We all know there’s great surf to be found in Bali but not many people realise that there is an even greater world to explore underneath those waves.
So how is it that a small island like Bali – surrounded by great surf beaches – can offer great diving as well?
The answer lies in the fact that Pacific Ocean water is flowing steadily into the Indian Ocean through the Lombok Strait, and passes Bali on the way. These currents bring nutrient-rich water, perfect for reef building, and where there are reefs – there is usually an abundance of interesting marine life.
Tulamben Bay – The Perfect Wreck
One of the best examples of this is the fabled USAT Liberty, at Tulamben Bay. Only fate could design such a perfectly accessible wreck - now turned to reef – which offers everything from turtles to scorpion fish, big sailfin surgeons to colourful little nudibranchs.
The 120-metre cargo boat was conscripted by the US, torpedoed by the Japanese and beached at Tulamben.
In 1963 tremors produced by Gunung Agung, the local volcano, slipped the ship back into the water and laid her on her side 20 metres offshore in 20 metres of water - every diver’s dream wreck.
As it's a shore-dive, it’s possible to fit in three day dives and a night dive, with lunch and afternoon tea at a local resort.
The wreck is so big it has a bit of everything: a large stern and rudder standing mightily, sections of wreck where you can safely penetrate, a potato cod cleaning station, and in places where the wreck looks more like a reef, stacks of reef fish of every size, shape and colour, and resident turtles.
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Manta Rays & Mola Mola
Bali’s other famous diving spot is in the Lombok Strait on the island of Nusa Penida. The myths and rumours around this little island are true – and while it is certainly a beautiful place to dive, it deserves respect.
The currents that flow around the island are very strong, so even at the edge of sheltered bays the current is noticeable and not always flowing horizontally, sometimes there's a downdraught.
Choose your dive operator carefully - they should have a very sturdy craft with at least two powerful engines to get you safely across the Lombok Strait and back – and beware it can be a bit bumpy!
Once at Nusa Penida, you're in for a treat: there are two fantastic dive sites here. One is called Manta Point, and for good reason - we saw eight different mantas on the one dive, gracefully swimming around us.
The second dive is Crystal Bay, where visibility was about 40 metres giving us great photo opportunities with anthias, fusiliers, butterflies, angels and anemonefish. All showing up in glorious technicolour because of the crystal clear waters.
Drifting Along In Lembongan
Another popular Bali dive can be found at Nusa Lembongan which is close to Nusa Penida but has more sheltered coastline surrounded by fringing reef which runs from about five metres to 20 metres at a pleasant 30-degree slope.
There is current - there is always some current - but this makes it a very pleasant drift dive. The coral is in perfect condition at Nusa Lembongan because no one has engaged in dynamite fishing here and it's also a reef less travelled.
All the better for us, as we adjust to neutral buoyancy at 16 metres and drift along. It's like being an armchair traveller as we just hang there while the reef comes to us.
From my subaquatic armchair I watch as thousands of colourful fish pass me by along with colourful reef scenes with zillions of little damsels, some weary looking hawkfish and black butterflyfish.
Bali has a great diversity of great dive sites, so if you like spending time under the waves as well as riding them, spend a bit more time underwater next time you visit.