Shopping Cart -

Your cart is currently empty.
Continue Shopping
This website use cookies and similar technologies to improve the site and to provide customised content and advertising. By using this site, you agree to this use. To learn more, including how to change your cookie settings, please view our Cookie Policy
Pocketmags Digital Magazines
Pocketmags Digital Magazines
   You are currently viewing the Canada version of the site.
Would you like to switch to your local site?
Digital Subscriptions >  Blog > TULAMBEN HAT-TRICK



Posted October 20, 2016   |   3219 views   |   Sport   |   Comments (0) Like a knight of yore on a sacred quest, NIGEL WADE finally faces the prospect of bringing an epic journey to a stirring conclusion – at a Balinese location he has already visited four times before! Can his quarry live up to the weight of expectation?

I’VE BEEN WAITING my whole diving life to catch a glimpse of just one of these enigmatic and rare creatures, clocking up well over 100,000 miles travelling to the places where they live in the vain hope of an encounter with this superstar of the underwater photographer’s world.

In the past I’ve mostly been greeted with: “You should have been here last month” or, worse still, “No, we haven’t seen one of those in years”.

So you can imagine my surprise when dive-guide Nina casually dropped “and we’ve been seeing a few Rhinopias here too” into the sentence as she delivered the afternoon dive-briefing.

The hairs on my arms stood up, and a shiver ran the length of my spine as the excitement levels instantly went off the scale. This was followed a few seconds later with a feeling of dread when I remembered all the times I’d heard the same words, only to find this elusive animal conspicuous by its absence.

After 20 minutes of fruitless searching, my pulse quickened at the sight of dive-guide and spotter Norris hovering over the dirty black-sand seabed.

He was punching the water with one hand and pointing at what looked to be a bit of discarded rubbish with the other.

I finned closer. The anticipation was electric, but quickly evaporated at the sight of a beautiful, striped wonderpus, its eight appendages snaking in different directions as its oblong eyes set on stalks checked out the commotion.

I shouldn’t have been crestfallen but I was – it was impossible to hide my disappointment. My shoulders slumped, and I simply went through the motions of taking a few snaps.

Norris could see that my heart wasn’t in it and grabbed me by the arm. With a confused look he pointed again, this time a few feet past the small octopus.

I followed his direction to see the ugliest of mugs staring back at me, a creature with facial features only its mother could love. It had huge white umbrella-like eyebrows and an upturned snout sporting what resembled a Victorian moustache. This particular species is commonly known as a paddleflap – wait for it – Rhinopias!

It was a beautiful moment, and the frustration and unproductive searches of yesteryear melted away as my heart raced in my chest.

This little aquatic icon lay motionless on the algae and black sand, propped up on its pectoral fins and posing like a professional model as I frugally recorded its likeness with my camera.

I was lost in the moment, enjoying every second of this long-awaited meeting while trying to ignore the frantic tank-banging coming from a few metres away.

My wildly gesticulating guides were relentless and determined to get my attention, so I reluctantly left the pink paddle-flap, wondering what all the fuss was about. Then I froze, slack-jawed, as I gazed at, not one, but two more Rhinopias lying a few feet apart.

Both were deep crimson in colour but very different in appearance – one was another smooth-skinned paddle-flap, while the other had lacy appendages all over its spotty red body.

This species, the frondosa, is possibly the most amazing critter I’ve had the privilege to see under water.

The Rhinopias is a creature that’s haunted my dreams, inspiring me to travel to the far-flung corners of Asia and beyond – and here I was, face to face with three of them. I felt as if I’d scored the ultimate hat-trick. 

A face only its mother could love, that of a pink paddleflap.

TULAMBEN IS REGARDED as the diving epicentre of Bali’s north-east. Nestled in the shadow of Mount Agung, this coastal fishing village has numerous dive-resorts dotted along its volcanic shoreline, but few are as luxurious or better-placed for divers than our home for a fortnight, Villa Markisa.

The resort is the brainchild and home of Christiane Waldrich, who first dived the Tulamben black-sand slopes in 2002. She found an underwater realm rich in biodiversity, but it was her love of nudibranchs that motivated her to explore the area further, and in the process she has discovered and recorded more than 600 species of these multi-coloured sea slugs.

Christiane built Villa Markisa adjacent to her favourite critter hunting-ground at Seraya Secrets. The resort consists of bungalows, villas and well-appointed rooms in the main house, a swimming pool, bar, restaurant, spa and, of course, a fully equipped dive-centre.

Since its discovery, Seraya Secrets has become established as one of the world’s best muck-diving sites. Creatures that are seemingly rare in other parts of Indonesia regularly make an appearance here.

Harlequin shrimps, ghost pipefish, mimic octopus and pygmy seahorses are just a few of the critters commonly found within a few fin-kicks of Villa Markisa’s dive-centre.

On our first dive there, Balinese guide Sumatra pointed out a number of beautifully marked tiger shrimps. We also found some truly miniscule frogfish – sorry, did I say we? Some were so small that I couldn’t actually see them without the aid of a magnified viewfinder, having to rely solely on the sharp eyes and experience of the younger man.

Surprisingly, nudibranch sightings were few and far between, the polar opposite from our visit to this site last year, when they appeared abundant.

This is undoubtedly because of the current El Niño sweeping the planet, elevating sea temperatures and causing distressed animals to seek the deeper, possibly cooler waters further from

the coastline.

Those that can’t move often suffer the consequences, as was the case with a few anemones, their bleached white tentacles, although beautiful in appearance, marking their last sad throes of life.


TULAMBEN ISN’T ALL ABOUT muck-diving, however. Five minutes north on Markisa’s small dive-boat lies one of the world’s most famous wreck-sites.

The USAT Liberty was torpedoed and damaged on her way from Lombok Strait in 1942. She was towed towards the harbour at Singaraja but, taking on too much water, was beached at Tulamben to enable salvage of her cargo and fittings.

The remains were left rusting on the beach until Mount Agung erupted in 1963, and the resulting earth tremors and magma flow are said to have caused the wreck to roll off the shore. It now lies on its starboard side some 30m from the beach, totally encrusted in rich coral growth.

In past years the wreck has been home for a large school of jack, forming tight tornadoes above and around the Liberty’s superstructure. I was disappointed to discover that these much-photographed fish are no longer present, having moved to possibly quieter or more productive hunting-grounds a few years ago.

The current Liberty A-listers are the resident bumphead parrotfish. These huge corallivores spend the night resting in the shelter of the hull before congregating at the stern as the sun’s rays start to penetrate the water. They briefly cruise the reef slopes, before dispersing to munch their way around Tulamben’s numerous coral reefs.

The best time to be in the water is around 6am, with the sun rising a few minutes later. This meant a pre-dawn start involving alarm clocks and strong coffee, yet even at this ungodly hour other divers could already be seen in the water as we rolled off the boat, a testament to the popularity of thi

The Liberty’s resident A-listers are bumphead parrotfish.

IF DIVING ON MUCK OR WRECKS doesn’t light your fire, the area immediately south of the Liberty offers prolific coral reefs and would be our destination for a mid-morning dive.

Belying the unimaginative name of Coral Garden, the site boasts a stunning anemone field housing differing species of clownfish at its summit. Further down the reef slope, the topography changes to the now-familiar volcanic black sand with sporadic coral outcrops.

One of these was frequented by hinge-beak, candy-stripe and red-banded cleaner shrimp, all offering a wash-and- brush-up service to the resident fish.

We watched in awe as a crimson coral trout swam slowly around this cleaning station, its naturally cautious nature set aside as it postured boldly, patiently waiting for a few of the resident shrimps to jump onboard and meticulously pick away parasites from its body.

It was fascinating to see a potential shrimp supper confidently move around this fearsome mini-predator’s array of sharp white teeth, earning its own meal through a partnership born over millennia of mutual trust.

I’m a reef-nut and, as nice as Coral Gardens are, I wanted more. “That’s not a problem, Nigel,” Christiane told me. “We’re going further south to visit a really spectacular reef tomorrow – are you coming”? That has to be a trick question, I thought, overwhelmed by the anticipation of the coming day’s diving.

Again leaving before sunrise, the skipper sped his boat over glassy waters, hugging the coastline as Mount Agung’s peak caught the first of the rising sun’s red glow. This outstanding sight alone was worth the effort of the early start, but there were more spectacles to come.

After the short ride we arrived at the Pyramids. This site consists of dozens of man-made structures, built from a variety of building materials that include concrete blocks, tyres and metal tubing.


THE FIRST HOLLOW PYRAMID structure was built in the late 1990s, with others added later that have become the permanent residence for countless marine animals, sponges and corals.

The first one we visited was enveloped by a swarm of golden sweepers, hugging the contours of the structure as they expanded and contracted during their endless search for passing plankton.

Others were covered in crinoids, their feathered fronds appearing to soften the hard lines of the structures. The pyramids give way to a fringing reef made up mainly of large coral bommies, again teeming with life.

I encouraged Nina to pose for a few photos by a densely populated outcrop and, concentrating on capturing the moment, we both missed a beautifully camouflaged ornate ghost pipefish.

Its livery had been almost invisible next to the crinoid it mimicked – it was doing a great job of remaining hidden in plain sight, so much so that we didn’t discover its existence until viewing the images later that evening. The Pyramids and their adjacent reefs had proved every bit as spectacular as Christiane had promised.

Night-diving on the black-sand sites can also yield some memorable encounters. Submerging after the sun had dropped below the horizon at Sidem, the home of the three Rhinopias, eagle-eyed guide Norris found some rarely seen filamentous scorpionfish.

These tiny specimens share an uncanny resemblance to the Rhinopias, but are only an inch or so in length.

Another first for me was the discovery of a mototi octopus. This is a close relative of the blue-ringed octopus and has the same deadly cocktail of toxins stored in its saliva. Unlike its famous cousin, however, the mototi has only two iridescent blue rings, one on either side of its body, and these are displayed when the animal is excited or feels threatened.

For me, Bali is the jewel in the crown of Asian diving. This was my fifth voyage of discovery there, enjoyin

For more great articles like this get the OCTOBER 2016 issue of DIVER below or subscribe and save.

Single Issue - FEBRUARY 2019 Replica Edition included
Or 399 points
Annual Digital Subscription
Only $ 2.33 per issue
Or 2799 points
6 Month Digital Subscription
Only $ 2.83 per issue
Or 1699 points
Monthly Digital Subscription
Only $ 2.79 per issue
Or 279 points

View Issues


DIVER is Britain's best-selling scuba diving magazine – regularly out-performing all its competitors combined on the open market.

More great content like this...

For more great articles like this subscribe to DIVER today.

Annual Digital Subscription for $27.99 saving 42%

Most read articles this month

The 5 Best Aviation Magazines

The 5 Best Aviation Magazines

Get ready to take your knowledge of aviation to new heights with our carefully curated list of aviation digital magazines. More...
The 5 Best Vegan and Vegetarian Magazines

The 5 Best Vegan and Vegetarian Magazines

Inspire your meat-free lifestyle with our 5 best vegan and vegetarian digital magazines! More...
The 5 Best Scale Modelling Magazines

The 5 Best Scale Modelling Magazines

Start creating your very own miniature world today with one of our 5 best scale modelling magazines! More...
The 5 Best Baking Magazines

The 5 Best Baking Magazines

Passionate baker or dessert lover, here at Pocketmags there’s a digital magazine to make all your sweet dreams come true! More...


You don’t have to stay on a Greek island to enjoy Greek diving with all the trimmings, and ‘best-kept secret’ Epidavros offers its own argument for a mainland base. STEVE WEINMAN reports More...
The 5 Best Music Magazines

The 5 Best Music Magazines

Whether you’re an active listener, player or can get up and boogie to your favourite jam, here at Pocketmags, we have the 5 best music magazines to keep the beat alive in you all year round. More...
The 5 Best Wedding Magazines

The 5 Best Wedding Magazines

Are you dreaming of a white wedding? With luscious flowers, the sweetest melodies and a cake oh, so fluffy? Why not turn that dream into a reality with the most reliable and inspirational sources around? More...
The 5 Best Classic Cars Magazines

The 5 Best Classic Cars Magazines

Classic cars are like a fine wine - they only get better with time. Whether it’s their extraordinary style, fascinating history or simply their authentic nature - they have certainly found their place in the world, as well as in the hearts of many true vintage car enthusiasts. More...
Vouchers Gift Cards A magazine subscription is the perfect gift but you'll need something to show on the big day. View All
Ways to Pay Pocketmags Payment Types
At Pocketmags you get Secure Billing Great Offers HTML Reader Gifting options Loyalty Points