and briefings completed I was introduced to my dive guide for the duration of my stay, Kelo, himself an underwater photographer. The dive guide ratio here is 2:1, a real bonus as it leads to a very private experience with heaps of time to take photos. I was also in for a real treat as there were no other single guests booked in for a couple of days so I had Kelo all to myself, pure
indulgence. I knew I was going to enjoy this diving holiday.
After lunch I went down the floating jetty and stepped onto the boat where Kelo had set up my dive gear for me. He carried my camera down from the camera room and put it into the fresh water tank on the boat, I was being spoilt! I checked my Nitrox mix and dive gear, signed the dive log and was introduced to the boat crew, Ota, Mae and 2 other couples staying at the resort. More guests
were getting ready on another boat. NAD have 4 large purpose-built diveboats, all equipped with twin quiet 4-stroke engines, onboard toilet, drinks, snacks and boat towels.
Then it was off for my first dive, Sarena Besar, named after the island in the straits where the site is located, Besar means large. The site is a combination of a shallow coral area and rubble/ sandy bottom. Kelo set to work doing what he is good at – spotting critters.
I have often found diving here is like spotting mushrooms in a wood, initially you think there is nothing there, it takes a while to get your “eye” in, you just see trees and then you spot one mushroom in the undergrowth, then another, then another, then another…. 75 minutes later he and I had spotted a variety of nudibranchs including some tiny ones of the Flabellina genus, various shrimp gobies with their partner shrimps in their sand burrows. These are fascinating to watch and I spent quite a while watching as the pair communicated by touch, the shrimp maintaining contact with the goby with its long, highly sensitive antennae, the goby using subtle movements of its tail to warn the shrimp when danger is imminent. You have to be patient to get a good photo of these as the goby is very alert and if one is too near or too quick in one’s movements, they both disappear down the burrow that the shrimp has excavated in the blink of an eye.
The beautiful sexy shrimp (Thor amboinensis) swaying away in a carpet anemone (Stichodactyla haddoni), another commensal relationship whereby the host anemone offers protection to the shrimp by way of its stinging cells and the shrimp keeps the anemone clean by feeding off any mucus-trapped plankton and debris. Loads more small and juvenile reef fish, a huge variety of sponge gobies, blennies, a yellow margined flatworm, spider crabs, sea squirts, xenia prawns, filefish, and too many species to mention. I climbed up the ladder onto the boat, if you want you can take your BCD off in the water the crew will lift it up for you.
Once on the boat I was greeted with a hot coffee and some pineapple and then it was back to the resort. As I got off the boat Kelo took my camera off me and put it into one of the large rinse tanks. I took my camera out, dried it with the compressed air gun and put it into the camera room. Then I lazed in the Jacuzzi before heading back to my room to shower and change.
Some people were off for a night dive but I was still quite tired from the journey so for today at least that was the end of my diving. I went and sorted out my pictures and wrote up my dive log on the balcony of my room whilst drinking tea. You can tell I am British, I love travelling but I have to have tea, no other drink will do!
Later I went to the bar and ordered a Mojito, made with mint freshly picked from the greenhouse and sipped through a stainless steel straw. (The bonus of these straws is that they make the drink
cold as you sip it as well as one less plastic straw to pollute our planet with.) If ice cold cocktails and beer are not your thing there are a variety of good bottles of wine to purchase at a reasonable price as well as soft drinks in cans. That night before dinner Sonja did a 30-minute slideshow presentation of things that had been seen that week, so many fish and critters with some amazing photographs. It was a good opportunity to meet the other guests.
Dinner, like lunch is a buffet. There soup, freshly baked baguettes, salad, veggie fritters, pork with sweet and sour sauce, rice and green beans in some delicious spices. Chocolate cupcake with
chocolate buttercream to finish. Delicious, the food here is a mixture of Western and Indonesian dishes. If you are vegetarian or have any special dietary requirements they will make sure you do
not go hungry. At lunch and dinner there was always a choice whilst at breakfast there were always breads, cereals, fruit and eggs available along with a special such as as Nasi or Mei Goreng (fried rice noodles), noodle soup, waffles or crepes. After dinner I chatted to fellow divers before retiring to my room. I turned the fan on and the A/C off
as I actually found it (27C) quite cool, obviously I was acclimatising! It is so nice to have the choice of A/C or fan.
The following 8 days fell into the pattern of Breakfast – Dive 1, Snack, Dive 2, – Lunch – Dive 3, Snack, Relax – dusk (Mandarin fish)/ Night or Blackwater Dive, Dinner, Relax – Sleep.
On the days that followed I dived some more unusual sites and undertook a Blackwater Dive. This was a whole new experience for me. You wait until it is dark then a big bright light is hung in the
water column, this attracts plankton from microscopic to small and you try and photograph the stuff that floats by, while maintaining some degree of stability in the water. I got a few mediocre shots and had great fun and now have a new appreciation for Simon, Sonja and Zee and their photos.
We dived some sites in The North of the Island and here, like the East Coast is a whole different Lembeh. There can be crystal clear water and massive walls covered in hard and soft corals and
loads of larger fish including schools of jacks as well as turtles and the chance of larger fish. On one of the dives there was quite a drift so camera was put away and I was just enjoying it when
Kelo stopped, he had spotted a tiny Flabellina nudi, how do they do it!!
Highlights of the trip:
Critters: A new one for me a Hairy Octopus followed by Lesser and Greater Blue Ringed Octopi, Wonderpuss, A Pair of Mimic Octopus, Long-legged Octopus, sooo many blennies and gobies
including my favourites, lemon goby and hairy goby and also darting pink-eyed gobies, Juvenile black puffer fish, Brooding Bangaii Cardinal fish, a variety of dragonets, cardinals and Mandarin
fish. Seahorses both large and pygmy. Frogfish including planktonic, juveniles, warty, painted, hairy and massive! Robust and Ghost pipe fish, tiger shrimp, Tozeuma Shrimp, Donald Duck
Shrimp, Xenia crabs, boxing crab wandering over the sand, tiger shrimp and tiny weeny harlequin shrimp in the rubble. Cowries, bobtail squid, baby cuttlefish, flamboyant cuttlefish hunting,
Stargazer, Bobbitt worm. Nudibranchs galore. One couple here, Martha & Anthony Holley had spotted over 200 this visit plus new species to them and they have travelled all over the world.
There is a huge variety of invertebrate life.
Rarities and Oddities:
Parasites on whip sponge goby, 2 physolleum solar powered nudibranchs mating, 2 blue ringed Octopi mating, pregnant xenia crab, pregnant hairy shrimp, Hairy Octopus.
Idiomysis shrimp. Everything on the Blackwater Dives. Lizardfish eating a damselfish. That Nudi Favorite Dive Sites of the trip: – Gob-y-Crab, Mikawide, Jahir, Nudi Falls, Kapal Indah,
Photos of the trip: In focus darting pink-eyed gobies! Backlit nudibranch, hairy goby, hairy frogfish, almost in focus idiomysis shrimp.
Food of the trip: ALL the soups, Beef Teriyaki, Melt-in-the-middle Chocolate cake. Chocolate
cupcake with chocolate chips inside and coffee between dives. Beng-Beng Bars in the welcome
pack. (You might get the idea that I love chocolate!)
Drink of the trip: – Mojito and a nice bottle of Sauvignon Blanc
Gaff of the trip: Forgetting to put in batteries and bulb onto focus light and then going diving.
Frustrations of the trip: Trying to focus on a “Shaun the Sheep” Costasiella kuroshimae, a
species of sacoglossan sea slug. It has the ability to incorporate chloroplasts from the algae it
feeds on into its body and use them for photosynthesis. Strobe positioning!
Saviour of the trip: The drying cabinet which got my focus light functioning again!
Things to remember: Take 45 o eyepiece off for night dives and wide angle, I just couldn’t cope!
New friends made and I now know how to play Banana Scrabble.
In conclusion I had a fantastic time and recommend NAD Lembeh to any diver. A massive number
of dive sites, NAD currently have around 90 dive sites that they know well. Great guides and boats,
staff and food. I have to reiterate the 2:1 guide ratio (I have to admit I had 1:1 for the majority of my
stay as everyone appeared to be in groups or couples!) is a big plus. The ability to go to the East,
North and South of the Island, (so long as you can persuade your fellow divers to give it a try is a
bonus, you only have to pay for the extra fuel). It is by no means the cheapest resort but then
again there are others that are more expensive but value for money you cannot beat it. I WILL be
back. Thanks everyone.