DIVE IN: Kari prepares to guide us on a dive at Jemeluk Drop Off in Amed, Bali.
DIVE IN: Kari prepares to guide us on a dive at Jemeluk Drop Off in Amed, Bali. Seanna Cronin

Discovering a different Bali

SOMETIMES, mother nature can steer you in directions you would have otherwise not explored.

Looking to return to Bali for the first time in nearly a decade for a scuba-diving holiday, I had my mind set on Tulamben on the island's northeast coast.

Ten years earlier I'd spent an enjoyable day on the famous wreck of the US cargo ship Liberty, the major drawcard for the area.

But that plan soon went out the window as Tulamben lay just within the exclusion zone for the then rumbling Mt Agung.

That setback turned out to be a blessing, as nearby Amed came to my attention.

A few fellow divers had mentioned the area before but I hadn't given it much thought. Overshadowed by the much-hyped Tulamben, which draws day-trippers from Kuta, Amed is still a relatively undeveloped stretch of coast.

The string of fishing villages, which are collectively referred to as Amed, are just starting to cater for tourists and mainly European ones at that.

The volcanic black sand beaches are pristine, quiet and no one is trying to sell you anything. One main road runs the length of the coastline, with shops, accommodation and temples lining each side.

A slew of dive shops have sprung up in the past few years, which can make it hard to decide with whom to jump in the water.

My partner and I decided to go with the most established, Adventure Divers Bali, which also happens to be the top Trip Advisor-rated dive shop in the area. The owners not only gave us our own dive guide, Kari, for four days but also booked us into one of their cosy bungalows for just $A33 a night (including breakfast).

Arriving late at night after a two-hour drive from Denpasar, I was ecstatic to be offered a hot mug of coffee upon emerging from our bungalow. That hospitality continued during our entire stay.

Things only got better underwater, as we discovered the area's rich diversity of marine life.

Located at the meeting point of the Pacific and the Indian oceans, Amed is at the heart of what's known as the 'Indonesian Throughflow' which allows water from the higher altitudes of the Pacific to pass to the lower Indian Ocean through the Lombok Strait.

Walking into the water straight off the beach, what first appears to be just a flat expanse of black sand soon turns up weird and wonderful creatures.

On one dive I saw more harlequin shrimp, a crustacean bursting with personality that's a favourite with photographers, than I've ever seen in my life. One little fella was particularly confident, strutting across the open sand and happily posing for dozens of photos.

Then there were the micro-sized pygmy seahorses, which blend in nearly seamlessly with the knobby branches of the sea fans they call home.

Typically measuring less than two centimetres in height, these elusive pygmies can sometimes only be found with a magnifying glass but Kari spots a handful over the four days with ease.

On a memorable night dive, one of the best I've done in years, we found a tiny, translucent octopus burying itself in the sand and two rare red indianfish, often confused with the similar-looking leafy scorpionfish, of which there's also an abundance around Amed.

The structure of reef walls, a small shipwreck and an artificial reef known as the The Pyramids attract bigger fish life including schools of barracuda, turtles and even the occasional sunfish (also known as the mola mola).

Given its level of development, you'd think food options would be limited in Amed. Instead, hungry from our underwater adventures, we found everything from vibrant rendangs to handmade pastas, grilled tiger prawns and wood-fired pizza. And, of course, no meal would be complete without a cold Bintang.

Wine lovers be warned, you won't find much decent plonk in Amed.

Even if you're not a scuba diver, you're guaranteed to reach peak relaxation in Amed. Away from the throngs of tourists and hustle and bustle of the south, nothing is a hassle here. Restaurants will arrange for a driver to pick you up and drop you off; some even deliver. The nights are quiet, without a dance club in sight.

If you've ever had a less than stellar stay in Kuta, then Amed could be a hidden delight worth exploring.

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