In Bali they say that paradise is just a block away. While Bali continues to captivate Australians with its magic and diversity, it can sometimes seem as though the crowds have overtaken the island. Strangely, the island paradise you dreamed of is often closer than you realise. It may be a boat, it might be a car, or even a small plane that delivers you, but once you get there you will find what you are looking for.
A mere 45 minutes by public boat from Sanur Harbour, Nusa Lembongan is a great getaway for both budget travellers and luxury holidaymakers. With some famous surf breaks, white sand beaches and famously clear water perfect for snorkelling and diving, the little island has a lot to offer. For a day trip or a weekend adventure, the island has very few cars, so holidaymakers take to bikes, boards and boats to make the most of the island. The fishing village is home to many budget hotels and homestays and plenty to choose from for the luxury traveller. Nusa Lembongan and its neighbouring islands Nusa Ceningan and Nusa Penida are famous for their clear water – perfect for diving. You can even learn to dive if that has been on your list of things to do for a while. There are a number of companies that can get you there and if you only want a taste, consider a day trip.
For those with a little more cash to spend, Lembongan is now home to some beautiful villas across all budgets, from affordable to “let’s blow the savings”. Bali Hai’s resort, Hai Tide is made up of island-style beach huts with air-conditioning and ensuite bathrooms that are great value. They also have two villas, which can be rented as part of the cruise package. It’s easy, fun and families love it over here.
For the more discerning guest, villas are springing up all over Lembongan, many of them with stunning ocean views. Tenang Villas offer one, two and three bedroom villas or the entire complex can be booked for one group. Designed to capture amazing views, the villas offer private pools, open plan living and entertaining spaces and generous sized bedrooms with ensuites.
Villa Bahagia is spectacularly located, offering sweeping ocean views. With four luxurious guest rooms, a 17-metre infinity pool surrounded by beautiful tropical gardens and a full time staff of four, this is an example of the ultimate in island living.
Nusa Lembongan and the little Nusa Ceningan have a number of budget options as well as for the more adventurous, and it’s not difficult to find something clean, air-conditioned and relaxed. Nusa Penida is only just showing signs of life as a destination but for a day trip, beaches like the stunning Crystal Bay are already firmly on the map.
Located in the North West corner of Bali, Menjangan Island, also known as Deer Island, is part of the protected Bali Barat National Park that boasts some of Bali’s best diving. Lush with coral gardens, plentiful sea life and clear, warm water, the island itself is a safe haven for the local deer and the endangered Bali Starlings, which are an attraction in themselves. There are plenty of guides who will take you to the more interesting spots and point out the many local fauna in the area.
Neighbouring the shores of Menjangan Island, a select few operators have created eco-resorts and numerous dive operators are located in nearby Pemuteran. The latest to open with a soft carbon footprint is the Menjangan Dynasty Resort which offers beachfront and easy access to Menjangan Island within the national park. Taking the concept of glamping to new levels, the spacious designer tents are air-conditioned, or open as required, and they are equipped with five-star features including indoor/outdoor bathrooms. Great dining, activities, a stunning horizon pool and chic beach club are part of the attractions alongside a host of adventure sports. The drive from Southern Bali is beautiful but can take three to four hours, so this is at least a two-night stay to enjoy the full complement of facilities and activities.
The closest and most accessible of the three popular Gili Islands is now a lot busier than it once was, but Gili Air retains a still beauty that is captivating. Gili Trawangan is now one of the most popular destinations after Bali, known as the party island, while Gili Meno is still relatively undeveloped. Gili Air has beautiful beaches, plentiful diving and snorkelling destinations as well as beach clubs, a full range of accommodation and a smattering of bars to entertain the night owls.
Scallywags is one of the most established operators here and their Gili Air property offers a beach club and restaurant on the prettiest stretch of white sand beach lapped by stunning turquoise water. Accommodation is scattered throughout the island and offers something for every budget, from the cheeky all-white Mango Motel to the private four-bed joglos with private pools and everything in between. Established and professionally managed, Scallywags can organise everything from boat transfers to diving trips with Scallywag Dive, and has become famous for its warm hospitality and stylish accommodation.
The Southern Gilis are just starting to open up although sailors and those in the know have been visiting for years. With the opening last year of Ko-ko-mo on Gili Gede (which translates as the big island), a fast boat service means you can be here in just an hour from Bali’s main harbour. The ride is smooth and once there, the sense of peace and natural beauty is unforgettable.
Ko-ko-mo is the first luxury operator to open here and the resort sits on a quiet stretch of beach lapped by clear emerald green water. Wooden joglos hug the beach, with high ceilings and wide verandas to take in the views, spacious interiors and wonderful king-sized beds. Behind are a series of contemporary pool villas with kitchens, one or two bedrooms and luxurious bathrooms. The resort also offers a tennis court and swimming pool. Ko-ko-mo ticks the luxury boxes and whether you stay here or not, you will be delighted by the quality of the restaurant, run by a former Sydney chef. The open retro-style building will feed the soul and the wine list is the perfect antidote to island fever.
Literally a few minutes away by boat, sits the jewel-like island of Gili Asahan and the Eco Lodge. Rustic and beautiful, Gili Asahan Eco Lodge is very much an eco-friendly resort with a series of charming wooden bungalows or open-air bales. Although rustic, the Italian owners have not skimped on stylish features and nature comes to play in all sorts of ways. The beach here is magical and hardly a ripple disturbs it. A yoga space on the hill offers spectacular views across nearby Lombok and the food here is also delightful, although never fast. Order a lobster spaghetti and the staff will go and catch one for you. It’s irresistibly pretty and as many a yachtie will tell you, it’s a popular stop for boats.
Cruise the waterways
Special interest sailing trips around Bali are rising in popularity as more travellers venture in search of untouched islands and authentic Indonesian experiences. Indonesian Island Sail have been successful in introducing the concept of small group sailing away from the masses to Australian holidaymakers. Step aboard the Al Iikai, a traditional phinisi – a two-masted sailing ship accommodating up to 15 guests. The vessel sails to West Nusa Tenggara, for cruises that combine sailing, water sports, yoga or cross fit. 2017 will see the addition of a seven-day cooking itinerary as well as a seven-day golfing itinerary with a PGA pro.
Pulau Luxury Charters
A good option for visiting the islands is on board a Pulau Luxury Charter boat. It’s five-star all the way with the champagne corks popping before you have left the harbour. Whether it is a day out with friends, a romantic cruise for two, a fishing or diving trip or a live aboard cruise to languid Lombok or as far as the wildly beautiful Raja Ampat or the remote Flores and nearby Komodo. Raja Ampat has more than 1,500 islands, cays and shoals surrounding Misool, Salawati, Batanta and Walgeo – all best visited by sea. Pulau’s fleet is one of the sexiest on the water. The day cruise moors off Nusa Penida before heading to Nusa Lembongan for a casual lunch, a swim and a snorkel before heading back. It’s a great way to enjoy a private charter and escape the crowds.
One boat that loves to visit the Gilis is Bigkanu, a futuristic trimaran that offers charters for up to 12 passengers. Bigkanu offers a range of trips for stand up paddlers, yoga groups and dive trips as well as live-aboard charters to more remote areas of the archipelago. Fully equipped with solar panels for power, large engines to ride the waves and full facilities, Bigkanu offers an alternative experience for those who love sailing and want to explore the waterways less travelled.
Bali’s enduring appeal has a lot to do with the variety of experiences it offers. Hedonists and culture vultures, shoppers and clubbers, surfers, adventure lovers and yogis will all find their place in the sun. For many however, an island holiday involves white sand beaches with crystal water, paradise coves, diving, snorkelling and getting away from it all. Bali is the gateway to some stunning beaches and tropical island getaways that are as little as an hour away. When paradise calls…. Bali answers. •