Bali’s most iconic dive site, the USAT Liberty, ended up there by accident. A Japanese submarine torpedoed the ship in 1942 while it was en route from Australia to the Philippines. Two other ships attempted to tow the damaged cargo ship to the Dutch port of Singaraja, but the Liberty was taking on too much water. Unable to tow it any further, the tugs beached it at Tulamben, on Bali’s northeast coast. In 1963, tremors from the eruption of nearby Mount Agung pushed the rusting vessel off the beach and into the water. It now lies on a sandy slope in 13 to 100 feet (4 to 30 m).
How do I get there?
The USAT Liberty lies off Bali’s northeast coast just outside Tulamben, about 60 miles from the tourist hub of Sanur. From there, it’s about a two-hour ride with PADI Five Star CDC Crystal Divers, which visits the wreck nearly every day. You’ll meet at the shop at around 7 am for the ride up there. On the way, you’ll pass through lush Balinese countryside and rice paddies. If you’d like a hotel pickup, be ready to go between 6 am and 6:45 am.
The USAT Liberty Dive Site
Underwater since 1963, the USAT Liberty has had plenty of time to develop a nice cover of hard and soft corals and sea fans on many of its exposed metal surfaces. The popular dive site can get crowded, so leave plenty of time for two dives. Although you can dive it via boat, it’s far more common to do so from shore. The unique experience starts long before you set your first dive bootie in the water.
Once you arrive, a nimble fleet of local Tulamben women approaches, ready to carry your equipment down to the shore. It’s around 700 feet (200 m) from the parking area, depending on where you enter the water. Don your wetsuit and booties by the van and hand over the rest. Particularly impressive are the women who carry two full sets of gear (including tanks) on their heads. They balance the tanks with just a thin coil of fabric — and usually carry a third set of gear under one arm. If you dive in the afternoon or evening, local Tulamben men will do the carrying. The women have gone home to cook the evening meal and take care of the kids.
After you arrive at the shore, time your entrance into the water by counting waves. Make a break for it during the lull. Once you’ve got your fins and mask in place, you’ll drop down over the sand and make your way to the wreck. Lying on its side, the Liberty is 411 feet long (125 m), and remains mostly intact. It’s positively pulsing with life, including tons of reef fish like sweetlips, filefish, triggerfish, parrotfish and lionfish. Take time to peek into the nooks and crannies. Swim in and out of the cargo holds for atmospheric silhouette shots. There’s rarely any current on the ship, so you can explore at your leisure.
When it’s time to end the dive, a word to the wise: listen to your dive guides when they suggest an exit point to avoid a long surface swim. Even more importantly, listen when they tell you how to time your exit from the water, just as you did for the entrance. The surf can crash pretty hard, and you wouldn’t want to end up face-down on the beach, with your equipment strewn about the sand and water. (It happened to a friend).
Unless you’re staying in Tulamben, one of your best bets for a fun and professional visit to the Liberty is with PADI Five Star CDC Crystal Divers. Located on busy Jl. Danau Tamblingan street in Sanur, Minni Vangsgaard has owned the shop since 1996. The dive center teaches everything from Discover Scuba classes to monthly IDCs. And with only four divers per guide, you’ll be in good hands on the wreck or any site you choose. Crystal regularly visits all of Bali’s best sites, as well as Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida sites like Manta Point.
If you need to rent equipment, the shop has you covered as well, offering plenty of Aqua Lung gear. After your dive, pull up a seat in front of the dive shop at one of the Crystal Bar’s communal tables and fill out your log book. Or, just enjoy a Carlsberg and some of the bar’s addictive popcorn while you’re planning the next day’s dives. If you’re staying at the onsite Hotel Santai, your room is just steps away, tucked in right behind the dive center.
Each of the hotel’s 16 rooms is named for some type of marine life, from Angelfish to Shark. If not, you’ll have no problem hailing a taxi along the street. It will be harder to wave off the legions of eager drivers. Wherever you’re staying, you won’t find a better introduction to the USAT Liberty than with Crystal Divers.