Unquestionably underrated, the island of Manado is possibly home of one of the most diverse and astounding dive destinations-Bunaken Island. Spending a short 3 days and 11 dives there, I was lucky to see the huge napoleon fish, green sea turtles, white and black tipped sharks, and so much more. With the dive sites generally being "walls" (dramatic drops in depth on the ocean floor), it was interesting being able to ride the currents that flow along them. Staying at the La Rascasse dive resort, our daily dives started bright and early at 7 for breakfast and leaving the docks by 8.
I really never expected to see the sights I saw on this trip. I've been lucky enough to travel a large portion of the world in search of pristine reefs and exotic sea life but I don't think much of what I've previously seen stands up to this trips sights and experiences. I've been to Manado once before and definitely thought it was one of the earth's greatest hidden gems in terms of diving already but had never been blessed to see the elusive and seemingly royal Napoleon fish as large as I had seen this trip. It's always somewhat of an unreal and unsettling feeling watching big fish (big as in bigger than you) swimming towards you 60ft or so underwater. I was blessed this trip to come across 2 pairs of Napoleon fish (Napoleon fish apparently stay with its mate for its entire life). The first pair was really quite startling, just about the size of 1/3rd a honda fit and 124lbs each I suppose my slight anxiety was warranted. The fish seem to almost swim with a sense of pride as they glide past turning to glance at the 7 divers in our group. It was really an amazing experience as it is quite rare to see them at such sizes with the poaching problem iin the area. We saw these fish on 2 seperate dives with the second pair being much smaller. As I stated earlier, seeing big fish is always an interesting experience.
On a later dive I was able to swim in what looked like a cloud of fish. You'd be amazed at how disorienting it can be when everything around you is in constant motion. I was really disoriented when the entire school shifted suddenly and below me was a black tipped shark larger than any I've ever seen. Sharks generally don't bring out such a sense of panic as they've mostly been small and never really hang around but this one was different-it was huge. Around 5 or 6ft long, it was definitely one of those OH SH%T! moments. Luckily, as fast as I saw it coming at us it left in the same fashion. The green sea turtle also being a native species to the region, I was lucky enough to have seen not one, but 4 this trip.
I keep saying over and over how lucky this trip has been but I really can't emphasize how rare it is to see such uncommon and really just spectacular sights none the less see this many in a row. We came across a few sea turtles as previously stated this trip but one definitely stands out. I can't fathom how old this one must've been. We were able to catch a glimpse of a smaller turtle earlier in our dive and followed it around a bend in the wall which were were exploring. As we lost our line of sight with the first turtle, our dive master held his arms out as if there was something massive just around the bend. What I was about to experience was pretty much what can be best described as unbelieveable even to me so I'm expecting some "pic's or it didn't happen" thoughts running through your heads. My father and I swam around the bend and sleeping as if it had little or no concerns was a turtle roughly 4.5ft long, 3ft wide, and 1.5ft thick and was probably around 500lbs. As if this wasn't spectacular enough, the divemaster decided it would be a good idea to awaken the behemoth (no idea... Don't even ask). Awoken from its slumber it left its nook in the reef and swam into the open waters. Immature as I am, I couldn't resist but hold on to its massive shell as it swam away and yeah-I can say I rode on the back of a giant sea turtle before 60ft underwater now.