Indonesia: Bali beyond the crowds

By Deborah Dickson Smith

Deborah Dickson Smith finds Bali's undiscovered north.
Boats headed to Menjangan Island, Bali. Photo / John Hewson CNG
Boats headed to Menjangan Island, Bali. Photo / John Hewson CNG

I know what you're thinking: "Undiscovered Bali? How is that possible given the number of visitors each year?"

But if you take a drive north over the mountains, you'll discover a side to Bali you may have thought disappeared 30 years ago.

Black volcanic beaches line the northern coastline, dotted here and there with sleepy villages. The landscape rises quite sharply behind the shore, and in the green rainforest on the lower slopes of the mountains, walking trails lead to hidden waterfalls.

Of course, it isn't completely undiscovered. As we drive west along the north coast we pass a few boutique resorts, bed and breakfast (or homestay) accommodation and plenty of cheap cafes (or warung), on the way to Menjangan Dynasty Resort, Beach Camp and Dive Centre.

The drive through the mountains in itself is worth the trip north. Once free of the busy streets of Denpasar, the road winds through rice fields before climbing high into lush green mountains. The views back to the coast and the plains below are spectacular.

A halfway-point is reached high in the mountains overlooking to the right, Lake Tamblingan, Lake Buyan to our left. There's a string of cafes with tables and chairs placed on the edge of the precipice, so we can sip our Bali coffee slowly and take in the view.

Not far from here, a walking trail leads through a coffee plantation to Munduk Waterfall, a great place to stretch our legs and cool down before continuing our journey north.

On arrival at Menjangan Dynasty Resort, near the village of Pajakaran in northwest Bali, overlooking the serene Banyuwedang Bay — we make our way into a grand bamboo structure where we're greeted by friendly staff dressed in colonial safari attire (including pith helmets). This eco-friendly resort offers luxury tented accommodation, with striking communal spaces crafted in bamboo and "alang-alang" thatched roofs.

Beyond the reception area, the inviting infinity pool looks out over the bay and the lowland forests of the West Bali National Park. In the far distance, the towering Mt Ruang in East Java is silhouetted in the afternoon sunlight. Menjangan is Bahasa for "deer", and across the water we see a few of the island's namesakes in the shallows at the edge of the mangroves.

After freshening up we head to the restaurant, the Pasir Putih Beach Club, for lunch. It is in an even grander bamboo construction than the reception area, with high vaulted ceiling and thatched roof, looking out over the white sandy beach, dotted with bamboo cabanas and bean bags.

As the resort is close to Menjangan Island, a marine protected area, it makes sense to offer guided snorkelling and scuba diving day trips. Bali Hai Diving Adventures are heading up the dive shop and water activities here.

After lunch they take us out to explore Menjangan Island, which is a 30-minute boat ride from the resort. We take the plunge at a spot aptly named Coral Garden, a pretty bay blessed with ridiculously clear water, scattered with coral bommies and teeming with marine life (including the odd turtle).

The clear water is so warm it's like taking a bath. Scuba divers are greeted with pleasantly cooler waters at about 10 to 15m on a vertical coral reef wall covered in soft and hard corals and enormous gorgonian fans.

The bay is actually quite busy, but not with tourists. There are several boatloads of locals here, who have come to pay their respects at the island's temple — a grand building which honours Hindu gods Ghanesha and Ghajamada.

The following day we head out for a bit of local exploration, first visiting Atlas Pearls Farm, an eco-pearling company that specialises in white and silver South Sea pearls before checking out Hatten Wines. That's right, Bali has a winery — 34ha of succulent grapes, which are grown in partnership with local land owners — and it's not a bad drop.

Back at the resort, those of us clever enough to book in advance, head up to the Pasir Putih Spa by Ambiente, for a bit of pampering, before wandering back down to the Beach Club to watch the sunset over a cocktail or two.

Now this is what I call a retreat.

FACT FILE

Getting there: Air New Zealand flies from Auckland to Denpasar, with direct flights operating seasonally.

Staying there: The drive to Menjangan Resort is about four hours. Kuta-based Bali Dynasty Resort provides transfers to its sister resort; Menjangan Dynasty Resort. Other activities managed by Bali Hai include hiking, canoeing and stand-up paddle boarding, and further afield, other activities available at the resort include trekking, cycling, mountain biking, bird watching and horse riding.

- Spy.co.nz

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf04 at 26 Apr 2017 14:57:15 Processing Time: 734ms