The eel garden stretched out before us, hundreds of slender bodies waving like blades of grass as their tiny heads bobbed to the beat of their own drums. As we approached, the garden eels slowly slipped deeper into their burrows until only their heads were visible. After we had passed by, they regained their confidence and rose out of the sand again. In most places an eel garden is a very small patch of timid creatures that disappear at the first sign of divers. On Menjangan Island however the eel garden is more like an eel field that stretches as far as the eye can see in all directions.
Discovering Menjangan Island
Lying just a few miles from the remote western tip of Bali, Pulau Menjangan ('Deer Island') is part of the Bali Barat National Park. Pristine white beaches give way to magnificent views across the Bali Strait to the imposing volcanoes on Java. Uninhabited except for the handful of monks at the temple and a team of park rangers, this picturesque island is the perfect destination for a boat trip.
Menjangan Island is named after the herd of Muntjac deer that live there. Local people once claimed to see deer swimming out to the island each spring but these days they are year round residents. During the dry season these deer are often around the shoreline, feeding on the mangroves and looking for water. In the wet season when water is plentiful, they head inland amongst the untamed undergrowth.
Diving Menjangan Island
For many visitors, Menjangan's main attractions lie beneath the surface. The varied topography and a healthy coral reef system make the dive sites around Menjangan Island some of the best in Bali. On the western end of the island, the white sandy slopes are home to all kinds of interesting creatures. Jawfish and mantis shrimp peer out from their burrows as blue spot stingrays cruise across the sea floor. Dozens of tropical fish swarm around the frequent outcrops of coral, islands of colour against the pale sand. Look closely at the red and white fan corals and you may spot one of the tiny, well camouflaged pygmy seahorses.
Further east, the vertical cliffs of the island plunge into the depths. Huge gorgonian fans and fern like feather stars blur the lines between animal and plant and bring these sheer walls to life. Massive frogfish wait patiently to ambush their prey and in the depths of an underwater cave, electric clams appear to crackle with blue lightning. This impressive special effect is achieved by reflecting ambient light so there is no chance of a shock.
Protecting Menjangan Island
Menjangan Island is important for tourism in this area and the local resorts work hard to protect it. The local villages own most of the boats used by tourists. This ensures that tourism has economic advantages for the whole community, not just those lucky enough to work at a resort. The resorts also organise regular island clean ups to manage litter and remove the flotsam that washes up on shore.
Inside the Cave
Although the island is popular with day tripping tourists, you'll find this part of Bali much quieter than hotspots like Ubud and Kuta. Most of the boat trips to Menjangan Island operate from Pemuteran or from the resorts around Pejarakan so it's worth staying a few nights in this area if you want to visit the island. In contrast to the rich coral reefs at Menjangan Island, divers staying in this area can also enjoy some fascinating critter diving around Secret Bay. Some operations in this area can also offer the chance to spend an evening with Mandarinfish.
Many thanks to Mimpi Menjangan for their kind hospitality. Their friendly staff offered an outstanding personalised service, which really made our stay. Not to mention the abundant wildlife, including everything from monkeys to mudskippers with mandarinfish only a five minute boat ride away.