With a staggering coastline and spectacular vistas galore and with the nearby Gili Islands Lombok is the ultimate tropical playground.
A lean man in speedos staggers towards me, heaving. Sweat clings to his olive skin as he puffs, “Whatever you do…don’t go to the second waterfall…it’s not worth it…it’s dangerous…I almost didn’t make it.” The man is accompanied by a dwarf, presumably his tour guide who rolls his eyes and marches ahead leaving the shattered man to his misery.
Although we had done our research, I was getting the impression that perhaps the trail to the waterfalls wasn’t as easy as all those travel vloggers had made out. Only recently we had watched one family of YouTubers strap babies onto their chests and casually saunter down. We had been warned to not use the guides at the entrance who claim you’ll get lost in the jungle, even though there’s just one path, albeit a steep one.
I didn’t count how many steps down to the first waterfall, Sendang Gila Waterfall, all I kept thinking was it had better be worth the climb back up in 90% humidity. As you descend, Tiu Kelep Waterfall is to the right and according the man we met earlier, only for the intrepid.
Turns out, it was worth it. The power of the gushing water seemed to possess some kind of healing quality – all those positive ions swirling around against the lush backdrop almost turned the wanna-be Instagram models (who were determined to photobomb every photo) and an opportunistic monkey into oblivion. Well almost, until one curvy lass wearing a flesh-coloured dress appeared to be naked in the background. It wouldn’t have been the first time we’d been exposed to public nudity on this trip as one woman stripped down to nothing at an icon sunset spot on Gili Air. Why worry about 80% of the conservative population being Muslim?
Did I mention its hot? So hot I’m renaming Lombok and the outlying Gili Islands to Bikram Islands. About halfway back up from the waterfall I spy something out the corner of my eye, and suddenly hear a shriek very close to my ear. I turn around to see a monkey perched on the handrail baring his teeth at me. I suddenly find the energy to up the pace – at least until the next steep staircase, where I move aside to let the dwarf come back down with another unassuming victim.
Emerging out onto the road at the top we retreat to Rinjani Lodge, named after Rinjani Volcano, which dominates Lombok’s landscape resembling a scene out of Jurassic Park, minus the dinosaurs. Nearby Komodo Island is where you’ll find these. Here we bump into the man in the speedos again except now he’s more respectably dressed and has almost recovered from his ordeal at the waterfalls – well almost.
The lunch and views were spectacular and span over rice paddies all the way to the coast. We head to even more spectacular views of paddies of rice, chilli, carrots, cabbage, onions and gardens from Sembalun Village, about 30 minutes away.
I can’t recommend this enough, and not just because its cooler, although very welcome. Sembalun lies at the base of Rinjani Volcano and is known for its fertile soil and agriculture. The breathtaking chequered views are easily reached by a small trek up a hill (honestly it really is small) and there is a small fee for which you get a guide, who in our case was accompanied by a chatty and pregnant cat. Be vigilant though, as there are two paths and the first one to right leading up the Instagram-able star platform, which was broken, was overrun by aggressive monkeys jumping along the path and mountainside – word must have got out among the monkey community that a vulnerable and sweaty white woman was in the vicinity.
The village is traditional and very welcoming. There are ways to participate in planting and harvesting and although I didn’t have the opportunity to explore, perhaps the tourist board or your hotel can point you in the right direction.
The region borders Mt Rinjani National Park and offers organic farm stays and tours, including strawberry and coffee plantations, and this is something I’d love to do on my next trip to Lombok.
But for now, we stop off for coffee at Pikey Coffee Plantation before passing through villages and coastal bays twinkling in turquoise for the three-hour journey back to the Chandi Hotel in Sengiggi. I loved this boutique hotel for its low-key luxe vibe, spacious villas and cool sea breezes dancing through the palm trees.
Lombok isn’t as well known as its Bali neighbour and there are still many signs of devastation from the August 2018 earthquake, and no doubt now from the pandemic. Over 500 lives were lost during the earthquake, thousands injured and complete villages flattened leaving over 20,000 people homeless and displaced. They’re still recovering and rebuilding their lives and I’ll never forget the image of an elderly lady huddled over her market stall in front of a pile of rubble that was once her home.
Or of the waitress who had lost her entire village in the earthquake. It took months for the electricity and water to be reconnected and even now many are still living in temporary and unsafe and unsanitary shelters.
Then there were the little girls at Mawun Beach near Kuta (nothing like the overdeveloped Kuta on Bali) who hassled us to buy bracelets – I relented and before I knew it was surrounded by girls arguing over who should have the sale. I had already promised one girl who had impressed me with her personable sales technique but I ended up buying something from all of them, no doubt at an inflated price. It’s hard to haggle when a few dollars can make such a difference.
Although Bali’s Mt Agung hovers nearby, the two islands are very different. Lombok’s untamed mountains appear to roll into the pristine sea only briefly pausing for powder white or volcanic black sand. The culture is conservative and being predominantly Muslim there’s very little evidence of the excesses that tourism has brought to Bali. Beautiful beaches, jaw-dropping scenery, treks, water sports, fantastic food, stunning sunset and relaxing are the main attractions on Lombok – it’s the epitome of slow travel.
There are direct four-hour flights from Perth to Lombok with Air Asia and you can also take a ferry from Bali. My trip was self-funded and I stayed at the Chandi Boutique Hotel Lombok and Sunrise Gili Air Resort, Beachclub and Bar – this tiny island is carless and utterly charming. I highly recommend both hotels and to hire your own driver on Lombok from Grab (but check the driver’s reviews before committing) and create your own tour and unforgettable experience.