Have you ever seen a critter with a tiny 5mm body covered in green hair?
I have been diving for nearly two decades and have never seen anything quite like Lembeh. I thought I could never beat Raja Ampat, however, this place is a psychedelic underwater world filled with macro aliens!
If you love the exhilaration of searching for incredibly tiny creatures then Lembeh Strait in Indonesia is your macro heaven! No place on the earth offers such diverse muck diving as what Lembeh has to offer!
What To Expect
The dives are all about search and exploration, check every leaf, can and bottle, just remember to not touch or harass the critters. I have often come across a glass bottle thinking it was empty, but then realise there is an octopus curled up inside!
You may have seen some of the Marine Life before but have you ever seen a neon pink frogfish or flamboyant cuttlefish as small as your little fingernail!? Be prepared for an awe inspiring treasure hunt! The dives are all about search and exploration, check every leaf, can and bottle, just remember to not touch or harass the critters. I have often come across a glass bottle thinking it was empty, but then realise there is an octopus curled up inside!
The dive guides in Lembeh have the most incredible eyes for spotting the tiniest of critters, so do not worry if you struggle to find them by yourself your dive guide will soon have you darting across the sandy bottom ticking off macro critter after macro critter!
On my first dive in Lembeh my eagle-eyed guide, Deddy, excitedly pointed to something green the size of a pinhead! I politely nodded and took a photo, wondering why I was wasting my battery on this. After the dive, Deddy insisted I review the photo and low and behold that green dot was, in fact, the famous Shaun the sheep nudibranch (Costasiella kuroshimae)! By the end of my trip, my eyes were so well trained to these ridiculous sized creatures that even the dive guides were stumped as to what I was finding!
My Top 10 Critters To See
Flamboyant Cuttlefish - Metasepia pfefferi
These critters come in a variety of sizes from as big as your fist to as tiny as your finger nail! We were lucky enough to come across a clutch of eggs and also witness behaviours such as mating, feeding and displaying.
Lembeh Seadragon - Kyonemichthys rumengani
Looking like a strand of hair floating around in the water, this tiny, 3-4cm, critter was only discovered in 2006 and still remains as elusive as ever! When it comes to taking a perfect shot you must be patient as they tend to wriggle a lot!
Any of the Octopi found in Lembeh could have made my top ten, however, the hairy octopus is the holy grail! Other must-see species include the Mimic, Wunderpus, Blue-Ring, Mototi and the shell grabbing Coconut.
Nudis are by far my favourite critters and one of the main reasons I chose to dive Lembeh. With such a variety of species, coming in a kaleidoscope of colours it is hard not to spot a different Nudibranch on every dive.
Bobbit Worm - Eunice aphroditois
I was lucky enough to see my first Bobbitt Worm in Lembeh, however, it had me screaming into my regulator, much to my guides amusement. This creepy creature only appears at night waiting in ambush with its jaws open and ready to clamp down on any moving creature! Check out the amazing holographic body!
Hairy Frog Fish - Striated
Another favourite of mine is the Frogfish, for their variety and cheeky behaviours, using a lure to catch their prey! They are masters of camouflage and I often found myself taking a photo of one to not realise there was another right next to it! Like the Hairy Octopus this is the holy grail, but other varieties you can see include the Warty, Giant and Painted in shades of, yellow, pink, orange, black and white.
Pygmy Seahorse - Hippocampus bargibanti
I guarantee you will see one on your trip, as the dive guides know their habitats like the back of their hand. If like me you thought they would be fairly "big", think again! I needed a magnifying glass! These little 2cm guys are very shy and sensitive so try not to point your torch directly at them. The two species to look out for are the Bargibanti and Denise. Marine biologist, Dr.Richard Smith is the seahorse expert, find out more here.
Hairy Algae Shrimp - Phycocaris simulans
These are probably the smallest critter in Lembeh! How something so small can have so much detail is insane! Looking at them with the naked eye will make you think they are just a tiny piece of fluff. However, take a shot and look back at the photo! You will be amazed! Like everything in Lembeh it's all about learning the habitats and once you do, you will soon be spotting your own hairy little critter.
Mandarin Fish - Synchiropus splendidus
As the sun sets, a flash of dazzling colour flitters between the broken corals. A pair of Mandarin fish will slowly emerge to perform their mating ritual, dancing around before a puff of sperm is released! It is one of the most beautiful behaviours to witness in the underwater world. Using a red light is advisable so not to disturb them.
Stargazer - Uranoscopus bicinctus
"WHAT ON EARTH IS THAT?" was my first thought when I saw this stargazer. Another night dwelling creature, waiting to ambush unsuspecting prey, with its large rounded body hidden beneath the sand ready to be filled.
My Top 3 Dive Sites
Bianca Dive Site
Tanjung Kusa 2 & 3
I highly recommend a night dive at Bianca or anywhere in Lembeh as they are on another scale altogether! If you think the day dives are out of this world then wait until you see what other weird and wonderful creatures come out at night! Blackwater diving has become a popular night dive in Lembeh.
Do you have a favourite dive site? Let me know in the comments below!
Things To Do On Land:
Local Fish & Food Market
As the cool, damp morning air hits your skin, take in the smells of freshly caught fish and experience the locals bartering over their morning's catch. As you move from the fish market to the food market be prepared for some local delights.
This area of the market is not for the faint-hearted, with the butcher offering local wildlife including monkeys, snakes and dogs! As you go further into the market you will even run into live chicken plucking! This is only a small portion of the market, with the rest filled with an array of colour from so many different fruits, vegetables and herbs. The locals are extremely friendly and will most definitely want to take photos with you.
Tangkoko Nature Reserve
After a two hour drive through the local villages you arrive at Tangkoko, home to the Tarsier, the smallest primate in the world. As the Tarsier are nocturnal you will spend a couple of hours trekking through lush green forest, spotting endangered crested black macaques and Sulawesi wrinkled hornbills.
As the sun begins to set the Tarsiers start to emerge, feeding on bright green crickets, but don't blink as they move faster than the speed of light, jumping from tree to tree! They are one of the cutest, if not slightly creepy creatures I have ever seen.
On our way back through the forest I was petrified when my guide excitedly pointed out a huge tarantula sitting on a nearby tree!! Run and run fast was all I could think! Just make sure you take a torch and maybe some toilet paper!
Essential Info for diving Lembeh Strait
Critter Stick - An absolute must! It will help you rummage through the sand/rubble and help to stabilise yourself when hovering above the sandy bottom. Please do not use to move/disturb marine life!
Buoyancy – You will be centimetres away from the sandy bottom for nearly all of the dives so you really want to have your buoyancy in check and practise pivoting from your fins. After viewing a critter on the sand, fill your lungs with air and either push away using your critter stick or pivot from your fins to prevent kicking up a sand cloud.
Dive gloves are not allowed anywhere in Lembeh unless you cut the finger tips off. This is to protect the marine life.
Jungle Formula Bug spray for mosquitos and Sand flies! I learnt the hard way and I got bitten head to toe by sand flies and looked like I had measles! Not a good look when in a bikini all day!
Where To Stay
There are many places to stay in Lembeh from basic home-stays to luxurious resorts. We chose to split our three week trip between two resorts, the NAD Dive Resort and the Lembeh Resort and Spa.
NAD Lembeh Resort
A casual, relaxed dive resort often used by the BBC and run by husband and wife team, Simon and Zee. We loved the NAD so much that after returning to the UK we were back on a flight less than 48hrs later! Just enough time to wash our clothes and empty the memory cards!
We chose to spend the main part of our trip at the NAD as we were sold on the fact they offer a 2 to 1 dive guide ratio making it a truly personalised dive experience. As your dive guide is assigned only to you for the duration of your stay you can dictate how many dives you do together each day. Being the hardcore diver that I am I couldn’t get enough and I exhausted my poor dive guide with 4 dives a day including a daily night dive!
Black water diving
Spacious camera room
Communal open air dining – all guests socialise and dine together, one of my favourite parts to a trip
Delicious Indonesian buffet menu
Incredibly fun and friendly staff (we even left with nicknames)
Rooms: Opt for a Seaview bungalow as these are newer, cleaner and far airier. The beach front rooms are the cheaper option but are quite small and basic. (Double check the resort website as the rooms may have since been renovated)
Find out more about the NAD here
Lembeh Resort & Spa
We ended with a week in Lembeh Resort to treat ourselves to an added bit of luxury. Although we preferred the more communal and rustic feel of the NAD we did welcome the a la carte dining and luxury touches. Lembeh Resort is a formal and luxurious dive resort with a more international feel.
Formal dinning with a la carte dinner and buffet lunch
Critters@Lembeh Photo Centre - Extremely knowledgable team, camera hire and 3D printing service. This came in extremely handy after flooding my camera!
The dive guides were amazing, we were assigned Joe for the week
An extensive selection of non-related diving excursions, such as Tangkoko National Park
At the time of our visit, night dives were only scheduled once a week providing there were a minimum of four divers signed up. This was the only negative on the trip, however after speaking with the management team they did accommodate us to night dive every day.
Find out more about Lembeh Resort & Spa here
How To Get There
Getting to Lembeh
International flight : Garuda Airlines : London to Jakarta + 1 stop (Garuda are no longer running a direct route from the UK)
Domestic flight : Jakarta to Manado
Once you arrive in Mandao, you will continue your journey by taxi to Bitung and taken to your resort by boat.