Balbulol – hard to pronounce, but a place to fall in love with. Bruce jokingly calls it Babylon but he’s not far off the mark. Like the famous hanging gardens, an astonishing array of vegetation clings tenaciously to the sheer rock faces, even palm trees defy the logic of growing here, sprouting from the tops of islands like rebellious teenagers. This ribbon of islands runs southeast from Misool and geologically speaking the area is very similar to northern Raja Ampat – hundreds of limestone karst islands and volcanic rocks rising vertically out of the ocean from the depths below.
It’s breathtakingly beautiful but a real challenge for anchoring – here there are no sandy patches to drop an anchor, just deep bays of 30, 40, 50 metres plus, covered with coral. Tying up to the rock walls is the only choice. We’ve already had some experience with this in Penemu, and with two boats it’s a lot easier. We’ve worked out a good routine – one person stays on the helm of each boat and stands off while the other two hop in the dinghy with gloves (essential for those sharp rocks), lines and chafing protection and go find suitable tie-off points. Sometimes we’re lucky and we find existing loops of line left by other boats, other times we have to scout out holes in the rock or sturdy trees. Either way, it’s worth timing your arrival for mid-tide or higher because the surrounding fringing reef makes it almost impossible at low tide.
Then it’s just a question of paying out the line from the dinghy and letting it float while you get the second line set up for boat number one. Sounds straightforward right? No matter how well we coil our lines and how careful we are when placing them in the dinghy, with 100 metres of line it seems there’s always a moment when the dinghy floor resembles last night’s spaghetti dinner. Argghh!! It’s definitely easier with two people – one to drive and one to untangle the mess, but it still takes a lot of patience and a good hour to set up both boats. Once the lines are laid out in the water, the skipper drives boat number one in to pick up the lines and get in position and then we start on boat number two. As you might expect, OH&S guidelines stipulate a cold beer or two in the cockpit afterwards, to admire our handiwork and the stunning views.
We take a tiki tour in the dinghies through the maze of islands, and find a gorgeous beach for sundowners.
But primarily we’re here for the diving. And if our first taste of diving in Balbulol is anything to go by, we’re in for a treat. There’s also fabulous snorkelling right in the anchorage so we’re in underwater nirvana. My morning meditation is an hour of snorkelling before breakfast – just heaven. Here are some of our underwater shots from Balbulol which come with a warning – we hope you like underwater photos as there’s plenty more of these in the next few blogs!