Oct 042015

Decorations in Timor

Timor! I have just finished my third annual trip to the karst region of West Timor. In 2013 following some of Stefan Eberhard’s research, Stefan and I went for a quick reconnaissance trip. We spent a lot of time driving around and looking at dry holes in the tropical sun before finding our way into a major underwater system. On the last day we laid half a kilometre of line into massive blue tunnel with crystal clear water beckoning us on.

Pushing a lead

It was enough of a high that organisation for the next trip began pretty quickly. In mid 2014 myself and five others headed back to the same area for further investigations. The first dive to continue the master tunnel from 2013 brought us up in a nearby doline, connecting the two features with a kilometre of cave in between. Over the course of a week the group turned up two new massive tunnels in nearby dolines. A day on the boat along the coast revealed sea caves with strong tidal flow. It wasn’t until the survey data was taken home and entered that the pattern of the karst became clear. The in land caves were lining up in parallel passages and heading out to sea.

But time was limited and at the end of last year’s trip there were three major leads continuing into clear water where we had run out of line and run out of time. In 2015 we turned up with eight eager divers and some work to do. The bigger group made quick work of connecting the caves along the lines we had expected, with one surfacing inside a bat breeding cave we hadn’t been able to enter from the surface. Having run line through and solved the loose ends we went prospecting from the land and from the sea.

Sea caves in Timor

The coast was productive, with three new sea caves heading inland. The full moon last week gave us some difficulties with the tidal flow pumping in and out. Timing slack water accurately on the second boat day let us get about 150m into each entrance as the caves began to split out into wide flatteners with fresh water pumping out. The inland prospecting turned up some fantastically deep dolines and beautiful freshwater pools. Each sighting brought great hopes and then disappointment as the rocks refused to let us through.

After days of crawling through hot, bat-poopy caves we retreated back to a known feature from 2014. A small solution tube and a locally made rope & conduit ladder put us down on top of a large breakdown pile, unfortunately right next to a dead cat. As with caves in first world countries, holes in Timor get used as a handy rubbish disposal chute. Once past the stinky remains the chamber opens out underneath with pools of water on both sides.

Clear water tunnels

Last year Ryan and Steve put 200m of line into one side of the cave and determined that the other didn’t go. After loading tanks in to continue the 200m line onwards, Craig went for a dip in the other pool. He was tempted in by a small blue gap between the rocks and squeezed through to find blue tunnel. Enough was enough and last year’s tunnel was abandoned in favour of the new prospect. Tim and Umbu pulled rocks out until the gap was big enough to fit a diver with tanks. Steve dived through to find a dry rockpile 20m later, with a huge blue pool on the other side.

Surfacing into the unknown

As you would expect, this all happened on the second to last day. So on the morning of the last day we dumped the tanks down the cave and half the group got to work. Tim and Michelle dropped into the pool on the other side of the internal rockpile and disappeared. Four of us were off exploring nearby prospects in the area. After climbing out of a beautiful fissure with 50m of decorated and water filled tunnel, Ryan and I got the phone call – it goes! We headed back to the dead cat and down to the water.

Given the size of the tunnel and the fact that Tim and Michelle had run out of line mid-tunnel we decided to go as a four. I strapped a strobe to my three buddies and gave the normal lecture about not swimming too fast, even if the tunnel roared off. The vis in the early section was fairly milky from the previous dive, and started to clear a little as we reached the end of the line they had laid. With Ryan reeling out and me sprinting around out in front to snap photos we proceeded down the tunnel.


As the water cleared up the tunnel trended up and we found our way between huge blocks to a surface pool. The blocks continued up to a high roof. After some scrambling around we located a small pool on the other side and put it on the list for next year. A very hot and humid porterage out across the first rockpile and up the main chamber saw us on the surface in the dark, with a pile of wet and muddy gear and an early morning flight home. It was a great end to a tropical cave diving trip.

Interested in visiting Timor for the caves? Drop me a line and I can help you out with logistics and a summary of leads checked and unchecked.

Group shot 2015

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