By Eva Pet, Sophie Hespe, Meghan Ingram and Jacco Backx.
A jolly group of travelers got together for a trip on the Seven Seas this past month of July, planning to explore and dive some new locations, off the beaten track, around Sumbawa, Sangeang Api, Gili Banta and the North West coast of Flores. What we found was not only beyond where we travelled before, but certainly also beyond our expectations. Some of our group put together some snapshots of experiences that stood out for them on this trip.
EXPLORING NEWLY FOUND DIVE SITES IN SUMBAWA – EVA PET
Waking up to the unfamiliar coast of Sumbawa promised a day of exciting exploratory diving. The boat ride to the first site took us past countless secluded and picturesque white beaches guarded by cliffs on either side. Having passed the last beach we stopped at a point that was to be the backdrop of our adventure for the next hour. One… Two… GO! Descending onto the reef we were met by black, yellow and neon green Chrinoids, big barrel sponges and vibrant green Tubastria.
Immediately the resemblance to south Rinca put us in gear to search for the weird and wonderful, and that’s just what we encountered. From the tiniest pink Pygmy Seahorse to the angriest looking Stonefish there was an endless supply of critters to be found. Passing along the mini wall we spotted upward of 5 different nudibranch species within an area smaller than 1 square meter. In the blue we were passed by a group of Rainbow Runners and four Dogtooth Tuna. Back onto the reef it seemed as though every crevice, Anemone and Bubble coral was inhabited by a transparent cleaner Shrimp or territorial Crab, and every rock had a different Scorpionfish or Lionfish perched on top.
The rest of the day was spent exploring a diverse and expansive site around a pair of limestone cliffs. I say expansive because we were able to divide the site into three separate dives and diverse because within the site the reef and terrain differed so much that it was as if we were transported from Horseshoe bay to Batu Monco within a one hour dive. Following the “Reef-Right” dive plan we flowed with the current from encrusted rocks that resembled parts of Cannibal Rock to ridges similar to those of Manta Alley and ended on a beautiful reef interspersed with white sand patches like those of the Batu Monco coral garden.
Highlights of the bay between the cliffs included everything from giant Morays, Lizardfish and Mantis Shrimp to camouflaged Frogfish, Orangutan crabs, Mushroom coral Pipefish, Banded Pipefish and Leaf Scorpionfish. The first dive at this site ended with a napping Coral Cat Shark while the last ended with a frighteningly large Stingray. The site was also very productive at night, during which the Coral Cat Shark came out for a swim, a large Squid checked out our dive lights and an Octopus flashed brilliant white, yellow and orange. The night also brought out a shape changing Cuttlefish and Crabs decorated with sponges twice their size.
FLOATING THROUGH A MYSTERIOUS CAVE – MEGHAN INGRAM
Thinking back through all the breath-taking views and novel experiences, one adventure especially resonates with me and acts as a highlight of my Seven Seas Trip. Life does not get much better than watching the sunset on a beach occupied solely by our group, after having explored a mysterious cave. This cave was a newly discovered venture for the crew, so being the trip ‘guinea pigs’ made the whole thing even more intriguing. Following an inconspicuous path, we were led down a series of steps into a massive opening with a stark blue pool at the bottom and icepick shaped rocks hanging from the ceiling. As bats flew out, we climbed further down and eventually dove into he salty blue water.
Simply saying ‘salty blue water’ would be an under-exaggeration of exactly how mesmerizing it was to easily float through the pool of this cave. Mirroring the behavior of all the star-gazers we saw diving, I found myself floating on my back gazing up at the almost eerie looking structure that made up the cave, a truly unforgettable moment. Having spent a while taking in all there was to see, we carefully clambered out and made our way to the awaiting speed boats. Due to the low tide, the walk back was characterized by a ‘follow the leader’ wade through the water, carefully dodging the starfish that occupied the ground, whilst managing a sneaky glance at the calm and inviting ocean that lay ahead.
As if things could not get more scenic, the speedboats sped us away to a cozy private beach, where snacks, drinks and a beautiful sunset awaited us. With a view of nothing but blue water, red sky, distant mountains, and the Seven Seas boat anchored nearby, we spent the rest of the evening enjoying the warm water and stunning views, taking a moment to realize just how lucky we were to be standing on this incredibly stretch of land. I could not help but think, how are the next 7 days going to live up to this? …. Trust me, they did!
SNOW WHITE SAND IN A SEEMINGLY UNTOUCHED PARADISE – SOPHIE HESPE
As we arrived off the cliffy coast of Sumbawa Island it was immediately clear that we had entered some sort of seemingly untouched paradise. The strong blue of the deep, crystal clear of the shallows, sand as white as snow, rolling hills plunging into the blue water. Breath-taking it was. The activities on offer for the day included the options of 3 dives, and beach visits. As much as I love diving I couldn’t help myself but explore the beaches this corner of Sumbawa had to offer.
As soon as I stepped off the boat I felt the silkiness of the soft white sand. It’s safe to say that there are not many other places in the world that are this tranquil. We spent the morning at one beach, where we basked in the sun, attempted stand up paddle boarding, and kayaked up to the cliff faces. The second beach we went to in the afternoon and stayed all the way into the evening. All the same activities were on offer and this beach was larger than the first so we got up to some exploring. We found some of the most beautiful and unique shells and some cool wildlife as well, notably the stonefish that we marked by planting a big stick beside it.
Everyone then gathered to watch the sunset over the blue ocean, drinks in hand. Once the sun was down, a huge bonfire was made for us, with the warmth of the sun now gone it was a perfect way to stay warm in our beach attire. We all sat around talking about the day, listening and singing along to wonderful music being played by the Seven Seas staff. That’s not even the end of it. Dinner was brought to us on the beach; we ate delicious food, listening to lovely live music, looking up at the clearest star filled sky, around a campfire on one of the most beautiful beaches on our planet.
DIVING THE SLOPES OF AN ACTIVE VOLCANO – JACCO BACKX
One of our last stops of the trip was at the foot of Sangeang Api, a volcanic island located northeast of Sumbawa. As the volcano shot ash into the sky we dove along the calm, buffalo studded shore of the island discovering the beautiful creatures under the surface. During the two dives there we managed to spot plenty weird and wonderful looking animals. Besides Nudibranchs of all types – some of which looked as if they had been designed by master artists – we saw several ornate and robust ghost pipefish in different colors, and multi colored Frogfishes which you couldn’t take your eyes off. But possibly the most impressive and lasting memory from those dives was seeing and feeling the ground shake underwater as the volcano rumbled. A frightening yet magnificent reminder of just how powerful nature can really be.