Last year, my friend and guest on Dewi Nusantara, Katsuko, asked me if I could take her to Timor Leste, also known as East Timor, since I was working there before in 2013 for an year as a Dive Instructor at Dive Timor Lorosae.
Yes, of course! I said straight away and the trip was arranged to August 2019, exactly 1 year later. Time flies fast and here we are now, in Timor Leste!
Since 2013, I’ve visited Timor couple times, in 2014 and in 2016, visiting friends and of course, diving! It’s just like coming back home.
This time has been a bit different though. After 6 years and about 3000 dives since I left Timor, my eyes look at the reef and aquatic life in a completely different way. My eyes have been sharpened throughout the years working with experienced dive guides and extremely knowledgeable guests – naturalists, photographers, marine biologists and fish counters! I can’t describe how fortunate I am!
On our very first day, Dive Timor Lorosae took us on a boat trip to Atauro Island, about 20NM north of Dili. On the way, as usual, we were welcomed to Atauro Island by a huge pod of Pygmy Killer Whales. Not a bad way to start our trip!
Arriving at Atauro Island, gear on, back roll and finally I’m in the timorense waters again. First look and what a great surprise! The Lyre Tail Hogfish (Bodianus Anthioides), not a common one to my eyes, was right there at the sandy bottom, hanging around with some Goat Fish. Have you seen this one? If yes, please leave a comment, let me know where!
It was definitely a day of many surprises. I have never notice before, as my eyes were still too young in 2013, but Timor Leste is the house of many species of Anthias. The Square Spot Anthias (Pseudanthias Pleurotaenia), Scalefin Anthias (Pseudanthias Squamipinnis) and Threadfin Anthias (Pseudanthias Hucthii) are everywhere. Princess Anthias (Pseudanthias Smithvanizi), Purple Anthias (Pseudanthias Tuka) and Stocky Anthias (Pseudanthias Hypselosoma) were often seen in different sites. Anthias are the ones giving color and movement to the reef. You may not notice them by their small size, but surely you have a feeling of a colorful dive in a site full of them.
Another great surprise on the first day: just about to finish the dive at Table Top, around 10m, close to a mooring line, in a rubble area (never underestimate rubble!), male Flasherwrasses chasing females! Yellowfin (Paracheilinus Flavianalis) and another one which I can’t really be sure but looks like Paine’s (Paracheilinus Paineorum). Have to go back and check! That was enough to catch my attention and forget about the dive time… Oh-oh… Who never have got hypnotized by Flasherwrasses?
Together with the Flasherwrasses, there was one Fairy-Wrasse which quickly got my eyes with the purple body and yellow upper body from head to tail! Not an usual one to me… Back in the dive center, looking at the book, The Purple Fairy-Wrasse (Cirrhilabrus Beauperryi). What a beauty! Another beautiful one, the Lubbock’s Fairy-Wrasse on its purple bright dress with a yellow back.
And last, but not least, the Pink Eye Hovering Goby (Bryaninops Natans), always a great subject for macro photos with its bright pink eyes!
Next day, we decided to go for local dive dives, only 5 minutes by car from the dive center. Dili Rock East and Tasi Tolu were the sites I was diving from 4 to 5 times every week, if not more! Very often, on my day off, I would grab few tanks and spend hours there, searching for creatures.
Milke, a local dive guide, took us there. Dili Rock East starts on a shallow sand plateau and if you keep on your left shoulder, it follows a steep slope with rubble patches and some boomies, covered on nice corals and glassfish. Keep going left shoulder when suddenly you get on a huge boomie, from 15m to 25m, covered on soft corals, black corals, sea fan, Cardinal Fish and schooling Big Eye and Golden-Lined Snappers (Lutjanus Lutjanus and Lutjanus Rufolineatus). I could easily spend the whole dive there.
During our surface interval, we moved the car to Tasi Tolu and I decided to fly the drone. It took off towards to the sea it didn’t want to go above 5m. Suddenly, a warning message at the screen saying “forced landing in 10 seconds…” Oh no!! Not at the sea, please! I quickly manage to bring it back and landed it safely. It was a close one, well deserved. Never try to fly your drone close to airports! Not even “not too high” haha.
Drone safely inside the bag, gear on and back into the water. Tasi Tolu is a sand slope, with some scattered sea grass (dugong like to come and feed here!), sea pen, little sponges. From the entry point, going left shoulder, in about 17m deep, there is a patch, just like an oasis in a desert. It’s covered on low grow soft corals and sponges. That’s where nudibranchs, shrimps, frogfish, scorpionfish, flatworms like to live and find shelter.
Nice day. Seahorses (Common and Thorny), Leaf Scorpionfish (White and Purple ), Orangutan Crabs, Cowries, Cockatoo Waspfish, many Shrimps and Nudibranchs. Not a bad day for nudis, many different types: Chromodoris, Phyllodesmium, Hypselodoris, Thecacera, Phyllidia, Flabellina, Halgerda.
On our 3rd day diving, we went on a boat trip to Cristo Rei of Dili, just about 20 minutes boat ride. Cristo Rei is the iconic statue located at the end of Fatucama peninsula. It was given to the timorese people as a gift from the indonesian government in 1996. Nowadays , is one of the the main tourist attraction in Dili.
We did one dive in the back beach and another dive in the front beach. Back in 2013 we were doing those sites only by car. I’m glad we can do it by boat now, it’s much easier!
The topography is very similar on both sides. Shallow plateau with a healthy coral garden. Gentle slope slowly going down from 5m to deep. The rich coral garden comes from the plateau to about 12m, then deeper there’s a mix of sand and rubble with some big sponges and sea fans.
Great dives! We saw Giant Moray, Pictus Coralblenny (Ecsenius Pictus), Cometfish (Calloplesiops Altivelis), schooling Striped Catfish and many Nudibranch, including Goniobranchus Kunei, Thecacera Picta, Phyllodesmium Briareum (everywhere in the front beach!) and a Miamira Sinuata laying eggs!
Next day we were out in the boat again, this time heading east of Dili, looking for sites which can’t be reached from the shore. After about 1h boat ride, we dove the site called Mangrove. It’s quite a scary name for a dive site in a country well known by saltwater crocodiles! Despite the scary name, the dives were great.
The visibility was clear and the coral gardens were just stunning. Massive flat plateau from 5-8m followed by a gentle slope. Mostly soft corals with some huge coral heads, very healthy. A bit deeper, around 17m there are some big patches with hard coral formations, Montiporas (cabbage coral) and Acroporas (finger corals). Very fishy dives with schooling Slender Unicornfish (Naso lopezi), Twospot, Big Eye and Golden-Lined Snappers (Lutjanus Biguttatus, Lutjanus Lutjanus and Lutjanus Rufolineatus). Yellowfin Flasher-Wrasses and Lubbock’s Fairy-Wrasse males chasing females, displaying their fins and bright colors. That was also our first sight of sharks on this trip. Black Tip and White Tip Reef Sharks are around that area.
There are lots of mushroom corals around the site and if look close, you will always find these shrimps living on it!
The Mangroves was the only site where we dove in Timor and we didn’t see a huge variety of Nudibranchs. Only few Phyllidias. The good side is, my friend Katsuko, who is often spending time with her Nudis and Tunicates, started taking photos of fish, like gobies, to my delight!
She got this beautiful shot of a Signalfin Sandgoby (Fusigobius signipinnis) surrounded by little flowers. It’s definitely a Katsuko’s shot.
On our 5th day we headed to the east coast again, but this time by car. The road is in better shape now, comparing to 2013, and some work are being done, so it will get even better, I believe.
After 1h car ride, we arrived at K41 dive site. K41 was one of my favourite places to dive in Timor and it was definitely our best day. We have got the golden moment there. Blue sky, flat sea, clear visibility and very little current on the dives. On the top of it, it was only the two of us there, so we did long (very long!) dives.
K41 is located in a sheltered bay and it’s an easy entry on low or high tide, doesn’t matter. We started the dive on a sand slope and kept the reef on the right shoulder. Get around a rocky mini wall covered with Indo-Pacific Sergeant tending their eggs. We were in the middle of a frenzy mess of wrasses and butterflyfish feeding on the eggs and the sergeant helpless trying to protect it.
At about 10m deep, lots of Zebra Anemones! We couldn’t find, but 100% sure the Zebra Anemone Shrimp was well camouflaged somewhere there.
Keep the reef on the right shoulder and clouds of glassfish on the mini wall gives you a hint… Of course, Leaf Scorpionfish are standing there! With no effort we found 2 black and one white. There are probably more.
Follow a steep slope covered with nice corals, house of many Shrimps and Nudis. If you go a bit deeper on the sand slope, around 22m you will find some residents White Tip Reef Shark (they were there in 2013!).
I did go deeper to check them and one of the sharks was very curious coming close to my camera several times. I guess it recognized me!
From the entry point to the left, there’s a steep sand slope with Black Coral bushes full of squid’s eggs! Soon we will have loads of new squids around.
Milke, our dive guide with eagle eyes, found us this tiny beauty (photo above), less than 1cm, which later we could finally ID and figured out its name is Antonietta! How cute it is!
Here we are on our last day diving in Timor Leste. On our last day, Dive Timor Lorosae took us on local dives close to the dive center, Dili Rock East and La Casa, an artificial reef started by them in 2016.
The artificial reef is quite interesting with some metallic structures, scuba tanks and objects which reminds a house (La Casa means The House in Spanish).
Already many aquatic life living there, including juveniles Batfish, Scorpionfish, Cuttlefish, Octopus and many Nudibranchs and Sea Slugs.
On the picture below is a Halimeda Sapsucking Slug, incredibly well camouflage in the halimeda algae! Can you see it?
The highlight of the day, to close our trip with a golden key, was a massive Janolus Savinkini, sitting on a toilet!
The whole trip we were blessed with great weather conditions, blue sky and flat seas. The water temperature was around 25-26 Celsius (77-79 F). We did all our dives using Nitrox 32% provided by Dive Timor Lorosae.
The Dive Timor Lorosae team were fantastic organizing our dive schedule and helping us on the dives. Katsuko has a huge camera and I have 2 hip replacement, what makes shore dives a bit difficult for us, but it was incredibly easy with the help of staff and dive guides. Here we leave a huge Thanks to Milke, who was guiding and helping us on all the shore dives, and to Rob & Abi, who were taking us on the boat trips!
Thumbs up to Dive Timor Lorosae and Dreamers Dive Academy for training local guides! There are not many timorense dive guides. Back in 2013, there was only one local guide, Juvi, who was also trained by Dive Timor Lorosae. Now, we had the opportunity to dive with Milke and Jake, both Dive Masters Trainees.
Flying a Drone in East Timor
There is no need for special authorization to fly recreational drones but be aware of places close to the airport in Dili. There is a red zone where flying a drone is prohibited.
It’s also not allowed to fly over government and military facilities, which are everywhere around Dili.
Cristo Rei of Dili is possible to fly a drone, but there is an altitude limit of 90m.
Out of Dili there are no restrictions. Get your drone and happy flight!
All the photos on this post were taken during this trip by Katsuko or myself, apart of this one below, obviously. Thanks Phil for the nice shot!