The beach in Tulamben on the northwest coast of Bali is nothing to write home about. It is a jumble of small to medium sized round black stones that roll in all the wrong ways for easy walking. In the shadow of Mt Agung, a volcano that last erupted in 1963-4, it is easy to see how these black rocks were once lava flows.
No, people don’t come to the sleepy little fishing village of Tulamben for the beach; they come for what’s underwater just 30 metres offshore.
The USAT Liberty shipwreck was an American Navy cargo ship carrying a load of rubber and railway parts for the war effort in World War II when it was torpedoed by the Japanese in 1942. The ship was brought to shore to salvage the cargo.
Our dive master is from Tulamben and he said that people evacuated during the volcanic eruption in 1963 when the 3013 m Mt Agung blew off most of its summit. When they came back again, the ship was gone! Locals assumed that the Americans had finally come to drag the ship away but no body knew that tremors from the eruption had caused the ship to slip off the beach and under the water.
Our diver master said that it wasn’t until the 1970s when a Japanese diver rediscovered the wreck. Today, it is one of the most famous dive sites in Bali. The ship is 130 metres long and lies on a sandy slope from 5 metres depth at one end and 30 metres depth at the other end. Some structural highlights include seeing the huge anchor, a surprisingly small steering wheel, the two anti-aircraft guns and swimming through the skeleton structure of the ship’s hold.
A couple tips for diving the USAT Liberty:
- Staying in Tulamben has the bonus of being walking distance from the dive site. The dive site can become quite busy with diving companies from all across Bali driving into Tulamben to dive the wreck. The site is busiest from around 10am to 2pm. Staying in Tulamben means you can dive outside of the busy times.
- Some writers on forums and blogs recommend doing a sunrise dive, where you will have the shipwreck nearly to yourself. There were fewer divers than later in the morning but I also thought it was a little dark as well. I enjoyed the 9am second dive much more. Other divers at the dive centre raved about a dive at 3pm.
- When I say “walking distance”, I mean literally. Diving in Tulamben is mainly shore dives and most dive groups walk to the shore from the dive centre. Tulamben is quite small so this isn’t really a big concern. Tanks are driven to the beach entrance but you may be required to walk with your full set of gear from the entrance to the dive site depending on which diving outfit you’re coming from.
- As with diving in Bali and Komodo National Park, there can be currents! Tulamben has less currents than other places in Bali but it can still be there.
- Depending on your preferences, there are dive centres to suit everyone’s desires from diving resorts to small family run affairs. We chose Aqua Dive Paradise (http://www.tulambendivers.com/Welcome.html) because they had excellent reviews, responded quickly to my emails, were very affordable and small diving groups. Our diving group consisted of the dive master, Bryan and myself! Because of our small group, we had the flexibility to do the dives we wanted at the times we wanted to go.
- Aqua Dive Paradise also have a few simple air- conditioned ensuite rooms in the garden behind the dive centre. The beds are a bit springy and the rooms are not large but they were comfortable and you can’t beat the price. It was $15 USD a night for the two of us including breakfast.