I DON'T KNOW WHAT IT IS ABOUT COLOURS in the Caribbean - the azure blue of the sea, the vivid pink of the bougainvillaea, bright greens shirts and red skirts against dark chocolate skin - are they heightened, or is it simply that it's not raining, and I'm not in the UK
An island paradise. Tobago is that, with mile on mile of lush green rainforest, unusual song from iridescent birds shimmering past, shorelines dotted with sun-faded fishing boats, isolated palm tree-lined beaches and locals as laid-back as you can be without falling over.
I asked other divers what they thought: Well, as far as corals, its not the Red Sea or the Maldives, and there arent as many mantas as in Yap, but the vis is good, the water warm and theres a lot of incredible fish. Its my fourth time, and I'm definitely coming back again!
I can see why. Tobago isn't known as one of the great diving destinations but it should be on your list - especially if you have a young family.
Diving trips have now taken on a whole new slant for me, ensuring that there are things to do for the family, not just diving to keep me and my husband happy.
We tried to split the days in two - diving, and then some fun and sightseeing. Amélie (two and a half) was in her element - waterfalls, beaches, pools, great food (macaroni pie every day!) and wonderful fruit; magical coloured birds like the islands famous mot-mot and the Rufus-tailed jacamar, and butterflies, lizards and geckos.
The frogs chorused in a muddy pool outside our hotel every night and the steel bands played everywhere, music so infectious that you cant help but dance! Amélie might not have had such a great time if shed expected theme parks and waterslides, but shes too young for that.

TOBAGANS ARE INCREDIBLY FRIENDLY, though we took a while to tune in to the accent. We were introduced to one of our dive guides who, with a gleaming smile said: Hi, Im Kirsteman.
Hi, Kirsteman, we replied.
No man, I'm Kirsty, man! he beamed back at us.
London Bridge, Bookends, Divers Dream, Grand Canyon, Stairway to Heaven - the dive-sites sounded too good to be true.
Speyside, on the windward side of the island, is the place most divers head for, thanks to the manta rays, tarpon and sharks, and astonishingly enormous, global record-breaking brain corals.
The waters here are nutrient-rich, fed by the warm Gulf Stream and the colder Guyana Current. This makes the vis less clear than you might want, but does bring in some spectacular wildlife and provides some exhilarating drift dives.
There are a few true coral reefs and they are in good shape, providing great backdrops for our photography and interesting nooks and crannies to explore. And whether youre looking for the massive (including hammerheads, mantas and turtles) or the micro (nudibranchs and cleaner-shrimps) you wont be disappointed!
Speyside is a small town. Accommodation and food are good and cheap, and non-diving family-members can always pass the day in glass-bottomed boats, hotel pools and on windswept beaches.
Diving is mostly out of Tyrrels Bay, taking in Goat Island and Little Tobago, a nature reserve where you can tick off the many species of Caribbean angelfish as well as spotted eagle rays and blacktip sharks. Barrel sponges in profusion are a speciality. The diving can sometimes be challenging, however.
Little Tobago especially offers great opportunities. Sean Robinson, who led our group, was so laid-back that it was only when researching into some of the dives that I realised how his reading of the currents and conditions, based on years of experience, had made the diving far easier than it might have been.
Sean runs Tobago Dive Experience, and stresses responsible diving. There is little damage from anchors, careless fins or gloved divers and we were impressed by the lack of litter or fishing line under water. The corals appeared to be in excellent condition.
No prizes for guessing what we would see at Blackjack Hole - there were jacks everywhere, along with hawksbill turtles and numerous cleaning stations, though none of the hoped-for manta rays.
Inner Space yielded tiny juvenile peacock flounders camouflaged against the sand, and at Goat Island Dream we spotted a golden hamlet - Sean reckoned it was the first identified this far south in the Caribbean!
Bookends, which can be subject to strong currents, brought more turtles and an amphitheatre where huge tarpon and nurse sharks gathered.
Sisters boasted a metre-long Caribbean spiny lobster, though the promise of scalloped hammerheads did not materialise. The coral stood out, however, with lots of devils sea whips and wire corals in the deeper waters, and sea-fans and tube sponges elsewhere.
The Inner Sisters was a riot of colourful soft coral and fish, huge shoals of blue and brown chromis and creole wrasse, grouper and parrotfish.

FINALLY, WE DIVED STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN. We didnt see any steps, and not a single angel, but it was well worth waiting for. Right at the end of the dive, gliding through the water in front of us, was an enormous hammerhead shark.
We stopped to take pictures but the rest of the group kept pointing - we found out at what only when we surfaced. Another hammerhead had passed a few metres over our heads.
We were just two days in!
On every trip there are divers who want to tick charismatic megafauna off their lists. Bob, an American, was in Tobago just to see whale sharks! He could have seen hammerheads, mating turtles, the biggest brain coral in the world or the rarest fish but no, he was here for whale sharks - and woe betide anyone else who saw them!
After every dive at the same hot-spots, Bob would emerge frustrated. This is no way to approach a diving holiday - surely its all about what you see, not what you dont see. Take no expectations, and youll be pleasantly surprised, thats my theory.
As we were when we spotted a whale shark briefly at the end of one dive!
So we left Bob and travelled to Crown Point in the south, taking in the scenery as we drove. Tobago has a lush rainforest interior, and we explored the Argyll waterfall.
On the way, a knowledgeable lady pointed out the local birds and unusual trees: hog plum, clammy cherry, silk cotton, breadnut and the trumpet tree.
At the falls, she left us to enjoy its tranquillity. There were no other tourists. We stripped off and swam in the cool, clear water, with Amélie sitting on the banks, watching leaf-cutter ants and feeding crackers to shoals of fish.

ON THE WAY BACK, we feasted on ripe mangoes that grew by the roadside. It is almost impossible to buy a mango in Tobago, as most people have a tree close at hand.
Pineapples, plantains and cashews also grew beside roads and paths - its bizarre that they should travel to the UK to be dried, packaged and shipped back in our backpacks as a snack.
We moved round the tip of the island towards Charlotteville, a lovely little fishing village with an incredible beach at Pirates Bay. We took a boat across and lounged around for the rest of the afternoon. There wasnt a soul in sight, just white sands, palm trees and warm clear waters. The leeward side was definitely worth exploring.
After climbing hundreds of steps back to the village, we spied the fishermen coming in with their catch. Everyone told us that Sharons was the place to eat, so we went.
Sharon was a formidable mother of five, and worldly wise. She wasnt taking any fuss. Her food was excellent and her welcome warm and friendly. She talked about her family and her life, as Amélie munched on chips, and marvelled at tiny geckos crawling up the restaurant walls.
Creole shrimp and homemade cake - we were full to the brim, and ready to set sail. On we drove, arriving late at Crown Point. If we had started our trip at the quiet end of the island, this was the other end of the spectrum, a bustling town full of shops, hotels and people.
It was a short ride to any beach, but the further you went, the fewer tourists you found.

A HIGHLIGHT WAS the Arnos Vale Hotel, where they serve afternoon tea on the veranda and feed the hummingbirds, for which Tobago is famous.
Tiny feeders filled with sugary liquid attract them in their droves, and we were amazed by the speed of their wings and their accuracy in poking their tiny, thin beaks through the holes in the feeders. Most of our afternoon tea was used to feed the ubiquitous bananaquits and shimmering blue tanagers, then we snorkelled in the shallows until sundown.
The diving down south was very different from that at Speyside, less challenging and easier on photographers. In the sheltered bays east of Crown Point the coral differed significantly from that on the current-battered windward side of the island, with knobbly sea-rods and seafans and small Christmas tree worms shrouding the brain corals.
With numerous fish-spawning grounds, the water seemed full of fry and rather milky, but this attracted the big guys, marauding black grouper and Cubera snapper.
The Columbus Passage is often said to be one of the Caribbeans top drift-diving locations, and it was certainly that: Venus sea-fans, fire coral, mountainous star corals and warty sea-rods, patrolled by large black grouper, and with spotted and green moray eels hiding among them.
We saw giant barrel sponges, strangely bent out of shape in the strong currents, and slipper lobsters and decorator crabs. We also spotted our only reef octopus, the master of camouflage.
Thrilled by a week of exciting, varied diving, we were escorted to the airport by R&Sea divers (thank you!) and the littlun slept all the way back - back to the grindstone until the next trip!

FACTFILE
GETTING THERE: Fly from London Gatwick to Tobago with Monarch charter flights or BA or Virgin scheduled flights.
DIVING & ACCOMMODATION: Tobago Dive Experience at Manta Lodge, Speyside (www.tobagodiveexperience.com, www.mantalodge.com); R&Sea Divers at the Toucan Inn, Crown Point (www.rseadivers.com, www.toucan-inn.com)
MONEY: Trinidad & Tobago dollar
WHEN TO GO: The wet season runs from June to December, dry season from January to May. Tobago is generally considered to be south of the hurricane belt, though there are no guarantees
PRICES: UK tour operator Oonasdivers offers competitive packages to Tobago, with a one-week two-centre holiday in Speyside and Crown Point from £450, including seven nights B&B, 10 dives and transfers, or a fortnight from £850. Return flights start at £450, 01323 648924, www.oonasdivers.com
FURTHER INFORMATION: 020 8350 1009, www.visittnt.com, www.tobagoscubadiving.com