It was clearly not the first time the resort had hosted parents who had to take turns diving. It had a few “share-as-a-family” packages from which to choose.
We ended up buying 11 dives, and as it was Maria’s turn to get the most time under water, she got seven and I got four.
Above, clockwise from left Stern of the Kubu wreck; one of Liberty’s big holds makes a fine swim-through; bumphead parrotfish; a car in the main hold in the Kubu wreck.
My first dive was on the USAT Liberty, one of those wrecks that many divers who feel the need for rust have heard about. The WW2 transport ship was en route from Australia to the Philippines in January 1942 carrying railway parts and other cargo when she was spotted by a Japanese submarine and came under attack.
A torpedo struck home but the ship didn’t sink immediately, so a US and a Dutch destroyer started to tow Liberty to a safe harbour in Bali. They were passing Tulamben when the amount of water taken on became too much, and they ended up dragging Liberty onto the beach so that the cargo could be secured.
The ship was left to rust on the beach until a day in 1963 when the Agung volcano started to erupt.
It released so much lava that the 13,000-tonne, 125m ship was pushed back into the ocean. She rests there now at a nice depth for divers, from 7-30m.
You can dive Liberty in the afternoon and be assured of plenty of ambient light in which to enjoy the beautifully coral-covered wreck, but most divers still prefer to do an early-morning dive, when the sun has barely crawled above the horizon and the kitting-up starts on the beach.
The reason morning dives are so popular is that a small gang of bumphead parrotfish always hangs out at the beginning of the dive, almost exactly where the Liberty comes into sight.
As soon as the sun gets higher in the sky, the bumpheads swim out of sight.
When you’re done with the bumpheads and start to explore the Liberty, it’s soon clear that time and history have been rough on the ship.
We took a swim around it and made a stop by a huge cargo-hold, where we swam inside for a quick photo opportunity.
A few times, my guide pointed out some twisted metal to me. Before that, I had not always been sure whether it was wreckage or not, but it was a very fine wreck-dive, and everywhere I looked there was life.
There were fan corals, soft corals in all the colours of the rainbow, anemones with resident clownfish and much more to see. Many photographers bring only their macro lenses to the Liberty, because it’s guaranteed that they’ll find plenty of critters there.
When our bottom time started to run out and we did our safety stop, a small shoal of sweetlips came by for yet another photoshoot – the Liberty really lived up to the hype.
You can hardly miss out on all the tiny critters when you’re in Indonesia, and in Bali you won’t be disappointed if you want to add some of the most famous to your logbook.
Above, clockwise from left: Sweetlips; Maria’s shot of a pair of ornate ghost pipefish; close-up of a soft-coral crab.
Once Maria had done two wrecks and a house-reef dive with no camera, she really wanted to have a go with mine fitted with a 105mm macro lens. After the dive, she showed me the whole palette of all kinds of nudibranchs and a fantastic image including two ornate ghost pipefish.
I had heard a lot about the dive-spot called Seraya which, like the rest of Tulamben, has almost-black lava sand covering its seabed.
At first glance, this doesn’t seem to have much living in it, but with a closer look and a professional spotter by your side, the sand practically explodes with life.
At the dive-centre they instruct everyone in how to approach their subjects. We were told to look carefully around a photo opportunity, and put no more than our knees, and perhaps an elbow, on the sand.
I was armed with a x1.4 teleconverter and a +10 dioptre. Those extra pieces of gear, fitted to my macro lens, made it possible to both focus more closely and enlarge the smallest of the critters, and I hadn’t dragged it along with me in vain.
During my only dive in Seraya, I saw skeleton shrimps, many different nudibranchs, tiny crabs, a baby frogfish and other creatures barely visible with the naked eye. However, without my spotter I’m sure I would have had no idea that many of these critters were right below my camera.
Left: Skeleton shrimp – pure alien. Right: Pygmy seahorse.
Every time I photographed a certain animal and decided that it was time to leave it alone, my guide was hanging out a few metres away, signalling for me to check out something new.
This was a family holiday, however, so it was Maria’s turn to get the most time under water. Even though I had time for only four dives, they were pure, world-class dives.
One of them, where the abundance of life was amazing, was only a three-minute walk from the resort.
The main character was a pink pygmy seahorse living in a pink seafan. It wasn’t my first time photographing pygmy seahorses but I still feel astonished by these beautiful tiny animals.
I also dived a deliberate sinking from 2014, the Kubu wreck. It was a nice, easy dive on an intact wreck with a little penetration possible. In one of the holds, there’s a car to look at, too.
The rest of the trip was just about travelling around Bali and enjoying being together as a family detached from everyday life.