Part 3: Bali
Paddy fields – yes. Padi divers – really?
We’ve all heard of Bali. That’s the island full of temples, rice terraces and Aussie surfers. But take a pin and a map of the world and try to locate Bali and that’s where most people start to struggle. Well, the clue to its location is the fact that Bali is this month’s featured destination.
OK, so it’s in Indonesia. That in itself may still come as a surprise to you, but even though we’ve established that, the task of finding it amongst the world’s largest archipelago doesn’t get easier. Bali may well be a big name for British tourists but in the scheme of 17,000 islands spread over an ocean the size of the USA, it’s a needle in a haystack. This hundred-mile-long island with a population of over four million people is pretty tiny when you look at things on the Indonesian scale. Hey, everything’s relative and Indonesia is huge.
Having dreamt of visiting Bali since childhood, when we moved to live in Indonesia it was naturally our top choice when it came to our first work break and it was with great excitement that we jumped on the Lion Air flight for the short hop from our home in Manado. And Bali didn’t disappoint.
Well, actually, that’s not strictly true. To explain, on our first day we took a tour of the island and were driven past volcanoes, forests, rivers and cute villages. What’s not to like about that, I hear you ask? Well, nothing, of course, except that it looked an awful lot like our new home back in Manado! So at this point we’re thinking, “why all the hype, Bali?”
Well, patience is a virtue and the more we saw of Bali, the more we started to understand its draw. The main things that grab you are the incredible attention to detail and patience of the unique Hindu-Buddhist-blend Balinese culture and the gentleness of their society that’s so ingrained that it takes you over and changes your whole outlook on the world. We’re aware that this probably sounds corny, but it’s true. The Balinese manage to do so because it’s not some tourist trap – they live their lives by this code and so charm and capture us. It’s what makes Bali such a magical place and why it’s known as “The Island of the Gods”, an apt strapline if ever there was one.
On the many visits we made to Bali over our twelve years in Indonesia we purchased beautiful crafts, ate incredible food, were pampered like royalty in its spas, drank sundowners to mellow Buddha Bar beats on surf beaches and ‘zenned-out’ watching ducks waddle amongst rice paddies under pouring, warm rain.
That’s nice, Jim, I hear you say, but what’s any of that got to do with diving? Fair question. Well, here’s the thing… as if Bali doesn’t already offer enough to get you running for a plane, it has one more BIG secret up its sleeve. Bali’s actually a pretty cool place to go for a dive! Oops, sorry, when we say pretty cool we really mean fantastic. Yep, those gods have only gone and blessed this ‘little’ island with great diving too. What’s more, the delights it offers the diver are incredibly varied. Come on! Now that’s just greedy.
Bali’s best-known dive, the wreck of the SS USAT Liberty is located at Tulamben on the North East corner of the island, about two hours’ drive from the capital, Denpasar. Here one can literally walk off the beach onto an incredibly photogenic WWI wreck sitting between 4m and 30m and covered in coral and teeming with fish life, including a resident huge school of swirling jacks, making it just the perfect spot for divers and snorkellers alike. So much so that a (tiny) resort town of Tulamben has sprung up purely to cater to divers. Either side of the Liberty wreck are little wall and ‘muck’ dives offering coral and critters to keep you busy for a good couple of days, and just half an hour’s drive from Tulamben is the little town of Amed, a lesser-known spot but offering excellent critter dives.
In the North West corner of Bali, about four hours’ drive from Denpasar and with views across to the awesome volcanoes of East Java, is Menjangan Island, a National Park with stunning coral walls and diverse marine life. Turtles come up onto deserted Menjangan Island to nest and can often be spotted perched on the vertical coral walls. A pretty little resort town, Pemuteran is where most divers stay when diving Menjangan National Park. Day trips are also available from Pemuteran to Secret Bay, Bali’s best muck/critter site.
So, a world-class wreck, critters and reefs. That’s it? Nope!
Just off Bali’s South East corner are Nusa Penida and Nusa Lembongan Islands, famous for being arguably the best place on earth to site a Mola mola (sun fish). Large manta rays can also be regularly seen on dives at Crystal Bay, in the channel between these two islands. The Mola mola are seasonal, usually between July and September, but the manta are spotted year-round.* Spend a couple of nights at one of the lovely resorts in Mushroom Bay on Nusa Lembongan to enjoy its white sand beach and a glorious sunset. Alternatively if you want to remain on the main island of Bali, you can take a diving day-trip across to these islands from Sanur Harbour. It’s a forty minute boat ride.
So there it is, Bali, the Island of Gods. Enjoy some wonderful days of diving while your other half relaxes by the pool, on the beach or in the spa, then top if off with either a scenic stay amongst Ubud’s artisan community in the middle of the island close to the Agung River Gorge, or if you’re still feeling energetic after all that diving head for the South coast’s surf beaches and thumping nightlife.
This is a destination that seems to have been tailor-made to cater for serious divers who want to do more than dive on their holiday. It could just be the uniquely perfect holiday choice for diver/non-diver couples. If that’s you, then head for Bali and you can finally remove the word ‘compromise’ from your vocabulary!
Bali offers a huge choice of accommodation. There are many flights from the UK to Denpasar via various cities e.g. Singapore, Dubai, Doha and Hong Kong. Bali is a year-round destination, always warm and humid, although it can rain at any time of year. (Tulamben in the North East receives much less rainfall and is subsequently more arid than the rest of the island.) It’s easy to combine a stay on Bali with a week or longer in another part of Indonesia, for example a resort stay in either North Sulawesi (Manado/Bunaken/Lembeh), Raja Ampat or a liveaboard in Komodo National Park.
* Dives around Nusa Penida/Nusa Lembongan are often deeper and there can be strong currents, so divers are required to have a higher experience level.
For more information, visit www.diversetravel.co.uk/destinations/Indonesia.