Lombok, The Gili islands: Which is the right one for you?

Lombok, The Gili islands: Which is the right one for you?


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First published 29th July, 2012

Gili means “little island” in Sasak (the native language of Lombok) and while there are “gilis” all around the circumference of Lombok, when people talk of “the Gilis”, they’re not trying to showoff their Sasak prowess, but rather they’re referring to three little islands off the northwest coast of Lombok, Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air.

The Gilis feature regularly in “The next hot thing”-style travel articles you’ll see in your Sunday newspaper and have (somewhat deservedly) a reputation for heavy partying. Not all that surprisingly, it’s a little bit more complicated than that and it’s a mistake to consider the three Gilis as being one and the same — each has its own distinct vibe.

Relaxing away from the hordes on the northern tip of Gili T.
Relaxing away from the hordes on the northern tip of Gili T.

So which Gili is for you?

Gili Trawangan
This is the largest and most heavily developed of the three islands. Affectionately referred to as Gili T, Gili Trawangan has the largest number of guesthouses, hotels and resorts (more than 100) and enough bars and beach shacks to keep even the most dedicated party-goer well satisfied.

Gili Trawangan has the greatest supply of cheap(ish) rooms (which are mostly in the village near the main boat landing) of the three Gilis. This combined with the oversupply of bars and party atmosphere make it the most popular among budget travellers and those out for a good time — your typical “sun, sand and sex” crowd.

Enjoy the sunset with a heap of new friends.
Enjoy the sunset with a heap of new friends.

Bear in mind that when we say cheap, in most cases you’re still going to be looking at at least 200,000 rupiah a night — 300,000 in high season — for a cheap room in the village. Elsewhere, really very mediocre bungalows are going for 600,000 and up — at least double what you’d pay elsewhere in Indonesia.

The party scene has two main flavours — the immediate area around the boat landing has plenty of beach bars and pubs (often charging Bali prices) and then the northern tip of the island has more secluded beach shacks and bars, which may appeal to those looking for a more laidback scene.

Despite protestations otherwise, drugs remain commonplace on the Gilis, especially on Gili T. Mushrooms are often signposted and the dealers proffering (mostly pot and cocaine) along the walk down to the pier area can get downright tiresome. Bear in mind that pot and coke are absolutely illegal in Indonesia, and while there is a common meme that the Gili T authorities turn a blind eye, we’d advise not risking it.

Take me to that other place...
Take me to that other place…

Aside from boozing, the main activities here are riding around the island and doing a snorkelling trip. There is a turtle hatchery on the island and you’ll have a good chance of seeing turtles offshore. If you’re in the market for postcard white sand beaches, you’re in the right place.

Recommended places to stay on Gili Trawangan
Budget bed: Alexyane Paradise
Flashpacker fancy: Danima Resort
Leisurely luxury: Desa Dunia Beda Beach Resort

Browse more places to stay on Gili Trawangan through Agoda.com

Gili Meno
This is the Gili the Gilis forgot. Gili Meno smallest of the three, with a brackish seawater lake towards its western coast, this is arguably the quietest and most peaceful of the three islands.

Lombok views.
Lombok views.

The selection of accommodation is far more limited (as is the bar supply) but there is still an adequate selection for most, regardless of budget.

Of the three, this is arguably the most family-friendly. It lacks the crowd, drugs and racket of Gili T and remains more laidback than Gili Air. The beaches, especially on the coast facing Lombok, are very safe for swimming and there’s plenty of sand for empire-building.

Snorkelling trip off Gili Meno.
Snorkelling trip off Gili Meno.

Meno has some good snorkelling off the south and west coast and the beaches, while not as glorious as Gili T’s, are certainly not shabby.

Recommended places to stay on Gili Meno
Budget bed: Amber House
Flashpacker fancy: Sunset Gecko

Browse more places to stay on Gili Meno through Agoda.com

Gili Air
This is the most popular after Gili T and is the only one of the three islands that has an indigenous population. You’ll notice almost immediately how much greener it is than the other two — that’s thanks to it having its own water supply.

Glorious Gili Air with Lombok in the distance.
Glorious Gili Air with Lombok in the distance.

While it has a solid full range of accommodation, Gili Air has successfully pushed itself as the more “sophisticated” of the three islands. You can still party here as you can on Gili T, but the scene is a tad more upmarket and the crowd perhaps a little bit more grown up (physically if not mentally).

Gili Air’s best beach (in our humble opinion) runs along the west coast. This is also the least developed beach so bear in mind that most of the accommodation on Air is not actually on the best beach on the island.

Just another Gili Air sunset.
Just another Gili Air sunset.

Recommended places to stay on Gili Air
Budget bed: 7 Seas Backpackers
Flashpacker fancy: Island View Bungalow
Leisurely luxury: Kai’s Beach House

Browse more places to stay on Gili Air through Agoda.com

So which Gili is for you?
Young, single and looking to party, with some snorkelling thrown in? Look no further than Gili Trawangan. A little older, still enjoy a good night out and possess a slightly fatter wallet? Gili Air. Travelling with kids in tow, or just looking for a real getaway from all the distractions presented on the other two islands? Gili Meno should be on the money.

Which island today?
Which island today?

Bear in mind the islands are within a short distance of one another, so there is no good reason to restrict yourself to one — try all three!

Lombok, Climbing Rinjani

Lombok, Climbing Rinjani


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First published 28th October, 2012

Trekking to the summit of Gunung Rinjani, Indonesia’s second tallest volcano, is no small feat. But those who are in shape and looking for a change of pace from relaxing on the country’s idyllic beaches will be treated to some truly fabulous views, other-worldly landscapes, and sore muscles for days afterward.

Gunung Rinjani National Park sits impressively on the northeastern end of Lombok, one major island east of Bali. Rinjani has been something of a trekking mecca for many years, and while business is certainly more steady now than it may have been a decade ago, the park is still massive enough that crowds are kept fairly thin.

Early days, easy going.
Early days, easy going.

The park itself boasts what seems to be an unlimited number of breathtaking vistas, fascinating ecological features, and some of the most difficult climbs any trekker could ask for.

Either side of Rinjani’s massive crater lie sweeping golden grasslands and dense tropical rainforest, with the awe-inspiring crater lake poised in the middle of 360 degrees of volcanic alpine (topographical oxymoron?) beauty.

Rising from the eastern edge of the crater lake (Segara Anak) is a newer, active volcano cone, and behind it the impressive Rinjani summit, towering 3,726 metres above the nearby sea.

Crater lake - swim anyone?
Crater lake – swim anyone?

Within the crater, just a short walk from the lake, is a series of hot springs, deep enough to swim in and said by locals to have healing powers. Rinjani is a veritable trekkers playground, and the type of place that can never quite be adequately described with words or pictures; you have to witness it firsthand to truly appreciate its rugged magnificence.

All this and more is reachable only by foot, and even then only by the truly determined foot. The hikes are extremely demanding, and will test even the fittest of travellers. Ascending to one of the two crater rims is always the first order of business, and many will feel as if they’ve had enough by the time they reach camp the first night, but the real adventurers will have just one goal in mind: The Summit.

Hot spring distractions.
Hot spring distractions.

The hike to the Rinjani’s summit is a gruelling three hours from the crater rim, going up through dusty, sandy slopes, to the rocky gravel rim path that leads up the side of the mountain to the summit.

The final 300 metres however is the most challenging section of the entire mountain, a steep incline of rocks and gravel that finds you sliding back a step for every two you take. The summit climb was easily the most strenuous and difficult activity I’ve ever undertaken while travelling, and perhaps simply one of the most physically taxing things I’ve ever forced myself to do; each time you look up to the summit you feel you’re no closer than you were the previous 30 times you looked up.

What are you doing here?
What are you doing here?

But while the hike is not for the faint of heart or the weak of will, those who push through the pain are rewarded with awe-inspiring sunrise views of the crater and all its features, Sumbawa to the east, the Gilis to the northwest, and, on especially clear days, you can even make out Bali’s Gunung Agung. I thought I might die getting there, but the reward at the top was worth every step.

While a Rinjani trek can be the highlight of any trip to Indonesia, it should not be taken lightly. Those who are inexperienced at trekking or out of shape may find that they’ve bit off much more than they can chew, and will end up regretting their decision to make the journey. Merry-makers who came to Lombok for a tropical paradise getaway and packed their bags accordingly should realise that temperatures on the mountain plummet well below those on the nearby beaches, and lots of warm layers and solid footwear are an absolute must.

Camp 1 - Lux not.
Camp 1 – Lux not.

Certainly, parents with children should seriously consider finding a babysitter before bringing their kids along, unless you’ve raised your children like mountain goats and they are well adapted to steep, cold, rocky terrain.

The trek is best undertaken in dry season from April through to November, and the park is usually closed to visitors in January and February.

Organising a Rinjani trek is easily done from anywhere on Lombok, and even Bali. Package trips can be arranged through many Bali travel agents, while the most direct tours can be booked from Padang Bai. As a word of caution, however, we have heard negative reviews of the quality of tours booked from Bali, and would advise getting a bit closer to the mountain before booking your tour. On the Gilis and Lombok itself, nearly every shop keeper and their dog will ask you to book a trek with them.

It's a long way to the top...
It’s a long way to the top…

For those who want to go straight to the source, Senaru and Sembulan are the closest to the action, and essentially all tours pass through one or the other en route to the mountain. You may get a reduced price on your tour by booking in one of the two towns, but the cost and hassle of transport getting there may make it not worth the effort. Regardless of where you start, a guide and porters are a must, as tourists are not allowed access to the mountain without them.

Packages range from tours that spend only one night on the mountain through to treks that can last up to a week. Typically, most people book a three-day/two-night trek, which allows enough time (if only just… ) to reach the summit and see the most common sights along the way. However, if you have the time, a four- or five-day trek will allow you to get the most enjoyment out of the mountain without spending every minute of every day walking, eating or sleeping.

The view from the top.
The view from the top.

Prices vary from organiser to organiser, though the cheapest prices we saw were surprisingly those on offer at the generic tourist shops/restaurants. Standard three-day/two-night treks run at about 1,200,000 rupiah on Lombok, and around 1,500,000 if booked on Gili Trawangan –- though prices vary and discounts can be found if booking for several people. Because these tours are booked by third parties and then passed on to the operator, the quality of the experience can be variable, with few limits put on group size and sometimes questionable equipment. Though we did meet a backpacker who had nothing but good things to say about his Gili T-booked trek, not everyone has been so lucky.

Some may prefer to go with one of the more reputable companies, which was what I opted for. Specifically, I’d heard good things about the Rinjani Trekking Club in Senggigi, so I checked them out. Though their prices are higher, they maintain that the difference is justified through their service, both on and off the mountain. Once on the trek, my guide told me that they compensate their employees more responsibly than other operators, and they cap the number at a maximum of six people per group so they are manageable for porters and guides and the experiences are more intimate for guests. Three-day/two-night treks run right around $200, though you can pay more for a few added luxuries. Other reputed but pricey options include John’s Adventure and Lombok Rinjani Trek Organisation.

Made it!
Made it!

When it comes down to making a choice, the sights are all the same and the trails just as steep no matter who takes you, so it mostly comes down to personal budget and expectations. The generic operators are the best choice for the budget-first crowd; however, those who are willing to spend a bit more to ensure their experience turns out as-advertised and the locals involved are treated well by their employer should try to book through the more reputable operators themselves.

Climbing Gunung Rinjani will present a challenge to even the most experienced, well-equipped trekker. However, if you’ve come to Indonesia looking for some exercise and an unforgettable experience, this trip might be the perfect thing -– do make sure you reserve some time for recovery afterward on one of Lombok or Bali’s pristine beaches.

About the author: Ian Dollinger
Ian Dollinger first crossed paths with Travelfish in Chiang Mai. Since then he has ridden Vietnam, surfed Indonesia and climbed a volcano along with plenty of other stuff he didn’t tell us about! You can follow Ian’s travels at The More I See The Less I Know.

Lombok, Gunung Rinjani: lady of the volcano

Lombok, Gunung Rinjani: lady of the volcano


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When will the volcano next erupt?” I ask. Byflickering candlelight, the queen of the underworld, Deva Anjani, speaks through the possessed body of the young woman, whispering her answer. “In five years,” she says. “Maybe 10.” Not tonight, then.

That’s a relief, as I am sitting in a bamboo hut halfway up the slopes of the 3700m volcano, Gunung Rinjani, and it’s a long way down if I need to run.

Not that the goddess doesn’t have some very good reasons to blow her top sometime soon.

Far away from the Euro-backpacker vibe of the Gili Isles and the surfer hangouts of Kuta and Gerupuk in the south, the Indonesian island of Lombok’s interior harbours a different atmosphere, brooding, traditional and overshadowed by Indonesia’s third highest active volcano, which last erupted in May 2009.

As I drive through the foothills of northern Lombok, I pass a worrying hotel billboard advertising “free satellite television and fire extinguisher”. I stop to pay respects and light incense at Lombok’s oldest Hindu temple, Lingsar, dedicated to the volcano, home to Anjani, mother of monkey king Hanuman. For most of the year Rinjani has been closed to tourists because of lava flows and seismic activity, so temple offerings and fire extinguishers are the least I can do to prepare.

Volcano Rinjani is one of those heavy smokers that just won’t quit, but it is also trying its best to be green. It is one of the great vulcanological attractions of the world, and each year more than 3000 international trekkers tackle the three to four-day journey to the summit and caldera lake. But they are not Rinjani’s problem.

“It’s the pilgrims,” says Asmuni Irpan, trek manager of the Rinjani Ecotourism Program. “Mainly the women and old people. They throw away plastic bottles and bags and just don’t care.”

More than 80,000 Indonesian Hindus come from as far away as Bali and Java each year to climb Rinjani by the light of a full moon. They perform rituals and bless the blades of their kris (swords) in the sacred waters and hot springs of the caldera lake.

Unlike most foreign hikers, these pilgrims are unable to afford well-trained national park porters who diligently carry out all rubbish. And the days after a full moon, the trails to the summit are littered with empty noodle cups, plastic wrappers and even toilet paper, trailing in the wind.

From 1999 to 2006, the New Zealand government funded the Rinjani Trek ecotourism initiative supervised by the local national park professionals of the Rinjani Tourism Management Board. The program was set up to help Rinjani establish sustainable tourism practice to benefit the local hill tribe community while sustaining the biodiversity of the mountain.

And Rinjani does have an ecology Australians will find familiar. It is the Wallacea, the transition point between Southeast Asia and Australasia, where sulphur-crested cockatoos and ebony leaf monkeys share a forest of fig trees, casuarinas, orchids and pines.

Indigenous Sasak villagers revere the volcano as sacred, a place of worship and week-long cave meditation retreats. To avoid crass tourism experiences found at volcanoes such as Merapi, Bromo and Agung, the RTMB has established several programs to empower local people as tourism stakeholders.

“We have to educate and change their mindset,” says Irpan. “For instance, we teach the youngsters that rubbish has a value.” Once a month, there is an organised trek up the mountain by rangers with local schoolchildren for a clean-up day to collect bottles and plastic, which the kids are paid to bring down.

The RTMB has a booking agency co-operative to train young local Sasak men as porters, carrying camping equipment and food for international trekkers. All porters are taught the importance of maintaining the environment and rest station facilities, sticking to established paths, customer service and emergency procedures. Among hill tribe villages on the volcano slopes are women’s programs, promoting traditional weaving techniques and folk crafts, sold to visitors as souvenirs. So local culture, as well as ecology, is protected.

But funding from NZ has ended and to maintain the same high ecotourism standards, the national park has had to increase entrance fees from 25,000 rupiah ($3) to 50,000 rupiah. Unfortunately, the local government has also decided to take a larger cut, with 20,000 rupiah of each admission fee going straight to the state.

As if to justify their increased take from the national park fee, talkative local politicians have been proposing so-called eco-tourism projects such as the building of a sealed road to the summit, with a viewing platform over the caldera. No wonder the volcano goddess Anjani has been grumbling of late.

Irpan scoffs at the idea. “It’s difficult enough for us to manage to keep the walking treks clear, how can they keep a road operating? Who will pay for it? It will never happen.”

He has a point. As I sit in the hillside village of Sembalun Lawang, the ground trembles and there is an ominous subterranean rumbling from the volcano. Rock falls and lava flows are common in this unstable terrain, and a cheaply constructed road to the summit for coach tourists would be temporary at best. It also threatens Rinjani’s international drawcard of an eco-friendly three-day trek through the mountain forests and bare magma slopes in the freezing temperatures before dawn for one of the most amazing sunrise vistas in southeast Asia.

In Sembalun Lawang, a Sasak hostel owner has enlivened our electricity-less night by calling on his powers as son of a local shaman. He conjures up the goddess Anjani to the village for a chat. Anjani’s spirit arrives and possesses a young woman in our gathering and the queen of the underworld announces her next eruption will not be killing anyone. She is relatively happy for the time being.

Lombok’s international airport will open this year and Tourism Indonesia, which has recently announced its Visit Lombok-Sumbawa 2012 campaign, will be relieved to hear that news.

The RTMB is hoping to continue and expand its thriving initiatives as a blueprint for Indonesian ecotourism. Its success is obvious when comparing the Rinjani climbing experience with the Mt Bromo crowds. And when living with one of the most active volcanoes in the world, it is probably wise to keep Anjani on side.

Lombok, Street Food by the Lombok Sea

Lombok, Street Food by the Lombok Sea


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Seafood mee goreng, soto ayam, Hainanese chicken rice, satay, green curries, ice kacang etc…are all comfort street food flavours of the region. All stuff we expect to see hawked at street stalls and hawker centres or even food courts. But increasingly, they are making regular appearances in fancy hotel and resort menus. And the offering is getting more exotic by the day.
And why not? Food travel is big – they fly in long haul, touch down and want to tear into what international TV food explorers like Anthony Bourdain and Samantha Brown and Andrew Zimmern spoke of and chowed on. A true, authentic culinary experience is one of the best travel souvenirs anyone can take from their journeys. But not all are fans of sitting on rickety stools framed by dusty roads and honking, noisy diesel engines zipping right behind them, however ambrosial that grilled pork collar with sticky rice may be.
In Singapore, many menus and buffets that cater to her chow crazy citizens would be crazy too, if some local dishes were not included in the buffet line, alongside the soufflé and Sunday roasts. The Straits Kitchen in the Grand Hyatt is a decadent, open-kitchen buffet café offering a string of local hawker fare. Besides design, the other great appeal is the “performance kitchen”. You see char kway teow in action, cooked and served before your eyes in cool comfort. You take what you want and move on to the next “performance”. Ditto for the Line Buffet in Shangri-la Hotel.
Lombok in Indonesia, which may not be her culinary capital, nevertheless has her own culinary citizens. Ayam taliwang ranks up there and they are also famed for terasi (belacan or shrimp paste) and dodol (fruity palm sugar candy). When I saw that the Qunci Villas folks have a regular “Friday pasar malam” makan night, I was piqued. I wondered what they could put in the menu that says “Lombok”. They turned a little manicured lawn space right by the lapping shores beside the appropriately appointed decked lounge area and created a makeshift row of hawker and kaki lima (five legged street food carts) food stands.
Their head Chef Frederic Pougault, who had been living, working and opening restaurants in Indonesia for many years, is one French chef who has his nose down on the ground. He can talk smack about local chow, “if you think Ibu Oka’s babi guling is good, wait till you try IbuSuta’s here in Mataram”, he boldly hints of the comparison between the famous Ibu Oka’s little eclipsed-by-TripAdvisor-fanatics stall in Bali with the one in Lombok’s main town. He was right, I fell over that lunch we had at IbuSuta’s. Her rendition of this roast suckling pig meal is now topping my babi guling charts.
By Saturday morning (they postponed this one night later because of Valentine’s Day), Chef Frederic’s kitchen we are already humming with street food preparation problems and solutions, “The bonitos are twice the price today and the chicken hasn’t arrived yet…” he shrugs. But that fish, a family of the tuna breed, was as fresh as can be (caught that very morning and bought off the boat) and they were busy splitting, marinating and skewering it. The sambal and rempahs were being done as was the batter for serabi, an Indonesian pancake. They also serve Pepes Ikan Bumbu Genep, a fish wrapped in banana leaf marinate in local spices. Lombok’s answer to Bali’s babi guling is kambing guling, that alludes to the Muslim palates, is also in their pasar malam menu. But sadly, I missed this one, and the BBQ salted eggs, both I would’ve loved and adored if I had it with a local sambal Banteng Ngangak (which means open mouth) – it’s a raw sambal of cucumber and grated coconut where the Bunga Bongkot (ginger torch flower) is used. Which I also missed as it was not that evening’s street food pasar malam menu.
But they made a hideous looking but delectable Cakalang Fufu (with those bonitos) – barbecued with a dark marinate and serve with pickled spicy chutney. The soto ayam had a sourish tang which was wonderfully comforting. The serabi and their local style ice kacang (using crushed instead of shaved ice) sweetened the deal. With all the trappings of seaside villa comfort, street food presented in this manner is easily enjoyed by anyone.
I got to be back for more of IbuSuta’s babi guling and Lombok’s iconic satay ikan tanjung.
Qunci Villas, Lombok www.quncivillas.com

Lombok has just as many tourist attractions as Bali

Lombok has just as many tourist attractions as Bali


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MENTION beachside holidays in Indonesia and the island of Bali will come to mind first.

When Lombok is mentioned, most will be puzzled and ask where the place is.

Situated ....  read more

Lombok, Stay and surf in Indonesia’s beautiful Lombok

Lombok, Stay and surf in Indonesia’s beautiful Lombok


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MT RINJANI bursts triumphantly through thick, white clouds, providing our first real glimpse of Lombok from the windows of the inaugural direct flight between Australia and the idyllic Indonesian island.

Despite being active, the enormous folds of the country’s second-tallest volcano are blanketed by a lush green, much like most of Lombok’s northern regions. Flying overhead, the healthy terrain and budding crops below look something like an emerald patchwork quilt covering the earth.

The Lesser Sunda Island, in the West Nusa Tenggara province, is Jetstar’s fifth destination in Indonesia and the carrier now flies there, direct from Perth, four times a week.

It’s no secret that Australians, and in particular Western Australians, love Indonesia. It’s a picturesque and relatively cheap getaway, which can be tailored to suit those from honeymooning couples to party-loving 20-somethings.

With an estimated 850,000 WA travellers jetting across to Indonesia every year, Bali has become a holiday hot spot and tourism there is well and truly booming. But, with its white and black sand beaches, surf breaks, mountain trekking, natural beauty, traditional villages and luxurious resorts, the less-frequented island of Lombok, is vying for attention.

Our plane cruises into the international airport and we’re greeted by the warmest of welcomes. Cheerful children, dressed in beautiful traditional outfits, sing and dance as we’re offered welcome drinks and scarfs to celebrate the first flight. The excitement in the air is as palpable as the humidity.

The plunge pool in the presidential suite.

The plunge pool in the presidential suite. Source: Supplied

During our airconditioned bus ride to our first accommodation, Novotel Lombok, it quickly becomes apparent what people mean when they say the island is like “Bali 20 to 30 years ago”.

It’s a slower pace of life here, tourists are relaxing rather than partying or shopping, and much of the land seems untouched by the effects of tourism.

The streets are lined with makeshift stalls selling anything from fruits to fizzy drinks and there is litter everywhere.

A 19km drive from the airport, Novotel Lombok is secluded 4-star beach resort in the island’s south.

It’s a clean, private paradise on the edge of Kuta beach, which boasts white sand and warm, crystal clear waters.

But if you don’t fancy braving the rough coral and reef, there’s an infinity pool and a volleyball net just metres from the water’s edge. I opted for a dip in the warm waters of the pool as soon as we arrived and spent about an hour floating lazily around in a plastic tube.

As well as a spa and a fitness centre, there are two bars and two restaurants in the complex.

We ate at the Novotel Spice Market restaurant, which features a daily themed-buffet of international foods and is situated on the beachfront, for both dinner and breakfast. The bars are low-key and I lounged around at the beachfront Breeze Bar with an inexpensive pina colada in hand, watching the sunset before the buffet opened that night.

The resort offers an array of different rooms and suites and I set up home in one of the lavish one-bedroom private pool villas for the night. They’re neat, spacious abodes, with big beds, big bathrooms and a private deck overlooking a plunge pool, which is shared by about four bungalows.

Not even a minute’s walk from my room, there is a convenience store, which is open until 10pm, selling everything from snacks to stylish clothes. Not one for haggling in the villages, I picked up two gorgeous scarfs there for about $14 each.

I only wish we had a little more time at the Novotel although I manage to squeeze in a relaxing morning walk on the private beach, I would have loved to try my hand at the activities offered such as kayaking, snorkelling or beach football. Plus, there are plenty of activities nearby, such as horse treks.

A day bed on the beach out the front of Hotel Tugu. Picture: Kristy Symonds

A day bed on the beach out the front of Hotel Tugu. Picture: Kristy Symonds Source: Supplied

After a buffet breakfast, which served everything from fresh fruit, including tiny bananas, to crispy bacon and an assortment of cheeses, we pack our bags and head on a road trip to Sade Traditional Village and Sukarara Weaving Village, where we get a glimpse of what life is like for the locals.

Sade, a few kilometres north of Kuta, is home to about 700 Sasak people and, with its inhabitants encouraged to marry cousins, 15 generations of the one family have lived there. They make their living selling handmade textiles.

In Sukarara, girls begin learning how to weave beautiful garments including scarves and sarongs by the age of 14.

Apparently, those who don’t know how to weave will have a little trouble landing a hubby.

As for the men, they work in the fields. Sukarara is in the south, and the dry land means crops are only planted about once a year unlike in the island’s west, where planting happens three times a year.

Don’t let the unkempt animals wandering the village grounds deter you, the people are fascinating and full of warmth. Having a chat to them and learning about their everyday lives is worth the visit alone.

Just like in Bali, the tap water isn’t fit for drinking in Lombok so it’s wise to keep bottled water on hand to help fight off the humidity. Most guided tours use airconditioned buses and hand out fresh, moist towels to cool off with during the day.

Lunch on the second-storey dining area of boutique hotel Villa Sayang provides another breathtaking view of Mt Rinjani. The quiet little hotel is a bit off the beaten track but it’s only a two-hour drive to reach the national park at the foot of Rinjani and it is only 30 minutes from Senggigi town.

We have a buffet dinner at The Santosa Villas and Resort, a privately owned hotel about 10 minutes’ drive from where I checked in for the next two nights, the Puri Mas. The buffet was delicious and featured a variety of salads, soft beef tenderloin and sauteed potatoes and mushrooms.

After a long day, Puri Mas is a sight for sore eyes. It’s a 37-room Senggigi hotel with rooms for both the budget-conscious and the bigger spenders. I was living the life of luxury within the gated presidential villa in the sultan room. The villa has a private plunge pool and my room had a gorgeous outdoor bathroom, which featured a twin shower and huge bathtub.

There’s even a little lounge area to sit in and sip your tea, rich wooden flooring and what can only be described as a giant bed, draped in a mosquito net.

The view from the poolside bungalow at Novotel Lombok.

The view from the poolside bungalow at Novotel Lombok. Source: Supplied

The main space is decked out in traditional artefacts and a china cabinet. While the presidential villa will set you back anywhere between $US950 and $US1500 ($A1007 to $A1590) a night, the cozy budget room starts from just $US90 a night and there’s plenty of options in between.

Breakfast the next morning is another buffet at Puri Mas’ elegant beachfront restaurant The Beach Terrace. After a couple of pieces of french toast, it was off to scope out Hotel Tugu. The owner of this detail- rich 19-room resort is an avid antique collector and bits and bobs from many different cultures pepper the place.

There’s an 18- hole golf course across the road and a white sand beach with turquoise waters in the front yard. It’s from here we catch a wet and bumpy ride on a traditional wooden boat to the picturesque Gili Meno Island.

Gili Meno is paradise – I’ve never seen such blues in the water and such white sand.

Lombok boasts some pretty stunning scenery but, for me, this took the cake. It’s unspoilt and unlike Gili Trawangan, which is known for its faster paced and partying lifestyle, Meno is relaxed and quiet.

Snorkelling here is a must – there are dozens of turtles swimming freely in the waters.

A three-course lunch at Mahamaya on Meno was backed up by a three-course dinner back at Puri Mas. You won’t go hungry in Lombok.

Although Puri Mas has a spa resort a couple of minutes down the road, I opted to soak up the last of the sunlight in my plunge pool before grabbing a cocktail and watching a famous Puri Mas sunset from the beach.

Puri Mas is the perfect place to relax. There’s an infinity pool, which has its own bar, beach views and lush green gardens to stroll through. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the staff are so caring and involved that it feels like staying with a friend of a friend.

Whether you want to kick back and relax or take on a few adventures, Lombok is a must-go destination in Indonesia.

Lombok, the Gili islands

Lombok, the Gili islands


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the ferry to lombok was supposed to take anywhere from 4-7 hours. we boarded, found seats, thought we would have a smooth and uneventful crossing, until we realised there was a karaoke machine onboard !! haha.. so the whole (what turned out to be 6 hours) was spent sitting listening to bad singing on an awful system with only treble. well.. beggars can’t be choosers.

so, we arrived at lembar starving (since we were not supporting the onboard monopoly of prices for pop-mie), ran off the ferry, got a couple of pop-mies and haggled for a van to take us to sengiggi. arriving there late again the only cheap hotel we could find was a dump, but it was too late to get to the gili islands so we waited it out one night, settling for a small bar and cold bintangs.

next morning we were up early, caught a bus, a bemo and walked the final half kilometer to where the boats went to the gilis. we booked tickets to trawangan and waited… and waited….. and waited… it took almost 4 hours for enough people to come and fill the boat, so we had to lie on the benches and try to get some sleep.. i found a small stall that had nasi goreng wrapped in banana leaves which tasted good.. and it was actually quite nice to sit and watch the ocean for a while.

anyways, the boat came, we arrived, we walked the length of the island twice looking for a place to stay (laughing to death at the signs outside almost all the hotels: best fucking magicmushroom for trip to moon for free and back), found a dirt cheap, friendly hotel next to the water, washed up and spent the next 5 days relaxing, sitting on the beach, snorkelling, walking to the other side to see sunset, laying in the small huts and watching movies at night while eating great food from the irish pub and drinking arak sunrise.. wonderful. we met some wicked people there also, ash from australia and a couple of canadians who we spent some nights sitting on the beach drinking bottles of arak with. it was a cosy island, beautiful nature, friendly people, almost empty, just the kind of chilled out place you want after 6 months on the road….. perfect….especially after the disaster of bali..ugh.

Lombok, A Rinjani Ascent

Lombok, A Rinjani Ascent


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It was 3am at 3000m above sea level and we had just been woken from our restless sleep by our guide. We were all feeling nervous from the anticipation of the climb ahead. A quick cup of tea and a muesli bar and we were off. Except for by brother Phil. I could see he was visibly upset. The cameraman was filming everything. Phil looked into the lens and told the world that he had to pull out. Holding back tears he explained that he just didn’t have any energy left and that he felt ashamed. He walked off and retired to his tent.

The summit of Gunung Rinjani stands at 3726m on the island of Lombok, Indonesia . The mountain itself is part of a series of massifs that form an enormous volcanic calderas. Lying within this calderas is a new semi active volcano, Gunung Baru. Forming a crescent around this new cone is Segara Anak which is a fresh water lake home to a multitude of Carp.

Our expedition began in a small village on the northern slopes of Rinjani. From our guest house we could see Rinjani’s summit and its long, angular ridge line. For all of us it was an imposing site. We were all climbing for various reasons. Some needed an adventure, others a challenge, while I was here filming the struggle the nine other trekkers would undertake to reach Rinjani’s summit. My brother Phil needed an adventure. He had a one year old at home and a pregnant wife with his second, so I guess (though I never have asked him) he needed something for himself, to relive a bygone day when he felt more important and to some extent his own person.

The first day from Senaru is a long and at times grueling climb through lush rain and cloud forests. Grey Macaques and Ebony monkeys swung through the forests canopy, pausing occasionally to spy on their unusual biped cousins below. Buttress roots gauged there way across the worn path frequently forming steps that were just a little higher than a natural stride. After 6 hours we had reached base camp three which stands approximately 500 vertical metres below the volcano’s rim. It was a difficult climb. Phil rested in his tent for most of the afternoon complaining of feeling weary and having sore knees.

By dinner time we were all starving so we scoffed the Nasi Goreng down with gusto. Phil took one mouth full and quickly ran off to the bushes to vomit. Repeatedly. Very loudly. It was like some enormous beast growling in the bushes. I went to comfort him and soon realised that we were standing in amongst a thicket of Stinging Nettle; an extremely painful weed that can takes days to clear up. Phil was oblivious to this as he was concentrating on his vomiting bear impersonation. I slowly backed us out of harms way and took Phil to his tent. In the moment of illness, of stomach cramps and sweating brows he mumbled to me that he couldn’t go on and that he wanted to head back to Senaru. I asked him to sleep on it and we would reassess it in the morning.

My restless sleep was broken by the sweet chirping of morning birds. I exited my tent to film the morning sites and sounds. The porters were already busying themselves with breakfast preparations while the trekker’s tents moaned, groaned and vibrated like enormous purple beetles. I slid into Phil’s tent to see how he was. Physically he remained weak and sore, but the feeling of defeat had waned and he was prepared to go on and see how he would do.

Another difficult climb awaited us, but we could see the rim of the crater and our spirits rose with every metre closer to it. Until midday, the air around Rinjani remains crystal clear and as we climbed we would pause to look behind us to see the awesome volcanoes of Bali rise from the sea. Then all of a sudden, that rock and grass that we had been looking at beneath our feet for the last two days fell away into one of the world’s most amazing gaping holes. The horizon flung itself 8 km from us as we walked up to the rim, witness to Segara Anak and Gunung Baru rising from its depths.

But more impressive than that was the summit of Gunung Rinjani. From our vantage point we could see what we had to do to get to the summit. We could see the camp site by the lake and the steep climb to base camp 4 on the other side of the calderas. And finally we could see the intimidating ridge climb all the way to the summit. From here we wondered how on earth we were going to get there. God knows what Phil was thinking. This would have been the last chance for him to turn around, as by the time we had reached the lake’s shore he would have been half way between the two towns that could offer him safety. I didn’t tell him this. He picked up his pack and led the expedition down the inside of the calderas to our camp for the night.

By the time we reached the lake camp several other trekkers started to feel the pain. One had a nasty fall on his way down though he escaped any real injuries. Others who were full of humour and spirit two days prior were more introspective, while another dehydrated himself and found himself vomiting uncontrollably. Phil remained composed, mustering all he had to continue the climb, wasting no energy on swimming or talking terribly much. The camp site itself was ideally perched on the top a small 5m cliff that over looked the lake and the tranquil scene before it. By mid afternoon the lake itself was hardly visible though we were only metres from it. The warmed low lands had shot cooler air up the valley into the lake, forming giant cloud banks that whirled and danced across the water in a mystical rhythm. The summit we had been eyeing off all day also vanished, so we all retired to some nearby thermal hot pools to soak our weary bodies. By dinner our spirits had lifted. We all slept well that night 2200m above sea level on the shores of our volcanic lake.

The following morning began exactly the same as the previous one. Birds chirped, porters prepared and tents moaned and groaned. But you couldn’t help feeling happy and excited waking up to banana pancakes, a hot cup of tea and a view rarely rivaled. The air was fresh and clean and our bodies felt like they were acclimatizing to the outdoor life. We rested until lunch, waiting for the clouds to come in before attempting to climb up the other side of the calderas to base camp 4. Without the clouds and the subsequent breeze, the climb would be stifling hot and almost unbearable. Phil started to feel better. He was holding his food down and after a massage from one of the other trekkers, his muscles and knees felt slightly better. He led out of camp once again, this time just carrying a day pack to conserve energy for the summit climb. Four others had passed their laden backpacks onto the porters as they too were still feeling the strain of the last few days. We filmed their bodies move up the slope, disappearing into the swift cloud banks like silhouetted spirits.

Most of the group made good progress. The terrain was rough, rocky and steep. The buttress roots that zigzagged across the path only two days prior were replaced by small boulders that once again forced us to step upward with unusually long strides. We focused our filming on one of the other trekkers this day. He was really struggling and as we climbed higher, swore that he could see elephants walking up the path. He staggered into camp several hours after the first had arrived, utterly spent. What I didn’t know was that Phil was fighting his own battle. His stomach cramps returned and his knees were aching from the climb up. He remained determined but I sensed defeat. It wasn’t anything he said, as the words coming out of his mouth were positive. It was the way he looked at the mountain. In fact he had been looking at the summit like that for a couple of days as if to say “You’re a lot bigger than I thought you were”.

The feeling around the camp was high. We were the only ones at base camp, and on this narrow cliff edge we had amazing views of the lake and by now the setting sun over Bali . We were above the clouds. We were at the place that would take some of us to the summit. We were all a bit nervous.

That night, while sitting by the camp fire, I could hear Phil quietly crying in his tent. He started to feel ill again and his knees were aching from the days climb. There was little I could do except sit there. We were due to leave camp in 6 or 7 hours, so I suggested he get some rest and we’ll reassess how he feels at 3am.

Most of the group had retired for the night. I checked and double checked the camera gear for the climb. I didn’t want to go to my tent too early as I knew I would lay there for hours wondering if everything would be alright, if anyone would pullout, if anyone would get hurt. I slid into the tent I was sharing with Phil at about 9pm . This was late, usually it was around 7pm . I convinced myself I was tired and ready for sleep. Naturally I wasn’t, and I lay there until midnight wondering all those things I didn’t want to wonder.

This brings me back to the start of the story. I understood Phil’s reasoning. It was the right decision and a brave one at that. But I couldn’t help feeling disappointed and to a small degree, frustrated for him. He had come so far and so close to achieving a goal he had set, only to stop 800 vertical metres from it. I gave him a hug and then gathered the others together for our departure.

The moon was full and hung well aloft, illuminating the narrow path that led to the main ridge to the summit. This is a steep climb, made worse by the scree underfoot. Once the ridge was reached, the stronger climbers went ahead with their guide. I remained mid way between those at the front and the stragglers. Occasionally I set up the camera to film the thoughts of the climbers and to give an up date of events.

After two hours, we were at the base of the final and most grueling part of the ridge that leads straight to the summit. I looked back along the ridge to see small spots of light swaying from side to side then stopping. Sway. Stop. Sway. Stop. It was a rhythm familiar to me now. Several lights were well down the ridge. Their progress was excruciatingly slow. It was Gerrard and JJ. In a way I wished one of them would pull out. Not because I didn’t want them to succeed, but because I didn’t want Phil to be alone. I wanted to show him that it wasn’t just him, that the mountain can take its toll on anyone.

The sun was starting to illuminate the horizon. I could see its warm glow to the east still 30 or 40 minutes from revealing its true brilliance. It is this part of the climb that tests ones metal. The 40 degree pitch coupled with scree and scoria base makes climbing not only exhausting but tedious. 15 steps up, slide back five and then stop. This was the rhythm of this mountain climb. 15 steps and stop. I needed to get to the summit before sunrise so I pushed on ahead of the 5 last climbers.

It was 6am when I reached Rinjani’s summit. I shook hands with the others that had reached the top and congratulated them on their effort. This was the second time I had been standing here in the last nine months and for some reason I thought I wouldn’t enjoy it as much as the first time. I guess that elation that I had done it wasn’t there but I felt as proud and satisfied as ever. Not only had I climbed to the summit, but I was the leader of my first expedition and I was filming for a documentary. These added pressures had made the summit just as satisfying as the first time.

I set up the camera and tripod just below the summit platform and filmed the rising sun over Sumbawa . It was incredible. I could see the world’s largest volcano; Tambora; to the east and the shadow cast by Rinjani’s mass on the horizon to the west. I filmed the lake and the swift clouds that rushed over the lip of the crater. Finally I filmed the battle still being waged on the mountain by JJ and Gerrard.

I remember one shot of the ridge line which showed JJ slowly plodding into the bottom left hand corner of the frame. He stopped and took in the view, then took ten more steps before stopping again. After another rest, he soldiered on stopping soon after and looking up along the ridge. He finally plodded out of the top right of frame. This shot took up 4 minutes of tape and the distance walked would be no more than 50 meters.

I pointed the camera towards a large boulder outcrop that dominates the top of the ridge line, just below the summit. From here it is an easy walk up to the top. Coming along this path was JJ and Gerrard, accompanied by Craig (a Personal Trainer) who had motivated them up the mountain. They were exhausted but absolutely thrilled with their achievement. After the mandatory summit shots and a rest, we all headed back down to base camp.

Phil was waiting for our return. I could see his disappointment. He told me that he had vomited just after we left camp and watched our head lamps bob up and down along the ridge line. While everyone else was exhausted, they all had a look of satisfaction. Phil wandered around camp aimlessly, quiet and depressed.

Our walk back to a small village on the eastern slope of Rinjani must have been agonisingly long for him. He walked quietly, answering questions briskly and never starting a conversation. I shared a room with him for the last few days before heading home. Phil remained tense and unresponsive to encouragement. He told me that this was the last trip he would do for years. He blamed his wife and fatherhood for this. I was getting frustrated with his continued melancholy but what could I say? I had to let it go.

* * *

Two weeks after our return, we were invited over to Phil’s for dinner. I wasn’t sure how to handle talking about Rinjani. Should I avoid the topic? The night went fine. We all talked about Rinjani openly. Phil’s spirit returned and we talked about the film and when it would be completed. He told me that he had a great idea for another film. Always interested I lent him my ear. He told me it would be about him and a mountain in Lombok . The film would be called “Unfinished Business”.

* * * * *

Published on 3/1/05