When most people think of Indonesia’s island destinations, a flurry of images comes to mind that generally includes white sand beaches, swaying palm trees and placid turquoise waters.
However, when I was planning a trip to Indonesia’s famed tropical isle, my adventurous spirit made the very thought of ten days of beach lounging seem extremely dull. I wanted to do a bit of exploration off the beaten track. The island of Lombok is as close to paradise as you are likely to get, which is why it’s being marketed by the government as Indonesia’s second to top spot for tourism, following Bali. The island is actually home to many active pursuits and also provides an exciting opportunity for exploration.
We began our journey on the island of Bali at Kuta beach. Once a quaint Balinese fishing village, Kuta is now probably the most developed resort on the island. Once we arrived in the area following the short journey from Bali’s Ngurah Rai airport, I was delighted to find an exciting array of water sports on offer – including surfing classes.
Bali has become something of a haven for Australian surfers in the past decade or so. Not wanting to embarrass myself in front of the pros, I signed up to take part in a beginners surfing class for two of the three days that we were to stay in Bali. While my surfing abilities failed to materialise, I still had a lot of fun in the class and the exhilaration I experienced during my three second glide across one of the majestic waves was magnificent.
Unfortunately, our final day in Kuta came with a torrent of rain, but we turned this to our advantage by spending the day at the Waterbom Aqua Park. Packed with high speed water slides and wave pools, my friends and I had a great laugh being active in the morning, before gravitating towards the swim-up cocktail bar for some afternoon mojitos.
Gili Island Greats
Next stop was the the Gili Islands off Lombok – just one swift boat ride away from Bali. These three idyllic atolls are located near the northwest corner of the island and situated right at the centre of some of the region’s most excellent dive sites. The islands retain a traditional, rustic feel due to a refreshing lack of major development, and once we arrived we also realised that there was not even any motorised transport, and that the majority of people got around by bicycle or on horse and cart.
In and around the 25 dive sites located off Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air islands, the diversity of marine life is enough to impress any diver – from beginners to experienced pros. White tip reef sharks, lion fish, moray eels and turtles all call these abundant waters home, and on one of our dives we were even lucky enough to encounter a manta ray. For divers who also enjoy a little bit of history, it is possible to explore the wreck of a Japanese Patrol boat from World War II which is now covered in scorpion fish and lion fish. However, this dive is only available to seasoned divers with Nitrox certification and experience of decompression dives.
After a few days soaking up the relaxed atmosphere of the Gili Islands, we progressed to the mainland of Lombok. Since we’d arrived in Indonesia, I had been desperate to explore the lush forests of the island’s Rinjani National Park, so some serious trekking was definitely at the top of the agenda.
The Rinjani volcano cuts an impressive figure as it rises above the layered rice terraces that characterise the surrounding area. It is Indonesia’s second largest volcanic peak, climbing to an impressive height of 3,726 metres. The Rinjani Trek Centre in Senaru is the most popular starting point for trekkers, and has been co-developed in partnership with the National Park, the tourism ministry and the indigenous local communities.
After the two and a half hour drive from Mataram to Senaru, we opted to stay in the mountain village for a few days to try and capture a more authentic experience, and we chose to begin our trekking adventures with the Senaru Panorama Walk. This half-day walk is ideal for those who do not want to overly tax themselves in the extreme heat of the Indonesian sun, and follows the winding path through the irrigation channels that snake through the area’s palm fringed rice terraces.
Due to the long, criss-crossing course of the route, we were advised to hire a local guide from the Rinjani Trek Centre, who was able to share her special knowledge of the local culture and customs as we ambled along through the lush scenery. Following our intrepid trekking adventure, we were all in need of a refreshing cool down, and the clear water pools at the base of the Sendang Gila waterfalls proved to be the perfect spot. Sendang Gila is probably the best known attraction in the National Park, and draws thousands of visitors each year. The site of the waterfall is only a 20-minute walk down a trail (including some steps) from Senaru Village, and this short hike is rewarded with an invigorating dip into the cool natural pool.
The journey to Tiu Kelep waterfall is slightly more challenging, as the jungle terrain becomes denser. Once again, we hired a guide for this portion of the journey who informed us that a dip into the revitalising waters of Tiu Kelep would make us a whole year younger! If you have some extra time whilst you are staying at Senaru Village it is also worth exploring the area’s caves. Susu Cave is known among locals as a place for self reflection, and as a result it is often used for meditation.
On our final day in Lombok, we decided to plough our last remaining energy reserves into a cycling tour of the Pusak Pass. The route we took began in the rainforest, at about 800 metres above sea level. The trail we followed only took about 45 minutes, and wound close to the main road through the hills. Despite being rather tired after ten days of surfing, diving and trekking, the bike trek was well worth the effort, and we were rewarded with stunning views of the northern sea and the island’s abundant green forests and rice fields. Being an animal lover, I was also excited to meet several groups of wild monkeys congregating along the trail. They appeared to be waiting for us to feed them snacks. I was happy we’d saved our cycling trip until last, as meeting our monkey friends and feeding them the bits of fruit we had in our backpacks proved to be one of the highlights of the trip to Bali and Lombok.
Make the most of your visit to Lombok
If you visit the Gili Islands in order to enjoy the area’s wonderful scuba diving; don’t waste your time visiting the many dive schools peppered across the islands trying to find the best price. All the dive centres sign a fixed price and upgrade agreement to guard against price wars and ensure regular maintenance of boats and equipment.
If you are planning on trying one of the longer hikes from the Rinjani Trek Centre, double check that you have all the necessary supplies before you go. I recommend water, cereal bars in the case your energy flags, and plasters in the case you develop blisters along the way.
If you decide to take the longer journey onwards from Sendang Gila to Tiu Kelep, it is advisable to wear footwear that offers more protection than sandals. The trek involves scrambling over rocks through dense jungle, and you never know what creatures are lurking in the nearby vegetation. I also recommend taking a towel and a spare change of clothes with you so you have something to change into after taking a dip in the pools.
If you do encounter wild monkeys on your adventures in Lombok, it is important to exercise caution as the males are known to be particularly aggressive if provoked. Avoid trying to pet them, or hold their hands when you feed them. These are wild animals, and it would a foolish move to treat them as domesticated pets.