A World Away: Lombok Getaway
Published 03 August 2012
After much delay Lombok’s new and improved airport opened in late 2011 making it easier to access the wonderful pristine beaches of the south coast. Thomas Jones flew back in for a look at what’s on offer.
Images and Text by Thomas Jones
The increased size of Lombok’s new airport isn’t just opening retail opportunities for Lombok islanders and tourists, it is also a major source of entertainment for the local communities who flock to the chain link fences surrounding the runway each evening to watch the handful of planes arriving and departing, and with it the promise of a brighter future for all. There are a few security issues with cows on the runway and people taking shortcuts through holes in the fence but in these early days it’s all part of the tropical charm and hopefully will be ironed out with time. In the meantime it’s a novelty that has not yet worn thin.
Tourism hasn’t reached adulthood yet in South Lombok. Innocent and beautiful, it doesn’t have the cynicism and decadence that can be seen in the more built up parts of Bali, for example, and while the cargo cult at the airport is bustling in anticipation, to the south, Kuta is still taking it easy.
Not to be confused with Bali’s famous beach – Kuta, Lombok feels like the Wild West. There is one French-owned five star resort nearby but for the most part the accommodation is pretty basic. It’s a one-, maybe two-horse town with a handful of streets with small restaurants, shops and budget hotels and guesthouses, still mainly in the hands of locals, and filled with surfers and low cost backpacker types and everything is so laid back it’s almost falling over.
Although it’s a place to come to with no expectations of grandeur, but signs of development can be felt on the wind with a few villas and developments starting to crop up. But for now it’s still a grass hut and bamboo culture with Bar, Why Not? being a classic example. Taking full advantage of the views west across Kuta beach and offering cold beers, cocktails and magic muchrooms for the daring (while not strictly il-legal, they are not for the faint of heart), they blare Bob Marley’s universal message of love through their sound system while offering an unforgettable sunset experience at the end of each day with sand beneath your toes.
The real magic, however, is found outside of Kuta, along the damaged and rutted roads that hug the coast to the west towards Selong Belanak where the potholes stop and the road quality improves no end as it heads inland again in the direction of the airport.
The real magic, however, is found outside of Kuta, along the damaged and rutted roads that hug the coast.
After spending two nights in Kuta, we rented a couple of scooters and headed off to stay at Villa Atas, a fully-staffed, two-bedroom villa overlooking Selong Belanak Beach, and our ‘flash as’ home for the next three days. The drive there was something else. Along this stretch of road, over high headlands and through rural villages, the many bays and beaches are secluded and beyond picturesque with sand like sugar and names like Mawi, Mawan and Tampa, where we stopped to swim and take photos of the bite-shaped bays with coconut palms, fishing boats and perfect swimming conditions. Remote it may be but an enterprising young man named Din has set up shop on the forgotten far western corner at Mawi Beach under a giant shady tree, serving hot noodles, biscuits, snacks, sarongs, fresh coconuts and cold beer. What more could you possibly need?
Perched on top of a lone hill that stands in the very centre of Selong Belanak Bay, and consisting of two modern, octagonal-shaped, interconnected pavilions with wrap-around decks and windows, Villa Atas commands such views that must be seen to be believed. Centre stage is a large infinity pool facing southwest that took up much of our time, while the staff cooked breakfast, lunch and dinner, kept our drinks cold and topped them up throughout the days and nights. It has satellite TV, Wi-Fi, and 24-hour security and transport, this is great base for some serious fishing, surfing, snorkelling or just hanging out by the pool or on the beach catching a tan.
Along this stretch of road the beaches are secluded and picturesque with sand like sugar.
There is a small handful of other villas dotted about the hill below Villa Atas and they all have access to an onsite restaurant down on the flat called Laut Biru (Blue Ocean). It is housed in a groovy bamboo and thatch building in beautifully landscaped grounds and serves up a gourmet selection of Asian and Western dishes, desserts and cocktails in a seriously slick operation. They also have a beach club of sorts down on the water’s edge with plenty of shade trees, hammocks and deck chairs for a total get-away-from-it-all experience, with attendants on call to bring the drinks.
All in all it looks like some serious thought is being given to expanding the Indonesian tourist markets beyond Bali, and South Lombok is near the top of the list. Infrastructure and roads have been improved for the inevitable but at the moment they are huge and wide yet still empty. So, before the hordes start cottoning on to the true beauty of Lombok, it may be a good idea to get there while the getting’s good.
There are several flights a day from Bali and Jakarta on Garuda, Merpati and Lion Air. Silk Air flies direct from Singapore.