Tulamben is a place I have returned to many times over the past few years and has become my home away from home. What started as an annual visit has no become a quarterly one and I spend from seven days up to three weeks on each visit. There may be better places around the world to dive and more luxurious accommodation but the people here have made this my favorite location and I find I can just wind down and relax. Below is a bit of information about this place and what to expect if you visit here.
Tulamben is a small seaside village about 100km from Denpasar in the North Eastern region of Karangasem near the village of Kubu. It is situated directly under the shadow of Mt. Agung, which has erupted many times in the past with lava flows through this area. The villages name is a reference to its rocky shoreline and comes from the word "batulambih" which means "many stones", sort of. This has shortened over time to the name of Tulamben, which remains today. I am not sure of the population but I would guess it would only be in the few hundreds and, apart from fishing, the main occupation for the village would now be linked in some way to the dive industry that has developed here over many years. The village itself extends along either side of the road for about a kilometre and is lined with numerous restaurants and places to stay. Most of the resorts are also along heres but set back a bit and on the ocean and there is also a large parking area where the divers from other parts of Bali gather to dive the wreck of the Liberty. Tulamben is a quiet village and winds down fairly early in the night but there are a few places with live music from the local guys that are worth a look such as Warung Komang. A feed and a few drinks can be had here while you listen to the guys play their instruments and sing some of the classics.
There are many places to stay in Tulamben and the surrounding areas that vary from budget to more exclusive styled resorts but as I have not stayed in any I will only comment on where I put my feet up.
Liberty Dive Resort is at the far end of town and set back a little from the main road. I have stayed here many times and have never been disappointed with anything they do as they try to make your stay as pleasant as possible. The resort has three main areas and each area has its own pool. Each area is also at its own level as the resort is built on a slope and they have beautifully kept gardens with well lit pathways throughout. The top level was built first and is made up of two double story buildings. Downstairs you will find five standard rooms which sport either one or two queen or king beds and if you’re after basic but comfortable rooms on a budget you can’t go past these. Above these are two deluxe rooms and two family resort rooms.
Step down to the next level and you will find twelve garden cottages ranging from standard to family cottages as well as the deluxe family villa. This level has the restaurant and the largest of the three pools. Down the path you come to the lower level which has the newest accommodation on the property made up of ten luxury garden cottages that are huge and modern.
The restaurant is quite large and of the open air type with a fairly extensive menu and good wholesome food. Breakfast comes with the room and you get a choice with the style of breakfast you can order. If you want spirits you will have to bring your own but they have beer as well as a small range of wines and many juices and soft drinks.
As far as diving goes they cater for all levels and supply good serviced equipment if you don’t want to bring yours. Nitrox is available if you are certified to use it and is free of charge. Visit their site ( link below ) to find out more about all the sites here and in the surrounding areas.
The number one thing that brings me back to LDR time after time is the people. I believe a great deal of time has been taken in picking staff as they all are so welcoming and friendly and it is clear they love working here, a credit to the owners.
The main attraction of Tulamben, as far as diving goes, would have to be the wreck of the USAT Liberty. Built in New Jersey, USA for the US navy in 1918 she was used to transport horses as well as general cargo from New York to France for a total of three cruises. She was de-commissioned in April 1919 and returned to the US shipping board. Liberty spent the mid war years in service with the Southgate-Nelson corporation transporting cargo around the US and at one point in 1933 collided with the Ohioan, which needed to be beached.
In 1940 USAT Liberty was taken up by the US Army for services along with a number of other ships. When the US entered the war in December 1941 USAT Liberty was posted in the Pacific as a cargo carrier. In January 1942 she was torpedoed by the Japanese submarine I-166 and although all efforts were made to tow her to Singaraja by the US destroyer "Paul Jones" and Dutch Destroyer "Van Ghent" she took on too much water and was beached at Tulamben to make the recovery of her cargo possible.
February 18th 1963 saw the eruption of Mt Agung and a few days later the flow of lava started down the slope of the mountain. On March 17th Agung erupted in all it fury with pyroclastic flows killing around 1500 people with another 400 killed by later eruptions. The mother temple of Besakih was spared from the destruction and the Balinese people considered this a miracle. USAT Liberty was not spared and the tremors from the eruptions caused her to topple on her side and slide into the sea and down the slope to where she sits today.
I found the best time to dive the Liberty (for me anyway) was at about 8:00 am as the early morning divers are finished and the rush from down south hasn't started so you just about got the wreck to yourself. This means I can get a relaxing breakfast in to start the day along with a couple of coffees. There is both wide angle and macro available on this site along with everything in between. Visibility can be seasonal but I have had bad when it was supposed to be good and visa versa so take all your arsenal of lenses when you visit Tulamben.
Although there is quite a lot of wide angle opportunities in Tulamben and the surrounding area most photographers focus on macro as the myriad of small life here is amazing. Although I’m not a big fan of Nudibranchs as far as photography goes doesn’t mean I won’t shoot one if it’s in a great location or just sitting right. If Nudi’s are your thing you won’t be disappointed as there are hundreds of different samples to be found in the area. Donut nudibranch’s can be found throughout the Seraya- Milasti area most times of the year and although challenging can make for a great shot. Other common targets for the photographer are Boxer Crabs which can also be found in this area as well as the beautiful Harlequin Shrimp often seen feeding on Starfish. On the wreck of the Liberty your guide can find you the elusive Pygmy Seahorse which is also found in Tulamben. These come in a few varieties and are also found along the Drop Off as well as Seraya but are very hard to spot.
The thousands of crinoids that are found here accommodate numerous Squat Lobsters as well as colourful Crinoid Shrimp and the occasional tiny Cuttle Fish that make these their home. Mantis Shrimp live around the stony bottom and can often be found clutching their precious bright red eggs under their belly making for a great snap.Keep an eye out for the many colourful Gobi’s and Blenny’s that make their tiny homes in the corals and rocks throughout this stretch of coastline. Hours can be spent with these small fish trying to get the right shot as they dart in and out of their little piece of reef. Blue and yellow Ribbon eels are also found at most of the sites in Tulamben Bay and great care must be taken in trying to capture these flighty creatures as they can be very timid. Cleaning Stations are scattered throughout and are amazing places to set up for the whole dive with Coral Trout and beautiful Angel Fish coming in to be serviced by the Cleaner Shrimp that live there. Moray Eels are often found here also with Shrimp climbing in and around their mouths.
The list goes on and is quite extensive so my suggestion is google “Tulamben critters” before you go and make a list of what you want to shoot. When you get introduced with your dive guide you can go through the list with him and that usually ends up working out best.
If you’re like me then you won’t be diving every day, especially on those longer stays. So what are you going to do with your time in Tulamben. There are a number of places in Bali that you can take a day tour to and you can usually organise a driver with your resort at very reasonable rates.
I prefer to do this than go on organised tour so that your day is about what you want to do and you’re not tied into going places that don’t interest you. If you want to do a bit of simple shopping then a visit to Amlapura traditional markets is a good start for some local clothes and jewellery or if you need some western items you can visit the local Hardies store. There are also many places to visit in the immediate area like the Chocolate Factory, Taman Ujung ‘water palace’ or Tirta Gangga royal water garden.
Further south from Tulamben is Ubud which is known as the arts centre of Bali. Here you can visit many fine restaurants, spend some time at the monkey forest or just wander around the hundreds of shops and museums. Take a little care if you do go to the monkey forest as they are still wild creatures and can bite. They have also learned that tourists keep things in their pockets so make sure your valuables are well hidden.
West from Tulamben you can visit Lake Batur which is the crater of a large volcano. On the ridge at the top is a row of restaurants with amazing views over the valley that can be quite spectacular. If you have your own driver you can pretty well stop anywhere and do a bit of land photography or maybe stop at the waterfall on the way.
Again I advise you do a bit of research on Bali’s sites before you visit Tulamben as there are so many places to go.
Tulamben has grown a bit over the past 8 years and you can now get most of what you need from the local shops. There is even a Swiss bakery there now but I can’t comment on what it’s like yet. As far as money goes I usually take sufficient Australian dollars and change it in Bali before coming to Tulamben so that I can pay most of my bill in Rupiah. You can use credit or debit card but there is a 3% surcharge usually attached to this as well as possible foreign exchange fees. There are also a couple of ATM’s in town now but not at the best rate so check prior to withdrawing. You may consider insect repellent but it’s not a big problem in the area unless it’s the wet season and don’t forget the Vegemite.
Balinese fishing boat
Diver on the wreck of Usat Liberty
Accomodation in Tulamben
Some of the amazing macro life in Tulamben
Ujung Water palace (top) and Chocolate Factory