Renowned for its uncrowded waves and colourful coral reefs, Nusa Lembongan in Indonesia is a playground for surfers and divers. The limestone cliffs overlooking Jungut Batu village, the beach and the four main surf breaks, encompass some amazing resorts. With spectacular views down the beach and across the seaweed farms beneath the turquoise waters, this is the perfect place to source a wave. With your selection made, just drop off the rocky steps of the cliffs into the water for a ten-minute paddle out to the milder breaks, or jump in a local boat for a three-minute ride to a room of blue.
As I step from the ‘fast boat’ into the sandy waters, the air is permeated with the smell of seaweed – a first and lasting impression of my time in Nusa Lembongan, just 30 minutes by speedboat from Bali. With few roads and cars on the island, I watch as local porters collect the luggage from the shore, before everyone frantically follows in their footsteps to their respective accommodation – darting in all directions like the schools of colourful fish that I would soon discover off the shores of this idyllic island.
Jungut Batu village is basic with very little in the way of commercial distractions, apart from an array of restaurants and diving/snorkelling venues. A walk along the elevated path adjacent to the beach is an experience. Local housing, temples, and fruit sellers are in abundance, as well as scooters and bicycles nervously navigating their way between pedestrians. Hiring a scooter is a must on Nusa Lembongan. No licence is required and the roads are very quiet – unlike those on the mainland – or, alternatively, you can get a local to double you to your requested destination. There are some fantastic resorts and restaurants on the other side of the island and the beaches are spectacular.
Atop my scooter, with a map in hand, I set out from the village and follow the one road on the island that pretty much does a loop around its edges. I find myself riding through the larger Lembongan Village, which embodies the charm of traditional Balinese life, and is rich with culture. Kids are playing in the streets with whatever rock or stick they have found, washing drapes across lanes between rocky architecture, and daily spiritual offerings line each doorway. Further along the road, Dream Beach is just that, with overhanging cliffs to escape the sun’s rays, and palm trees flowing in the breeze, not to forget the azure blue water lapping up onto the crystal white sand. Nusa Lembongan is linked to a neighbouring island, Nusa Ceningan, by a bright yellow suspension bridge that is an experience in itself to cross. It is pedestrian width and, with every rotation of the scooter’s wheels, the old timber planks wobble frantically. Losing your balance for just a moment could easily result in you and your scooter ending upside-down in the ocean.
Across the bridge on Nusa Ceningan, life is even simpler. The smell of drying seaweed in the air is still rife and houses are more like huts. Following the signs leads me to a cliff-jumping area where, for just $5, I can jump – no, actually, leap – three times off a 25-metre-high limestone cliff into the most amazingly blue waters I have ever seen. I wonder whether that fee includes emergency evacuation if necessary. (It’s a crucial thought that may save me some pain, as the next day I witness some very purple bottoms, a result of that leap of faith.) For those of us choosing to postpone the adrenaline rush, the cliff is dotted with umbrella-clad tables where we soak up a gloriously colourful sunset, while perched above the crashing waves with a tropical drink in hand.
With New Year approaching, the local markets are overflowing with kembang api, or Indonesian fireworks. Fireworks are an evening ritual during the festive season, with locals as well as resorts competing for the best display to light up the sky along the shore. The hotel staff are insistent on assisting with my explosive purchases, but also prove that they don’t hesitate to be first to get out of the line of fire!
Nusa Lembongan is well known for its vast underwater wildlife, including a rare sunfish, or Mola Mola, and resident gigantic Manta Rays. There aren’t too many dive sites in the world that can boast the presence of the magnificent Mola Mola, but if you see a large, almost flat awkward-looking creature with a large dopey-eyed head equipped with long sweeping fins, you’re in the right place.
The seasons are not on my side, so I am not lucky enough to see these on my drift dives. But the abundance of marine life – including graceful turtles, coral beds with anemones that dance in a rhythmic motion, and the drop-off walls to the ocean’s floor – take my breath away.
While the unique aroma of seaweed on Nusa Lembongan isn’t the most pleasant, the island’s lack of commercial influences and the potential of a future encounter with a Mola Mola and Manta Ray are irresistible, and I know I will be returning to its waters soon.