Diving History in Tulamben: the USAT Liberty
My favorite dive of my 10-month backpacking trip was an unexpected one. Amed, a small coastal town in the corner of Northeast Bali, had never crossed my radar. But I ended up there by a stroke of luck: Yohanna, a girl I met in a hostel at Ubud, had been staying in the nearby water palace of Tirta Gangga (yes, a water palace!).
Yohanna and I decided to explore Pura Lempuyang together, so I journeyed up north from Ubud to meet her in Tirta Gangga. After three days full of adventure, from finding the Gates of Heaven to hiking Mount Batur, I discovered that Amed also had incredible scuba diving. On our last day in Tirta Ganga, I convinced Yohanna to try a Discover Scuba Dive class while I dived the wreck of the USAT Liberty.
The history behind the USAT Liberty, which sits on the shallow coast of Tulamben (10 minutes from Amed), is fascinating. The USAT Liberty was built in 1918, but didn't see any action in WWI. In WWII, however, it joined the allied forces. In January 1942, it was en route from Australia to the Philippines when a Japanese submarine launched a torpedo its way. The torpedo ripped through the Liberty's hull, causing extensive damage. The Liberty's crew was safe and it was towed towards Bali by two other allied ships. Before the Liberty could make it to port, however, it took on too much water and had to left on the Northeastern shore of Bali.
The Liberty sat forgotten on the shores of Tulamben for nearly twenty years. It was Mother Nature that changed its course.
In the spring of 1963, Mount Agung, the most active volcano on Bali, erupted several times, sending ash and lava down the Bali terrain. The eruptions caused earthquakes, which eventually pushed the Liberty off of Tulamben's beach and back into the ocean.
More than 50 years later, the wreck of the USAT Liberty is one of the most popular dive sites in Bali. The shallowest part of the wreck sits just 5 meters / 15 feet from the surface, with the deepest part of the wreck resting in 30 meters / 90 feet of water.
I buddied up with Josh, a diver who was getting his Advanced Open Water certification. Jordan, the dive instructor, was so much fun to dive with and very attentive. She fixed my weights underwater and she understood my fears of going in small spaces in the wreck. Some dive guides will tell me that it's "not a big deal" and that I shouldn't be worried, even though claustrophobia is a legitimate fear of mine. But Jordan didn't care—she was totally cool with me doing my own thing, so I really appreciated that she let me hang around outside the wreck while her and Josh checked out smaller entries. But the second entry was wide open with windows, which was awesome and totally doable for me!
My two dives on the Liberty were two of the most comfortable, fascinating dives I've ever done. The shore entry was easy and there was no current. And then there was the marine life! I couldn't believe the amount of marine life that had made their home on the wreck.
We spotted a day octopus nestled in its hiding spot, a blue spotted stingray tucked in the sand, a stunning leaf scorpion fish that was hard to spot at first, a hawks bill turtle that kept going up and down for air, garden eels peeking out of the ocean's bottom, a massive lobster, a yellow boxfish, a massive grouper, and several crabs.
Everywhere I looked, there was something to look at—the best kind of dive!
And then, of course, there was the Liberty itself. Because it sat so shallow in the water, it was beautiful to see the rays of light playing off it. I've heard an early morning dive is incredible on the wreck and I wish I had had the extra day to do it. While much of the wreck has turned into an artificial reef, many parts of the original ship are very recognizable. The rudder and stern could be identified as Josh and I descended past the sandy shore, and we could make out the ship's massive anchor and turn wheels.
Jordan, our dive guide, gave me great advice on my trim AND she took so many amazing photos and videos! She had so much fun with it and it was the first time in 50 dives that I had fun footage of me diving.
When I found myself back in Amed again a few days later, I tried to squeeze in another USAT Liberty dive, but it was time for me to head to Gili T. Next time, though!
Dive Shop: Adventure Divers Bali, based on TripAdvisor reviews. It was important that Yohanna be comfortable with the dive shop, too, since it was going to be her first dive (she loved it!).
Cost: $60USD for two dives on the wreck—some of the cheapest dives I did in Bali.