when planning a holiday to Indonesia, have only one place on their mind: Bali.
The Island of the Gods has it all – booming surf, idyllic beaches, high-end
shopping and parties galore. But with the trappings of such a holiday
destination also come the pitfalls. Popular beaches like Kuta and Seminyak are
clogged with people; the sterile mega-resorts, like those found in Nusa Dua,
ensure that culture is safely at arm’s length; and many bars fall victim to the
worst examples of Westerners’ boorish drunken behaviour.
want to experience a slower, more peaceful side of Indonesia should take the
half-hour flight east from Bali’s Denpasar airport to Lombok, the next major
island over. It is markedly different to Bali – more arid than lush, and the population
is mostly Muslim as opposed to predominantly Hindu.
brushed off a number of setbacks in the last decade or so. The tourism industry
was hit hard in 2000 after mobs of Muslim protesters rampaged through the island setting fire to churches, with five
rioters killed by police, and like the rest of the region, the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami wiped out much of the island’s infrastructure.
however, it takes a fair stretch of the imagination to picture the island
overrun by violent mobs. For example, the Gili Islands, off Lombok’s northwest
coast, are three small atolls of unbridled serenity. But since they too are
fast becoming popular with the Bali set, I ventured south, to a village called
mistake. It could not be more different from its Bali namesake. In place of two-lane
roads clogged with taxis, there are narrow, single lane tracks devoid of any markings,
often more pothole than road, where the occasional motorbike or horse and cart
would have a hard time passing another vehicle coming the opposite way. It is
not uncommon to have to weave through a herd of cattle, the beasts lazily
ambling down the road, the only recognition a nonchalant swish of the tail.
the fancy fashion outlets and mega clubs -- the predominant structures that
line Kuta’s main strip are thatched bamboo shacks, selling an impressive
selection of fresh curries. Be wary, though, the relentless, incessant hawking
of goods by local children can lead to some trying scenes if you are not as
thick-skinned as they.
on Kuta is a recent phenomenon. At Ashtari, a natural food cafe that overlooks
the village and beach, owner Helen Morgan said the biggest changes have taken
place over the last four years.
there was nothing,” Morgan said. “No electricity, nothing on the beach, just a
few fishermen. It was extremely peaceful. It stayed that way for a long time.”
Aside from shopping
for local goods, such as handmade bracelets or sarongs, or lying on the beach
in a cocktail-induced stupor, Lombok has some fantastic surf spots that are
devoid of the crowds that plague some of Indonesia’s more popular spots.
Bagong -- or Gong for short -- with his mirrored shades and habit of rounding
off every sentence with “man”, showed me Inside Gerupuk, a reef break a short
boat ride off the coast. Pulling up to the spot, we found we weren’t the only
ones – about a dozen other slender outrigger boats were anchored. The reef’s
mellow breakers are excellent for learners, which unfortunately meant smiling novices
would often drop in on my wave and fall off, their longboards acting like large,
So I asked
Gong to show me a surf spot that might scare off the beginners -- Mawi, a
shallow reef about 14km west of Kuta.
hills gave way to flat tobacco fields, the beach suddenly unfolded in front of
us. A rough collection of thatched, open-walled huts huddled on the grass,
overlooking fine, golden sand, with walls of water the hue of thick green glass
smashing onto the shallow, sharp reef.
their luck in the breaking waves was a pack of about six surfers, leaving the
break virtually empty compared with other Indonesian spots, which can easily
attract 30 or more wave-hungry riders. Paddling out, the water was so clear I
could easily make out the rock formations beneath me, a slightly unnerving
sight given that fast, hollow waves can throw an unsuspecting surfer into
harm’s way with the slightest change in balance.
A few hours
later, having expended my body’s supply of adrenaline, the lean-tos provided a
peaceful setting to watch the sunset, with a plentiful supply of Bintang beers
and just a handful of other surfers.
part of all? No beeping taxis, no club music and no polystyrene containers
floating in the sea. And a strong possibility that the next time I return it
will be the same.
Denpasar, Bali, take a 30-minute flight on a local airline such as Merpati or Garuda to Lombok International Airport. From there, it is a 20-minute
drive south to Kuta.
on a budget can stay at the Kutah Indah Resort Hotel. Or, the Kuta Paradise Hotel is a more upscale option.
Aside from Ashtari, the Full Moon Café (located halfway down the
main road, Jalan Raya Kuta, on the beach side) is a series of thatched huts on
the beach that serves amazing fresh fish curries and cheap beer.
World Surfaris Bali can arrange all-inclusive surf
trips to Kuta, including guides. Otherwise, ask around and a local can either
tell you where to go or will suggest a surf guide.