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The city of Manado is located in the north of the island of Sulawesi. This dive area offers remarkably different experiences in a large range of locations. What I love about diving around Manado is, that apart from steep walls in the Bunaken National Marine Park there are also several places to see rare and unusual critters (like in Lembeh). These muck dive sites lie mostly on the mainland coast. I think it is a good idea to visit the islands around Bunaken and also do at least a couple dives on the main coast and a day trip to the Bangka islands close by. I also highly recommend visiting the Lembeh Strait to the east or doing a liveaboard trip to the volcanic Siau islands in the north.
It is astonishing how many rare and hidden animals are found in dive sites on the coast of Manado (Tanawangko, Molas, Tanjung Pisok). Some kilometers east of the mangrove marine park ArakanWawontulap are several dive sites well worth a visit. Even just outside of the city where they are building new shopping centers right at the beach front there are still some good places for night dives. Further up north in Molas, there is a small wreck and inside the Molas-Wori area are several nice places for drift dives.
Poopoh (Popo) (No 1) lies in Tanawangko, south of Manado and close to the Minahasa Lagoon Resort at the foot of the Lokon volcano. You dive on a slope with dark sand, similar to Lembeh's dive site Hairball with nearly no corals but some very interesting critters. On the top there is a large area with seagrass beds and further down patches of sponges and a few old nets and ropes which are small oasis of live. In 2004 we found 3 Weedy scorpionfishes (Rhinopias frondosa), a scorpionfish of a very particular shape, similar to the Ambon scorpionfish but larger. On first sight this animal looks like some algae with eyes, then you perceive the fins with many appendices and realize, it is a fish! Rhinopias are a so called holy grail for some photographers and you can also found them in Lembeh and in Padang Bai in Bali (read how to differ the main Rhinopias species). In 2005 this amazing fish was not found there anymore, but we had a hairy frogfish, several seahorses, pipehorses, dragonets, pegasus sea moth and other interesting fishes. The dive guide told us, there is even a mimic octopus living there.
Critter Circus (No. 2) is situated close to the Tasik Ria Resort. This is a sandy area with coral blocks. There are also a few artificial reef balls which although not yet covered with much coral are still the habitat of a large variety of fishes. There was a black Harlequin ghostfish, several juvenile angelfishes with their beautiful white and blue coloring, leaffishes, a large grumpy stonefish and pipefishes. On the coral blocks a bit further away we found 3 Harlequin ghostpipefishes together and a green Robust ghostpipefish in the seaweed. In the shallows we encountered to my surprise about a dozen squids that were mating and laying eggs among the seaweeds. A rare spectacle elsewhere but quite common here.
If you dive late in the afternoon you can see Mandarin dragonets here. On a
night dive we even saw a stargazer (Uranoscopus sulphureus) there, an animal
that is a rare find. We also encountered a banded seakrait which was hunting
in the sand. This snake was wriggling its tail into the sand and then anchored
in this way entered with its head and then its entire body in search of prey.
After we disturbed it it actually disappeared entirely in the sand. We left
the area, because we were not sure where it would reappear and we didn't fancy
it appearing close to us!
Pygmy Point (Tasik Ria house reef) (No 3) The name of this dive site originates from the Pygmy seahorses living on a huge Muricella seafan on about 28m. When last seen there were six of them hiding among the branches. The three large coral blocks near by are also interesting and further up are Large fields of hard corals with a lot of small fishes, some nudibracnhs and the resident octopus.
Lumba Lumba house reef (No. 4) You just dive around the stone jetty, on the sand and small corals and there are some reef balls scattered about. There are Mnadrin fishes to be found as well as ghostpipefishes, slipper lobsters and quite a lot of large lobsters - no, they are not for eating - as well as mating squids that lay their eggs among the funnel weed. Close by is 45 Bananas, a small shallow area a short distance north. A nice small reef where fisherman are often fishing. The perculiar name was given to this dive site by a guest when the dive operators were just starting. He always got bananas (pisang) for breakfast and not much more and he came up with a total of 45 bananas after a few days. When asked for a name for the dive site, thats what he chose. Further north lies Long beach. Mostly hard corals with a few small overhangs where interesting animals hide. Among the acropora corals Mandarin fishes can be found, sometimes also a blue ringed octopus. Sedona beach is a man made sandy beach (the sand was brought there from Bangka!) where you can find seahorses, ghostpipefishes and - I heard, but didn't see them - Rhinopias scorpionfishes.
All the way up the coast towards Manado is a small strip of reef, mostly sand with coral blocks. There are several more dive sites, mostly the house reefs of the dive operators which have their bases here. Towards Malalayang and close together lie the Murex (No. 5) and Celebes Resort (No. 6) both with small house reefs good for night dives. I have dived at some of these places and found them quite nice if not particular spectacular. Go with a dive guide from the resort, they usually know where to find some animals that always hide at the same places or perhaps a frogfish or leaf scorpionfish that has been seen there before. Those places are also good for night dives. You can make night dives at many places around Manado but you usually dive close to the dive resorts.
Actually I made a really good nightdive at Bruce's point (Reclamation Area) (No. 7) on the outer side of the Marinas harbor just in front of Manado city. Visibility was not so good because they build around here, but the place was just full of nudibranchs, for example Spanish dancers and there seemed to be shrimps and crabs on every coral, small spider crabs and others like the over 40 cm large sponge carrying crab. We also saw the rare clearfin lionfish (Pterois radiata), the only lionfish with horizontal lines on the tail base and a sleepy ghost pipefish who fell out of a feather star.
Molas wreck (Manado wreck) (No. 8). This is a steel hulled Dutch merchant ship and lies just 5 minutes from Molas Beach, close to Baraccuda Dive Center and NDC. The wreck is very nicely covered with corals. The wreck goes down to 40m, so plan to finish the dive on the top of the wreck before you get into deco and then swim from the bow towards the reef through open water. The reef is quite nice too, but visibility is not always very good. We saw several cuttlefish, nudibranchs and two ribbon eels. There are more wrecks in the Lembeh strait close to Bitung.
Molas-Wori is the name for the coastal area in the northern section of the Bunaken National Park with mostly mangroves, seagrass and small reefs. This is quite a good place for muckdiving. I did several night dives here and we saw everything from sharks (at night!) to stingrays to a large stonefish and rare nudibranchs. During a night dive we also went to the Molas wreck and we actually saw a large Napoleon wrasse sleeping on the top of the bridge!
Napo Serio (No. 9) is a seamount with a top of 11m which lies just south of Tanjung Pisok. Batu Hitam (No. 10) (black rock) lies in the neighborhood of the Molas wreck. Also good for night dives.
Tanjung Pisok (No. 11) lies close to the Thalassa resort. You dive on a gentle slope and then a wall until you reach the point, where usually the currents get stronger and then you finish the dive on the reef flat. Usually part of the dive you get swept quite fast past whip corals, sponges and staghorn corals. We nearly always encountered either jacks or bumphead parrotfishes and also the occasional shark but also found interesting nudibranchs and crabs in the shallower parts and there are redtooth triggerfishes everywhere. A nice combination of everything you wish for.
Tanjung Tihowo (No. 12) lies close to the Santika Resort. On a dive there we saw just at the beginning two rare marble dragonets and several jawfish hiding the sandy area. After an easy-going dive there was suddenly quite a lot of current. We were swept along the slope and over the reef flat, a great ride. Just towards the end when we wanted to surface there were seven huge bumphead-parrotfish and then a large group of squids! There is also a small wooden wreck at about 24m.
Blongko Marine Sanctuary was established to save the marine habitats just outside Blongko village (115 km southwest of Manado).
Manado lies at the northern tip of Sulawesi on a large bay surrounded by volcanoes. To the west rise Klabat (2002m) and Dua Saudara (1351m) and the smaller Gunung Tangkoko (Tangkoko National Park) and Batu Angus (also called Btungas), to the south the twin volcanoes Lokon and Empung, rising about 800 m above the plain of Tondano. Large blocks of lava and bare areas, where lava was flowing down to the sea can be seen all along the coast south of Manado.
Lokon and Empung are among the most active volcanoes of Sulawesi. Lokon, the higher of the two peaks has a flat, craterless top. The younger Empung volcano has a wide and deep crater that erupted last in the 18th century. All recent eruptions have originated from Tompaluan, a wide double crater situated in the saddle between the two peaks. Close by are Soputan on the southern rim and Mahawu east of the Lokon-Empung volcano. Visit Gardenia Country Inn (e-mail) or the Highland Resort in Tomohon to observe these volcanoes. Daytrips to the Tondano lake and hotsprings in the area are possible from there.