FIFTEEN HOURS FLYING TIME via Singapore saw me arrive one evening on the Indonesian island of Bali, feeling more than a little jaded.
Balinese hospitality can be overwhelming, especially when offered by numerous taxi-drivers touting for a fare, but I was soon bumping my way across the centre of the darkened island with my designated driver, winding along mountain roads past terraced
rice paddies, ever hopeful that a comfortable hotel would soon appear.
The primarily Hindu and Buddhist people of Bali are hard-working and polite, with a tradition for welcoming guests. No wonder it has become such a popular tropical island for young holidaymakers from Australia and Europe.
Dont think the place is all nightclubs and razzmatazz, however. Bali is a big island, and you can soon get away from all that.
Both the self-contained Alam Anda and Siddhartha Dive Resorts on the north-east coast are around three hours drive from Denpasar Airport.
They offer a perfect mix of Indonesian and European atmosphere, with good food and a high standard of service, and many guests never leave the environs of either resort during their stay.

NONE TOO SOON AFTER my long journey was I able to surrender to the arms of Morpheus.
Next morning, I awoke to the rhythm of the Bali Seas waves gently breaking on the stony shore outside my bungalow. Flying foxes cackled in the palms above. Colourful butterflies fluttered among the hibiscus flowers. Breakfast was waiting.
But what is the diving like Well, its probably not what youre used to. For example, if you regularly travel to the Red Sea to dive, your first dip into the waters of this volcanic island will probably disappoint, until you realise that its neither better nor worse - its simply different.
But its just as easy. Unlike some other parts of Indonesia, and even some parts of Bali, the currents here are few and far between, and its only the surface conditions that might need contending with.
The beaches of this part of the north coast are strewn with highly polished black boulders, and coral grows out of the black volcanic sand.
The underwater scenery has a very different look, and sometimes the water may not have the clarity you would hope for. For your first visit it takes time to adjust and realise that, in terms of marine life, these are some of the most productive seas in the world.
I made a two-centre visit to both of the Werner Lau resorts, which are located along the north-east coast under the shadow of Balis biggest, and still active, volcano. Both have interesting diving directly off the shore.
The Alam Anda Spa Resort is well-established with its traditional thatched bungalows, while the super-smart Siddhartha Resort has only recently been built, and is more luxurious than the present room-rate might imply.
The famous wreck of the USS Liberty lies in shallow water off the shore at nearby Tulumben.
It was left lying derelict on the beach after the Pacific War, but was swept into the sea in 1963, accompanied by an unfortunate 1000 or so coast-dwellers who had not foreseen the imminent volcanic eruption of Mount Agung.
The wreck site is situated between the two resorts, and is accessible after a short bus or boat ride. It should not be missed.
I recommend a dawn dive here to see the massed ranks of bump-headed parrotfish that roost overnight in the wreck. Youll need to persuade the dive centre to organise this for you (Liberty, September 2009).
Otherwise, youll have to content yourself in daytime with watching the wrecks schooling jacks and predatory barracuda as you swim around wreckage that is now completely encased in coral.
Its a classic example of a wreck being turned into a reef, and most parts have become difficult to identify as the ship it was.

ALAM ANDAS HOUSE REEF is typical for this part of the world, except that as Balis first designated conservation area, there is no fishing by any method, and everything is intact.
There are standing blocks of corals, small drop-offs, coral plateaus and complete reef walls overgrown with various kinds of soft and hard corals, gorgonians and sponges.
The barrel sponges are massive, and they occur every few metres.
Featherstars intermingle within the massed hydroids they imitate, and tiny fishes swarm in vast numbers. There are plenty of colourful angelfish of all types browsing among the coral polyps.
Lying in ambush among this confusion of assorted marine life-forms youll spot the occasional scorpionfish, patiently waiting for the chance of an impromptu meal made from some unsuspecting little passer-by. They look so inscrutably oriental; notice their uncanny resemblance to the dragon statues in nearby Balinese temples.

ITS A MACRO PHOTOGRAPHERS playground, too. Leaf-fish, long-nose hawkfish, ghost pipefish, pygmy seahorses and moray eels are regularly seen. Spanish dancers, decorator crabs and giant triton shells, the only predator of the crown-of-thorns starfish, are frequently encountered at night, so take a good lamp.
Schooling fish include batfish and barracudas. A family of Napoleon wrasse has taken up residence, too.
The house reef at Siddhartha is similar, and both resorts have a well-equipped diving day-boat that can take you the short distance to other sites.
They are also both ideally placed for diving nearly all the dive sites of Bali, though you need to get up early in the morning if you want to take the coach and boat trip to the offshore island of Nusa Penida, and its famous dive-site Manta Point. Multiple encounters with cleaning mantas are almost guaranteed here (Perfect 10, November 2009).
These gigantic plankton-eaters turn up in great numbers and form an orderly queue to be cleaned of parasites by the small reef fish that see them as an important hunting-ground for food.
Instead of chasing the mantas, as the majority of foolhardy visiting divers seem to do, pick your spot and wait patiently. Theyll come to you if youre quiet, and not thrashing about.
A second site nearby promises reliable encounters with mola-mola, or sunfish.
When the diving isnt occupying all your time, Bali has plenty of cultural and dietary experiences on offer, and for the lotus-eaters among you, a quiet time with a Balinese masseur is very relaxing.
Both resorts have good wireless Internet access to keep you in contact with the rest of the world, but I suggest you turn off your mobile phone while you are there. Unwanted calls that disturb you in the middle of the night because of the time difference can work out rather expensive.

GETTING THERE: Fly via Singapore or Jakarta with Singapore Airlines. Malaysian Airlines and Garuda also fly to Bali. Pay US $25 on arrival for a tourist visa (take new notes) and there is a 150,000 rupiah exit charge (under £10).
DIVING & ACCOMMODATION: Siddhartha Dive Resort & Spa is a 5* resort with 30 bungalows and two dream villas. The Werner Lau Dive Centre is on the beach and offers free nitrox, Alam Anda Dive Resort & Spa is a 4* resort with 24 bungalows and four villas, Also see
MONEY: US dollars and Indonesian rupiah
WHEN TO GO: Water temperature range is 25-30°C, so take a 3mm wetsuit.
FOR NON-DIVERS: A wealth of cultural experiences.
PRICES: A two-week trip in June flying with Singapore Airlines from London, including 20 dives and bed & breakfast accommodation at Siddhartha costs £2097, based on two sharing. The same at Alam Anda costs £1992.