The beautiful island of Lombok, is characterised by a blissful paradise of sweeping bays, white-sand beaches and coral reefs, coconut groves, jungle, forest, mighty waterfalls and the towering volcano, Mt Rinjani, that is one of the tallest in Indonesia
Being the island just to the east of Bali and though there are less than 40 kilometres of sea (the famed Lombok straights) between these two islands, the physical and cultural distinctions are considerable; comparisons are inevitable and contrasts are marked and the two islands have a radical difference in level of development and a distinct cultural heritage (though owing some of its shared history, Hindus of Balinese origin do make up approximately 10% of Lombok’s inhabitants).
The economy in Lombok is largely agriculturally based. Its 2.4 million Inhabitants are largely concentrated in south of the island which is approximately 5,600 square kilometres in size. In general, the island entices groups of travellers who wish to escape from the conventional commercialism that generalizes so much of Southeast Asia, are beach and activity oriented and see to see a new area of the world. The island is also a haven for those in search of peace and serenity with a feeling of timelessness.
A visit to Lombok is an opportunity to spend some time on beautiful beaches, explore a natural paradise, trek the Rinjani National Park, enjoy some extraordinary diving, and encounter a traditional, rural way of life exposing a fascinating integration of Sasak and Hindu cultures. Visitors are welcomed at the splendid Sasak festivals and Hindu ceremonies, and the island produces some remarkable handicrafts. In the tiny villages artisans can be seen at work creating textiles, baskets and pots.
Spectacular northwest Lombok is navigated via a road which hugs the dramatic coastline around cool coconut groves, sweeping bays and towering headlands. Senggigi is the most developed tourist area, yet is still pretty quiet. Here, simple accommodation mingles with luxury resorts, and there is an entertaining, yet unobtrusive, nightlife with a good choice of restaurants, bars, pubs and clubs with live music. There is also an art market at Senggigi where you can buy Lombok handicrafts.
Twenty-three kilometres from Sengiggi, Sira (also spelt ‘Sire’ and ‘Sera’) is the longest white-sand beach on the island, lapped by crystal waters and fringed by tall, swaying palm trees. From the beach there is a panoramic vista of the mountains, the coastline, the tiny port of Bangsal and the three Gili Islands. Located right beside the beach is the Lombok Golf Kosaido Country Club, with an 18-hole championship course.
The Sira beach area which is one side of a small peninsular jutting into the ocean, is also the location of Hotel Tugu Lombok, which has enough history, artefacts and curios to keep visitors fascinated for hours, while anchoring the point of the peninsula is The Oberoi Lombok Hotel. Both hotels are great options for lunch, dinner or sunset cocktails and offer a range of facilities including spas.
Owing to its natural beauty, its growing ‘social infrastructure’ and its position just across from the Gili islands, the Sira Beach area plays host to the majority of private villa estates. The smallest in the area is situated on 4 acres of land (1.6 hectares), and all boast expansive swimming pools, direct beach frontage, extensive facilities and dedicated staff.
From the Gilis or from Sira beach, one can hop in a speedboat and watch the reefs pass below in the crystal aquamarine water and be there for within 30 minutes for an afternoon excursion, or just lunch, and then be back where you started with the sun still high in the sky.
Some of Lombok’s most spectacular coastal scenery can be found on the southern shores of the island around Kuta – a small fishing village that presents a very different picture to its infamous namesake in Bali.
Teluk Nara, six kilometres from Sira, is a small harbour where the regular commercial fast boats from Bali and the Gili Islands stop to drop off passengers. It’s fun to watch the harbour activity, and there are always beautiful boats and yachts moored here. Bangsal, four kilometres from Sira, is another local harbour where the slow, public ferries leave for the Gili Islands, laden down with pearl sellers, building materials, panniers of vegetables, chickens and the occasional goat or cow.
Sprinkled off the northwest shore of Lombok, the trio of tiny emerald isles known as the Gili Islands boasting white-sand beaches and amazing coral reefs, are time-honoured favourites of divers, and travellers attracted by its pristine beaches and natural beauty.
The islands first became popular with those looking for true escapism back in the 1980s. Gili Meno is the quietest of the three, while Gili Trawangan is distinguished as the island most known for its nightlife. Life on the Gilies is laid-back, with numerous little beachside cafes. With cars, motorbikes banned from the island – transport options are comprised of bicycles or horse drawn carts, locally known as ‘Cidomos’.
Well renowned as an area for is natural marine beauty, for those who want more than snorkelling, many dive centres to help visitors explore the islands’ reefs. In recent years the scene has changed rapidly on Gili Trawangan, whereas Gili Meno and Gili Air are developing at a far slower pace.
Trawangan still maintains its tropical paradise charm, but now has a wider range of accommodation facilities to cater to a broader spectrum of travellers. There are no high rise hotels, and definitely no McDonalds, but there is a variety of different dining and bars now established catering to a diverse clientele.
Surfers will discover Lombok to be rewarding beyond all expectations; it is far less crowded than Bali and it offers a great variety of waves that work on all swell and wind conditions. For those who prefer stalking the greens: there are two golf courses on the island.
The road from Mataram to Kuta is a journey through time, a harmonious integration of legend, tradition and reverence to God, where shirtless old men in checked sarongs still eke out a living from the sea or the dry farmland. Windswept sandy beaches and picturesque bays are separated by headlands and awesome rocky outcrops. The glorious crescent-shaped beaches of Kuta and Tanjung Aan are famous for their surf breaks, yet when the tide is out, the bays turn into shallow pools of turquoise water.
Although huge expanses of Lombok’s shores are totally undeveloped with just a few small villages dotted inland, land development – especially in the south – is nevertheless happening fast. A variety of new tourism investments, and construction of an international airport, capable of handling wide-bodied aircraft, is planned to be operational by 2010. With this new airport, more direct flights are planned from around the world. New roads are being built, old roads are being widened and resurfaced, and utilities and infrastructure continue to improve.
Lombok is structuring its own adjustment to modernity; tradition marches alongside progress in unique fashion within which both its residents and visitors play their parts.