SIDDHARTHA WAS THE FIRST BUDDHA, and Barbara, the dive centre manager, was god. She explained to me that solo-diving was not allowed at the new Siddhartha dive resort on Balis northern coast.
Thats why I had to persuade Robert, the Austrian dive guide and Barbara's moniteur, to get up before first light to come with me. As it was, he was rather slow getting into his kit because he was still wiping the sleep from his eyes, while I was already striding, rigged to dive and camera in hand, down from the empty car park to Tulambens stony beach and the waters edge.
Normally there are bands of tiny lady porters who weigh around 35kg and have legs like sticks, defying logic as they carry up to three rigged tanks on their heads. They sprint down across the slippery stones in their flipflops while their hefty European clients stumble along behind. They don't start work before daybreak, so it was do-it-yourself for me this time. No problem.
Adrenaline helps us achieve things we normally find difficult, and I was a little angry. Our driver had turned up an hour late, and already the tropical sun was twinkling over the horizon.
I never faltered as I strode out through the shallows, coping with breaking waves. The seabed was heavily strewn with highly polished stones, some of them the size of bowling balls.
The previous day I had stumbled and cursed as I struggled out into water deep enough to swim in. Today was different - but why, you may be wondering, was I so keen to get into the water?
Just off the beach lies the mangled remains of an armed World War Two freighter, built in 1918 and damaged by a Japanese torpedo during the Pacific War. Two American destroyers towed the crippled vessel to the shore at Tulamben, where it was beached, unloaded and then abandoned in the face of the Japanese advance. There it stayed in shallow water, used by locals as a good place from which to fish.
It lay there for years, part of the scenery and rusting away until 1963, when Balis most active volcano, Mount Agung, exploded. Indonesias President Sukarno had invited seismologists and volcanologists from all over the world to witness the expected eruption, but they got the date wrong.
The remains of the USS Liberty (not to be confused with Liberty ships, like the UKs James Eagan Layne) was finally trashed forever and rolled into the sea, along with tonnes of stones and lava - and a thousand people who had tragically returned to their homes at the waters edge, in the mistaken belief that it was all a false alarm.
Lying at between 10 and 30m deep, and hardly now recognisable as a wreck, USS Liberty has become Balis favourite reef, albeit an artificial one. Its twisted and torn remains have become home to countless animals, from giant barracuda to the tiniest pygmy seahorse.
The stern of the wreck is still recognisable but its two guns, one fallen with its turret to the black volcanic sand, are so profusely covered in corals and sponges that you need a detailed briefing to understand what they are.
Balis waters are so fertile with life that I would discourage anyone from clearing their mask with their eyes open. You might encourage something to hatch out in your sinuses!
The hold area is full of silver jacks, hiding, presumably, from the barracuda. A few spars here reveal this reefs history as a ship but, apart from the old wheel, most of the steel is smothered in growth, including gorgonia and large barrel sponges.
The Liberty is a prime example of Mother Nature reclaiming her territory.

SERGEANTS GUARD THEIR GREAT TRACTS of eggs, laid on algae-clad steel plates, against marauders. Glassfish cluster in shady alcoves and, during daylight hours, schooling divers are silhouetted against the brightly lit surface, while open-water students practise their skills in the shallows, kneeling on the black volcanic sand.
As Balis most famous dive site, the Liberty gets as busy with divers as it does marine life. But this still doesnt explain my anxiety to get into the water and into the wreckage just before dawn.
A couple of weeks earlier, I had been at Shaab Rumi in Sudan, where I had struggled to get good close-ups of the herds of bumphead parrotfish that graze the coral reefs. I call them herds because these fish look like marine bison, as they crunch their way across the reef.
That said, they are good bluffers - sideways on they have a massive build, but when they turn towards you they look like cardboard cut-outs.
I had heard that the wreckage of the Liberty was used by a vast school of bumphead parrotfish as a safe place to roost at night. I wanted to get the shots before they left at dawn.
Alas, the tardiness of our driver meant that I met them streaming out from their overnight quarters just as I arrived on-site, but luckily, just like Robert, they were still wiping the sleep from their eyes.
I guess they werent expecting to meet a diver so early in the morning, and they seemed quite bemused to see me. OK, the daylight gave me a pleasant blue background to my shots, but I had to work quickly. There were still stragglers in the wreck and these were the ones I needed to locate, and fast.
Every moment that passed equated to a moment of diminished opportunity. The sluggishness exhibited by these odd-looking characters at first was quickly passing, and some of them dashed back into the wreck for cover, ironically putting themselves where I wanted them to be.
I felt a bit like a police bust-team, catching the suspects in their beds and gathering the evidence in a blast of light. Wow! I thought I had captured some nice pictures before they were all gone, escaped into the open ocean for the day.
Still dripping with seawater, I strolled back out of the water, passing the first of the Balinese porters carrying the gear of early risers down to the shore.
Robert was waiting for me in the car park, where I took a refreshing shower and rinsed my kit. I dont remember seeing him in the water, but he must have been there - they dont allow solo diving at Siddhartha.
I dont do solo breakfast, and it was served shortly afterwards by one of the prettiest waitresses youre likely to see.
The Werner Lau Siddhartha Dive Resort is new. Its unadulterated luxury sits at the waters edge next to an interesting home reef. Spacious air-conditioned bungalows offer every convenience. A fast dive-boat accesses all the other sites nearby, including the Liberty wreck. You can also travel by bus to shore dives farther away.

FACTFILE
GETTING THERE: Singapore Airlines to Denpasar via Singapore. Regaldive can organise a free 10kg additional baggage allowance. Malaysian Airlines and Garuda also fly to Bali. Its a long transfer, however - the Siddhartha resort on Balis north-east coast is around three hours drive from the airport at Denpasar in the south.
DIVING & ACCOMMODATION: The Werner Lau Dive Centre is 30m from the beach and offers free nitrox, www.wernerlau.com. The Siddhartha Dive Resort & Spa is a 5* resort with 30 bungalows and two dream villas, www.siddhartha-bali.com.
WHEN TO GO: Any time. Water temperature range is 25-30°C (3mm wetsuit).
MONEY: US dollars and Indonesian rupiah. Credit cards are readily accepted.
HEALTH: Bali is said not to have malaria.
PRICES: A one-week trip booked through Regaldive costs from £1670 including flights, transfers and half-board accommodation, based on two sharing, www.regaldive.com
TOURIST INFORMATION: www.indonesia-tourism.com