Wreck Diving - The Liberty Wreck Tulamben

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September 18th 2008
Published: June 3rd 2009
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It's 6.30am - I'm awake - eyes wide no time for coffee; and I'm heading up to the dive shop, the streets of the sleepy village of Tulamben are quiet - the only sounds are from the ever present cockerels and the hiss of scuba tanks being tested and filled.

Tulamben is famous worldwide to divers as the village where you can shore dive the Liberty wreck. Thirty meters out from the rocky shore and 30m down is the sunken remains of World War II freighter the USAT Liberty. In it's former life nearly 70 years ago - the USAT Liberty was shipping materials to Australia, across the Lombok Straits, torpedoed by a Japanese U-boat and taking on vast quantities of water, the ship was beached on Bali's north shore. An eruption in 1963 left the vessel in it's present location, situated ideally for marine life and divers alike.

Staying in the village means you can get up and dive before breakfast, when the wreck is quieter - before the day trippers from Kuta arrive. Dive some of the also fantastic but less popular sites such as the drop off, during the day - and then mid-afternoon back to the wreck - as the day trippers huddle in their mini-vans on the long ride south.

We pad down to the beach - ridiculous in our wetsuits carrying fins and cameras. A small weathered old woman who looks to be in her 60's carries all our other gear - the heavy parts - tanks and BCDs - one unit on her head, one on her back. My initial "I'm fine carrying my gear" remarks have faded into acceptance - the villagers' main source of income - both young and old is through diving; guiding, feeding, driving, carrying - divers are high maintenance and are willing to pay - the euros that this old woman earns from carrying our equipment probably feeds the families.

The rocky shoreline glistens with low reflected light, the sun just lightening the sky in the east. Strapped in, weights on, air turned on, gingerly we step into the water. The waves and melon sized rocks make a really difficult entry, the suction from the receding wave pulls legs out from the unwary, pro-photographers carrying 20kgs of expensive camera equipment regularly tumble - sacrificing elbows and shins rather than damage the precious housing.

Underwater is a different world. At 6.40am - the prow of the Liberty harbours the sheltering Bumphead Parrotfish. Parrotfish make a mucus cocoon every-night to sleep safely in - I look for traces on the just stirring Bumpheads - at nearly a meter a mucus cocoon should be easy to spot on one of these but I'm yet to see it. Dark red almost black volcanic sands descend into the depths, the odd scattered outcrop sheltering ghost pipefish and nudibranches - strange denizens of the sea.

A left turn at about 20m depth and the prow of the Liberty Wreck looms up - encrusted with life, corals, soft-corals, anemones - provides homes, food and shelter to countless creatures - life after deaths for a ship doomed by a torpedo in one of mankind's lowest hours.

Searching fan corals we find 5mm pygmy seahorses. Anemones shelters shrimps and anemonefish in symbiotic relationships. We drop down through the wreck, through mysterious swimthroughs, past a large gun turret, hoping to surprise a shark or a great baracuda. Like some guardian of the wreck the great baracuda is there again - one of the biggest I've seen - maybe 2m or more - teeth prominent and looking very very sharp. Baracuda can attack divers, mistaking shiny attachments for the reflections of fish scales - fingers and earlobes the most often bitten areas - but like most creatures in the sea - this torpedo with teeth is more scared of us than we of it. Sudden movements and it is gone at high-speed into the depths where we can't follow.

Backup through the wreck, sweetlips, angelfish and groupers drift in the shelter of debris. Some fish hide, some lurk, some flee.

One of the most impressive areas of garden eels is just off the top of the wreck, long slender bodies face into the current waiting for food to drift by, they timidly retreat into burrows every time anything large gets near.

On top of the wreck, in the 6m area between it and the surface a shoal of jacks (big eye travally) thousands strong, swirl and stream, twisting into tornadoes and funnels, turning in on themselves and diving down. Hunting and avoiding being hunted at the same time. The perfect place for a long safety stop to decompress - releasing any built up nitrogen from our bloodstream slowly.

All that and it's not even 8am - three more dives today - after breakfast of course.

More about the Liberty Wreck

Tulaben is on Bali's arid northern coast - thirty meters out from the rocky shore and 30m down is the sunken remains of World War II freighter the USAT Liberty.

In it's former life nearly 70 years ago - the USAT Liberty was shipping materials to Australia, across the Lombok Straits, torpedoed by a Japanese U-boat, taking on vast quantities of water, the ship was beached - all hands saved. An eruption in 1963 shifted it to it's present location, situated ideally for marine life and divers alike.

At 120m long the USAT Liberty and straddling the perfect recreational dive range of 30m to 6m deep the Liberty now provides a home to see life from Great Baracuda's (2m) to Pygmy Seahores (2mm) - countless jacks, anemones, corals, crabs, urchins - and shelter to a shoal of sleeping Bumphead Parrotfish.

It is the best wreck dive I have made. We dived with Tulamben Wreck Divers - sometimes with a guide sometimes without (my buddy and I were trained divemasters) - going without a guide is a fantastic for experienced divers - but the spotter aspect of a local guide is awesome as well - but once you know what to look for...

There are other operators and all looked well set-up.

Tulamben is small - accommodation particularly with the dive centers is very impressive though. Internet is slow - almost grindingly slow - a reminded of dialup days - with cuts and connections being frequent and page load times stretching into the - go and get a cup of tea - levels. So take the easy option and go offline for a few days 😊 (I wish that were an option I could take more often)

It's five hours minivan ride north of Kuta.

My thanks to Vanessa (the diver in most of these shots and the best buddy in the world) - she'd completed her divemaster training in Perhentian Islands when I was there during July and August - she is unbelievably economical with her air - I'd be down at 80bar - she'd be on 160! I would borrow her octopus and extend our dives out - upto 95 mins sometimes 😊

Camera Equipment - All photos taken with a Canon G9, stock Canon underwater housing, and a cheap slave strobe for macro.

These photos are the best from about 20 dives - yeah - I liked it that much 😊

Additional photos below
Photos: 78, Displayed: 26


3rd June 2009

Cool diving!
Nice to see some more great pics Ali. Thanks a lot!
3rd June 2009

Ali, those photos are awesome.
3rd June 2009

i miss fish
wow looks like u had an amazing dive on the wreck! I did it once so long ago but I want to do it again looking at ur photos!
3rd June 2009

wow those jacks are just like mabul!
3rd June 2009

Waw, complitments on the pics! What a great quality!
3rd June 2009

Those pics are tempting me to learn how to dive. There seems to be a whole world underwater that I am missing out on.
3rd June 2009

Cute nudis!
Great pictures, Ali. Thanks for sharing :)
3rd June 2009

Keep it going!
I can never go diving. I THINK I am scared. So, awesome job! The pics look fantastic. Nice camera, eh! For a min, I really thought you were using a DSLR. But then again, I remember, good photography is not all about the camera.
3rd June 2009

I remember stumbling down that grotty old beach with a pair of flippers and a mask over ten years ago. I saw a load of old gray wreck, got caught in a tornado of jack - but jack all else - how do you do it? I only wish the elastic umbilical of internet access didn't prevent you from heading way out east from there - where even I, armed with just mask, managed to discover another-under-worldly paradise. One can only imagine what you'd find and document in hyper-color (genuinely an exciting prospect). So anyway, that's the brown-nosing out the way - you seem to be getting more 'hits' than me nowadays, are you sure you're not massaging the figures from the inside?
4th June 2009

Yeah, what they said. Great stuff.
4th June 2009

wreck dive
A good read somehow reminding me of my own dives around and through that wreck be it over 17 years ago though, oh yeah great photos too!!! Nice choice of words and informative story!!! Hans from Amsterdam, heraclio on this site.
5th June 2009

You have just untempted me to learn to dive Aspiringnomad. One of the reasons I have never bothered so far, is that I assumed that I would need centuries of training and practice before I would see more than ''a load of old gray wreck, got caught in a tornado of jack - but jack all else'' :)
5th June 2009

Sweet pictures!
I have a crush on that nudibranch! So cute. Amazing pictures.
10th June 2009

keeping it real!
Ali you write so beautifully, it took me away for a while back to the adventures of the underwater world........your photos are outstanding and enticing, i feel privileged to be a part of your blog.......as you know my travels have finished...for now, but your writing and images keep the dream alive for me to one day continue the adventures. Enjoy every minute and please, keep sharing it with us. x
28th August 2009

beautiful diving
The pics are so cool and very clear. I just dived this dive side last week and saw everything same pics that your show.
2nd February 2011

Wreck Diving
Thanks for sharing your diving experience with us! Amazing how an unsightly ship can be made beautiful by such colorful creatures and their habitat. Made us more aware that it will take forever to see all the beautiful sites on this gorgeous planet. Miss you both but glad your're having fun.

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