Deer and diving, two things you can find together believe it or not, literally right next to each other, where the sun shines, the sea is warm, cozy and full of coral.
I hear you cry over the soft hum of your procrastinating brain. Well, hold on to your coffee cups (too much?) because you absolutely can combine diving with some beautiful sunbathing deer in Indonesia – the continent that seems to have it all (well not snow capped mountains but volcanoes, orangutans, coral reefs… that sort of stuff).
Well, on the tourist dominated island of Bali (which I’m not really a fan of, much too busy for my introverted self) in the surprisingly quiet corner of West Bali National Park.
Following a chilly trip to Mount Bromo on Java I wanted to do some diving and warm up on an empty beach, however a quick decision to extend my tourist visa in Denpasar meant I was slightly stuck on Bali. So, to get out of the overrun south I ventured to the very north west corner and found the incredibly quiet and gorgeous West Bali National Park. This national park includes the small Menjangan Island, just off the mainland and it’s here where all the best diving happens alongside lots of deer in the most wonderful surroundings.
The town of Pemuteran was to be my base for a few days, I stayed at a relatively new bungalow B&B (which I found via AirBnB) just set back from the beach called Kalyssa Beach Bungalow. This place was really lovely, there’s probably about ten large bungalows built around a huge, long pool with lots of trees and plants lining the pathways and also providing extra privacy to each terrace.
Quick accommodation review before more deer & diving…
The bungalows have high ceilings and lots of space inside; there’s a sink and mirror area, then the toilet is separate and beyond that the shower is in a room open to the blue sky (or the stars) alongside more tropical plants, brilliant.
The owner Dino was incredibly warm and welcoming plus the two women who worked there when I stayed (late October 2019) were absolutely delightful, never without a smile and they made incredible bread too which was served with the included breakfast (great bread in South-East Asia is not a common find).
The well thought out wooden bungalow I enjoyed was clean, comfortable and just what I needed for a quiet, relaxing break to accompany some scuba diving.
F O O D
There’s quite a few nice, walkable food spots from Kalyssa Beach Bungalows, the closest and best of the local warungs being Warung Kadek. (Indonesia is a great country to stay on and under budget, the food is incredibly cheap compared to European prices, so it was a very good place to be before moving on to a country that’s the absolute opposite of this, Australia £££££).
Dino the owner had lots of recommendations and an Australian couple I met in the swimming pool (as you do) also recommended an excellent pizza restaurant (perfect for a final night treat to celebrate successful dives and my much missed dad’s birthday, red wine was definitely drunk).
More restaurants were spread out along Pemuteran’s main road, although I only ventured to one on my final night (that surprisingly great pizza place). As with most small towns and villages in South-East Asia there’s not a lot of street light after dark (and certainly when I stayed there, no light along the lane to Kalyssa Bungalows; that’s when a genius phone light really comes in handy).
Anyway, Pemuteran just like most places seemed pretty safe for an evening wander yet I only did this once because inevitably as soon as it’s dark I get gripped with a slight fear of something bad happening. Walking down unlit lanes beneath the same trees that in daylight I happily took numerous photos of now leave me convinced that they provide cover for a number of hidden psychopaths . These thoughts can be annoying but I feel they’re relatively normal when you’re a woman, we so often live life with keys in hand ready for attack.
Get underwater already! Ok, let’s go diving!
I must admit I didn’t just randomly decide to go to this apparently rarely travelled part of Bali, a couple of weeks earlier I’d been diving with Blue Corner Dive in Nusa Penida (yes I saw many huge manta rays and it was awesome) and one of the dive instructors (wish I could remember his name, maybe Pete, yes, American Pete) said they had a shop up there in Pemuteran. I’d shared my love of wall diving and he recommended the diving in the national park for walls, giant fan coral and no tourists… decision made!
Blue Corner Dive have two shops on Bali’s north coast (close to each other), one in Pemuteran town and the other more amazing one is actually in the national park right on the beach to be exact (Kotal Beach) next to Nusa Bay Resort (not really a resort, it was very small and seemed to blend in well with the rustic, tropical paradise feel, as well as all the deer and monkeys of course).
I booked my dives through the contact form on their website (found here) which they responded to immediately (wahey) and we subsequently exchanged Whatsapp numbers for quicker planning (just like in Malaysia, I love the use of Whatsapp for business).
Anyway, West Bali National Park, what a location for a dive shop! White sand beach, crystal clear sea (especially right in the shallows), tropical fish and coral which was walkable from the dive shop (although the best dive sites are boat entry around Menjangan Island). Not only that but the landscape away from the beach in this part of Bali is stunning too, rugged and hilly. Also as you are so close to Java there are a number of volcanoes in your eye line most of the time. Oh, so I could say deer, diving and volcanoes! (Bizarre fact: you can see Java, it’s really close but there’s an hour time difference between itself and Bali, crazy.)
Right you’ve rambled but where are the deer?
They’re lying on the beach in the national park, right around and amongst the dive shop and the resort’s bungalows. They’re under the trees in the shade, walking (hmm do deers walk, is that their verb?) along the sand and barking (yes they bark, I had no idea) at you if you get too close. They’re also unbelievably all over the smaller Menjangan Island as well!
What, how on Earth are they on that island?
They swim between the north west coast of Bali and Menjangan Island!
Nooo, deer don’t swim do they?
Komang, my dive instructor and manager of Blue Corner Dive Menjangan, quickly displayed photos and videos of deer swimming in the sea between both spots. This probably tells you that there are not many sharks around as they seem to survive this trip no problem (I’m assuming a shark would like to taste a bit of deer?); although I did actually see a couple of white tips on the dives.
A Pemuteran pause.
A momentary pause to mention that the beaches in and around Pemuteran (not West Bali National Park) are nothing amazing. Yes, the scenery is gorgeous, steep hills behind you, the fields, tracks and beach edges are dotted with really tall, domineering palm trees; it is a really pretty, peaceful place. However, the beaches are quite narrow, a mixture of light and dark sand with lots of rocks and unfortunately not many safe swimming locations.
Sea urchin, stone fish and sharp rocks dominate the water so it’s not the sort of beach where you can run and dive in or enjoy a comfortable shallow swim. The few hotels that are located along the coastline have cleared one or two sections and they place sign posts showing you where you can enter. For me this didn’t matter at all, I came for the beaches and underwater, sparkling life that the national park has to offer.
Komang from Blue Corner included free transfers from my accommodation to the empty pier (about ten minutes from Kalyssa Beach Bungalows) where their dive boat lives (woohoo). First up, this boat ride is beautiful, the hills of Bali to one side (you can’t see Mt Agung) and the volcanoes on Java in front of you. Then for your main course the sea, oh my it is just enchanting as you approach the park, the perfect tropical sea, really exciting, great visibility.
YES, to a solo travel treat!
Never before have I had a dive boat and dive day all to myself, but in West Bali National Park that is what I had. What a treat! The luxury of it! I wasn’t charged extra because there were no other divers, they still took me out solo, yes please!
More often than not when travelling solo (in my experience) you can run in to ‘a minimum of two participants’ or sometimes (the most irritating) are the places that have single person surcharge (grrr, don’t get me started on that one). So, for Blue Corner to charge the normal rate and let me dive solo was really appreciated and it lead to a diving experience I will treasure forever.
Plenty of dive sites but only two days, where to dive?
Four dives over two days, the second day booked because the first was fantastic: Eel Garden, Underwater Cave, Post 1 and Dream Wall, all dive sites around Menjangan Island. It’s not a place for the big stuff I don’t believe and definitely not when I was there (apart from the usual white and black tip reef sharks) but a place where you can dive like a turtle massively chilled out.
A place for unbelievably large walls with overhangs and caves, the absolute best and biggest fan coral, tons of fish of all sizes all over, really bright, colourful varieties of coral (I never know the name but I blimin love it), lots of detail even a tiny pigmy seahorse, frog fish, electric clams, some hidden nudis, just wonderful and no boats, no other divers anywhere (the absolute opposite of Nusa Penida, where I also had great dives with Blue Corner but it was seriously busy underwater at Manta Point).
I don’t dive!
A short shout out for non-divers, there’s lots of shallow coral and great snorkel spots too, this island is worth it for anyone not just divers and on my second day I did see a few snorkellers during the surface interval on Menjangan Island.
Then on to the surface interval to end all surface intervals; a lunch break and a reheat on Menjangan Island with the deer. The photos speak for themselves which is saying something as I’m never succinct and could easily add 500 more words to go with each snap, just look at this…
B E A U T I F U L
Both days were beautiful but the first day’s location was the best (near the ranger hut) because there’s a long, gloriously gorgeous beach with the volcanoes on the horizon and again the surrounding sea is just perfect.
The second day’s surface interval weirdly coincided with that of many snorkellers taking a break too, still a stunning location but a bit of a shame because some people fed the deer (idiots, there’s even plenty of ‘don’t feed the deer’ signs) which made them quite aggressive so it created a slightly unrelaxing break.
Blue Corner lets you hang out on the national park beaches in front of their shop following the end of your dives, well they did with me anyway and I loved it. So, I bought a coffee and a coconut from the small resort next door, filled in my dive log in the shade and then choose a very secluded beach bed, reclined, relaxed and (hopefully) tanned a little too. Fabulous!
At about 4pm the Blue Corner team practically had to drag me off the sun lounger to return to Pemuteran by boat and then car, a great service, much appreciated despite not wanting to leave.
A third day of diving?
A last minute YES PLEASE was about to be shouted from my mouth because the endorphins had been top quality, however my visa was ready back in Denpasar the very next day (gutted but also happy to have longer to stay in Indonesia). In the coming days I would be on to another of Indonesia’s national parks, Komodo… more of that underwater world (ginormous mantas and unlimited turtles) in another blog, although you can read about the overland treasure of Flores right here!
Oh Indonesia, you are consistently a glorious travel choice.
Indonesia has masses of dive destinations and many pieces of undisturbed paradise to choose from. There are many more places I would probably end up at for an Indonesian holiday (side note: a lot of these Indonesian trips have been taken from Kuala Lumpur because it was my home base for four years) BUT that’s just because in general busy, overly westernised Bali isn’t really for me. However, if you’re on Bali and you’re looking for some peace and quiet or you want to find a bit that’s relatively untouched I’d recommend West Bali’s National Park, in fact I’d really, really recommend it and of course if you’re a diver definitely dive with Blue Corner. They’re lovely, friendly, approachable (always a winner for a shy solo travelling female) and very organised, just what you want. Blue Corner Menjangan and Blue Corner Nusa Penida treated me very well.
Woah, hang on, what about that blue crater?
Ohhhh yes, one more thing, I had hoped to also write about a trip to the famous blue crater of Ijen. However, a boat trip across to Java and an early morning climb up to the famous crater was not possible during my trip. Unfortunately, when I was in Pemuteran there was a fire on the trail which leads to the crater therefore all trips to Ijen were stopped. I’d planned to add on this overnight exploration because it seemed relatively straight forward, absolutely thrilling and quite a common occurrence for travellers on Bali in this area. The trip had been arranged through my accommodation via a guiding couple they knew, I was pretty disappointed to miss out yet I’m sure I’ll be back in my future post pandemic life.
Diving did wonders for my grieving mind.
The underwater world around Menjangan Island had been just awesome. The few days I’d had in this national park did absolute wonders for my grieving mind and general health. I may have been barked at by a couple of deer (so funny), but seeing these creatures (which I think I’ve only ever seen in UK woodland) sunning themselves on perfect beaches and cooling off in South-East Asia’s sparkling seas is something I will marvel at for a long time.
Diving – a form of meditation, yes?
This trip also highlighted the power of diving for dealing with grief and stress. The meditative feel of floating so slowly through the sea and only focusing on what’s right in front of me brought complete calm into my mind, something I have struggled with a lot following the death of my dad. (I’m going to write about this more in another post because diving has had such a surprising effect on my ability to deal with grief that I think it’s worth sharing or at least just recording for myself – that’s part of my grieving process too, writing).
So, for now West Bali National Park and all your beautiful deer and the welcome underwater peace you offered, I thank you.
(For more videos of diving and deer in West Bali National Park plus Kalyssa Beach Bungalow footage you can view my saved Instagram highlight by clicking this very link.)