I’m Australian, but I’ve never had any interest in visiting Bali. I hear it’s full of drunk bogans clogging up every main street in town. So when the opportunity to pay a visit to the island came along (a good friend from Australia suggested we fly from KL to meet up with her), we warily replied in the affirmative on the condition that she book everything. After all, at the time we were busy packing up our Melbourne lives. So…. that’s how Sharking ended up in Bali.
We arrived late in the evening and spent the night in Sanur, Bali (a town I had never heard of) before being picked up the next day to catch a taxi and then a boat to Lembongan Island (Nusa Lembongan). A tip to those arriving at the airport for the first time – the taxi from the airport should cost no more that 80,000IND (AU$8) but you will encounter a cartel of taxi drivers who will offer to take you for 250,000IND (AU$25)pp so make sure you haggle to at least 100,000IND in total, no matter how many people will be in the taxi. They will laugh at you and say they won’t do it – but hold out.
We usually use Airbnb but we had a wad of Agoda points stored up so we decided to use them – to great effect. We stayed in Teksu Hotel in Sanur
and were super-impressed. We did a late-night recy of the area by foot, but by 11pm most warungs (local street food shops) were closed for the night so we headed to a local bar (regrettably) for a Western take on Indonesian food and the first of quite a few Bintang for the trip. I had a few good recommendations, but didn’t have the chance to use any of them – other than where we went for nasi campur in the morning.
The taxi and boat cost 450,000IND (AU$45) for return tickets – are you getting the exchange rate now – and sees you hoping on a fast boat that bounces (or kind of crashes) across the slightly turbulent straits to Lembongan Island. First impressions were that it wasn’t as touristy as I expected and the accommodation exceeded all expectations. Nusa Lembongan offers a good level of services and amenities, yet retains all the ambience and laid-back atmosphere of the small island community.
We stayed at Lembongan Cliff Villas
which were exactly as promised – perched atop a cliff with a breathtaking view of the island waters, a clear view of the three best surf spots and a two-minute walk to the beach (Song Lambung Beach – just along from Tamarind and Mushroom beaches). This could take some getting used to.
The first day was written off as a pool day and in the evening we were told to head down to the beach and take the walkway on the right. What we encountered were some hotel restaurants and a few bars. We came up trumps with a bar perched right above the water called The Deck
that was clearly not connected to the other resorts. We had to take a stab at the place next door for dinner (the first venue you encounter having left the beach) and we missed wildly – we mostly ordered a few local dishes with one of the party choosing the burger. Everything that arrived was tasteless, luke-warm and with no hint of spice. We learnt from that and didn’t make the mistake again.
The next day a few friends took us on a scooter tour of their island (Ceningan Island) that is connected to Lembongan by a wooden suspension bridge only wide enough for one scooter at a time. We hired a scooter from our hotel for AU$8/day and off we went. A note to those worried about scootering – get over it. It’s easy and will save you hours trying to traverse the islands by foot under an intense sun. You have to go slowly due to the terrible conditions of the road and the number of potholes, but it’s doable.
We were taken first to the Blue Lagoon where people cliff jump into the crystal blue sea. Not this time, however, as the swell was huge and battering the coast like no one’s business. It was an awe-inspiring site to see what Mother Nature can do. Nusa Ceningan provides wonderful exposure to an aquatic rural existence, predominantly from seaweed farming and the chilled nature of rural village life. All around the island you find women sitting in the shade of their cement huts, sorting the seaweed into what can be dried and sold now, and batches that can be given to famers to harvest back into their sea farms to grow and multiply. It was amazing to see the tide pulling out each day to reveal rows of seaweed.
As for water-based activities, I hired a longboard and headed out to Playgrounds break. Hire will set you back AU$5 an hour and if you wanted to head out to the more dangerous breaks of Shipwrecks or Lacerations, a longboat would take you out and pick you up for AU$10. Speak to the captains on shore to find out when high tide is each day as the closer to low tide you head in, the more the reef starts peeking above the waves ready to do its worst.
When you’re with locals you get the insider knowledge, and that pointed us in the direction of Warung Bambu
, which is perched on the beach at the far end of the island. It’s a completely no-frills place that serves its Bintang cold and pretty much everything else cooked over fire. This was easily the best meal of the trip and we made multiple visits here to get our fill. Tuna, prawns, snapper, jacket fish appear wrapped in banana leaves, on satay skewers and in fragrant curries – we had the equivalent of 5 meals with a mix of beer and fresh fruit juice and it only set us back AU$10pp – we were all stuffed to the gills. It goes to show that getting off the beaten track is where the best local food lies.
Post-lunch we were keen for some snorkelling but the massive swell was telling us otherwise. We headed down to our local beach and spoke with the owner of a longboat who said that he was going to head out the next morning with a few other people and it would cost AU$30pp to come along. The swell was too big to go and see the large manta rays but there was a treasure trove of great spots around the island. We had plans for the next day so pushed to head out straight away. He wouldn’t budge but as we wandered off he called us back and said he would take us for AU$20pp for two hours. Leaving now. We wondered why he didn’t offer to take us out immediately – was the surf too dangerous to get out but the money too tempting? Either way – we made it past some huge 5m swell and had the best snorkelling of our lives. We were swarmed with fish of every size and colour swimming in crystal clear water and shelves of almost pristine coral. Well worth the twenty bucks.
Those yearning to get away from the tourist throng of the Kuta-Seminyak western beach belt, you will find everything you want on Lembongan Island. With a fast 30-minute travel time and a full range of accommodation on offer, from luxury to basic, complete with the cultural trappings of the original Bali and a unique blend of local influence capped off with unrivalled reef and water attractions, the island is easily one of Bali’s best secret draw cards.