It’s a wild ride to West Bali. Invigorating is another way to describe the four-hour drive from Denpasar. As trucks and motorbikes play dodgems, I put all my faith in our trusty driver and concentrate on the spectacular scenery on the way to West Bali.
We pass a Hindu wedding ceremony, a religion that peacefully lives alongside Islam and Christianity; where pork and beef are revered by the other. Thirty years ago the road wasn’t even sealed and it would take up to 10 hours of jostling to arrive. In some ways, it has been a blessing that progress has been slow in the west; it’s like the old Bali we all fell in love decades ago.
Where to stay in West Bali
Even now, there is only a smattering of resorts and guesthouses – and then there are the sublime Melaya Villas Bali. So exclusive, a motorbike escorts us off the highway through a slim opening in the jungle.
Three bedrooms hang off the central pavilion, which are refreshingly air-conditioned, and can also be opened up to catch the breeze. The open bathrooms are a treat and there’s nothing quite like showering amid palm fronds beneath the stars. Just beware of the wildlife, I won’t go into details but they can be curious and at times a little too friendly.
The fully equipped kitchen is the domain of the on-site chef, who ensures the only decision to make is what to eat. The Nespresso machine is both a connection to reality and a gentle reminder of our remoteness as the pods are impossible to source in this corner of the island. Even though we were reminded to bring our own pods, which I completely forgot about, rich local Balinese coffee soothes my caffeine cravings.
The friendly staff remain discreet, and yet appear on demand for any whim whether it be a trip to the shops, a heavenly massage (which I highly recommend – bliss!), laundry or a tour guide.
What to do in West Bali
We’re met by Nono Supano who provides tours to West Bali National Park, and just a short distance away it’s the only national park on the island and offers land and sea adventures. Once home to the now extinct Bali tiger, the park is a lush sanctuary of untouched beaches, mountains and wildlife. The national park includes Menjangan Island famed for its snorkelling, diverse coral reefs and tropical fish as well as the hawksbill turtle and barking deer.
West Bali National Park is home to a wide range of wildlife including cheeky monkeys, monitor lizards, crabs at low tide, wild boar, civets, deer and approximately 290 species of birdlife. If you’re lucky you might spot a leopard while on safari, the rare and shy mouse deer or the elusive white Bali starling.
The park offers a range of jungle treks from short walks along flat trails, to two or three-hour treks, to long uphill challenges. Other activities include horse riding, safari tours, snorkelling, diving and boat charters. The park has several dining options including the Octagon Ocean Club and the iconic Bali Tower Bistro constructed from five huge logs climbing into the canopy and offering 360-degree views across the park and ocean.
Nono recommends the mangrove tour and says, “The mangrove tour raises education and encourages the local fishermen to change their mindset to protect the greater good of the park.”
A strong advocate for eco-tourism, Nono has dedicated his life to educating the community about conservation and preservation, particularly with future generations in the school classroom. He strongly advises against feeding the animals as it’s bad for their digestive systems and they become aggressive, “For example, look at the monkey forest in Ubud. And when snorkelling from a boat, don’t use an anchor as it ruins the coral.”
Involved with the Biosphere Foundation, when he’s not proudly showing tourists his stunning backyard, or educating others, Nono volunteers in rubbish clean-ups. He was one of the first on the island to recycle plastic bags, which he crafts into bags, wallets and purses and sells at the park along with t-shirts with cute slogans like, “Don’t be trashy” and “Say NO to plastic.” He adds, “We must refrain from using plastic bags.” The funds he raises from the sales support the clean-ups of the vast stretches of gloriously empty beaches.
West Bali is a region well worth exploring for its numerous vibrant temples, mosques and churches, hot springs and the seductive sounds of gamelan amid evocative rice paddies sweeping down the mountains in verdant glory. There’s not a designer yogi insight.
The intrepid won’t be able to resist volcano climbing, canoeing on Dam Palasari, quad biking, surfing and scaling 2329 metres up Mount Bromo.
With the chaos of Denpasar over 130 kilometres away, West Bali feels like another world. It’s cooler on this side of the island allowing a welcome reprieve from the steamy humidity of January. Bali is fragmented into four main sections: north, south, east and west. According to the Balinese Mandala, the west is represented by yellow and is symbolic for purity; I couldn’t agree more.
As we reluctantly leave the Melaya Villas Bali, we could take the ferry three kilometres to Java. But alas, reality awaits, and we put off the inevitable with a leisurely drive north passing warungs (modest family-owned shop or café) dotted alongside the road. Those with time to spare can pause overnight on the black sands of Lovina before continuing onto Bedugal, in the heart of Bali, and its spectacular Tamblingan Lake and Pura Ulun Danu Bratan water temple.
With so much already lost on this glorious island of the gods, a visit west has blessedly reignited my passion for Bali.
Carmen Jenner was a guest of the Melaya Villas Bali.
If you’re hankering for more of Bali then why not read Ubud, Bali: Eat, Lay, Bend and Write.