The Balinese have far tougher feet than we western divers. I realise this as I stumble across the volcanic cobbles of Tulamben beach like a staggering five-year-old with bucket and spade, except, of course, that I am clutching my fins and camera.
I am vainly trying to keep pace with a petite Balinese girl who is striding ahead of me carrying two (yes, two!) complete scuba sets on her head, and with nothing but worn flip-flops on her feet.
She reaches the entry point to the dive 50m ahead of me and waits patiently while I painfully complete the journey and lift one of the sets from her head.
I feel embarrassed and totally inadequate, but these girls are used to that and she just smiles sweetly as I thank her. She agrees to come back in an hour to carry it all back again to the dive centre!
This is beach-diving Balinese style, and although your manhood and ego may initially feel deflated at these arrangements, you are instantly grateful for them when you first step onto the rocky beach - and particularly after the dive, when your feet have been softened still further by long immersion. Make sure that you pack a stout pair of neoprene boots!
My porter has deposited me at perhaps the most famous dive site in Bali, and all I now need to do is kit up and stumble into the water without turning an ankle in the process. It isnt as bad as it sounds, and the small effort is totally justified, as a short fin over the grey sandy seabed reveals the stern of an enormous shipwreck starting in only 8m depth.
These are the remains of the USS Liberty (not to be confused with a Liberty ship), which met her fate in WW2 but didnt actually sink until 1963.
The USS Liberty was built as a freighter by the Federal Ship Building Company of Kearny, New Jersey in 1918. After an uneventful life she was commandeered for service at the outbreak of war and armed with a bow and stern gun.
On 11 January 1942 she was part of a convoy steaming across the Lombok Strait, carrying rubber and railroad parts from Australia to the Philippines, when she was hit by a torpedo from the Japanese submarine I-166. Although crippled, the ship was not in immediate danger of sinking, so two destroyers (USS Paul Jones and the Dutch-registered Van Ghent) who were escorting the convoy made fast to the Liberty and began towing her to Singarraja for repairs.
Before long the Liberty began to take on water and sink. Beached at Tulamben, she was abandoned in the face of the Japanese advance.
Over the next 21 years the ship became part of the scenery, and anything of value was slowly salvaged by the local villagers. This could have been the end of the story, but for the massive eruption of Mount Angung in March 1963, which caused widespread devastation and more than 2000 deaths.
The massive earth tremors also resulted in the wreck of the Liberty slowly slipping from the beach and down the reef slope, to where it lies today.
The wreck is now broken into several large sections and makes for a spectacular dive. At nearly 400ft long with a 55ft beam, this is a big ship, and every square inch is covered in colourful corals and marine life.
The dive starts at the stern, which in early morning is the rendezvous point for a school of large bumphead parrotfish which settle on the grey sand to be cleaned before departing for the days feeding on the reef.
It took me a while to realise that the trails of white sand that contrasted so well with the dark seabed were in fact the product of the digestive systems of these Neanderthal-looking fish.
The rudder and stern section are mostly intact and now covered in sea whips, sea fans, soft corals, sponges and all manner of invertebrates. This colonisation is a common theme all the way to the bow section, which is the deepest point of the wreck at 27-30m.
Here there is a sea fan with resident pygmy sea-horses, but they are difficult to spot without a guide and you dont get long to photograph them at this depth.
Fish life on the wreck is as varied as on any reef and there are numerous exotic finds for sharp-eyed divers. Frogfish, leaf scorpionfish, ghost pipefish, cuttlefish, octopus and many species of nudibranch and crustacean are found regularly, and with the help of one of the local dive guides you are almost guaranteed success. There is also a spectacular resident school of several hundred jacks, which show no concern as yet another diver comes close with a camera.
I dived this wreck repeatedly, covering a small section each time. On occasion a brisk current runs along the bay, but the wreck provides protection so that you remain unaware of it until the short swim back to the beach.
The best indicator is to watch the schooling jacks above the wreck. They will generally position themselves at the stern or bow, swimming steadily to hold position in the current.
Although you could easily spend a full week exploring the secrets of the wreck, you shouldnt miss out on the varied diving available in the bay and just a little further afield.
A house reef in the centre of the bay has some wonderful macro subjects and provides a particularly good night dive - look out for numerous species of urchins, crinoids and seapens which all have commensal crabs, shrimps, squat lobsters or tiny gobies living on them.
During the day the shallows are filled with numerous juvenile fish, including tiny blacktip sharks which scoot up and down the shoreline trying to look menacing. At the southern end of the bay is a wall dive which has some impressive seafans and barrel sponges and offers the chance to see some larger pelagics - almost anything can be found passing by, from large sunfish to schools of dogtooth tuna and, during my visit, even a whale shark.
Between these sites and the wreck itself are small reef outcrops and areas of dark volcanic sand and rubble.
These patches look unpromising at first but they are in fact an ideal muck environment and harbour a surprising variety of exotic and unusual creatures.
Pick up any marine guide book to Indonesia and you will find numerous species which have been photographed at Tulamben, and a high proportion are to be found in these muck environments.
Once your eyes adjust, wildly hued nudibranchs will appear. Snake eels, blue-ribbon eels, exotic dragonets, inimicus scorpionfish, stonefish, seahorses and a host of other well-camouflaged species will slowly reveal themselves. A short ride north on one of the local jukung outrigger fishing boats takes you to the small village of Kubu, which has a very healthy reef with a dense carpet of miniature staghorn corals covering a submerged volcanic headland.
Here we encountered schools of batfish and barracuda, swarms of glassy sweepers and yet more pygmy seahorses on fans at 25-30m.
My guide revealed to me that wherever you see glassy sweepers you should look hard for frogfish - and then promptly found a mated pair of tiny clown frogfish, one yellow and one white, which were perfectly camouflaged among the sponges and hydroids.
As we watched, the white one struck in an instant and took a fish almost as large as itself!
The following day we took a local boat a mile or two south from Tulamben Bay to Batu Kelebit and the Alamanda and Emerald reefs.
Here, strangely, the dark volcanic sand of Tulamben is replaced with the more familiar pale coral sand running between steeply sloping coral spurs and numerous coral heads and pinnacles.
We spent several dives here looking for the numerous different species of shrimp to be found within anemones and on featherstars, urchins, sea cucumbers and even riding on the backs of gaudily coloured nudibranchs.
At the end of one dive we had a close stand-off with two male giant cuttle fish. They were determined to stay between us and their mate, which was carefully depositing her eggs between the folds of a cabbage coral a metre or so away.
If you want to venture further afield, day trips can be arranged to sites at Amed, Pandangbai, Menjangan and the island of Nusa Pendida, which has some exhilarating wall and drift dives.
The currents can be very strong, but this attracts the larger pelagics and with luck you will encounter tuna, barracuda, blacktip sharks and even whale sharks.
There is also a manta dive (inevitably named Manta Point) where these graceful beasts are seen regularly, although visibility does vary with the strength of the current.
Should you travel all this way, dont miss the other features this wonderful island has to offer. Away from the tourist hot spots of Kuta and Sanur, the pace of life is relaxed and the scenery among the volcanic highlands, jungle, sculpted rice terraces and temples stunning.
Despite the political woes of the area, Bali is quiet and seems as potentially safe as any other location in the world today. I felt nothing but secure and relaxed, and all the Balinese I met were warm and welcoming and grateful for those tourists making the effort to visit.