SARAH ISON finds a sort of paradise, sort of easily
The new Air Asia direct flight between Perth and Lombok also brings its neighbours, the Gili Islands, virtually to our doorstep.
By speedboat from Lombok, you can reach the Gili Islands in about 15 minutes. Alternatively, you can take a longer, though much less bumpy, trip via charter boat — many of which have glass bottoms looking onto the coral reefs below.
But you don’t have to be nose to glass to see the flourishing ocean life. Even just looking over the side of the boat as it cruises past the reefs yields pops of yellow, pink and blue of exotic tropical fish.
What’s more, if you keep your eyes peeled, you’ll most likely see the bigger creatures of the deep, like a sea turtle popping up for a breath.
The eventful boat ride will take you to the island of your choice, with the smaller Gili Meno and Gili Air, offering the most laid-back and quiet experience.
Gili Meno is renowned as a honeymooner’s hotspot, with intimate villas, quiet beaches and romantic dinner spots.
Gili Air is similarly laid-back and peaceful, but with slightly more of a nightlife and less romance at every turn.
The biggest of the three, Gili Trawangan, is known for having the most sociable atmosphere, and offering the most options for accommodation and activities.
Previously referred to as “the party island”, Gili T is all about fun. But don’t be put off if it’s peace and quiet you’re after. There’s plenty of space on this island for every kind of traveller, and there are more quiet hideaways than ever after the quake.
Hotels like Villa Ombak offer beach-side views from the pool, presenting the nailbiting decision of either sipping cocktails by the bar, or lying on your back in the ocean and being lulled by the waves with a perfect view of Lombok on the horizon.
One of the other great quirks of all three islands is the lack of those rumbling, beeping vehicles, more commonly known as cars, as many visitors use carriages pulled by horses.
Whether you’re walking a quiet street or sitting on a beanbag at Sunset Ombok on Gili T’s south-west side, seeing the sun go down from the island is nothing short of spectacular.
Even after the daylight is gone, the show is not done. Without the glare of the sun’s rays, Bali’s Mt Agung stands out clearly on the horizon as a towering silhouette in the darkening twilight.
As day turns to night, Gilli T proves why it was previously dubbed the “party” island. While not quite yet at full capacity, the main drag of Trawangan is still alive with music, food and drink.
Gili trawangan — from party to peaceful
Previously known as the party island, Gili Trawangan (or Gili T as it is commonly known) has definitely taken a hit since the earthquake which hit these islands last August.
While everything is perfectly rebuilt, many of the bars away from the main strip remain relatively quiet after the sun goes down and the music within blares to no -one.
At first, this might sound off-putting, but if you’ve ever experienced the crush of people in Bali bars, the lack of serious crowds in Gili T represents a short, gleaming window for the opportune traveller.
The luxurious hotel rooms won’t be half filled for long, nor the bar stools unoccupied. It will surely be little time at all before Gili T returns to the point of growth pre-earthquake ... before quickly surpassing even that.
So in the meantime, avoid the lines and the wait and the hunt for space in your favourite venue, and enjoy a place that straddles “peace” and “party” in equal measure.
Where one becomes two
If you’re paying for a cocktail after 4pm on Gili Trawangan and walking away with just the one glass in your hand, you’re doing it wrong.
Happy hours abound on the island, meaning you can snag a beer for $2, if you know where to look and when (hint: Jiggi Bar after 5pm).
A quirk of this is that if you buy one cocktail to slowly sip at by a villa’s poolside or in a nearby bar, you’d find yourself with more than you bargained for. Double what you bargained for to be exact. Venues seem very keen on their “two-for-one” deals, and so you might find yourself with an unintentional head spin before dinnertime if you’re not careful.
This a good thing to remember, especially if you’re travelling with a friend or partner, to ensure you keep both the cost of drinks and the hangovers on your trip to a minimum.
One last thing to keep in mind while perusing the liquid luck of a drinks menu is to look out for the good, old-fashioned cocktails. As a general rule, the fruitier and more exotic-sounding the beverage, the more sugar syrup will be well-meaningly poured into the glass, leaving you possibly unable to taste anything else for the afternoon.
Jiggy Bar is a small joint, but packs in more activities and offers more than the gaping venues back home.
A sunken level in the centre of the bar is filled with tables for beer pong, which the staff take very seriously. Don’t be surprised if “security” ushers you in before turning to take a shot at the table. You can have a go yourself as part of a “tournament” held each night or play casually. Otherwise, you can join the “spectators” who sit at high tables on either side of the pit.
If such competitive sports aren’t your thing, a live DJ and almost unbelievable drink deals will surely keep you busy.
For more live music performed from out behind “the desk”, head to Sama Sama Reggae Bar, or just follow one of the many tunes floating through tropical evening — many beach-side venues have musicians playing the night away.
Should you grow tired of tapping your feet though, you can always try and snag a reclining seat on the sand at Pesona Beach Resort. For about $12, you can even puff the tasty smoke from the expansive shisha menu.
While you’re more than welcome to sleep the day away after a night’s debauchery, the best of the island’s activities take place in the water, which is calmest in the morning.
From standing up on a paddle board looking out at the horizon, to getting under the waves with a snorkel, there is a whole world to explore in whatever way you see fit.
Out of the warm waters, hiring a bike and cycling around the island is the perfect way to familiarise yourself with its size and its offerings and will take about 45 minutes.
To further inspire a day of activities and exploration, the main drag is littered with tour options, from island hopping to snorkel, diving and fishing trips.
Shop around a little to get the best deals; haggling is part of life on Gili T.
But remember that you don’t need to book a tour to take in the island. This is especially the case with tour providers shopping “swimming with sea turtles” as an activity you need to pay for.
If you head north from the harbour towards Gili Divers, you’ll start walking past cages on the beach protecting turtle eggs buried beneath. Once there, all you need to do is walk into the surf, goggles in hand, and keep an eye out.
The rest of the day can be spent anywhere from inside a spa — where you can grab a $30 hour-long massage — to the seaside as you cycle, swim, surf or boat the afternoon away.
As you watch the final sunset of your short and sweet getaway to a paradise right on your doorstep, you may find yourself already missing the crystal-clear waters and the warm tropical air blanketing you from morning to night.
DisclaimerSarah Ison was a guest of Air Asia. They have not seen or approved this story.
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