After spending six months travelling and exploring Australia, I met up with my parents in Singapore and Indonesia to celebrate my Mum's birthday and explore a new part of the world together. The final part of our trip was spent in Gili Air, an island off the coast of Bali and Lombok. We spent four days here and explored our little island as well as the surrounding ones.
The Gili Islands are renowned for fantastic snorkelling and a retreat from the hustle and bustle of Bali. It is a popular destination for those wishing for a twin or triple centre trip in Bali and is a great choice when wanting to get away from it all. The largest of the Gilis, Gili Trawagen (Gili T) is the most well-known. Popular with backpackers and luxury travellers alike, the island has some great nightlife, water sports and accommodation. Gili Meno is the smallest island and is popular with honeymooners. Gili Air is lesser known and is family friendly with a quieter air. At a mere 15 square km, it is easy to bike around Gili Air in under 30 minutes with each side of the island showing off a different type of beach and style.
Another fun fact about Gili Air is that there is no motorised transport on the island and therefore the island is accessible by foot, bike or horseback. When we first arrived on the island from Bali we were immediately ushered towards a local horse and its owner and our bags were placed on the cart the horse was pulling. We were also encouraged to jump in. This is a popular method to get around the island and since our accommodation was at the opposite end of the island to the port, was efficient in getting us and our bags to where we needed to be. After a bit of research whilst on Gili Air I did find out that sadly, many of these horses and donkeys are badly treated and as such it is advised not to use horses as a mode of transport in the Gili Islands. For the remainder of our trip we kept to walking or biking and me and Mum chose to walk with our bags back to the beach when it came time to leave.
This is a good thing to keep in mind to reduce our impact on the local area and a reminder to always research where you may be going to ensure you are travelling responsibly.
We arrived at our villa for the next four days, Akasia Villas and were impressed with the two bedroom villa we had booked. We had our own plunge pool and two spacious bedrooms with outside bathrooms. The accommodation was a bit of a trek to find as it is hidden away in the centre of the island but was a lovely base as it was quiet and walkable to some great little spots for food. We settled ourselves in and chose to go for a walk as evening set in. Gili Air is very easy to walk around and although some of the little streets may be hard to navigate you'll always come out by a beach at some point!
That evening we headed towards the north of the island where there are several restaurants to choose from as well as a large beach. We took advantage of the cheap cocktails as the sun set and enjoyed the local food which I found full of flavour and well catered towards vegetarians. There is little nightlife on Gili Air so after our meal we headed back to our villa to play cards and have an early night reading.
A highlight of any trip to the Gili Islands is a snorkelling trip. The region is known for turtles, as well as underwater sculptures off Gili Meno. We hopped on a half day snorkelling tour and went to several popular snorkelling spots in the Gili's. We were lucky enough to see a number of turtles but were advised not to follow them into the deep waters. They did get close however and it was so special to swim with these amazing animals. The coral around the islands is now fairly bleached but there is still some lovely coral to explore with a wide variety of colourful fish.
Seeing the underwater sculptures wasn't on our original itinerary but after I asked our guide, he was kind enough to make a detour towards the left side of Gili Meno and to the popular photo spot. These underwater statues were created and commissioned by BASK, the eco-resort where the statues sit in front of. They were made from the casts of real people and are a haunting reminder of our impact on the world. Their overall goal is to raise awareness of the death of our world's coral reefs with the hope that in the future these statues will become a man-made reef.
The site was quite busy with tourists but I was able to take a few photos of the statues with no people in, quite a feat! Our guides also tempted fish with some food to make the scene underwater even more magical. The artist, Jason deCaires Taylor, also has sites in the Canary Islands and Mexico as well as a pop-up exhibition in the Thames.
A snorkelling guided tour is a great way to explore the many sites around the Gili Islands. They are inexpensive and can range in luxury. We chose a very basic boat but found the guides to be knowledgeable and caring for the environment. We booked this on the island, but they can also be booked in advance if you would like peace of mind.
We also treated ourselves to massages on Gili Air. Massages and other spa treatments are famously cheap in South-East Asia so we took full advantage. This was a lovely experience to share with my Mum and we had a giggle as our limbs were twisted a few interesting ways. We may have overlooked the fact that we were very oily after this massage and found after sunbathing we got a little fried!
Beaches are varied on Gili Air and go from rocky to white sand. Some are closed off and for guest use only so we did struggle slightly to find good beaches that we were allowed to be on, as our villas were inland. Some did allow you to pay to be on the beach or asked for you to eat lunch there. We obliged to this in most cases and spent much of our four days there sunbathing and swimming off the shore. I was distressed by the amount of plastic that I found in the water along the coastline. I spent much of my time in the water collecting pieces of plastic and other such rubbish. As I put it in a bin on the beach, I wondered how long it would take for this waste to find its way back into the ocean. The Gili Islands are getting more conscious of their waste though and are really pushing no plastic on the island. A great activity to consider is a beach clean up on Gilli Air.
Throughout our stay I also made sure to take many photos on the iconic swings. These are owned by various hotels along the beaches and are easy to find. There are some better for sunset and sunrise so I made sure to get some photos with both.
We found the sunrise we encountered to be serine and very reflective. With no one else awake on our side of the island we enjoyed watching the sun rise over the mountains on Lombok and place a cool kiss on the first fishing boats of the day.
This island may not have a huge variety of things to do for the adventurous traveller, but it does make up for this in its charm and serenity. The people are friendly and the island is wonderful to cycle around whilst enjoying the lack of motors. We enjoyed our time here and found it was a wonderful place to spend some time as a family after six months apart.
As we bid farewell to the island we headed to Lombok to catch a flight back to Singapore via Jakarta. I wanted to add this in here as our journey from the port to the airport was one of the most memorable moments of our whole trip. We first headed to the beach and waited for our transport off the island, a boat named 007 to pick us up. Sure enough they did and we roared off to Lombok in style. We were transferred to our land transfer and guide Asier, who enthusiastically told us much of the history of the island of Lombok as we drove past idyllic deserted beaches. The island is fairly undiscovered now but it is due for a rise in tourism in the coming years. Much of these stunning bays filled only with palm trees will soon be large resorts, so we enjoyed seeing the island in its raw state.
As we drove throughout the capital city, Mataram, Asier offered to show us his home and his families Tempeh business. He said that he takes many visitors here when they express an interest in the daily lives of those on the island. As we parked up at his community many of the local children came out to greet us. As we walked to his home, many of the children shouted hello whilst the teenagers tried out some of their learnt English phrases. At our drivers home we met his wife, parents, and extended family. Everyone had a role to play in their Tempeh business and it was so interesting to see the process as I had grown fond of this amazing vegetarian friendly dish. We were presented at the end of our tour with still warm fresh tempeh and it was such an honour to have been able to have met his family.
We left Lombok with an unforgettable local experience and more knowledge of the place we had briefly explored. I would love to go back in the future and spend some more time here.
Our trip in Indonesia was at an end and we reflected on the different aspects of our trip. We started in Jakarta for a quick 24 hours. This city was intense, and we never got to truly experience it, I think it would have been a little too much for my Dad! Ubud in Bali was full of culture and was jam packed with activities. I loved this town though and felt very comfortable here. Gili Air was a perfect end to the trip full of relaxation and will be remembered for the amazing marine life and bonding time with my family.
I headed back to Australia reignited with excitement for the continuation of my travels and the adventures that awaited me.