Wandering Deeper in Bali: Diving the USAT Liberty

It’s a nervous, adrenaline filled excitement as we head out for our first dive in over a year, having travelled out of the main Bali tourist spots to the small fishing village of Tulamben, a two hour journey by car from the airport.

Arriving at 2.30 in the morning leaves a lot to the imagination, as the darkness in the remote area of Tulamben is thick and heavy. It’s broken only by a few local lights and the dazzling night sky, though the vague outlines of mountain valleys and the winding roads up and down to our destination promised it was going to be breath-taking in the sunshine. Staying at Bali Reef Divers Resort, we were thrilled to find our clean, beautifully furnished double room equipped with a fridge full of cold drinks and aircon tempering the muggy heat outside. A quick shower and we set the alarm for the following morning to make the most of our four day stay here.

Day one has arrived and well, it looks very different in the morning. The double balcony windows flood sunlight and flickering shadows of palm trees on to the balcony and the sounds of mopeds speeding along the single main road, along with the chatter from business-as-usual in dive shop below fills the room as soon as the doors are opened. We head down to introduce ourselves to our hosts, explore the local area and to meet our dive guide, Komang. A little exploration, a purchase of some water and Bintangs for the fridge and a freshly cooked breakfast in the restaurant and we’re ready to grab our gear and get into the ocean!

Our three tanks are sent balanced on a moped down to the shore as we follow on foot; BCDs and regs on our back, fins, mask and camera in hand. Across the little through road we make our way down to a coal black coast line, it’s a drastic contrast against the clear blue of the water and vibrant greens of the trees that frame it. Our tanks are here waiting for us so, time to kit up, buddy check and take ourselves somewhat haphazardly to the water – oh open water, how we’ve missed you! With the gentle tide pulling us to and fro as we awkwardly secure fins and masks, we take no time in signalling the ‘OK’ to our descent to the peaceful depths beneath the waves.

Arriving at the wall of The Wall dive site it’s a wonder, it’s a flourishing abundance of life in vertical, as jam-packed as any city high rise, but arguably the residents are far friendlier. We’re moving at a gentle pace, getting our dive mojo back, the enjoyment of the sensation would’ve been enough for us at this point but with an abundance of locals waiting to say hello, we are in for a real treat. Komang must know each of them by name with the precision in which he points them out to us. He shows us a tiny Whip Coral Shrimp, far smaller than your little fingernail and perfectly camouflaged, it moves almost invisibly along the coral. It’s just minutes later and we’re looking at a mantis shrimp, brightly coloured and certainly not shy, it scurries across the seabed and underneath us to hang for a little while in plain sight.

The Wall of coral and it’s inhabitants reaches a depth of 45m but we aren’t going that deep today, staying within Cassie’s Open Water qualification to 18m is proving to be exciting enough; a leaf scorpion fish and another incredibly large scorpion fish sit quietly as if digesting a rather generous lunch. A yellow margin trigger fish works tirelessly to get his share, creating clouds of dust and sand up into the water as he searches. Looking closer there are nudibranchs in abundance, two common mollusca slid along one atop the other and a few others we’re not confident to ID just yet caught our eye, hopefully when we head out tomorrow we can get a better idea. It’s been an enchanting dive and whilst hanging out for our safety stop we spot a trio of lion fish either side of a rock, looks like there’s trouble in the Pride, Simba. Moments later we’ve been joined by schooling oxeye scad; what a way to end our first dive of the trip and start our next journey together in the water.

It’s a quick return back to base and we’re both buzzing from the dive, a quick hour break and we’re agreed to meet for dive two at the famous USAT Liberty. We rehydrate, review our spots from the first dive and we’re back in the water. The USAT Liberty is a world renowned wreck dive and the reason we decided to first come to Tulamben, so as our Aussie friends would say, we’re frothin’! Another shore entry, the wreck is suitable to snorkel and free dive if you’ve got the confidence and skills to do so. We wanted to really see it from a depth so, once more we find ourselves teetering down the ever slightly more drastic descent to the water’s edge and the tide has picked up its pace slightly since last we met! Here we go, again it’s unsurprisingly not quite the demure entry we’re striving for, but we find ourselves peaceful below surface in no time and a short fin kick away a huge shape looms in the distance, all aboard the USAT Liberty!

The dive is another simple route but the landscape of the wreck is mesmerising and intriguing, for me the first question has to be, “I wonder where the bar is?” ..Your question would now be, do US army transport ships have a bar? ..Do any army ships have a bar? I’m clearly thinking of the Titanic, never mind me. 50 years down here, covered in a wide array of corals the structure still remains very visible and this vessel now seems to be harbouring Davey Jones and his sea scoundrel crew. We watch as a large hawksbill turtle sits among the brig, plundering the sea grass whilst the dastardly Napoleon Wrasse is clearly captain of the ship – this a one huge fish and he’s relaxing in what could be have been the Captain’s quarters once upon a time. He’s a dark character though and gives us the slip within moments. As we find ourselves diving through the corridors and past the various broken parts of the wreck, the site feels like a playground. We gently move through the holes and up through the gaps, past stairways and the helm, our bubbles roll up along the sides of the hull and fill air holes meters below the surface whilst the portholes, framed with coral shine amongst the dark underside of the wreck.

Disembarking at the shore from the USAT Liberty is, well, a challenge, we’re fighting the current and the rocks underfoot, (please note, diving boots come in incredibly handy on both shore entries) with the help of Komang, I struggle my way up with Aaron’s camera in hand, please Captain Napoleon-Wrasse don’t let me fall! Aaron’s still swishing around in the waves trying to kick off his fins without getting concussion and eventually we’re both out! What a day. *Insert two incredibly happy smiling faces and two extra cold Bintangs here*





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