About 30 minutes off the coast of Bali’s eastern coast via speedboat is Nusa Lembongan – Bali’s booming water sanctuary. Home to plenty of surf, dive, snorkelling, and swimming, Lembongan is fast becoming one of the must-see areas when travellers of all persuasions make their way to Bali. Not wanting to be left out of the loop, I booked myself a ticket in Sanur for a four-day romp in coastal paradise, and what I found, was everything that was promised – welcome to Nusa Lembongan.
As the boat thumps and rattles across the Badung Strait, I can’t help wondering what I will find when I pull up to the sandy shores of the eight square kilometre spit of land that is Nusa Lembongan. Too often we are serenaded with songs of paradise only to be left wanting when we arrive somewhere, but the story holds true when you pull up to the sun-blasted myriad of effulgence and small-town charm that is the island.
Arrivals on Lembongan are usually informal, meaning you’ll most likely be wading through knee-high water after your boat journey from Bali, so prepare for a wet landing, but once your feet dip into the perfectly tempered water, your worries will begin to melt away. Push yourself through the touts that are there to hire you a motorbike, and wait as your luggage is unloaded in the sleepily busy village of Jungut Batu.
But I’m here to find out why Lembongan is becoming what it is, and for that I hook down one of the many small laneways from the main road in Jungut Batu and find what so many flock to Lembongan for – the paradisiacal views of three worshipped surf breaks, a row of beachfront properties and restaurants, and a number of dive and fishing boats moored into the rippling turquoise plains.
Jungut Batu is the main village on the island, and while that isn’t saying much for an island with a meagre population of roughly 5,000, once I begin to venture out I realise how much more developed this side is than any other on Lembongan. Jungut Batu main road is the one-lane, pot-hole-laden strip that takes you through town, and is worth a walk if the tide is too high to walk along the beach, but don’t expect to find anything revolutionary in town. A few decent eats and a hip eco deli cohabitate with small shops pushing knick knacks and trinkets on each side of the road, but woven into this network of wood carvings, t-shirts and noise-makers are also the various temples and homes for those that call the island home – it’s a reminder for me that while Lembongan is certainly growing, even here, in the main village, not all locations have become tourist haunts – a nice contrast to Bali’s ultra-developed façade in places like Legian and Kuta where culture isn’t much more than sparse and fading.
But I’m here to find out why Lembongan is becoming what it is, and for that I hook down one of the many small laneways from the main road in Jungut Batu and find what so many flock to this island-cousin of Bali for – the paradisiacal views of three worshipped surf breaks, a row of beachfront properties and restaurants, and a number of dive and fishing boats moored into the rippling turquoise plains. For surfers, the three breaks that are Playgrounds (beginner), Lacerations and Shipwrecks (intermediate to advanced) make up the best coast in Lembongan with constant sets, a lack of huge crowding, stunning views, and a great variety of waves that break both left and right. All of the breaks can be paddled into, but make sure to hit the waves between mid- and high-tide, as the jagged reef below juts out of the water when the tide is low and can give some nasty souvenirs. For those who prefer to lounge on the beach with food and drink in hand, make your way to any of the restaurants that form a beachfront row starting with Scooby Doo all the way down to Agus Shipwrecks and Lembongan Beach Club, the latter of the three especially good for finer dining and a romantic evening watching the surf wash in. But surf and sunning aren’t the only things this part of the island is good for, and with a bevy of dive boats with dropped anchors a stone’s throw away from the beach, diving and snorkelling have also found a nest here in Jungut Batu. With places like Lembongan Dive, Dive Concepts and Monkey Surfing, there is a host of options to inquire into for both first timers and divers of the more experienced variety, and don’t forget to ask about Manta Point which lies off the coast of neighbouring Nusa Penida, where diving with giant manta rays is sure to please.
In the Devil’s Tear area, if you find yourself to the furthest out point you’ll be greeted by a number of other visitors who have come for the sublime sunset that can be viewed while the water slams into the cliffs below. Impossibly difficult to put into words, it’s a natural experience that needs to be undertaken to be fully appreciated…
After a few fresh coconuts and two or three lazy hours on the beach, I decide it’s time to explore a bit more around Jungut Batu, and this takes me to one of the most serene places on the island. Continuing on the main road north will wrap you around and along the northern coast of the island, and the road will take you past a number of seaweed farms to a small gate with an old man who is there to collect about USD 0.50 entrance fee per person to the mangrove forest. After passing through the gate, both sides of the mostly unfinished road are lined with small warungs (informal restaurants and cafes) that offer guided tours of the forest. I hop off my bike and pay about USD 7.00 for a guided tour of the forest, and find that most places offer about the same rate. Tours here are a small boat with a guide who brandishes a handy bamboo pole with which he pushes the boat through the steamy mangrove forest. The tour lasts between 30 and 45 minutes depending on tide levels, and is fantastic for nature lovers and those seeking a quiet escape from the semi-bustle that makes up the busier Jungut Batu area. The guides are, for the most part, knowledgeable, and there are signs strung to various trees within the forest identifying the range of species that populate it.
Yet while Jungut Batu and the mangrove forest of the north make up a large chunk of what tourists come to see, there are still several places that are draws for those who make the short journey from Bali, namely: Dream Beach, Devil’s Tear, Mushroom Bay and Nusa Ceningan. And so after a night’s rest, I’m on the road again, first stop: Dream Beach.
Perhaps my favourite spot on the island, Dream Beach is a small cove of beautifully hued blues that rush in and out on a beach that is no more than 100 metres wide. Down a steep flight of stairs, and backed by the island-chic Dream Beach Huts hotel (good for dinners and cocktails with a great view), this beach is the place to be for those who love nothing more than a day on the beach and a good swim. Never too crowded, and with some local surf groms (young surfers) that hit the waves in the evenings, the beach certainly lives up to its name. And when it’s time for sunset, beach-goers don’t have much to worry over, as just a five-to-ten-minute walk away is Devil’s Tear – the island’s premium sunset vista. A series of beach cliffs that look west, waves have been crushing and battering these faces to the point that over time, certain holes have been created that work as blowholes. What this means is that if a good set of waves roll in, the water gets trapped inside these naturally made chambers and spew a mist out that can get up to 20 to 30 metres – frankly it’s mesmerising, and I could have easily spent my entire day watching the spectacle if not for the sunset, which is just a hop and a skip down the rocks. In the Devil’s Tear area, if you find yourself to the furthest out point, you’ll be greeted by a number of other visitors who have come for the sublime sunset that can be viewed while the water slams into the cliffs below. Impossibly difficult to put into words, it’s a natural experience that needs to be undertaken to be fully appreciated – take my word for it.
Unfortunately today the waves are too big for jumping, but as the sun retreats I am catching a few surfers out in the waves snagging a few left-handers as I throw back a cold Bintang, and aside from Devil’s Tear, there are few places better for a sunset than here.
Another haven on the island’s south-western edge is Mushroom Bay. Relatively small in size, the area boasts a number of small hillside villas that, when illuminated in the evenings, cast reflections over the quiet bay and boats that rest between each flank. Catch a bite here at any of the few restaurants that make up the waterside, and take in the small local temple that stands watch over the area. Further removed from the water are a number of dining options that can also be a good bet, as well as one of the islands few restaurant/bar hangouts, Gomez, which has a good vibe in the evenings and a couple of pool tables set up for the island’s pool sharks.
And lastly, my trip can’t be complete without venturing across the rickety suspension bridge (complete with neon lights at night) that takes you to Nusa Ceningan, Lembongan’s easterly brother. Decidedly less developed than Lembongan, Ceningan is a place to get even further away from civilisation, and while there are a number of guest houses and villas, life here is much slower and quieter. There are definitely things to get up to however, and zip line tours and some gorgeous beaches like Secret Point keep visitors engaged, but the most enjoyable hangout on Ceningan is at the cliff jumping rendezvous. A small, tiered cafe is perched on the cliffs here, and when the waves aren’t too heavy, one can jump in from about 10 metres up into the deep blue below. Unfortunately today the waves are too big for jumping, but as the sun retreats I am catching a few surfers out in the waves snagging a few left-handers as I throw back a cold Bintang, and aside from Devil’s Tear, there are few places better for a sunset than here. Though beware, as the roads in Ceningan can be a bit hairy to navigate in the darker hours.
What I discover here is that Lembongan has done a great job of balancing the tourism and the locality of the island. Jungut Batu has certainly developed itself into the main drag of the island, and that can be seen in the numerous boats, villas and guesthouses, but venture a bit further north, south or east and you’re entering somewhere that is much quieter and more a throwback to Bali of old. Here I don’t feel overwhelmed with tourists, but I also don’t feel so isolated that I can’t enjoy myself for a nice dinner or a swanky lunch, and it’s this balance, I think, that has people fawning over Bali’s coastal paradise. Small in stature but large in appeal, Nusa Lembongan is growing, and if you haven’t already heard of it, now you have – let’s just hope it’s not too late.
Note: For information regarding a trip to Nusa Lembongan, please contact the concierge at either The Legian Bali or The Chedi Club Tanah Gajah, Ubud for assistance. Travel time from Sanur to the island takes roughly 30 to 40 minutes via speedboat.
(Featured image: Seaweed farms, turquoise water and a plethora of boats are seen off the coast of Jungut Batu – Nusa Lembongan’s main village. Nusa Lembongan is Bali’s booming coastal island paradise.)