In 1942, the United States Army transport ship “Liberty” was hit by Japanese torpedoes as it sat off the coast of Tulamben, Bali. Damaged beyond repair, the ship was beached and abandoned. 21 years later, a volcanic eruption moved the Liberty further from the beach and brought it to rest angled on a sand slope under 9 to 30 meters of water. Over time, the wreck slowly developed into an artificial reef, becoming home to thousands of underwater species, and making it a perfect site for scuba exploration. Coinciding with the development of the artificial reef, the small town of Tulamben has developed into a hotspot for dive companies offering guided dives of the wreck, as well as other dive points like Coral Garden (dar’ be sharks hyar!), a site specializing in macro organisms, and a few others.
What the dive was like:
The wreck isn’t very far from shore, so we walked out with our gear and entered the water from the beach. As the sand sloped away, the wreck became visible only about a minute after the dive commenced. Visibility was about 15m, which was very good for us considering our dives in Koh Tao had about 5m of visibility. I was ecstatic that within the first few minutes I saw my first Blue Spotted Stingray hovering just above the ocean floor. We moved our way slowly across the different sections of the ship, at one point squeezing through a tilted doorway as a bevy of fish and other sea life swirled around us. Our dive master had warned not to grab or touch the doorway because of the life that grew around it, so it was with a hint of anxiousness that I floated between chambers.
The seabed has claimed the wreck itself, so it wasn’t terribly easy for me to make out any definitive shape of what was left of the ship, though it was clear that we weren’t exploring something made by Mother Nature. It was somewhat surreal, thinking about how a ship that was used to support human conflict, and inevitably destroyed by it, was now a tool for life and growth. Even with so much going on around us, there was an eerie sense that surrounded me as I progressed through the wreck.
At our deepest depth (we were limited to an 18m dive since we only have our Open Water license) we came across rows of garden eels dancing out of the seabed. I spent at least a minute staring at them as they gently swayed to the motion of the current. At that moment, a shadow past over me, and looking up I was amazed to see a tornado of black jack fish swimming just above us. There must have been hundreds, if not a thousand of them clustered together swimming in chaotic coordination, their large eyes seeming to be magnified as they stared back at us. Slowly, as not to disturb them, I gently floated beneath the cloud and used my buoyancy skills to suspend myself, giving me a front row seat for this underwater ballet.
At about the 50-minute mark, we began our ascent. We slowly returned moving up the sand slope, using it to gently equalize our bodies though still permitting us to catch some final glimpses of the life aquatic. When we surfaced, Arienne and I both agreed that it was by far the best dive in our short experience of scuba diving. Well worth it.
If you are traveling in Bali, and are interested in scuba diving, book yourself a dive at the Liberty Wreck. It just might be the highlight of your scuba diving experience as well.
What you need to know: There are a number of dive shops in the town, so shop around. We paid 250,000 IDR (about $27.50 USD/CAD) for our dive, and most places offer some sort of discount with the more dives you book. Tulamben really isn’t a great place to stay, so if you are only interested in doing one or two dives, we recommend looking into a day tour that includes transportation to and from Tulamben. That being said, if you stay in Tulamben, you can begin your dive at the wreck earlier, that is, before the day tours come in with loads of other divers. Also, if you are staying in Tulamben, transportation out of the town is very pricey, as it seems local drivers have banded together and won’t undercut what we feel are some pretty high prices.