Bali off the beaten track
Published: August 2012
For those of us living in the Northern Hemisphere and looking for a spot of Winter Sun, you’d think most tropical places would fit the bill. Not so Bali which can be rainy, hot and gloomy in our winter months but cooler, sunnier and drier in the summer. Therefore, if you want an alternative to the Caribbean in August and September (when the latter are prone to hurricanes) then Bali makes a great choice. However, the island is also at its busiest then and the traffic even more congested that normal. Never the less there are plenty of ways to escape the crowds and to get off the beaten track, as I discovered on a trip last year.
First up, I’d been to Bali before but nearly 25 years ago, when it was a far, far quieter place. Everybody, locals and tourists alike, travelled around by bemo, the local form of public transport, normally a minibus or van with a row of low seats down each side. They’d generally be very cramped but it was all part of the Bali adventure. Bemos have now virtually disappeared and the main way of getting around is by moped. There are literally thousands of them and they’re less of an adventure, more of a nightmare.
I had some expert local knowledge to avoid spending my two week break stuck in a traffic jam, namely my younger sister who is part of the ever increasing expat crowd who have opted out and made Bali their home. Armed with her recommendations, day one started with a leisurely but fascinating day trip with Waka Land Cruises. Billed as a journey to the “soul of Bali” this takes you away from the main and now rather touristy temples (which I’d seen on my previous visit) to small forgotten villages and shrines. Our expert local guide explained the traditions and every day life of the Balinese people and it’s an interesting and leisurely introduction to the island. The customized land rovers seat six people, so you never feel part of a big group or disturb the peaceful rural life you encounter.
For something slightly more adventurous but still pretty leisurely I next opted for an all day downhill bike ride operated by Bali Adventure Tours. Bali Adventure Tours is a long established Bali tour operator with activities ranging from rafting adventures, river kayaking, white water rafting, jungle trekking as well as the Bali Elephant Safari Park where you can touch, feed and ride an elephant through the tropical jungle. Your journey starts high up in Kintamani in the centre of the island with views of Mount Batur. You then literally wind your way down through 26 km of lush valleys, through Balinese villages and past century-old temples and rich green rice fields. With no up hill climbs and very little traffic, it’s a perfect day out for adults and children alike. The latter particularly will enjoy the stop to visit the Asian Palm Civets or the coffee pooping cats. Kopi luwak or civit coffee is one of the world’s most expensive varieties of coffee. It’s made from the beans of coffee berries that the cats have eaten and then digest.
So far, all very relaxing but in need of some more activity and in order to stretch my legs before some more R & R on the beach I arranged to head back to Kintamani and a stay at Toya Devaysa, a natural hot spring and camping resort on the banks of Lake Batur. The luxurious resort is perfectly situated for an early morning climb of nearby Mount Batur. You’re woken at 4 am to start your climb of the volcano (not too strenuous but proper walking shoes are recommended and definitely take a fleece as it surprisingly cold on top) where you’re rewarded with stunning views and hopefully a sunrise. It’s then a quicker walk down in time for breakfast and a day to enjoy the thermal pools and large Olympic sized swimming pool.
If you’re looking for crystal clear water and squeaky white sand beaches, then sadly Bali’s main beaches will disappoint. Nusa Lembongan, a small island a 12 km boat trip east of Bali, on the other hand, will exceed expectations. I stayed at Waka Nusa, a resort of 10 African-looking round huts built amongst a palm tree plantation. There’s nothing mass market or overdeveloped about Waka Nusa, the beach is the requisite tropical white with locally moored fishing boats adding to the picturesque setting. The bath-water temperature sea is a perfect turquoise and there’s some great diving on offer as well. My only gripe was the salt water filled swimming pool but who needs a pool when the sea is a few steps away. Nusa Lembongan makes a great alternative to the more popular Gili Islands and can be highly recommended.
As Eat Pray Love illustrated, Bali is the perfect destination to renew your inner calm and harmony. What better way to do this than on a Yoga retreat. Yoga Health Retreats in Bali is this year is hosting 11 yoga health retreats with renowned Australian yoga teacher Sue Hawkins. Sue has over 27 years of yoga under her belt and brings her expertise to the Purnati Resort, a spiritual haven situated in the heart of the Upud countryside and the Kumara Sakti, a luxurious home to a Royal Balinese family overlooking the lush rice paddies also in Upud.
On my quest to escape the crowds and hustle and bustle of Bali’s main resorts, I finally found nirvana at Puri Lumbung Cottages which totally blew me away. The first of its kind in Bali, Puri Lumbung is an eco-tourism project dedicated to the enhancement of the unspoiled area around Munduk. Although now seldom used due to changes in farming techniques, the ‘lumbung' or rice granary was traditionally used to store rice under the protection of the goddess Dewi Sri. Puri Lumbung discovered several discussed lumbungs, averaging 80 years old and with minor adjustments adapted them into simple but charming small villas. Guests staying at these enjoy spectacular sunsets and panoramas of the rice fields and coast line in the distance. The highlights of a stay here are the various treks and walks the hotel arranges covering waterfalls, villages and rice fields.
All this escaping from it all is all very well but as regular website visitors will know, there’s nothing I like more than water and thrill rides. So to conclude on an entirely different note I ended my trip at Waterbom, home to more than 17 world class exciting and adrenaline pumping water slides. Located in the heart of Kuta and a far cry from my wish of getting away from it all, it’s still great fun and who says you can’t have peace and tranquillity and some water slide action as well.
Bali off the beaten track
Petra joined Travel Channel for its launch back in 1994. She looked after research and worked on all original productions. Petra was one of the most recognisable faces in the the travel industry and when not on the canape circuit promoting the channel, she spent every free moment travelling. She's visited over 80 countries, mainly as a back packer as opposed to in 5 * luxury, unless of course it was in the name of research!
To find out more about Waka Experience visit www.wakaexperience.com
To find out more about Bali Adventure Tours visit www.baliadventuretours.com
To find out more about Toya Devaysa visit www.toyadevasya.com
To find out more about Yoga Health retreats www.yogahealthretreats.com
To find out more about Puri Lumbung visit www.purilumbung.com
To find out more about Waterbom visit www.waterbom-bali.com