The Archipelago Journal Lombok

It was as peaceful an afternoon as it could possibly be. The only sound was the waves lapping against our feet as we walked on Mandalika beach, where the bright cream sand contrasts harmoniously with the clear turquoise sea.

We had arrived in Lombok less than two hours earlier, via a ferry that crossed the sea from Padang Bai in Bali to Lembar. We had decided to travel by sea when we started planning this journey a year ago. It wasn’t because the ferry ticket was cheap, but because we were bringing motorcycles from Bali to help us get around on this exotic island.  “A journey with a menu of sea and beaches,” enthused Philip, my Austrian friend who was accompanying me, as we looked forward to exploring terrain as different from his European homeland as it was possible to get.

As soon as the ferry spilled out its passengers, we rode our motorcycles. We relished the simple beauty of the landscape on a perfect Lombok morning: the golden green fields covered in evaporating thin white mist, a few slow-moving vehicles and the silhouettes of onion-shaped mosque domes outlined between the shadows of majestic Mt Rinjani and the trees. Every now and then we came across a horse-drawn bendi carriage, not just a tourist attraction, but still an actively used mode of everyday transport.

The southern coast of Lombok was first on our itinerary. The stunning beaches backed by hills and cliffs were ideal subjects for my camera, while Philip hoped to catch a wave or two. It seemed we were blessed with a single place that would fulfil our different objectives. As our headquarters we chose to stay in Kuta, located right on the beach. People say that this area of Lombok is more hippie than the much better-known Kuta on Bali, which seemed accurate to us: there was still a sense of being in a kampung, or village, despite the developing tourism businesses.

Mandalika beach is located east of Kuta, separated by Seger beach, which has a hill that juts out into the sea. Mandalika beach is also referred to as Nyale beach: both names stem from a local legend about a princess called Mandalika who turned into a sea worm (Nyale) in order to stop the conflict in her kingdom. Every March around the beach there is a ceremony called Bau Nyale, where people hunt sea worms, a joyful tradition which usually attracts plenty of attention. Whatever time  of year you visit, take the time to climb Merese Hill for a superb panoramic view.

Further east, Lombok’s beautiful beaches continued to wow. We stopped at the vast, spectacular Tanjung A’an, where the sand is as fine as flour and just as white, flanked by hills. The strong wind makes this spot popular for kite-surfing: there are several kite-surf rentals in south Lombok if you feel like giving it a try.

Near Tanjung A’an, there is a beach that is very popular for photography: Batu Payung beach features a strikingly unusual rock formation shaped a bit like a mushroom. Be warned though, it can only be accessed via a lengthy walk along beach and cliffs, so some people choose to cross to it by renting a fishing boat.

“If you are curious to visit a beach that is unique but quite far east, go to Pink beach,” advised a restaurant owner. As its name suggests, this beach has sand the colour of guavas, a phenomenon caused by sand erosion from the savannah hills in the Lesser Sunda Islands. Originally known as Tangsi beach, the name was changed to give it further allure. Another nearby spot worth visiting is Tanjung Ringgit, where steep cliffs meet the ocean in a dramatic display of nature’s masterwork.

Satisfied with our exploration of the coastline east of Kuta, the following day we went in the opposite direction. The route going west along the beaches was no less spectacular – the journey was quite smooth, but there were more hills, creating sudden climbs and drops that curved around and made us feel like we really were on an adventure. Frankly, I liked the route, especially when riding it alone at twilight.

Mawun beach hypnotised us with its tantalisingly long stretch of white sand, shaped like a crescent moon. The pointed hill on the right looks like a fang, a leafy tree provides shade and a handful of cold-drink sellers ply their wares, keeping each other at a distance.

Next stop was Selong Belanak beach, where we were tempted to go surfing. With a similar charm to the world-famous beaches of Brazil, the curvature of Selong Belanak, its rolling waves and the layers of surrounding hills are attractive enough to make anyone want to stay here until nightfall. Places like this along the west coast of Lombok are ideal for surfers and beach lovers of any persuasion to enjoy watching the glorious colours of the sunset after a tranquil day of waves and sunshine.

The last spot we visited that day was Mawi beach. This beach has a charismatic dual nature: calm but wild, silent but dramatic. There are two bays;  on the right is a place for mid-level surfers to compete, while on the left is a romantic seafront, perfect for honeymooners. I found numerous snails, shells and coral washed up on the beach, tinged in various hues of purple. The mound on the left hides an alluring sight: piles of rocks formed like a flatter version of the Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland. On an island fringed with spectacular beaches, Mawi stands out as a very special place.

Any discussion of Lombok’s beaches wouldn’t be complete, however, without mentioning the small islands on its western ribs: Gili Air, Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan. These three islands are lined up like brothers floating in the straits of Lombok, each with its own special characteristics.

A highlight of my trip to the Gili Islands was diving among the human statues that have been planted amongst the abundant fish and coral in the sea off Gili Meno. Although the smallest of the three, the island has a saltwater lake that produces salt during the dry season. Philip preferred the tranquillity and the coconut trees of Gili Air. There, horse-drawn carriages are used to carry tourists’ belongings, and bicycles can be rented at a reasonable price.

Our trip has given us a deeper respect for the sheer beauty and charm of a place that has long been a destination for nature lovers in general, and beach lovers in particular. We finished our adventure with abundant memories of some of the most beautiful beaches we have been fortunate enough to encounter – seemingly a new one with its own distinct character around every turn, from coloured sands to dramatic cliff-topped stretches.When it comes to getting sand between your toes, there are few places on the planet as magical as Lombok.

From Travel Colours October 2018