Get­away from a Get­away

Just as beau­ti­ful but much qui­eter than neigh­bour­ing Bali, the In­done­sian is­land of Lom­bok boasts baby-pow­der beaches and great surf, rain­forests and bu­colic farms, a mag­nif­i­cent crater lake and some of the planet’s finest sun­rises.

Crave - - TRAVEL - Words and Pho­tos Tif­fany Chan

The flight from Bali to Lom­bok is just un­der half an hour. Mo­ments after take­off, the cap­tain an­nounces we’ll be land­ing shortly, leav­ing my Dutch neigh­bour not nearly enough time to flip through the in-flight mag­a­zine. He flies to Bali for two weeks ev­ery sum­mer, but this will be his first time in Lom­bok, where he hopes to “es­cape the crowds”. It’s a sen­ti­ment shared by a num­ber of lo­cals and tourists, for whom Bali is too crowded, too commercial, too glam­orous and too ex­pen­sive. He is stay­ing in Seng­gigi, he says, and asks if we might share a car.

Seng­gigi is Lom­bok’s best-known des­ti­na­tion, a twok­ilo­me­tre sprawl of ho­tels, bou­tiques, restau­rants and bars back­ing onto a black-sand beach on the west coast. The first lux­ury ho­tels were planted there in the early mil­len­nium, min­utes away from the old Se­la­parang Air­port in Mataram, the is­land’s cap­i­tal. The air­port has since moved south, and is now more than 90 min­utes’ drive away. The main road takes us straight to Seng­gigi Cot­tage on the area’s main artery, Jalan Raya Seng­gigi, which throbs with buzzing restau­rants and live mu­sic.

While it’s tempt­ing to laze about in Seng­gigi, other ar­eas are be­gin­ning to de­velop. Lom­bok is slightly smaller than Bali, but it takes more than a day to drive around the is­land, with no pit stops. Its ter­rain varies vastly. The north is cool, moist and moun­tain­ous, lush with rain­forests and

thun­der­ous wa­ter­falls. The south is warmer and drier, with cliffs and head­lands di­vid­ing end­less talc-white beaches edged with turquoise surf and soar­ing co­conut palms.

From April to De­cem­ber, most vis­i­tors to Lom­bok climb Mount Rin­jani, In­done­sia’s sec­ond high­est vol­cano, which soars

3,726 me­tres above sea level in the north of the is­land. Said to chal­lenge even the most ex­pe­ri­enced hiker, the trek takes two to four days and is re­warded by a mag­nif­i­cent, cres­cent-shaped turquoise crater lake, Danau Se­gara Anak, or Child of the Sea, of­ten gor­geously wreathed in mist. Far eas­ier to get to are the lovely wa­ter­falls of Sen­dang Gile and Tiu Kelep, in the vol­cano’s foothills near the vil­lage of Se­naru, in Rin­jani Na­tional Park, a 90-minute drive from Seng­gigi.

We set off for the falls by mo­tor­bike just after 5am and glide along dark, empty moun­tain roads un­der a wide, glit­ter­ing sky. Sharp rooster crows punc­tu­ate the dis­tant azan, the Mus­lim call to wor­ship, a sonorous, melodic chant that is so long, loud and deep it’s al­most hyp­notic. “The mosque and the farm­ers – the only peo­ple awake now,” says our guide, Anang. At sun­rise, we pull over next to a rice paddy and watch the sun come up be­hind Mount Rin­jani, bleed­ing crim­son and mar­malade into the bright­en­ing sky.

For a morn­ing pick-me-up, we stop at one of the bam­boo pavil­ions, dot­ted along the moun­tain road for a strong, grainy Lom­bok black cof­fee and a plate of mi goreng (fried noo­dles). Ar­riv­ing in Se­naru, we’re greeted by trekking tour cen­tres, back­packer hos­tels and restau­rants with breathtaking views over the val­ley’s ter­raced rice pad­dies, stacked like a hun­dred-tier cake. The first wa­ter­fall, Sen­dang Gile, is a 15- to 30-minute walk through the jun­gle, with Tiu Kelep an­other 15 min­utes away. Ac­cess to the lat­ter can be chal­leng­ing, how­ever, as it in­volves walk­ing through streams and climb­ing slip­pery, rugged rocks, though you will be glad you made the ef­fort: en­closed in lush sur­rounds, the 30-me­tre wa­ter­fall is mag­nif­i­cent.

In the south is the flour­ish­ing re­sort area of Kuta, just half an hour from the new Lom­bok In­ter­na­tional Air­port. Lux­ury ho­tels, restau­rants and health-fo­cused cafes have started mush­room­ing in re­cent years, cater­ing to a younger surfer crowd, beguiled by Kuta’s smooth, bound­less beaches and glit­ter­ing waves. Rugged, blond surfer dudes, re­sem­bling hu­man golden re­triev­ers, blithely cruise their mo­tor­bikes through the rolling moun­tains to the beaches.

Se­long Be­lanak is a vast, shal­low beach with baby-pow­der sand and gen­tle waves, ideal for be­gin­ners and body surfers. After hit­ting the waves, few things are more sat­is­fy­ing than gnaw­ing on a cob of bar­be­cued corn, grilled over char­coal and slathered in but­ter and chilli oil, swilled down with co­pi­ous quan­ti­ties of co­conut wa­ter. Close by, a view­point of­fers a heart-stop­ping vista of the beach and nearby vil­lages. Un­der its shad­owy trees, we’re told, “lovers like to make love”. Beach-hop­pers can also con­sider nearby cres­cent-shaped Mawun beach, where the sand is less fine, but mas­sive green head­lands cre­ate a nicely se­cluded nook. Or Tan­jung Aan, loved for its calm wa­ters.

De­spite its un­spoiled beaches, ver­dant jun­gles and bur­geon­ing tourism, Lom­bok is not Bali – not yet, at least. There is still some­thing raw, rugged and in­con­ve­nient about the is­land that con­trib­utes to its charm. When you leave, be sure to ar­rive at the gate well be­fore board­ing time, lest it closes early and you miss your flight, as I did. And even in those cir­cum­stances, do not take the fast ferry back to Bali; the ride is long and treach­er­ous, and the boat full of ob­nox­ious young drunks. You may find your­self wish­ing, like me, that you had never left at all.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Hong Kong

© PressReader. All rights reserved.