If you’re Australian, chances are that you’ve been to Bali. And most everyone you know has been to Bali. And someone you know is in Bali right now. We’ve all experienced the crazy, traffic jammed (yet somehow lovable) streets of Kuta and its upscale neighbors like Legian and Seminyak and it’s pretty easy to see that the island is becoming more and more busy and brash by the day. So we’ve scoured the nearby seas and found three other island destinations that still boast unspoiled beauty. You can still make Bali your Indonesian base, but branching out towards the east for a few days will mean clean, quiet beaches and a closer brush with local culture.
Sitting just southeast of Bali is the virtually carless Nusa Lembongan, part of the Pulau Penida archipelago that enjoys tropical waters and beautiful coastlines. Eight-square kilometre Lembongan and its neighboring islands are not only great for surfers – there are many white sand beaches with turquoise waters for swimming and good snorkeling is available just off shore. Lembongan is also a popular destination for divers. The waters surrounding the archipelago are home to manta rays, oceanic sunfish and turtles. The island’s main tourist strip with many hotels and restaurants is located at Jungut Batu, but beaches like Mushroom Beach and Dream Beach offer more scenic settings. The island also hosts many walking paths for those who like to explore by foot. Much of the coastline is marked by limestone cliffs that offer picturesque views of the sunset over Bali. Other activities include seaweed farm or mangrove forest tours. Nightlife here is quiet and accommodations range from budget to splurge-worthy. A slew of different boats leave from Sanur on Bali for Nusa Lembongan daily; on a fast boat the crossing takes only about 30 minutes.
Indonesia’s next large island east of Bali is Lombok, quiet, traditionally Muslim and bursting with beautiful beaches, refreshing waterfalls, impossibly green rice fields and an impressive peak. Lombok’s main tourist strip is in Senggigi on the island’s western coast – a center for hotels, resorts and villas that radiate off of a strip of white sand. The active Mount Rinjani volcano, Indonesia’s second highest volcano, attracts trekkers from all over the world to its campsites and sunrise views and poses as a breathtaking backdrop even for those not interested in the climb. Head to southern Lombok to reveal remote beaches or to the island’s own Kuta for a surf and browse jewelry stands by night to pick up your own strand of the island’s famous pearls. The island remains largely undeveloped and is certainly a step away from Bali’s Western offerings – visitors to Lombok should expect to forgo fast-food outlets and other Western conveniences. Lombok is just a 20-minute flight from Bali by air or an one-hour boat ride, but the island couldn’t seem further away from its neighbor’s overdevelopment and crowds. The island’s new international airport offers direct flights to and from Perth.
These three islands are technically part of greater Lombok but deserve their own discussion. Gili Air, Meno and Trawangan are just a 20-minute boat ride off of Lombok’s northwest coast and have been stops on the Southeast Asian backpacker circuit for quite a long time. Gili Trawangan, however, is now home to many upscale villas and resorts, which has opened the island chain up to a new group of visitors. Gili T is the most populated of the three and offers diverse accommodations, restaurants, nightlife, and shops. Gili Air is notably more quiet but the second most populated and Meno has little more than a few bungalow hotels. The three islands are home to white sand beaches that boast a pink twinge due to beds of coral looming in the turquoise waters just off shore; snorkelers and divers abound. Swim just a few metres off the beach on Gili Trawangan’s east coast and you can expect sea turtle sightings to become a daily or even hourly occurrence. There are no cars on these islands and public transportation is by cidomo – carts pulled by small horses that jaunt awkwardly down the island’s rutted dirt streets. Gili T’s eastern strip is where all the action happens, but some luxury resorts and bars have opened on the island’s western coast to accommodate those in search of a killer sunset. The entire island can be circuited on foot in about an hour and a half. Transport to the Gilis from Bali is by fast boat from Bali’s eastern coast. The trip takes about 2 hours and stops in Lombok and at each of the Gilis before ending in Trawangan.
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