(Sorry this is so late, it’s just taken so long to getting around to sorting out the photos! Aussie blog coming soon…)
We had mixed feelings about Bali during our first couple of weeks here, which is partly the reason we ended up spending so much time in Lombok instead. We loved the architecture, the people, the food and the jungles, but were slightly disappointed with the beaches and felt that the areas around Kuta and Seminyak were spoilt by the traffic and the selfies.
Over this last week, however, as we’ve explored the southernmost tip of the island and its own attached islands, we’ve completely changed our tune.
Our first stop back in Bali was the picturesque little island of Nusa Lembongan. After a surprisingly bump-free boat ride from the Gili islands, we were delighted to find none of the hectic scooter traffic we’d remembered from the mainland. In fact, there are only a few main roads connecting the Lembongan with its neighbouring islands, Nusa Ceningan and Nusa Penida, and the rest are the familiar off-road tracks we’ve grown to love and hate in equal measure during our six months in Asia.
Lembongan seems to be more popular with families, possibly because it’s so much quieter than Bali, and so there are a lot of boutique resorts and nicer places to stay, all of which are quite good value. Since we’re coming to the end of our time in Asia, we decided to shell out and stay in a cute little place right next to an almost completely deserted beach at the start of the stunning clifftop walk into Jungutbatu.
After a morning surf at the ‘Playgrounds’ surf break just around the corner from our hotel, we set off on our first Lembongan scooter adventure.
First stop, Devils Tear, a small and angry little bay next to the famous Dream Beach. When the swell is big, the waves crash impressively against the jagged rocks and into the deep caves below them, only to be spat back out again in a jet stream blasted out from the caves a few seconds later. It’s quite a sight, particularly with the little rainbows the waves create as they come steaming out the caves. To top it off, we were greeted by a large manta ray swimming right on the surface, waving at us and trying to avoid being smashed into the rocks himself.
I’d be lying if I said we had the place to ourselves, however, as we were sharing the view with a good sixty plus tourists on a group visit, all of whom seemed to be determined to throw themselves off the rocks in search of the dream selfie. We couldn’t figure out where they’d all come from as the island had seemed so quiet the night before. As we walked out, we saw hundreds more marching towards the bay, and (no exaggeration) we passed at least ten to fifteen jeeps fully loaded with excitable tour groups on the way in.
Feeling slightly baffled, we decided to try and stay one step ahead of them and set off past the Blue Lagoon and then over the bridge onto the tiny neighbouring island of Nusa Ceningan. We took a little stop for a refreshing coconut and a cap cay (veg and rice dish), before setting off for a stroll through the shallow reflective water.
And, of course, it’s Bali so there were at least ten swings.
We spent the rest of the day looping around the northern point of Lembongan, checking out the mangroves and enjoying the beautiful beaches, before looping back for another gorgeous sunset.
Inspired by our manta sighting, we signed up for a snorkelling trip to Manta Bay the next day, excited to see some of these Sea Batmen close up. Sadly, despite putting up with a gruelling and slightly terrifying boat ride out to the bay, the waves were just too strong and we couldn’t safely anchor the boat for us to snorkel. We’ll just have to come back again and track them down next time.
We did, however, make three stops on the way back, at Crystal Bay, Gamat Bay and Mangrove Point, all of which more than made up for lack of mantas. Nusa Penida is a Marine Protected Area which means the majority of the reefs are pristine and undisturbed, something neither of us had ever experienced before (which is quite sad in itself). The visibility still wasn’t perfect, but Crystal Bay had the most beautiful reefs I have ever seen, with tons of colourful fish and bright coral.
We didn’t bother taking the Go Pro out for Mangrove Point which turned out to be a mistake as it was the best spot of all, with water so shallow that you had to be careful not to bump into any of the fluorescent coral.
After almost an entire day snorkelling, Jamie headed out for a final sunset surf and we saw off one of the best days of the trip with an incredible fish dinner overlooking the harbour.
The next day it was back on our last boat to the mainland for a few days exploring the Bukit Peninsula before our flight to Perth.
Next time we come to Bali, we both agree that we won’t bother with Canggu or Seminyak and will just head straight down this way instead. It’s so much more laidback, the traffic is far more manageable and everything is just a little bit less developed. We stayed in a cute guesthouse on the road leading towards Balangan beach, which is by far the nicest beach we’ve seen in Bali so far and puts the disappointing and overrun beaches around Kuta to shame. The only slightly strange thing is the addition of wedding tourists from Korea who arrive everyday at sunset to take snaps of themselves on the cliffs. We saw at least six or seven different couples every night, each with their own entourage of camera and lighting crews.
I have no idea why there weren’t more people around but we weren’t complaining, particularly as the reef break was creating some big, near perfect waves for Jamie and was relatively empty in comparison to the packed beach breaks in Canggu. He did have a slightly hairy morning which resulted in a very water logged Jamie and a nearly snapped surfboard, but that’s part of the fun I guess?
We took the scooter off on several little day trips to the nearby beaches. Turns out most of the tourists in this region were clustered around Padang Padang, a stunning little cove accessed through a temple. At low tide you can walk all the way along the rocks to discover even more little coves around the corners, although you do have to battle your way past the cheeky macaques to get there. The coves next to Padang Padang were equally pretty and more enjoyable without the endless photo shoots. You can definitely tell you’re back in Bali here – one group were taking part in what I can only describe as a soft pornography shoot which continued even when a local went over to them and reminded them that there’s actually a temple overlooking the beach. They just shouted at him to butt out and carried on rolling around in the sand.
Our other favourite spot on the Bukit was Uluwatu which consisted entirely of shacks perched on the edge of a steep cliff overlooking what is generally regarded as one of the world’s best surf spots. The waves were so big that they genuinely made me feel a little bit queasy, particularly as we were watching the surfers walk out over the shallow reef to get to them, and even Jamie didn’t fancy trying his luck. We watched several people making their way out of the water with bleeding legs and even one snapped board, while the cove at the bottom was littered with fragments of broken fins, boards and the odd piece of boat. Maybe next time…
The clifftop itself, though, is a great place for a relaxing beer, safe from the perilous waters below. And at low tide you can walk for miles along the rocks to numerous hidden beaches, checking out the rockpools as you go. We found some tiny blue octopuses (octopi?) and lots of cheeky crabs.
For sunset, we headed up to the Uluwatu Temple, which has quite possibly the best clifftop views in Bali. Every day at sunset, the temple hosts a traditional Kecak fire dance. The Kecak is typically performed by a circle of performers who chant ‘Kecak’ over and over again in different rhythms and normally depicts a battle scene from the Ramayana. We saw a performance of Princess Sita’s kidnap which we particularly enjoyed partly because we were already familiar with the story from our time in India, and partly because it features over favourite character, Hanuman, the cheeky monkey god who helps Rama to rescue Sita from the King of Demons, Ravana.
Finally, a highlight of our time in Bali and the perfect way to spent our final evening in Asia – the Jimbaran fish markets. Jimbaran beach is home to several of the most incredible fish restaurants, all of which offer a similar fare of seafood platter for bargain prices. We headed down for sunset and spent our last night sipping Indonesian white wine (surprisingly quite delicious) and munching fresh crab, clams, prawns, grilled fish, lobsters, calamari skewers and rice (because, you know, it is Asia after all). All for the ridiculous price of $10 each.
The perfect way to spend our last night on this beautiful continent, before we prepare ourselves to enter the western world again. ‘Straya, here we come!