After a somewhat frustrating trip to the Gilis, once we arrived we were quite happy with our choice of locale. Gili Air is quite cute and very relaxing... beautiful beach, lots of coral and fishies just off shore, lovely views of the volcanoes of Lombok, lots of beachside spots in which lounging is allowed... nay, encouraged.
We stayed at the Chill Out Bungalows, which we liked a lot, particularly for their prime location and beachside bar, although pretty much anywhere on the island is prime location. It's tiny. You can walk the entire perimeter of the island in one hour (pictures of that coming soon!).
Our main agenda item while on Gili Air was diving, interspersed with much beach bumming (see our lounging spot above). I wish I had photos of the dives themselves, but alas no underwater camera yet (we ordered one and it's on its way, though, just in time for our upcoming trip to Bunaken for diving with Colleen and Scuba Steve!). I do have some shots from the dive boat, though:
The diving itself was great. We dove with Manta Dive for a total of 5 dives, including one night dive. Here's where we went and what we saw:
Halik: mantis shrimp, moray eel, 3 turtles (including hawksbill and green, 1 eating, 1 sleeping, 1 swimming), lionfish, parrotfish, a massive mushroom coral, Christmas tree worms, a ginormous starry pufferfish, clownfish and a blue tang/surgeonfish (aka Nemo and Dory).
Hanns Reef: stonefish, 3 sleeping turtles (complete with remora) lounging on top of a big old hunk of reef, using the coral like a bed, a lobster, a massive sea slug, trumpetfish, lionfish, crab, a big puffer, a large blue spotted fantail stingray, a whole mess of garden eels, clownfish. Also, on this dive, our divemaster was an Indonesian dude who went by the nickname "Hell" and used a butter knife as his implement for pointing things out/tapping his tank to alert us to cool stuff. Ha!
Manta Point: Manta Point is a fish cleaning station, so you could see lots of fish rolling up to the reef and opening their mouths and gills for other, smaller fish to give them a scrubbing. We saw several hawksbill and green turtles, a white-tip reef shark, another big puffer, some large Napoleon wrasse, clown triggerfish, snapper, sweetlips, moorish idol, a red fire goby (which I pointed out to Tim and he was able to identify as a goby)...
Hanns Reef, night dive: This night dive was a little bit crazy... we had been diving at Hann's Reef the previous day, which was a super relaxing dive where we got to . This time, when we dropped in the water for the night dive, the current was quite strong. We had to fight to stay near the large coral formation we were trying to look at. At some point, our divemaster decided to just go with the current. Suddenly we were zooming along a coral and sandy slope, unable to see anything around us outside of the scope of our flashlights. Imagine riding a rollercoaster, in the complete dark, 20 meters underwater. A little stressful. We rode the current for quite some time, going so fast that we barely had time to react when a coral outcrop or abandoned fishing cage got in the way, nevermind see any of the wildlife. Eventually, when we decided it was time to surface, we had traveled all the way from the original off-shore dive site to the reef in front of the dive shop (labeled "Air Slope" on this map). It took about 25 minutes of floating on the surface and waving our flashlights for the boat to find us (we almost just swam into shore, but didn't want the boat to worry). Crazy. In the end, we did see a big stonefish, a lobster, and a decorator crab with a big blue piece of coral on his back, amongst other things.
Shark Point: Our last dive was a lovely and relaxing dive at Shark Point. We saw another white tip reef shark, a plethora of sea turtles (probably 5 or 6 of them, some of them getting quite close to us, including a seriously massive green turtle- he must have been almost 4 feet across! Our divemaster thought, based on his size, that he was probably at least 80 years old). We also had a moray eel come out of his hidey hole and swim around near us, which was super cool. It's fairly rare to see free-swimming moray during the day... normally they just kind of poke their heads out of their hiding spot to menace you a bit. It was pretty awesome. We also saw 2 more stingrays, one blue-spotted and one blue-spotted fantail. Finally, at the end of our dive, as we were kicking off our fins and readying ourselves for the boat ride back, someone spotted a black manta ray swimming around on the surface. Cue everyone on the boat grabbing their masks, diving in the water and sprinting towards this manta to try to swim with it a bit. Honestly, I think that scared him off, but we did get a glimpse.
Update: I forgot to add that our daily snorkeling in front of the Chill Out was pretty fabulous, too. Schools of tiny, silvery blue fish swarming all around you, with larger silvery fish chasing them, a crew of 6 beautiful juvenile teira batfish hanging out by a big chunk of coral next to a boat mooring, a turtle or two, gangs of big, weird looking unicorn fish... awesomesauce.