WE LOVE MUCK-DIVING, and get immense enjoyment finding and photographing all the cute, weird and bizarre critters that divers find only in soft-bottom environments.
However, one thing we hate about muck-diving is crowds, and these can be a problem at some very popular destinations – too many divers, too many fins, too many pointy things poking the animals and too many paparazzi-like photographers elbowing fellow-divers out of the way.
So it was a wonderful surprise to find an incredible muck-diving site in Indonesia of which few divers had heard – the little known Sekotong, on the island of Lombok.
Never heard of Sekotong Don’t be surprised, because few divers would have. This area of Indonesia has only recently opened up to divers, with the arrival of a handful of resorts and dive operations.
One of those resorts is Cocotinos, a boutique 4* that caters for divers or anyone looking for a secluded holiday destination. Cocotinos opened its first dive resort in Manado in 2007 and a second in Sekotong in 2010, in an area known as the Gili Islands.

LOCATED IN THE SOUTH-WEST CORNER of Lombok, Sekotong is in fact one of the easier destinations to reach in Indonesia, just a 20-minute flight from Bali or a slightly longer direct flight from Singapore or Kuala Lumpur.
Arriving at Lombok’s Praya Airport we were met by Ketut, our driver from Cocotinos. He loaded our bags and embarked on a hair-raising 70-minute Lombok Grand Prix drive.
Ketut was an excellent driver, and the roads in Lombok are among the best in Indonesia, so we arrived in one piece but with a few more grey hairs!
The Cocotinos Resort is located in a three-hectare coconut grove and has its own private beach. We fell in love with the location as soon as we saw the view from the restaurant – a ring of distant mountains, a calm bay dotted with islands and clear water lapping the clean sandy beach. It was easy to see what had inspired the owners to locate their resort in this location.
We checked into our garden villa, placed our dive gear in the basket left at our front door and hit the bar for a few cool Bintangs while we soaked up the view and the relaxing atmosphere.
Next morning Syainal Hamid, the manager of Odyssea Divers, which runs the dive operation at Cocotinos. explained that a double dive was normally scheduled in the morning with a single dive after lunch, plus night dives on demand. Most of the dive staff are originally from Manado, which was a bonus, because they are experts at finding small and unusual critters.
We were the only divers staying at the resort, and when Syainal asked where we would like to dive our instant reply was Wills Beach, reportedly the premier muck-diving site in the area.
When the resort opened, well-known Australian underwater photographer and marine biologist David Harasti had been there to help the staff find good places to dive. A range of interesting sites were discovered during his stay, but he had raved most about Wills Beach, which he named after his son and compared to the best sites in Lembeh Strait.
It was on David’s recommendation that we were in Sekotong, so we were naturally keen to see the site for ourselves.
Most sites are 10-30 minutes from the resort so we motored to Wills Beach, passing picturesque bays, little villages and numerous small islands.
We had been a little concerned about dive conditions before we arrived because Sekotong is located in the notorious Lombok Strait, a deepwater channel between Bali and Lombok.
The last time we had dived there was at Nusa Penida to see mola mola and manta rays, and we had experienced strong currents and cold thermoclines from upwellings.
We needn’t have worried, however, because it seems that the waters off Sekotong are very sheltered, providing calm conditions and only gentle currents.

AT WILLS BEACH our dive guide Mamang gave us a quick briefing. Diving in the wet season the visibility was a little green at around 12m, but more than enough for macro photography.
We hit the sandy bottom at 6m, and straight away our attention was drawn by a juvenile blue razor wrasse. These lovely fish with their sail-like dorsal fin are always difficult to photograph because they dive into the sand as soon as you get anywhere near them, but this one was content to pose for our cameras.
For the next hour this site produced a bonanza of muck critters – cuttlefish, snake-eels, jawfish, filefish, sea-moths, boxfish, flatworms, pufferfish, soles, mantis shrimps, commensal shrimps, spider-crabs, gobies, blennies and many more.
We explored the sandy slope to 20m, seeing huge soft corals and sea-pens sprouting from the sand, plus numerous anemones that were home to shrimps, porcelain crabs and anemonefish.
We couldn’t believe how many species of shrimp gobies resided on this sandy slope; we counted around a dozen, including a few we had never seen before.
We were also impressed by the nudibranchs, which were feeding, mating and laying eggs, and again included many species new to us.
But Mamang saved the best until last. Working our way back into the shallows, he suddenly found us a wonderpus.
We were overjoyed; this was our first wonderpus. We fired off countless images as it slowly strolled across the bottom changing shape and colour.
Several minutes later Mamang pointed out a coconut octopus, and then another wonderpus. We surfaced from this first dive amazed by the critters we had seen, and also amazed that we were the only divers exploring this incredible spot.
A few days later we returned to Wills Beach and explored a different section of the dive-site to find another great batch
of critters, including shrimpfish, frogfish, ornate ghost pipefish and a long-armed octopus.
But this wonderful dive-site has also produced mimic and blue-ringed octopus, velvet ghost pipefish, crinoid shrimps, spiny devilfish, gorgonian shrimps, gurnards and Ambon scorpionfish.
Mamang also told us about dugongs he had encountered here – apparently they feed on the seagrass beds in the area.
Odyssea Divers has around 20 dive-sites it visits regularly, but only a handful of these are muck-sites. Most are reef dives, so for our second dive we explored one of these reefs at Rangit Barat.
The visibility was a little better here, at around 15m, and the coral reef was very pretty, covered in soft corals, sponges, sea-whips, gorgonians and ascidians.
There were also plenty of reef fish and invertebrates to be seen, though not many big fish, apart from the odd passing pelagic. But for us the rubble at the base of the reef provided the most interest, because here we saw mantis shrimps, blue ribbon eels and two lovely painted frogfish.
Over the next few days we dived more of these pretty reefs off Sekotong. The corals were lovely and would have looked good in wide-angle images, but with the vis varying between 10 and 20m in the wet-season conditions, we stuck to macro photography.
We were very pleased we did, because each of these reefs seems to have its own special critters. At Rangit Timur it was zeno crabs, dragonets, banded pipefish and Bargibant’s pygmy seahorses, while at Sunken Reef it was harlequin shrimps and whiskered pipefish.
Whip Reef hosted some very bizarre nudibranchs, while Gili Gede was a good spot for orangutan crabs, hairy squat lobsters, morays and juvenile batfish.
But as good as the reef diving was, it was still the muck-diving that we most enjoyed, especially the afternoon dives at Kura Kura and Odyssea 3.
There is coral and weed off the beach in front of the Cocotinos Resort that provides interesting snorkelling but they rarely dive this area, so these two sites are regarded as the house reefs, especially as they are only minutes away by boat.
Odyssea 3 has a steep rubble bank with patches of weed and corals appearing from time to time. We saw many common muck critters there – mantis shrimps, cuttlefish, upside-down jellyfish, snake-eels, commensal shrimps and shrimp gobies – but also spiny devilfish, hairy shrimps, two-spot lionfish and many unusual nudibranchs.
But always on the look-out for animal behaviour, the highlight for us was finding a pair of fighting wrasse. These fish were having quite a battle, their jaws locked and flinging each other about. They were so engrossed in the fight that we were able to get quite close for photos.
We would have loved to know what the fierce battle was about – territory, food, breeding rights – but in the end the cause remained a mystery.
Kura Kura proved to be almost as good as Wills Beach and has a variety of muck terrains – sloping sand, coral rubble, weeds, rocks and patchy coral. Nudibranchs, cuttlefish, shrimps, crabs and juvenile fish were all common, but it was the weird and wonderful fish that made this site special for us.
The first time we dived there we saw two Ambon scorpionfish, several long-snout pipefish and a cockatoo waspfish, while on a return visit it was a tiny juvenile barramundi cod, a lovely yellow-coloured velvetfish, and a tiny blenny perched on the head of a pipefish.
We may have had only four days of diving at Sekotong but we left the area impressed by the wonderful Cocotinos Resort and the incredible muck-diving.
We only hope that this area remains a little undeveloped paradise, so when we return we can once again enjoy the critters without the crowds.

FACTFILE
GETTING THERE Fly Singapore or Garuda from the UK to Lombok. It is also possible to arrange flights or a ferry to Lombok from Bali if holidaying there.
DIVING & ACCOMMODATION Odyssea Divers run the dive operation at Cocotinos Resort, www.odysseadivers.com Accommodation options are limited in the area, with the Cocotinos Resort the best option for divers, www.cocotinos-sekotong.com When to Go8Year-round. Water temperatures range from 26-29°C and the best visibility is from June to October, but some of the best critter action is during the wet season, November to April.
CURRENCY Indonesian rupiah.
HEALTH Nearest deco chamber is in Bali. Dengue fever and malaria cases have been reported, but mainly during the wet season.
PRICES Return flights from London from £720. Cocotinos Resort has rooms from £60-200 per night, which includes breakfast, while dives with Odyssea Divers cost around £25 each. Package deals with accommodation and diving are available.
VISITOR INFORMATION www.indonesia.travel