The best time to visit Bali most tourists don't think of

Sarah Pollok
Sarah Pollok

Multimedia Journalist

It’s a crispy autumn morning in Auckland when my partner poses a question I’d been wondering myself: ‘What is it about that place?’ Outside his window, it’s a typical March day in the city, a little colder and darker than we are all prepared to admit. But I am not in Auckland.

Instead, I am in Bali. I’m in Bali and, if I may be so bold, I am glowing. My eyes are bright, my body feels light and an unwavering sense of calm hums deep in my chest. Given the speed by which this transformation took place, his curiosity is warranted. Two days ago I was a fraying knot in human form and today, seated on an ocean-front sunbed, journaling in the still morning air, I am like wellness personified.

My chronically irritated stomach is silent, the semi-permanent gnarl of tension in my shoulders has released and all the things that seemed so desperately deserving of anxious attention 48 hours ago — family commitments, friendship spats, upcoming events or any item on my endless to-do list — seem blissfully muted and small. The change is not insignificant but it’s also not the first time this has happened, or the second, which is why I grabbed the chance to return to Bali for a third visit and would just as happily come back for round four.

It’s also why, if you ask when the best time to visit Bali is, I won’t say May to September (the best weather) or April and October (fewer tourists). I won’t even say November to March (the middle of winter/rainy season) because it’s never really that cold on the Island of the Gods.

No, I’ll say it’s when you need Rest and Relaxation of a capital-letter-kind. When your schedule has you sprinting through the days and triaging events or relationships like they’re hospital emergencies rather than the contents of your life. When you can’t remember the last time you were aware of your breath or treated your body as a living, organic thing rather than a vehicle that takes you from one commitment to the next. When you’ve said ‘I just need to get through this busy week’ for the last three years.

It’s these times I come to Bali, where doing the Good Things — the ones that repeatedly find their way onto my New Year’s resolution list — feel blissfully downstream. Here, it’s easy to journal daily and practise yoga, use my phone less and take time to read. It’s natural to walk everywhere and drink more water, eat slowly and travel slowly and, now I think about it, do everything slowly. Or at least, not at 1.25x speed.

A not insignificant part of this is thanks to the natural cadence of any vacation-style holiday in a tropical climate; the way warm weather and free time draw us towards long walks outside and unhurried meals, a savouring that feels unsustainable back home.

Bali runs at about 28C during the dry season, only cooling to an average of 24 degrees in the winter. A climate that, combined with the island’s compelling mysticism (87 per cent of Balinese identify as Hindu) and distinctly joyful, peaceful disposition, made it fertile ground for Western wellness culture to land and flourish. This particular brand of tourism is most obvious in the centres of Ubud and Seminyak, where yoga studios and vegan cafes, athleisure boutiques and organic shops are found on every corner.

Bali's spirituality is deeply threaded into the people and environment. Photo / Sarah Pollok
Bali's spirituality is deeply threaded into the people and environment. Photo / Sarah Pollok

Parking the more curly questions about cultural commodification, one can’t deny that if you want a place to nourish your mind, body and spirit, these spots have you covered - and for a fraction of the price of a typical health retreat.

Back on the sunbed, I’m two days into a trip, at Potato Head in Seminyak. As a resort, it caters to people at both ends of the wellness spectrum. There are those who join the crowd of bare skin and vape smoke at the iconic beach club, hungry for cheap cocktails and tasty bites, beachfront views and late-night-turned-early-morning raves.

Then, there’s the side I’m more interested in, where shot glasses hold organic juice and smoke in the air is cleansing palo santo. Five days in total, it’s a short trip, but one that has already contained a calibre of wellness activities Gwyneth Paltrow would approve of.

After waking up at 6am on the first morning — 10am NZ time, the advantageous time difference yet another Bali benefit — I lace up sneakers and jog through the streets, passing lines of trendy boutiques and almost aggressively colourful restaurants. By 8am, I’m back, sweaty and ready for a free yoga class, where a lithe, serene-faced Balinese woman instructs us through a slow, stretchy flow in an open-air pavilion.

A yoga class at Potato Head in Seminyak. Photo / Supplied
A yoga class at Potato Head in Seminyak. Photo / Supplied

Breakfast follows, outdoors of course, because why would one do anything inside when you can be out, in the breeze, with the sun against your skin and a view of the ocean as you enjoy a juice that claims to “contain anti-ageing properties” — a claim I’m not sold on but nonetheless tastes great— and a dish of wild rice, fresh hummus and seasoned vegetables. The resulting full stomach isn’t ideal for breathwork class, our instructor informs us 30 minutes later, even for a shortened 45-minute session, but c’est la vie, we continue.

Fortunately, breakfast doesn’t appear to affect the class, which involves lying in a pitch-black, soundproof room and following prompts to aggressively inhale and exhale to a thunderous playlist of tantric drum beats. A practice that builds in pace and intensity until electric pulses spark down my arms and my body starts to shake, a sign it’s time to “release your trauma” the instructor earnestly shouts over the music as she firmly taps my chest bone. Uncertain of what trauma I need to release but all for letting it go, I let out a primal scream or two while someone beside me opts for a more reserved hysterical-laugh.

Unfortunately, I can’t confirm whether this type of pranayama simply repackages the symptoms of hyperventilation — muscle spasms, heightened emotions, hallucinations, lightheadedness — as a profound spiritual experience. Although, the instructor claims it cured her anxiety, so it’s at least worth a try.

As it turns out, releasing trauma and stepping into your power works up an appetite and we’re fortunate to follow the session with a plant-based degustation at Tanaman — one of Potato Head’s restaurants run by African-Australian chef Don Hammon — which features a black garlic aioli that alone was worth a flight to Bali.

The days that follow are less akin to drinking from a fire hydrant of health and more like leisurely sipping from an organic bamboo water bottle. We check out of Potato Head and drive almost two hours along the east coast for a few nights at Alila Manggis, a secluded seaside resort. Surrounded by ocean views and dense jungle, life is slowed down yet another notch, with little to do but lounge, read and visit the on-site spa for a massage that irons out the final stubborn sign of stress in my body.

A Deluxe room at Alila Mangiss hotel. Photo / Supplied
A Deluxe room at Alila Mangiss hotel. Photo / Supplied

If the first two days in Bali brought about a superficial change, it’s this four-day mark when I feel a more fundamental shift, one that goes beyond the settled stomach and bronzed skin. A typically short temper is elasticised by the warmth, stretching beyond normal irritations and my mind spins a little slower with thoughts and worries. Silence becomes a less intimidating companion during meal times or walks — solitude— and reaching for the phone feels a little less like an unconscious response to an empty second.

That this took four days is timely given there is one more day left of the trip; an inconvenient elephant in the Bali villa I’m doing my best to ignore. Pretending, as I always do, that I can bring my zen holiday self back into the daily grind, unscathed. Although, if that fails — as it has the last two times — at least I know, I can always come back to Bali.

Bali Checklist


Air New Zealand flies seasonally, non-stop from Auckland to Bali three times a week until June 25, five times a week between June 26-July 30 and three times a week between July 31 and October 27.


Desa Potato Head Bali in Seminyak.

Alila Manggis in Candidasa.