Beyond Kuta, Bali: The unspoiled towns and islands to visit

Denpasar Airport provides the classic Asian arrival of slow-shuffling, sweaty immigration queues, oppressive heat and assaults by eager taxi touts. You lurch off into traffic jams and – if you're eager for hassle and hustle – head to Kuta, where you're swallowed up in concrete, neon signs and raucous street stalls.

This island of the laidback tropical cliché can be an aggravating place for the unwary. But fear not. The Bali of volcanoes, iridescent green and local temples resounding to the bing-bong of gamelan xylophones is still there, providing you make wise choices about where to stay. 

Avoid Kuta and even Seminyak, certainly. But consider Nusa Dua, a family-oriented, upmarket enclave of resorts set in garden landscapes on the Bukit Peninsula in southern Bali. Here you get a good choice of accommodation, with private villas at Amarterra Villas Bali Nusa Dua Beach Resort offering romantic intimacy, while the family-oriented Sofitel Bali Nusa Dua is centred on a lagoon pool, with multiple restaurants and a chic beach club. Book a room with club-lounge access and hassle is non-existent, with staff anticipating every whim.

Ubud is another Bali destination that reduces bother. You sacrifice beaches but get a lush, cooler hill town instead, with a good dose of Balinese culture, relaxed cafe lifestyle and spa retreats to soothe you into a state of bliss with traditional treatments such as the lulur, which combines massage, rice exfoliation and a soak in a bath strewn with frangipani petals.

Ubud is surrounded by rice terraces and coconut groves, with the distinctive cones of volcanoes bold on the horizon. Monkeys lope through the forest, and the night sings with the chirrups of insects and frogs rather than Kuta's boom-boom bar music.  

The best hotels hunker on jungleclad hillsides overlooking tiers of paddies. Consider Maya Ubud, whose spa specialises in traditional Balinese massages, or Amandari, which is laid out in Balinese village style, with guests staying in thatched cottages that allow for perfect serenity. Not even televisions distract, and there are complimentary morning yoga classes.

Ubud's Eat, Pray, Love ethos works well for couples, but the surrounds provide plenty for families too. Swap anxiety over your kids on Kuta's overcrowded beaches for cycle rides past shimmering rice fields to local temples and spectacular Mount Batur volcano. Adventure companies will also arrange jeep and quad rides, white-water rafting or tubing on the Ayung River, or horse-riding on the beach at Pererenan. Further afield in eastern Bali, you can scuba-dive on the wreck of the USS Liberty and spot reef sharks, turtles and barracuda.

Take the time to venture beyond Bali entirely. Only 30 minutes east by boat from Sanur is petite island Nusa Lembongan, long habituated by saltyhaired surfers content to kick back in beach shacks. Now boutique resorts make a stay more comfortable without altering the languid, getaway feel.

Indonesia's other islands were once visited only by backpackers prepared to endure long journeys on bouncing buses and lurching ferries, but that's also changing. Swish resorts are starting to make an appearance in out-of-the-way destinations, among them the recently opened Ayana Komodo Resort on Flores, at the gateway to Komodo National Park. Imagine dragon-chasing on one of Indonesia's most scenically splendid islands, followed by a volcanic mud mask and Balinese massage in the resort spa, and a beachside seafood barbecue. 

The resort's phinisi (a traditional sailing vessel) has overnight excursions into the national park, which is also notable for scuba-diving. Want something even easier? Small-ship companies such as Coral Expeditions, Peregrine Adventures and Star Clippers cruise to islands such as Lombok, Komodo and Satonda from bases in Bali. 

The expedition-style cruises get you barefoot, tangle-haired and sun-kissed amid volcanoes, fish-filled reefs and remote villages, without ever sacrificing comfort, cold beers or a sense of security. It's Asia without the hassle, but with all its varied adventure. 

This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale February 24.