Despite its reputation, Bali is not just for backpackers; Alice Hart-Davis opts for the more upmarket beachy, Seminyak district in her report for The Daily Mail.

We had just set off white water rafting through the jungly gorges of the Ayung River when our guide began flinging water over us with his paddle.

The water was too calm for his liking — this was his way of livening up the trip.

We retaliated in kind until we were all soused, but then, just to make sure we were fully drenched, he beached the raft under a pipe ditching a small stream into the river and made us stand beneath it for photographs. They like a giggle in Bali.


By then, we'd been in and around Bali for a week and had acclimatised to the thick, humid warmth, the drifting scents of incense sticks, the greeting of everyone with a hands-in-prayer Namaste gesture, and the gaiety of the little temples that peek over the walls of family compounds, their pillars decked out in bright fabrics.

And we were getting hooked on sambal, the tangy, spicy tomato dip that comes with crackers wherever you order drinks. We had also learned that not taking things too seriously is a way of life here, even in the tranquil, opulent surroundings of the Four Seasons at Sayan, set in the jungle just outside Ubud in the middle of Bali.

I thought our cycle tour guide, Agus, was joking when he suggested we stop for a cat-poo coffee. We had been deluging him with questions as we pedalled through open countryside north of Ubud. How many rice crops did this green and fertile island yield each year? Four.

What were the tall, frondy bamboo decorations going up outside every house? Penjors, to celebrate the national festival of Galungan.

Was the volcano on Mount Agung about to blow? Not yet, because the last time it did, in 1963, the animals all fled the mountain before the eruption and that hadn't happened yet. (Our visit was shortly before the November eruption, when alert was on high.)

Hot spot: Mount Agung towers above the temple pura besakih. Photo / 123RF
Hot spot: Mount Agung towers above the temple pura besakih. Photo / 123RF

The cat-poo-cino turned out to be for real. It's made with coffee beans that have been eaten, and excreted, by a sad, fierce-looking creature called a Luwak, which makes the beans milder in flavour, once they have been washed, roasted and ground. Oh, yes.

The Four Seasons at Sayan is an extraordinary building that clings to the steep side of a river valley, like some retro James Bond baddie's lair.

Once past the sniffer dogs and armed guards (the Obamas stayed here last June; it's that kind of place), you sashay across a treetop-height walkway towards a large lily pond that appears suspended in mid-air. The hotel is beneath said pond, with a stupendous view across the river valley.


I knew from friends who honeymooned here in style that Bali is not just for backpackers, though even in the luxurious hotels lining the Ayung, the vibe is relaxed. Everyone is friendly and laidback — partly because they just are, and partly because tourism accounts for 80 per cent of the island's economy.

It's a big island, a tad bigger than, say, Trinidad and Tobago combined, but most people, particularly the young Aussies, hang out on the pale-sand beaches at its southern tip.

The sublime and secluded kelingking beach on Nusa Penida. Photo / 123RF
The sublime and secluded kelingking beach on Nusa Penida. Photo / 123RF

They might get as far inland as the hippyish town of Ubud but, finding its market, yoga centres and art studios too stuffed with other tourists, most then flee back to the coast.

We started on the beach. Steering clear of Kuta — the Magaluf of Bali — we stayed in the beachy, more upmarket Seminyak district.

Then, in search of an island paradise of the sort that brought the first hippies here in the Sixties, we ventured across the Lombok Strait to the Gili Islands — not the northern ones, which are swamped with backpackers, but Gili Gede, off the south coast of Lombok (the next Indonesian island to Bali), where the main innovation in the past century is a single, super-chic hotel called Kokomo Gili Gede, where a beachfront room costs £100 (NZ$192) a night. Back on Bali, my husband Matthew, usually a spa-phobe, had a massage using milk and honey scrubs at Sayan. Then he agreed to spend our final afternoon enjoying a three-hour 'Blessings of Bali' ceremony.

By now, we had moved on to another Four Seasons hotel, at Jimbaran Bay on Bali's southernmost tip, where the blessings take place in the seafront pavilion. We did aerial yoga, we meditated. We 'bathed' in the reverberating din drummed up by the massage ladies on 3ft gongs.

After a muscle-probing massage, we donned sarongs and sat, eyes closed, as the priest chanted prayers — and concluded the ceremony by tipping a litre of blessed water over our heads. It was my turn to giggle — respectfully, of course.