THE ISLAND OF Lombok is located in the West Nusa Tenggara Province of Indonesia, and is Bali’s neighbour to the east. Geographically, Lombok is similar in size and density to Bali and is surrounded by 13 small, largely uninhabited islands locally called Gilis. Lombok offers the simple pleasures of sunshine and white sandy beaches in quiet settings. A unique culture and exciting eco-tours make Lombok the perfect getaway for anyone looking for a peaceful and tranquil holiday, or for the more adventurous, who want to explore the many beautiful and wild treasures this island has to offer.

From Padang Bai Harbour in Bali, one can hop on the local speedboat across to Lombok. Making two stops along the way, first in Gili Trawangan and Gili Air before reaching the large, peaceful bay of Teluk Nara just 30 minutes north of Senggigi on Lombok Island. The speedboat ride from Padang Bai takes slightly over 1.5 hours. From Teluk Nara, a 3-hour drive takes you down the southwest coast. Meandering down the wildly rugged coastline, you will be overwhelmed by a wonderful palette of colours and some of the most breathtaking views of heavenly beaches that seem to go on endlessly. The sparkling turquoise water of bays nestled amidst lush rolling hills and spectacular sea cliffs, are interspersed with picturesque farming and fishing villages. It’s as if time stands still here, where ancient ways of living appear to be untouched by tourism or development. The journey ends in the town of Sekotong, where some of the best diving in Lombok can be found.

Diving the Uncharted Unlike the more popular northern Gilis, very little is heard of the diving in the southern Gilis Islands. Here you will find a lush underwater wonderland offering an abundance of marine diversity with plenty of new dive sites to explore and discover. Diving is available for all levels of certification: from protected bays to calm sea grass fields, to the more challenging dives sites in Belongas Bay.

Reefs here are in a pristine state due to a low volume of diver traffic. It’s rare to see any other dive boats in your vicinity, or to see other divers during a dive. The diving in general offers a good cross-section of what Indonesian diving is all about, with opportunities for true exploration that would please even the most widely travelled and experienced diver. Underwater photographers will be pleasantly surprised at what’s in store here, from rainbow reefs to stunning macro subjects and uncharted coral gardens.

A close-up view of the spines of a fire urchin (Astropyga radiata) (text and photo by Imran Ahmad and Cassandra Dragon)

In Sekotong, dive sites such as Stairs to Medang or The Lighthouse boast hard coral reefs that are popular with trevallies, barracudas and whitetip reef sharks. Other sites, like Gili Renggit, are made up of massive soft coral growth and are a paradise for macro photographers. The great variety of dive sites becomes obvious at Batu Gendang, where you experience a labyrinth of boulders covered with massive corals. This site is tide dependent and for the more experienced divers. Watch out for sweet lips, Napoleons and rays.

Huge barrel sponges sit on the seabed, adorned with flower-like crinoids (text and photo by Imran Ahmad and Cassandra Dragon)

Colour Buzz

Among our most favourite sites are Secret Garden and Gili Layar, with an impressive wonderland of soft corals that slopes downwards past 26 metres. The abundance of coral as well as the multitude of macro life is absolutely breath taking! After this incredible array, and a series of overhangs, most dives here end at a shallow plateau with some of the largest barrel sponges we’ve ever seen, as well as impressive hard coral formations. Another highlight here is the profusion of tiny yellow sea cucumbers (Colochirus robustus) making this dive site buzz with colour.

Lombok’s reefs are as colourful as any in Indonesia, growing lush with invertebrates like soft and hard corals, sponges and sea stars (text and photo by Imran Ahmad and Cassandra Dragon)

Day trips via land transfers can be made from Sekotong over to Belongas Bay. The main highlights here are dive sites like Magnet and Cathedral, where seasonal sightings of schooling barracudas, tunas, and other pelagic life is fairly regular. Apart from the schooling mobula ray season in September, hammerhead sharks like to school around Magnet from June until early November. As currents and dive conditions can at times be quite challenging at these two sites, it is recommended only for more experienced divers. Reef hooks are essential, as are dive computers and gloves, while surface marker buoys are mandatory. Unfortunately for us, we missed the season by a few months, but knowing that these kinds of animals inhabit the region helped make every dive that much more exciting.

Another delight in Belongas Bay is Gili Sarang. With pinnacles and impressive boulders rising up from a depth of around 35 metres, this dive site offers impressive big fish action. Giant trevallies, mackerels, sweet lips, surgeon fish, whitetips, blacktips and grey reef sharks can all be seen here, with August and September being the best season for sightings of schooling mobula and eagle rays.

Read the rest of this article in SD Issue 1/2013, AA No. 73 of Scuba Diver Diveraholic magazine by subscribing here or check out all of our publications here.

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