It's a balmy 77 degrees with a light breeze as I board our boat on the northern tip of Sulawesi. Our group of eight fits easily onto the spacious wooden decks of our dive boat. I stretch out in the open cabin and take in my surroundings; it's a myriad of tanks, masks, belts, and various dive accessories, all cleaned and ready for our adventure today.
We are heading from the mainland to a tiny island off the coast about 40 minutes by motorboat from Manado. This crescent-shaped island is called Bunaken; at only three square miles, most visitors are not coming for the sliver of land, but rather it's incredible underwater scenery.
Silky deep blue deep water gives way to emerald and turquoise shallows that seem to glow with clarity. Palm trees thickly line the shoreline as we make our way to the first dive location of the day – a 36 meter wreck dive I am thrilled about.
The dives are everything I hoped for. The Molas wreck, just off mainland Sulawesi, is a behemoth we swim through, over, and around. It is still in great condition with the structure of the ship not only visible, but swimmable. I forget about the 100 feet of water above me as we weave over decks, through doors, up and down passages with our two guides leading the way. Our second dive takes us across the channel to just off Bunaken's shores. Our maximum depth is slightly shallower at 60 feet, but fascinating in a different way. This sheer wall dive gives us our first turtle encounters and attracts huge schools of reef fish.
After our dives we don't feel quite ready to head back. The water is too inviting and the day too perfect. The sun doesn't burn me so much as burnish. White turns to tan to a light mocha. We wave at two young boys diving off a small single-hulled wooden canoe. They paddle by with what looks like a 2x4 plank and you can't help but smile at their grace and boldness on the water.
We stay out as the sun dips into the glassy water, silhouetting the dormant volcanic mountain in the distance. The sky turns fiery pink and stains us all with its warm glow. We are still in our swimming clothes, but none of us are cold. The first stars peek out as we motor back to the marina. This is Bunaken. Carefree and glorious. It is a place which inspires backflips and low key luxury amongst some of the most stunning underwater scenery. A place kind enough to do what most people cannot – slow down, relax, take time to revel in the magic.