Lembeh Resort • N. Sulawesi, Indonesia • May 9-24, 2009
Trip Report by Janet Czapski
It’s a long way to Paradise but the journey was worth it…..we left Detroit on Saturday, May 9, and headed for JFK in New York….then onwards on Singapore Air thru Frankfort to Singapore. After a short layover and having met up with fellow travelers Liz, Mike & Linda, we embarked on our “last” flight of the trip….Silk Air to Manado, North Sulawesi, Indonesia. We arrived in the early afternoon of May 11 to a huge welcoming committee….it was the beginning of the World Oceans Conference & Coral Triangle Initiative meetings! The airport was full of officials and dignitaries and we were greeted after leaving the baggage claim area by a Minahasan band…awesome!
It’s a 1-1/2 hour van trip from the Manado Airport across the peninsula through rice fields, coconut plantations, villages and winding roads full of lorries (trucks) and motorbikes carrying up to SIX family members. The use of horns seems to be mandatory in Indonesia, as well as insane passing of vehicles on curving roads full of traffic….it’s a journey not to be believed until experienced! After we chewed off all our fingernails, we arrived at the Police Pier near Bitung Harbour where our boat and crew were awaiting us. It’s a quick 10-minute trip across the Lembeh Straits to Lembeh Island and our destination for 12 days…the fabulous Lembeh Resort.
The Resort has been built into the hillside of the island on a huge bay. On either side of the resort are two villages who supply some resort staff and fresh vegetables to the resort. The lower 7 cottages are wooden Minahasan-style cottages with wide verandah that overlook the Straits and the dormant volcano on the mainland. The 7 upper cottages are newer, traditional Balinese style furnishings and the views are spectacular if you don’t mind climbing more than 100 steps to get to #14! Even the lower cottages are reached by numerous steps so everyone has to watch their footing, especially in the evenings when the lanterns along the walkways seem dim. Most of the cottages feature either outdoor tubs or showers; the main portion of the cottages are air-conditioned and have plenty of storage space, a 5 gallon hot/cold water dispenser and a mini-fridge filled with soda/beer and snacks.
Other than the cottages, the resort consists of a lovely reception area with gift shop & computer area on the main level with a restaurant located on the second level, a dive shop, the best laid out camera room in the world and the dive centre where all gear is stored in lockers. The staff loads everyone’s gear onto the boats every morning and afternoon, you just have to carry any personal items you wish to take along. Cameras are treated with great respect by the boat staff as well.
Lembeh Divers provides the diving operations at the Resort and have a staff of 30 to offer the most awesome service ever. The diver/guide ratio is 3:1 here and they have the best trained dive guides we’ve ever seen. Abner, Andi, Joni, Ronald, Jerry, Oxin, Opo, Yopie, Gayus, Erwin & Nora took turns diving with us and guiding us to all the amazing critters/creatures that Lembeh Straits is famous for. The boat crews of Yorie, Ona, Nixon, Benya, Steny, Soleman, Rafli, Dedi, Tomi & Nagu handled all our gear and cameras for us. We all dove Nitrox for the trip so analyzing was handled expeditiously as well and fills were always good. Fresh fruit, water & hot tea are always available on the boats. Some days we did three or four separate dive trips to the sites; some days we did a double dive in the morning and returned for lunch and the afternoon dives. Dive sites are plentiful and amazing and anywhere from 3-20 minutes from the Resort. Our group of nine divided up on two boats and each boat also did a day trip up to Bankga Island which is about 1-1/2 hours north of the Resort. Those were three dive days with lunch on the boat as well. It’s beautiful up there and more ‘blue water’ diving which everyone enjoyed. We managed between 30-40 dives each during the trip including night dives most evenings.
Lembeh Straits is considered the “muck” capital of the world and it didn’t disappoint us. It’s called “muck” because you’re primarily diving black volcanic sand slopes that don’t look very pretty but you go slowly and the guides find you the most AMAZING things to see! Erwin is the master of the minuscule! If it’s larger than 1” he doesn’t bother stopping and looking at it…he has the best eyes for tiny things. Good thing my camera lens has better focusing “eyes” than me….all I had to make sure was that I could find a focusing point and the camera captured some of the smallest creatures I’ve ever seen! Many of the sites also have some of the healthiest coral reefs as well…both hard & soft corals in amazing colors and varieties.
Let’s see….these are only a FEW of the critters we routinely saw, some of which were brand-new sightings for us: pygmy seahorses, pygmy pipehorses, winged pipefish, tozuma shrimp, pygmy cuttlefish, hairy octopus, mimic octopus, lots of different frogfish, spiny devilfish, lots of different types of scorpionfish, flounder, nudibranchs of all sizes, shapes & colors, gobies, blennies, cleaner shrimp, anemonefish in some of the most beautiful anemones in the world, crabs of all sizes and shapes and colors, dragonets, stargazers….I took almost 3,000 pictures so I’m still working my way through lots of new creatures to identify!
Food at the resort is wonderful…a mix of Western and Asian cuisine…some spicy, some not. You could pick your level of spiciness as well. The breads and rolls and desserts are all home-made and delicious. The local vegetables are tasty and we all wish we could get pineapple and papaya at home like we eat there! Linda & Helen and the rest of the gang in the restaurant took great care of us.
For those photographers who are interested in their camera facility, it’s amazing as well. Each person has a dedicated station complete with shelving for all those little bits & pieces we carry. There are both 220 & 110 charging plugs at each station. Clean towels and compressed air are available, the concrete floor is covered in rubber mats so everything is clean & tidy with good lighting. There’s several dedicated rinse tanks just for camera equipment and camera travel cases are stored directly on shelves beneath each station. It doesn’t get any better than this; many other resorts world-wide have patterned their camera rooms after this one.
This resort is probably the best run property we’ve ever visited. From Glenn, the GM, all the way to the staff behind the scenes, everyone is friendly and welcoming. They treat their guests like family and their return guest ratio is pretty amazing, but it’s no wonder…..who wouldn’t want to come back to a place like this again and again? Watch the website and plan on joining us next time.
For more information about the resort, the rooms and the diving, go to www.lembehresort.com