Nusa Lembongan & Nusa Penida
Christmas day should be relaxing, fun, enjoyable - right? Not for us. It was a loooong day, starting at 4 a.m. with a drive to the airport, flight to Bali, taxi to Sanur port and a ferry over to Nusa Lembongan. By the time we arrived at our accommodation, we were exhausted and sweating buckets. As expected, the humidity had smacked us right in the face and was adding to the weariness.
The first sights of the island were of narrow, potholed roads, a continuous hum of scooters flying by, palm trees, cheap stores and a general run-down nature of everything. It many ways it was like coming home.
Our first aim was lunch, having not yet eaten a meal today (even though it was well after 4 p.m. by this stage). We sat down at the first decent-looking restaurant and devoured a traditional Christmas feast of gyoza, san choy bow and satay tempeh skewers. Weirdly, the tempeh tasted exactly like hot jam donuts, which instantly brought back memories of going to the Royal Melbourne Show when I was younger. This was slightly off-putting for a savoury dish.
With our bellies full, we were ready for some beach time. Not to swim, but to find a beach bar and chill out. We jumped from bar to bar, indulging in cocktails that clearly didn't have much alcohol in them but were hitting the spot anyway. While sitting on beanbags on the sand we witnessed a mesmerising sunset, listened to a live band play Christmas carols in between crowd favourites, and sat captivated as resort after resort let off fireworks for hours on end (check out the video below). One round of explosives was set off right beside us, showering us in ash. Clearly safety regulations weren’t a thing here.
We gobbled down another festive meal for dinner, this time gado gado and tacos. It didn’t feel like Christmas at all, despite the carols in the background. A handful of tourists were wearing Santa hats, but otherwise it could have been any other day of the year.
After a 4 a.m. start we needed an early night, and I’m pretty sure we were asleep by 9 p.m. Somehow we slept right through the booming fireworks that continued on into the night.
Early to bed, early to rise, which worked out well as it meant I could go for a run before the temperature and traffic built up. Out along the north side of the island I found that not many locals or tourists were up at this hour, which was perfect. You would think the excessive humidity would be suffocating, but it caused a wave of nostalgia to wash over me, as though an old friend was enveloping me in a giant hug. In my mind, this was what running should be like.
The plan for today was to explore Nusa Penida, a much larger island southeast of Nusa Lembongan. To do that we needed to make our way to the Yellow Bridge to catch a boat. We decided to start walking towards the bridge and pick up a taxi on the way. There were no taxis. A very inaccurate map led us to dead end streets, crossed through private property and ventured down rocky trails. An hour later we arrived, somewhat frustrated and quite drenched. The boat we had planned to catch was long gone, but thankfully another one departed only 10 minutes later.
Once on Nusa Penida, we hired a scooter and took off to explore the sights along the coast. The sun was beating down all day, causing sweat to pour down our bodies even when we weren’t moving. Like Lembongan, the roads were narrow and poorly made, but they were also extremely hilly, twisting, and full of cars providing private tours. We joined the convoy and made the slow journey through beautiful landscapes and tiny villages. Despite the abundance of cars on the road, the island felt much quieter than Lembongan.
First stop was Angel’s Billabong and Broken Beach. There were seemingly thousands of people at this one tiny tourist attraction. It was only a short walk to the Billabong (a rock formation that formed a sort-of infinity pool that you couldn’t enter), but I was more captivated by the waves crashing onto the rocks and forming an alluring cascade as the water receded. Next to this was Broken Beach, a natural cove filled with crystal clear water and entirely surrounded by high rocky cliffs. An archway in the rocks allowed water to flow in and out and was the centrepiece of most people’s photos. It was impossible to walk down to the sandy shore inside the cove, but we could venture all the way around the edge of the cliffs, observing the beach and the arch from every angle.
Back in the convoy we drove to Kelingking Beach. Danny took one look at how far the path descended and chose to wait at a cafe instead. I stopped by the lookout over the coastline and knew I had to go down. Passing through a pack of monkeys eating rubbish off the ground, I made my way to a steep path tracking along the spine of precipitous mountain. It led hundreds of metres down to the water; the people coming back up looked like they were suffering big time. The gigantic, uneven steps required me to hold onto makeshift wooden handrails that didn’t fill me with confidence. As I descended, more and more of the beach below was revealed. The water was a spectacular shade of green and the sand was spotlessly clean. Halfway down, the path took a sharp turn off the mountain ridge and extended straight down to the beach. From here the views were stunning and I didn't feel the need to go any further. Heading back up, the full brunt of the heat overwhelmed me. It was difficult to breathe and I was panting long after I reached the top. Clearly I wasn’t acclimatised to this humidity anymore.
While driving out to our third site, Banah Cliff Viewpoint, we lost the cars - I guess we weren’t on the tourist trail anymore. The road deteriorated to the point where we could only progress at a walking pace. A local guy lying under a bamboo shelter asked us where we were going. After hearing our response, he waved us on. Then, out of nowhere, he popped up at the car park (i.e. grassy patch we had parked on) and guided us to the obvious trail. There was no one else around so his entire focus was on us. We knew straight away that there would be some sort of fee involved. From the first lookout we could see a stone archway way out in the ocean. Our ‘guide’ encouraged us to go further down the hill but I didn’t think the view would be any different. Instead we returned to the bike where, as expected, he asked for money. I handed over a bunch of small notes before we raced out of there (at walking pace on the undriveable road).
Near Banah Cliff was Tembeling Beach, the next stop on our itinerary. At the turnoff to the beach, we were stopped by a bunch of local guys who told us that the path was too dangerous to drive down. Apparently, the only way to reach the coast was to get a lift on the back of one of their motorbikes (for a cost, of course). It was only a 2 km walk, which I was tempted to do, but with the mid-afternoon heat beating down and Danny deciding not to go, it meant I wanted to get this over with as quickly as possible.
There was nothing wrong with the road. It was admittedly steep in some spots, but it was paved and easy to ride. It didn’t even compare to the road that we had just taken to Banah Cliff. On the way I passed other tourists riding their motorbikes down the road with no issues. Why were we the ones to get swindled?
At the end of the road I walked down yet more steps to a natural watering hole, located in a shady forest and overlooking a nondescript beach. It was pretty but not amazing, and definitely not worth the money I paid.
We didn't expect to take so long to drive between the attractions on the island. By the time I returned from Tembeling Beach, it was already 3 p.m. and we hadn’t eaten lunch yet. Although we hadn’t even covered half of the island, we called it a day and made our way towards the ferry. On the way we pulled in at a phenomenal hilltop restaurant, with a cool breeze floating across the balcony seating. It was the only fully vegan restaurant on any of the Nusa islands, and the food (along with the view) was fantastic.
After catching the return boat to Nusa Lembongan, we made the smart decision to catch a taxi back to our accommodation. We weren’t prepared to undertake that trek again.