Timor-Leste is one of the world’s newest countries. Timor joined the UN in 2002 after over two decades war for self-determination. It is the only Asian nation that is completely located in the Southern Hemisphere. To get there we could only take two routes, via Bali or Darwin. The Singapore route was cancelled while we were trying to book our flights, making travel there more difficult. There are now only three flights a day into Dili, the capital, which have to be small jets as the runway is very short!
Rob and Alex at Dili Airport– We’re Back!
Our dive resort, Dive Timor Lorosae, collected us for the short trip to the dive centre which is in the middle of the city, right on the beach just down the road from the Foreign Embassies. We were allocated a suite with three bedrooms and a lounge. Result! We had time for a first dive, so headed off to Dili Rock a coral wall dive to the west within the city limits. It was a good introduction to Timor shore diving. That night Rob started to assemble his new camera, when we got up the next morning at 6am he was still at it. He then proceeded to lose bits of it on subsequent dives….
The next day diving started in earnest, we planned four dives, three to the East. We took the van out on the road to the East of Dili. Unfortunately the road was being remade, and for most of the 40 km trip didn’t exist i.e. no road! All the sites in the north side of Timor are accessible by “road” as shore dives, the south side is not suitable for diving due to strong currents and the large number of salt water crocs. The first dive was at K41 East, a beautiful 30m wall dive but as we had arrived at full moon the currents were too strong and we soon had to turn back after 20 minutes into the dive. The strong currents led to sudden cool upwellings, then down currents all within a few minutes. At one point our air bubbles were spotted travelling down towards the sea floor. We fared better at the next two sites - Marble Rock and Be’e Hau. Currents were still strong but we could manage to fully dive the sites. These dives were all amazing, all the coral was in pristine condition with no rubbish or sign of human activity. Visibility was around 20 meters and great for wide angle photography. The walls were covered in huge barrel sponges, fans and whips. After completing these three day dives, we travelled back to Dili to complete our first night dive on Tasil Tolo, a beach site next to Dili Rock within Dili. This site is a macro heaven site with a patch of seagrass at 18 meters full off sheep nudi’s, seahorses, cuttlefish, frog fish, pipefish, Spanish Dancers, amongst others. This became our “go to dive” for critter hunting and we went there all but one day during the remainder of the trip.
A small barrel sponge
The next day we took the dive resorts boat to Atauro Island. This large Island is part of Timor-Leste and is around one and a half hours by sea to the North. The trip was spectacular, there were no other boats in view, nor planes in the sky and no sign of other humans. The sea between the main Island of Timor and Atauro is up to 3km deep and is deeper still to the West of Atauro Island. During the trip we saw a pod of a thousand Pilot Whales that spend months of the year living and feeding off Atauro. These mammals are very shy, so will swim under the boat and never too close.
Leaving Timor Island
A very shy Pilot Whale – Atauro Island
The wall diving on Atauro Island was truly spectacular. The walls ranged from 20 to 40 meters in height. The visibility was in a similar range with clear blue water driven from the deep trenches surrounding the island. The barrel sponges were huge involving quite some effort to fin around as the currents pulled you towards them. Fish were in abundance and currents were not a problem as we had a boat and DSMB’s.
Rob on the wall
We returned to Dili in the afternoon as the wind was picking up. It was a great but very expensive trip to Atauro. The cost of fuel and diving is very high in Timor as most goods are currently imported. Therefore for the rest of the trip we focused on the beach dives from the van on Timor Island.
Coral in Atauro
The next day we headed to Lone Tree Beach on Timor, a site that Alex and Rob remembered from ten years ago when they were last in Timor. The beach no longer has any trees, and the currents were the strongest that we had experienced so far. We could not get out of the shallow 8m beach area of coral bommies. The current pushed us back everytime. Whilst in the bommies, getting caught in a deadend was like being in a washing machine! But in true SCDC fashion we completed the dive! 50 minutes Ha!
The next dives were easier and we managed to find a gang of “alien-like” Skeleton Shrimps at K41 West which we revisited again over the following days. These are challenging animals to shoot in macro as they are very active, are almost transparent and like to hide in hydroids.
Skeleton Shrimp from K41
That night we returned to Dili and skipped a night dive as we all tired. We carried on for the next days diving the East coastal sites. The currents started to subside in most sites so it became more relaxed and we were better able to focus on macro photography. In terms of larger marine life, we managed to see a large reef shark, a couple of bump head parrot fish, various sting rays and a Napoleon Wrasse, but most of the time we were shooting macro.
Coral Garden at K41
For the last day we decided to travel West of Dili. The road was new and apart from the landslides, it was quite easy to navigate! Diving visibility unfortunately was more challenging. For the first time we saw a lot of plastic trash at the Bubbles Beach site, but it was much cleaner and we had a better dive at the Dan’s Sandy Bottom site where we saw the rays and wrasse. This dive site has long been named after Dan Groshong, a former member of South China Diving Club that introduced us all to Timor-Leste. Dan sadly lost his life in Timor in 2018 and we treated this dive as a tribute to him.
Dan’s Sandy Bottom Dive Site
There was time for one last live on Tasil Tolu to find a few more critters. Unfortunately we did not see a dugong during this trip, but then again you always need an excuse to go back…….
Chris (Dive Guide), Mark, Alex, Rob and Jake (DM) at Tasil Tolu