Floating in the sparkling water with hundreds of tropical fish beneath me, I look across to the shore and a wild deer trots down to the sand to survey the sea. This is not your typical view of Bali, but I am snorkelling off Menjangan Island, a national park in the far north-west of the island. Things are wild up here but not Kuta wild; instead, natural, unspoilt and beautifully wild.
Colloquially known as Deer Island, Menjangan lies in the protected Bali Barat National Park and is home to a herd of barking (or muntjac) deer that roam free on the small island and often bathe in the ocean.
Back below the waves I am looking at a coral shelf that drops away suddenly. It looks like my underwater world has been sliced in two, and the reef is swarming in angelfish, surgeon fish and a particularly inquisitive trumpet fish; if I submerge myself below the water and breathe quietly I can hear the parrotfish chipping away at the coral with their beaks.
The boat ride out to this cove, on a local boat chartered by Australian-owned Bali Hai Cruises, was equally impressive. Heading to Menjangan you see the peaks of Javanese volcanoes, their tops cloaked in cloud, some of which belong to Ijen, the island famed for its sulphur collection. There are sea birds flying above us and dolphins are known to accompany the boats out to the dive spot, though today we are without an escort. After hours snorkelling this sudden abyss with nimble schools of fish passing close enough to occasionally collide with my very un-nimble self, we climb aboard the boat at sunset and head back to camp.
Now I use the word "camp" loosely; our base is the new Menjangan Dynasty Resort, Beach Camp and Dive Centre, Bali's newest resort and its first glamping option that opened in late September.
The resort is at once striking and in keeping with the natural surrounds – the use of sculpted bamboo, storeys high in parts, lends a natural, and ecological element to proceedings. The eco side is an important part of the resort's ethos and it is one of the few on the island to replace plastic water bottles with filtered water stations and refillable bottles in the tent.
The tents themselves are luxe and large, safari tents imported from South Africa with flushing toilets and showers, the only real nods to camping are some canvas. The interior invokes the Golden Age of Travel, rustic but highly stylised. Travel trunks turn in to mini bars, toiletries sit in a wicker picnic basket and lights are metal-and-glass hurricane lamps.
This elegance extends to the common areas: reception has the sweeping lines of a traditional thatched alang alang roof and the dining area and bar, right on the sand, has what looks like a bamboo twister as it's centrepiece.
After our dive, it is time for a sunset cocktail at the long bar, as ghost crabs squabble among themselves on the floodlit sand, before we move to a table for dinner. Meals are seasonal and depend on local produce, but you might have fresh mahi mahi caught a few hundred metres from where you sit with a pumpkin risotto, sauteed spinach and fruity salsa, or house-made seafood gyoza with a sour ginger dipping sauce.
In keeping with the local vibe, the wine is Two Island Pinot Grigio from Hatten Wines, a winery and vineyard in the north. The resort offers day trips to visit Hatten and the following morning we set off to see where our wine was made.
The vineyard sits on the coast in the shadow of nearby mountains in such humid temperatures that they get three harvests of grapes per year. Maryse Larocque from Hatten Wines takes us to the viewing platform to look over the vines and says the area has its own unique terroir.
"I think Balinese wines are special because they are of the same terroir as local ingredients, even though we don't expect that wines of this climate can be good," Larocque says. "In Bali these wines are the best match for Balinese food and most fish dishes."
Larocque is also a big fan of the north of the island and hopes that visitors at the new glamping resort will love it as much as she does. She says the area is full of waterfalls and villages not yet spoiled by tourism.
"North Bali seems like another land and it's feels rather untouched," she says. "Waterfalls, simple small villages, vineyards, a pearl farm, yet all this is in peace and quiet without the hustle and bustle of South of Bali, or anything like Thailand or Malaysia have to offer."
Low-cost carrier Tigerair (tigerair.com.au) flies to Denpasar, Bali, from Adelaide, Perth and Melbourne. Menjangan Dynasty Resort offers transfers direct from the airport to the resort for $US100.
The Menjangan Dynasty Resort, Beach Camp and Dive Centre offers double tents from $US230 per night, and villas with sea views from $US700 per night; mdr.pphotels.com.
SEE AND DO
Water-based activities at the resort are run by Australian-owned dive company Bali Hai Cruises that also offers day trips to Lembongan Island if you are based in south Bali. Prices for the activities vary but a dive at Menjangan Island starts at $US50 per person; balihaicruises.com
Hatten Wines has been making wine in Bali since the mid-90s and offers tours and tasting at the cellar door in north Bali; hattenwines.com.
The writer was a guest of Tigerair and the Menjangan Dynasty Resort.