With over 17,000 islands to explore, Indonesia is the world’s largest archipelagic nation and the delight of intrepid travellers from across the globe. While many Aussies opt for the laid-back beach bars of Bali, there are countless adventures just a quick boat or plane ride away, offering a taste of Indonesia that will leave you hankering for more. Here’s our top three picks that are just a hop, skip and a jump from Bali, from the lazy shores of Lombok to the underwater paradise of the Flores.
This article was originally written for AWOL digital magazine.
Nusa Lembongan: discover Bali, 30 years ago
“Bali just isn’t what it used to be” is a common catch-cry of sunburnt tourists, sipping cocktails at sunset as they celebrate their fifth trip to the island in less than a decade. Indeed, Bali’s natural beauty and easy nature has seen tourism development set a cracking pace over the past few years, and it’s little surprise that people find things much changed from visit to visit. For those who’d prefer to experience a slice of paradise perfectly preserved in time, it’s a simple matter of boarding a 30-minute speedboat ride to the shores of Nusa Lembongan, just 50km Southeast of Bali.
Like any place that still offers an ‘undiscovered’ tourist experience, Nusa Lembongan has all the ingredients of the perfect getaway destination, without the high-gloss polish. Expect skinny dirt roads that wind hap-haphazardly across the tiny island, best navigated on a hired scooter while keeping a sharp eye out for phantom roosters. Whilst the middle of the island remains relatively untouched by the tourism industry – and thus the secret to its charm – the exterior of Nusa Lembongan is lined with pockets of hotels, eateries and bars, each boasting a view more spectacular than the next, whether it’s a mountain-top warung (Indonesian restaurant) frying up catch-of-the-day, or seaweed farmers harvesting their crop in the shallow reefs that border the island.
Food and drink aside, time in Nusa Lembongan should be reserved for the kinds of holiday activities best matched to paradise islands; from snorkelling and diving (for the more energetic among us) to good old fashioned beachside lazing. Contributing to its laid-back charm is the sprawling layout of the island, where pockets of tourists wile away the days completely independently of other holiday-goers. Each dirt track is an adventure to the next jaw-dropping view or ice-cold beer, with no telling where you might pop out at any given time. Truly, the traveller’s dream.
Lombok: journey into the unknown
While its smaller neighbour Gili Trawangan may have attracted notorious party-going fame in recent years, the island of Lombok remains a relatively undiscovered part of Indonesia’s West Nusa Tenggara Province, despite being a mere 40-minute plane ride from Bali’s domestic airport or an hour by speedboat from the shores of Sanur. Close as it may be, Lombok casts a shadow markedly different from its Westerly counterparts, due in part to its pre-dominantly Islamic population. Where Balinese holiday-goers delight in the blessings and street processions that characterise Hindu religion, Lombok tourists will be awakened by the call to prayer of mosques as they echo across the island’s mountainous terrain at dawn.
Perhaps it’s the influence of this often compartmentalised culture that creates such an air of mystique in Lombok, home to some of Indonesia’s most beautiful stretches of white-sand beaches and towered over by the peak of Mount Rinjani, Indonesia’s second-highest active volcano. Depending on your holiday pleasure, head to the island’s Southeast surf beaches of Bangko Bangko (best accessed by speedboat from Bali), or fly into the international airport at Praya and make your way to Mount Rinjani national park for an above-cloud-level volcanic experience. For some post-activity downtime, visit the sprawling town of Kuta in Southern Lombok, where the white shores of Selong Balanak beach rival some of the world’s best tourism exports.
Flores: Europe in Southeast Asia
Ask a recent visitor to describe their trip to Flores and you may well find yourself sailing through the isles of Greece or Croatia – where mountains spring like volcanoes from a smattering of tiny islands, connected by a layer of water so blue and clear you can watch your dinner swimming at the bottom. Virtually unheard until 10 years ago, Flores is fast becoming one of Indonesia’s most coveted holiday destinations, with the newly installed airport in Labuan Bajo now running daily 1.5 hour flights from Bali.
Famed for its surreal beauty and best navigated aboard the deck of a wooden sailing boat, Flores has all the mystique of a Game of Thrones episode. As well as home to the famed Komodo Dragons – a pre-historic, carnivorous reptile that devour their own young – the isle was shared by a unique species of ‘Hominin’, the remains of which were discovered in 2004. Standing at just a metre tall, these Hobbit-like creatures lived in Flores over 18,000 years ago, a discovery that delighted evolutionists across the world.
That such an important find could have been made a mere decade ago is a testament to just how untouched the isle of Flores is, resulting in a truly spectacular experience both above and below water. The archipelago’s main port – the sleepy town of Labuan Bajo – is home to a throng of dive shops and tour guides, offering everything one-day trips to weeklong live a-boards. Depending on the scale of your budget, you can either base yourself in Labuan Bajo or its neighbouring beaches, or get nautical as you sail day-by-day to the isle’s dive spots, pink beaches, national parks and stunning ridges.