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.
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.