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The Luxury Side of Lombok
The beautiful island of Lombok, is characterised by a blissful paradise of sweeping bays, white-sand beaches and coral reefs, coconut groves, jungle, forest, mighty waterfalls and the towering volcano, Mt Rinjani, that is one of the tallest in Indonesia
Being the island just to the east of Bali and though there are less than 40 kilometres of sea (the famed Lombok straights) between these two islands, the physical and cultural distinctions are considerable; comparisons are inevitable and contrasts are marked and the two islands have a radical difference in level of development and a distinct cultural heritage (though owing some of its shared history, Hindus of Balinese origin do make up approximately 10% of Lombok’s inhabitants).
The economy in Lombok is largely agriculturally based. Its 2.4 million Inhabitants are largely concentrated in south of the island which is approximately 5,600 square kilometres in size. In general, the island entices groups of travellers who wish to escape from the conventional commercialism that generalizes so much of Southeast Asia, are beach and activity oriented and see to see a new area of the world. The island is also a haven for those in search of peace and serenity with a feeling of timelessness.
A visit to Lombok is an opportunity to spend some time on beautiful beaches, explore a natural paradise, trek the Rinjani National Park, enjoy some extraordinary diving, and encounter a traditional, rural way of life exposing a fascinating integration of Sasak and Hindu cultures. Visitors are welcomed at the splendid Sasak festivals and Hindu ceremonies, and the island produces some remarkable handicrafts. In the tiny villages artisans can be seen at work creating textiles, baskets and pots.
Spectacular northwest Lombok is navigated via a road which hugs the dramatic coastline around cool coconut groves, sweeping bays and towering headlands. Senggigi is the most developed tourist area, yet is still pretty quiet. Here, simple accommodation mingles with luxury resorts, and there is an entertaining, yet unobtrusive, nightlife with a good choice of restaurants, bars, pubs and clubs with live music. There is also an art market at Senggigi where you can buy Lombok handicrafts.
Twenty-three kilometres from Sengiggi, Sira (also spelt ‘Sire’ and ‘Sera’) is the longest white-sand beach on the island, lapped by crystal waters and fringed by tall, swaying palm trees. From the beach there is a panoramic vista of the mountains, the coastline, the tiny port of Bangsal and the three Gili Islands. Located right beside the beach is the Lombok Golf Kosaido Country Club, with an 18-hole championship course.
The Sira beach area which is one side of a small peninsular jutting into the ocean, is also the location of Hotel Tugu Lombok, which has enough history, artefacts and curios to keep visitors fascinated for hours, while anchoring the point of the peninsula is The Oberoi Lombok Hotel. Both hotels are great options for lunch, dinner or sunset cocktails and offer a range of facilities including spas.
Owing to its natural beauty, its growing ‘social infrastructure’ and its position just across from the Gili islands, the Sira Beach area plays host to the majority of private villa estates. The smallest in the area is situated on 4 acres of land (1.6 hectares), and all boast expansive swimming pools, direct beach frontage, extensive facilities and dedicated staff.
From the Gilis or from Sira beach, one can hop in a speedboat and watch the reefs pass below in the crystal aquamarine water and be there for within 30 minutes for an afternoon excursion, or just lunch, and then be back where you started with the sun still high in the sky.
Teluk Nara, six kilometres from Sira, is a small harbour where the regular commercial fast boats from Bali and the Gili Islands stop to drop off passengers. It’s fun to watch the harbour activity, and there are always beautiful boats and yachts moored here. Bangsal, four kilometres from Sira, is another local harbour where the slow, public ferries leave for the Gili Islands, laden down with pearl sellers, building materials, panniers of vegetables, chickens and the occasional goat or cow.
Sprinkled off the northwest shore of Lombok, the trio of tiny emerald isles known as the Gili Islands boasting white-sand beaches and amazing coral reefs, are time-honoured favourites of divers, and travellers attracted by its pristine beaches and natural beauty.
The islands first became popular with those looking for true escapism back in the 1980s. Gili Meno is the quietest of the three, while Gili Trawangan is distinguished as the island most known for its nightlife. Life on the Gilies is laid-back, with numerous little beachside cafes. With cars, motorbikes banned from the island – transport options are comprised of bicycles or horse drawn carts, locally known as ‘Cidomos’.
Well renowned as an area for is natural marine beauty, for those who want more than snorkelling, many dive centres to help visitors explore the islands’ reefs. In recent years the scene has changed rapidly on Gili Trawangan, whereas Gili Meno and Gili Air are developing at a far slower pace.
Trawangan still maintains its tropical paradise charm, but now has a wider range of accommodation facilities to cater to a broader spectrum of travellers. There are no high rise hotels, and definitely no McDonalds, but there is a variety of different dining and bars now established catering to a diverse clientele.
Some of Lombok’s most spectacular coastal scenery can be found on the southern shores of the island around Kuta – a small fishing village that presents a very different picture to its infamous namesake in Bali.
Surfers will discover Lombok to be rewarding beyond all expectations; it is far less crowded than Bali and it offers a great variety of waves that work on all swell and wind conditions. For those who prefer stalking the greens: there are two golf courses on the island.
The road from Mataram to Kuta is a journey through time, a harmonious integration of legend, tradition and reverence to God, where shirtless old men in checked sarongs still eke out a living from the sea or the dry farmland. Windswept sandy beaches and picturesque bays are separated by headlands and awesome rocky outcrops. The glorious crescent-shaped beaches of Kuta and Tanjung Aan are famous for their surf breaks, yet when the tide is out, the bays turn into shallow pools of turquoise water.
Although huge expanses of Lombok’s shores are totally undeveloped with just a few small villages dotted inland, land development – especially in the south – is nevertheless happening fast. A variety of new tourism investments, and construction of an international airport, capable of handling wide-bodied aircraft, is planned to be operational by 2010. With this new airport, more direct flights are planned from around the world. New roads are being built, old roads are being widened and resurfaced, and utilities and infrastructure continue to improve.
Lombok is structuring its own adjustment to modernity; tradition marches alongside progress in unique fashion within which both its residents and visitors play their parts.
Activities in Lombok include surfing, snorkelling, diving, golf hiking, visiting majestic waterfalls and trekking Mt Rinjani.
The island also offers the chance to witness the traditional artisans at work, including potters and weavers, as well as experiencing the colourful local cultures, which can be found in the markets, villages, and at the Sasak and Hindu ceremonies and celebrations.
The uncrowded and serene Lombok Golf Kosaido Country Club is the sister course of Bali Handara Kosaido, and it is situated beside the beautiful sands of Sire Bay. Designed by Peter Thompson, Michael Wolveridge and Perrett, the 18-hole championship course challenges golfers of all levels. It follows the natural contours of the land with generously sized greens, and a mixed bag of bunkers. Holes 1- 9 face the sea, allowing golfers to enjoy the cool onshore breezes, and the signature hole no 4 is situated right beside the beach. Holes 10 -18 offer a stunning panorama of the Rinjani mountain range. Hole 12 is the longest hole with a handicap of 1.
Situated 500 metres above sea level, golfers at the Rinjani Golf & Country Club can enjoy spectacular views of Mt Rinjani, together with a beautiful sunset view of Bali’s Mt Agung. The 18-hole, international standard championship golf course has been designed to ensure playability for all levels and is bestowed with an abundance of water traps, bunkers and ravines, which will test any player's skill. Covering 76 hectares (over 200 acres), the first nine holes are set within a flat landscape dotted with coconut palms, holes 10 – 18 are set in a more varied landscape planted with an abundance of tropical trees and flowers.
Tanjung, close to Sira Beach and north of the Gunung Rinjani foothills, is an attractive market town with stalls overflowing with indigenous produce, including blocks of locally harvested tobacco. Coffee and cocoa plantations, together with fields of soya, peanuts, maize, cassava and cashews also shape the landscape and the population is sparse. The villagers grow the food crops for their own consumption and cotton is their cash crop. At Tanjung you will also find The Oberoi Lombok Hotel, an extensive five-star resort run by the famous Indian hotel chain, a spa and a gourmet restaurant, set within coconut palm gardens beside an exclusive beach, complete with a jetty – should you arrive by boat.
Guests can sit at open tables in the alfresco restaurant and catch the gentle breezes, or opt for a romantic candlelit experience in one of the relaxation gazebos. The menu includes a fine selection of international and local food, and excellent seafood. The fabulous Spa at The Oberoi, Lombok, offers a wide range of massage, facials, herbal baths and body treatments including scrubs and wraps administered in private pavilions. There is also a gym, beauty salon, sauna and steam rooms, while yoga takes place beside the ocean and coconut palms next to the Tokek Bar terrace.
Sira Beach also hosts the Hotel Tugu Lombok, part of an upscale Indonesian hotel group known for its unique style. Luxurious, romantic and atmospheric, this funky-fantastic, antique chic, 18-room boutique hotel is a living museum of Indonesian antiques and beautiful artworks.
Within its extensive grounds, there is a restaurant and bar open to outside guests, as well as a choice of unique and authentic dining experiences, each following an atmospheric historical theme, complemented by the appropriate cuisine, costumes, tableware and rituals. The spa at Tugu incorporates indoor and outdoor massage areas, a meditation room showcasing ancient Buddhist artefacts, a Jacuzzi and a fresh water pool guarded by the four statues of the God Bhairawa. Overlooking the ocean and Mt Rinjani, it utilises organic herbs and spices from the island’s interior and special spa trips are often arranged to the nearby waterfalls. Yoga and meditation are also available.
Central Lombok is dominated by the towering Mt Rinjani. At 3,726 metres high, this mighty volcano boasts the second highest peak in Indonesia and was believed to be dormant until late 1994 when Gunung Baru, in the crater, erupted.
It is one of the most revered and feared summits in the country, yet the challenge of trekking up its arduous slopes to Segara Anak, the breathtaking crater lake – and beyond – is one of the main reasons why some visitors come to Lombok and the view from the top, well above the clouds, is a sight to see.
The pretty mountain village of Senaru, gateway to the Gunung Rinjani National Park, offers a gentle walk along the river valley to two beautiful waterfalls, the 40-metre, tiered waterfall and natural spring known as Sindang Gila, and the breathtaking Tiu Kelep – a magnificent double waterfall dominated by a projectile jet of pure white energy, its backdrop a broad curtain of tumbling, foaming water lined with saturated moss and green vines.
At the base of the falls is a deep pool. If you feel like having a dip in the refreshingly-cool water, you should allow yourself to drift in a circle behind the main waterfall. It is believed to be blessed with youth-enhancing properties and, according to local legend, each time you encircle it, you will emerge one year younger! The walk takes about 20 minutes each way and can be done in the company of a Sasak guide.
If you want to go shopping in Lombok, don’t look for modern malls and designer clothing because there is very little on offer. Instead seek out the local products – arts, handicrafts, basketry, pottery, Sasak sarongs, textiles and pearls. High quality South Sea pearls are harvested in the farms within Lombok’s clean coastal waters. Specialist retail outlets on Sultan Kaharudin Street in Sekarbela, near Mataram, stock a huge selection of beautiful loose pearls, strands, hanks and strings of many colours, together with pearl clustered pieces of gold jewellery.
Sweta’s ‘Bertais Market’ sells everything that is made or produced on the island, including the intricate basketware for which Lombok is renowned. Fashioned from rattan, cane, banana leaf, coconut palm leaf, ata grass, bamboo and lontar palm, the products range from huge flat disks and large urns, to smaller pot-shaped receptacles, box handbags, sachets, cartons, envelopes, shopping bags, and bulbous baskets, garnished with beads, shells and hand-carved wooden lids.
Penujak, Banyumulek, and Masbagik are the three main pottery villages in Lombok, each with their own distinct styles and methods. In the mornings at Banyumulek, six kilometres south of Mataram, visitors can watch the women potters at work. The eye-catching pots, plates, saucers, bowls, lamps, planters and goblets are decorated, etched and engraved in unique, traditional and contemporary designs with paints, textiles and other finishes.
If you must visit a shopping mall, go to the air-conditioned Mataram Mall, but don’t get excited, it is only suitable for standard shopping and groceries. There are two international fast food international outlets – KFC and McDonald's (the only ones in Lombok), a Tiara department store, and Hero’s supermarket as well as ATM machines.
For those who need a taste of the nightlife, the two places for that are Sengiggi and Gili Trawangan.
A trip to Lombok wouldn’t be complete without visiting one of the traditional weaving villages to witness the production of the island’s striking hand-woven textiles. The fabrics are made on manually operated back strap looms, with the loom being supported by the weaver as she leans back to maintain the tension of the threads. In the villages the entire process of cloth making can be watched by visitors. Fabrics are produced for sarongs, fringed scarves, tablecloths and cushion covers, with motifs, textures and patterns often woven into the cloth. Villages specialising in cloth-weaving are Sukarara, Pringgasela, Rambitan/Sade and Sembalun.
There are several flights per day from Bali to Lombok, with Merpati, Wings Air, Indonesia Air Transport, Trigana, and Trans Nusa. The return airfare is around Rp 800,000 and the flight takes just 25 minutes. There are also regular daily services from Jakarta, Surabaya and Singapore.
Fast boat services from Bali to Lombok include Gili Cat, operating two vessels, daily, from Padang Bai to Gili Trawangan and Teluk Nara in Lombok. The Padang Bai start point is great for people travelling from Ubud, and while it may be a little bit further for people travelling from the south, the journey includes road transport to and from the Kuta area. The crossing takes an estimated 80 minutes. Price Rp 650,000 one-way. www.gilicat.com
Blue Water Express, operated by Blue Water Safaris, is another daily fast boat facility. Departing from Benoa Harbour to Gili Trawangan and Teluk Nara in Lombok, a hotel/villa pick up service is also provided. The distance is covered in less than 2.5 hours. Price Rp 600,000 one-way. www.bwsbali.com
There is also a public ferry that departs daily from Padang Bai in Bali to Lembar in Lombok and vice versa, the service departs every three hours, and the journey takes approximately four hours at the cost of Rp 32,000 one way.