Just as beautiful but much quieter than neighbouring Bali, the Indonesian island of Lombok boats baby-power beaches and great surf, rainforests and bucolic farms, a magnificent crater lake and some of the planet’s finest sunrises.
words Tiffany Chan
*Featured in Crave’s Issue 88, November 2017
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 two kilometre 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 Sugar Anak, or Child of the Sea, often gorgeously wreathed in mist. Far easier to get to are the lovely waterfalls of Sending 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 Tinjani, 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, Sending 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 Blank is a vast, shallow beach with baby-power 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 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, the you had never left at all.
| First Things First
What to Do
Lombok has famously dramatic sunrises and getting up – or staying up – to see one is almost mandatory. Drive north to watch the sunrise over Mount Rinjani and breakfast at Senaru before walking through the rainforest to Sending Gile and Tiu Kelep waterfalls. Break the long drive back to Seenggigi at Nipah or Pemenang beach, and rent a paddle board or kayak. Afterwards, lunch by the water on barbecued fish and squid with a side of stir-fried eggplants. You’ll be back in Senggigi in time for the sunset. Catch it at La Chill, one of the most popular all-day beachfront spots. At dusk, beachgoers plop down on a beanbag with a Bintang and watch as the sun sets fire to the sky then slowly fades to black. Get a foot massage at Orchid, where an hour of foot reflexology is just 60,000 rupiah (about HK$35), then move on to Happy Café, which has live music from 9pm most evenings. Next day, head south to Kuta – a 90-minute drive from Senggigi – to surf, beach-hop, sleep and repeat.
Where to Stay
Honeymooners: The Oberoi
In northern Lombok, The Oberoi is the most luxurious resort on the island, with a private beach and incomparable sunsets over a distant backdrop of Bali’s Mount Agung volcano. Stay in a thatched villa or pavilion.
Medana Beach, Tanjung, 83352 Lombok, Indonesia
T +62 370 613 8444
Family-friendly: Novotel Lombok Resort and Villas
The only luxury hotel in south Lombok, the four-star Novotel is perched above Kuta beach and boasts villas built in the traditional Sasak style. Its three swimming pools, private beachfront and plethora of activities make it ideal for families with children.
Mandalika Resort, Pantai Putri Nyale, Pujut Lombok Tengah, 83001 Lombok, Indonesia
T +62 370 615 3333
Post-trek: Rinjani Lodge
Accommodation in Senaru consists mainly of backpacker hostels and homesteads. One exception is the boutique Rinjani Lodge, with bungalows and a gorgeous infinity pool clinging to the edge of the lush valley. It’s beautiful place to relax after a trek.
Jalan Periwisata Senaru, Bayan, North Lombok, 80335 Lombok, Indonesia
T +62 819 0738 4944
What to Eat and Drink
Perhaps the most popular dish in Lombok, a lean young chicken is grilled or fried and served with a fiery samba, or chilli paste. The chicken is quite skinny, which means it stays tender and is exceptionally delicious. Ayam Taliwang is served everywhere, but we enjoyed it at RM Nada Alan Nyaman.
Sate Ikan Tanjung
Originating in Tanjung, North Lombok, fish satay is made from pounded snapper or tuna blended with spices, coconut milk, small chillies and lemongrass, and grilled on sticks. Fragrant, sour and spicy, it’s a delicious roadside snack. We ate it at a warung (family-run cafe) on Ketapang Beach, on the way to Bayan.
Eggplant is popular on Lombok and comes in many guises. Here, it’s stir-fried until tender and almost falling apart, and smothered in a heavily spiced tomato sauce. Try it at any warung.
Kangkung, or water spinach, is a Sasak staple. It’s blanched until tender, and served with a pungent sauce of tomatoes, chilli, garlic, shallots and terasi (shrimp paste), with a squeeze of lemon or lime. We had ours at Ya Ya Warung, where it comes with a smattering of peanuts and bean sprouts for texture, and is often ordered as a side to yam taliwang.
Hugely popular although not originally from Lombok, bask yam, or Indonesian chicken and meatballs, was one of our favourite dishes (we loved it at Bakso Beranak). Break apart the tennis ball-sized meatball to fine smaller, denser meatballs inside and a quail’s egg at the centre. The meatball comes in beef broth – rich, complex and intensely flavoured with onion, garlic, chilli and pepper – with egg noodles and rice vermicelli. Eat it with samba thick soy paste and chilli sauce.