Indonesia: Away from the throng

By Kristi Eaton

Beautiful tropical beach on Gili Air Island, Lombok, Indonesia. Picture / 123RF
Beautiful tropical beach on Gili Air Island, Lombok, Indonesia. Picture / 123RF

With more than 13,000 islands, Indonesia is the world's largest archipelago. Only about 6000 of the islands are inhabited but that still leaves a lot of options for island-hopping.

Most travellers know about Bali, the surf-and-sand island of Eat, Pray, Love fame, and Java, home to Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, and 60 per cent of the country's population.

But I recently travelled with friends to two lesser-known - although still tourist-friendly - islands and from there, to a few even smaller islands, that gave glimpses of local culture while offering heart-stirring views of serene blue water, dazzling waterfalls and thrilling volcano peaks.

LOMBOK

Next to world-famous Bali, Lombok offers many of the same attractions as its better-know neighbour: waterfalls, white-sand beaches, snorkelling and scuba diving, but with a fraction of the tourists. Here are some of its top destinations:

Senggigi: Located on the north-west part of Lombok, Senggigi is the main tourist area lined with hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops, massage parlours and more. The town of Senggigi is where visitors can set up tours or find guides to take them to different parts of the island.

Sendang Gile and Tiu Kelep waterfalls: Icy, cold and slippery, these waterfalls are probably some of the most awe-inspiring sights on the island. We hired a guide to lead us to them.

Authentic handicrafts: Banyumulek is a village known for its world-class pottery. We visited a family of three generations creating pieces of various sizes. Farther inland, Sukarara is a community where visitors can learn about the process of traditional hand-weaving and attempt it themselves. Pottery is available for purchase at Banyumulek and sarongs, wall hangings, blankets and scarves can be bought
at Sukarara.

Gili islands: A string of three tiny islands off the northern coast of Lombok, the Gili islands are popular for their laidback feel and lack of traffic. We headed to Gili Air because it was the closest, hiring a private speedboat and driver and spending a few hours walking around the island and jumping in and out of the water. Don't forget to get your picture taken at one of the well-known water swings.

Komodo National Park. Picture / 123RF
Komodo National Park. Picture / 123RF

FLORES

Known mainly for being the jumping-off point to Komodo National Park, a Unesco World Heritage Site, the island of Flores is much larger than you may think. I made the mistake of thinking we could fly into the city of Maumere - the largest town on the island - and take local transport to the western side of the island and head on to the Komodo area. I was wrong. It turned out to be at least a 12-hour drive, and with just a few days on Flores, we decided to stick around Maumere instead of being rushed. But we were not disappointed.

One interesting aspect of visiting Flores was the Christian influence there. Indonesia is the world's largest majority-Muslim country, but on Flores, churches and a large cross can be seen along the coast. Flores means flowers in Portuguese; it was a colonial outpost for Portugal in the 16th century.

Other attractions

Local market: An authentic slice of life, with vendors selling fruit, livestock and chatting with each other and customers.

Pangabatang Island: We decided on the fly to try to visit Pangabatang Island, an uninhabited island about an hour off the coast of Flores. With the help of some friendly locals, we flagged down a bemo, a public transport van, found out one of the women on board was married to a boat captain, and headed to meet him at the fishing village of Nangahale. He spoke no English, but I was able to communicate with my rudimentary Indonesian language skills, and we hopped on his rickety boat. We sat in stunned silence snapping photos of some of the most scenic water views we'd ever seen. Once at Pangabatang, we suntanned, jumped in and out of the sea, and, of course, took selfies.

One note of warning: ferry sinkings and boat accidents are not uncommon. So use your judgment on boat rides, especially if travelling with kids.

Mt Egon: Hiking Mt Egon takes several hours and lots of stamina. It's very steep with lots of loose gravel. We hired a guide to take us to the summit, where a volcanic crater and outstanding views made the trek worth it.

TIPS:
● Learn a little bit of the language, Bahasa Indonesia. It will help tremendously.
● Being on time is relative. A 7am meeting time with your guide may actually mean 8am. Sip some coffee and wait.
● There are three time zones across Indonesia. Keep this in mind when booking flights.
● Approximately 9600 Indonesian rupiah equals $NZ1.

GETTING THERE:
Air Asia flies from Auckland to Lombok and Auckland to Jakarta with Economy Class one-way fares from $251 and $237, respectively.

Slow ferries between the islands are also an option.

- Spy.co.nz

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