SITTING AT 20 METRES next to a large boulder, hands outstretched, my buddy and I were mesmerised by the feeling of being freshened up! A small army of cleaner shrimps had left their small cave and had launched into our underwater manicure with gusto.
It was quite a tickly feeling, and now and again one would give us quite a pinch. We were, however, the shrimps’ main course, following the starter of Budi our guide getting a full mouth-clean. After watching four or five shrimps hopping in to check out his pearly whites, I decided that I wasn’t that brave.
Fingernails all polished up, I chuckled to myself as I wondered how many people were back at the resort spa getting the full treatment as opposed to our au naturale experience. Perhaps this could be a new beauty trend
My trip was to Bali, a large tropical Indonesian island with diverse diving opportunities. Siddhartha and Alam Anda are two Werner Lau dive and spa resorts on Bali’s north-eastern coast.
Set in ln lush vegetative surroundings, the resorts comprise luxury accommodation complete with outdoor bathrooms, terraces and sea views. Both have their dive base, spa, restaurant and pool only a few minutes ‘walk around the complex.
In typical German fashion, diving arrangements are very well organised. On arrival I was allocated a number that corresponded to a box where my equipment was stored, along with hangers for wetsuits and booties.
When it’s time to dive, your kit is already set up by the local staff and all you have to do is get into your suit. And ample shore-diving access points make for easy resort-based diving.
A bonus with Werner Lau is that nitrox is free, so you can extend your dive times and explore all the options. 
Over the week I sampled a mixture of diving from both resorts, ranging from shore dives on the house reefs, boat- and shore-based reef diving, and exploring the famous Liberty and recently sunk Boga coastguard wrecks.
Siddhartha is the more upmarket of the resorts, being newer and also closer to the two wrecks and the pelagics of Nusa Penida. More low-key Alam Anda has a friendly, intimate feel – and an outdoor pizza oven for the weekly pizza night. Tough decisions!
The USAT Liberty is celebrated both for its abundance of marine life and the skilled women who expertly carry shore-divers’ cylinders balanced on top of their heads. The beached WW2 transport ship was pushed into the sea by an eruption of nearby Mt Agung in the 1960s that turned it into a world-class reef.
The spacious swim-throughs provide shelter for large schools of fish with bright red gorgonians, barrel sponges and a profusion of coral growth covering the structure.
I would recommend getting out for one of the dawn dives, too. As the sun rises, numerous bumphead parrotfish sleepily emerge from the wreck, where they have sheltered for the night. It means an early start, but it worked well on my first morning of diving, when I was up early anyway because of jet-lag.
Following a leisurely breakfast I decided on a late-morning dive on the new Boga wreck. This 45m ex-coastguard ship was scuttled in 2012 as an attraction for visiting divers, and sits between 15m and 35m, its bow pointing towards shore.

THE WRECK IS INTACT, with a couple of decks to explore. A VW car was added for interest in the hold, along with other features such as deck toilets, ship’s wheel and large amphora.
The wreck has started to get some coral growth and is attracting resident fish. Positioned as it is side-on to the current, in time it will grow into an excellent artificial reef – perhaps even rivalling the Liberty!
Further down the coast lies the offshore island of Nusa Penida. Sunfish (Mola mola) are known to visit the island around July-November and there are also fairly reliable manta ray sightings there.
During the season the dive centres organise longer day trips, and I found it interesting that it was a bit of a struggle to persuade enough guests to be away for a whole day, even at a busy resort.
Coming from the UK, however, for me it’s part of diving culture that you make an early start, do a long drive and have a bit of a mission. So after the (really) easy diving around the resorts, I was keen for an adventure.
Some 90 minutes’ drive away is the small port of Padang Bai. A picturesque bay on the south-eastern shore of the island, this bustling town is the main starting point for the charter-boats that make the trip to Nusa Penida.
Surrounded by the colourful traditional fishing jukungs, the dive-boats are loaded by local staff from the beach. The trip through the Badung Strait can be lumpy and the dive-boats’ design seemed to be long and thin, with a number of high-powered outboards.
I even spotted the notorious Lombok fast ferry, counting six 200hp V6 outboards bolted to the transom. Not what you’d see on a typical dive-boat back home.
The crossing was fairly uneventful and 30 minutes later we steamed through the stretch of water between Nusa Penida, Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan. Eroded limestone cliffs topped with jungle lined this tidal channel, which was the location of our second dive of the day, Crystal Bay.
Exiting to the south, the calm water gave way to large swells as we headed towards Manta Point.
This is the exposed ocean side of the island where the cliffs have been shaped into a number of caves, stacks, arches and columns.
Morten, our guide, had warned us that the wildlife doesn’t play to any rules, and that we would spend time searching a number of sites for mantas.

AT OUR FIRST LOCATION we scouted around, following the coastline and after only a few minutes spotted one, two, three and eventually six dark shapes at the surface, silhouetted in the blue water. Our luck was in.
At a maximum of 8m depth, our plan was to settle to hovering near the bottom as the swell took us back and forth. Jumping in with two extra wetsuit tops, I realised why we had been advised that the water was a little chillier here.
A full 6° drop to 22° was a little shock after the balmy waters further north.
The site was a mixture of rock, sand and hardy little corals surviving in this high-energy environment. After a few minutes getting used to the swell rhythm, our rst manta came into sight, then another and then another.
Staying high in the water column, a group of around six came sweeping past, barrel-rolling and scooping up all the plankton. With the swell mixing the water against the cliffs this seemed to concentrate it, and the mantas gorged themselves, oblivious to our presence.
After ve minutes of this amazing action, I thought it might be the end, but more rays started coming through. At one point we counted more than 10 above us, appearing from all directions.
I was watching a group of three in front of me, and turned to check where the others were. To my surprise there was a large individual no more than a metre from me, barrel-rolling away!
This performance carried on for more than 50 minutes and then, as quickly as they arrived, the mantas were gone.
Morten signalled that we should head up, and as he began to inate his SMB,
a turtle and sea-snake both went by in the distance. It was that kind of dive.
Back on the boat, everyone was super-excited about the encounters and we steamed back to the calm waters of Crystal Bay. Diving here was best done on slack water, and the trip was timed to t in with our second dive.
This was the most popular spot for sunfish, and it was clear that many dive-boats had the same idea. Another very diverse site, it’s the topography and current from the Lombok Strait that make this place unique.
The coral bay is set back from the main channel, which drop offs to a few hundred metres at the mouth. Sunsh come into the shallow water to be cleaned by bannerfish.
Morten gave us an extensive briefing on the currents, expected conditions and contingency plans. The basic idea was to keep an eye on what the sh were doing (either swimming up or down). If we encountered any down-currents we would head back into the bay.

WITH THE LARGE DROP-OFF and reputation for stonking currents we knew what to expect. Descending on the north side of the bay, I noticed a number of differences to everywhere I had been previously on the trip.
The temperature was down to 19-22° and I was thankful that I had accepted Morten’s offer of his hood. There were also a number of visible thermoclines (the gin effect) along with fantastically clear visibility and healthy coral. This was a fascinating place to dive.
Heading over the drop-off, Morten signalled that conditions were OK and we descended to 25m to wait, gazing into the blue. Pockets of warm and cold water came past, and we all folded our arms, trying to shut out the cold.
Suddenly Morten waved his arms and pointed into the blue. Just visible in the distance was the sunsh we had been waiting for. Hoping that it would come in to be cleaned, we watched it cruise past for a few moments but then glide off and disappear.
Running low on bottom time, we had to head back into the bay. Our dive-boat had tied up to one of the mooring blocks and we were thankful to be in the surface water, which felt like a warm bath.
Back on board we were treated to a full Indonesian lunch and discussed our amazing day. Next morning back at Siddhartha, it seemed that news of our success had spread, and the dive centre had fully filled not one but two trips to Nusa Penida the next week!
Bali is a hugely diverse destination and I barely scratched the surface of the opportunities. With the pleasant reef dives, critter havens, big fish opportunities, wrecks and road trips there is something for everyone.
With plenty of shore-based activities non-divers are well catered for, too. You need at least 10 days to enjoy all the major dive-sites in a relaxed way.
It’s only two hops between London and Denpasar, so while it might seem a world away, it’s closer than you think!

FACTFILE
GETTING THERE It’s 12 hours’ ight from London to Kuala Lumpur and another three to Denpasar with Malaysia Airlines. There is a 30kg baggage allowance. $25 visa at the airport and departure tax. The transfer to the Tulamben coast takes up to three hours.
DIVING & ACCOMMODATION Siddhartha Dive Resort & Spa, www.siddhartha-bali.de. Alam Anda Ocean Front Resort & Spa, www.alam-anda.com, both covered on the Werner Lau website, www.wernerlau.com
WHEN TO GO Year-round. The rainy season affects the east side of Bali less, meaning good conditions and fewer crowds. Sunsh season is July-November.
CURRENCY Indonesian rupiah.
NON-DIVERS Temple visits, hiking, shopping, sightseeing, spa treatments, wildlife parks.
PRICES Regaldive arranges seven-night stays for £1373pp, including flights, transfers and B & B accommodation (two sharing). A 10-dive package costs £280. Nitrox is free, surcharges for day trips.
FURTHER INFORMATION www.balitourismauthority.net