You know how it goes; you’re standing in line at the airport waiting to clear customs and making small talk with the people in line around you. You ask casually, “So where are you staying in Bali?” only to be met with a slightly superior “Oh we’re heading straight over to Lombok.” These are the Lombok faithful who have abandoned Bali to the hordes of tourists in favour of its quieter neighbour just a one hour fast boat ride away across the Lombok Strait. They used to be a few lone voices in the tropical wilderness but just lately it’s starting to turn into a chorus as more and more people discover Lombok for themselves.
The first thing that surprises most Lombok newbies is the island’s stunning beauty. Huge sweeping bays swathed with stunning white beaches and rolling surf, a lush interior of terraced rice fields and pristine jungle, all lorded over by the impressive massif of Mount Rinjani volcano, the second highest peak in Indonesia. It leaves most people wondering why Lombok hasn’t received far more attention. It’s even more puzzling when you realise the ever popular Gili Islands are barely a kilometre or two of Lombok’s northeast coast.
The answer probably lies somewhere between the Indonesian Government and investors who preferred to put their money into proven Bali and the quiet, more reserved Lombok locals who haven’t been so inclined to put their hands up and say “hey, what about us.” Instead they’ve quietly gone about handing out warm welcomes to the tourists that have ventured across the Lombok Strait and bided their time waiting for more to follow. And one gets the feeling that Lombok’s time to shine is almost here.
The capital, Mataram is a fast growing city with modern facilities and yet just out of the city centre and across the rest of the island, cidomo horse carriages, colourful local markets, quiet traditional villages and miles of unspoilt coastline is the norm. The main tourist areas like Senggigi and Tanjung are lined with modern resorts, restaurants, tour agents and markets selling the usual array of souvenirs but in less visited parts of the island, tourists are still rare enough to draw curious looks from locals.
Climbing Mount Rinjani is almost a rite of passage for those seeking a little adventure but it’s only one of many trekking opportunities in Rinjani National Park, other parts of the Lombok hinterland and around the coast. Natural hot springs and waterfalls are hidden in the jungle interior and it’s still possible, especially along the southern coast to have a secluded beach entirely to yourself. If delving into the local culture is more your thing, the island is dotted with traditional villages where you can learn something of the enduring Sasak culture and witness age old activities such as weaving and pottery making.
The Gili Islands are just a short boat ride across the water. The trio of small islands Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air, affectionately referred to as Gili T, Gili M and Gili A have long been on the backpackers so-called “Banana Pancake Trail” through SE Asia. Gili T’s reputation for partying by night and spending your days lazing on the sandy beaches, snorkelling, diving, chowing down in one of the many beachside warungs or island hopping between the three Gili’s is an irresistible drawcard for the younger set. And whilst there’s some truth in it, these coral fringed islands have universal appeal. Families, honeymooners, retirees all find their way to one or all of the Gili’s. Each has their own character; Gili T the party island, Gili M the laid back, secluded retreat and Gili A, a blend of the other two.
Lombok and the Gili’s are like red wine and cheese, a perfect complement of each other and whether you’re going for a few days or a few weeks, their proximity makes it easy to incorporate both into the one trip.