If you could take a peek at the average holidaymaker’s mental world-map, Indonesia would most likely consist of Bali and not much else. The island has so captured our hearts with its wild surf beaches, floral temple offerings, chilled-out vibes and gentle, welcoming locals, that we often forget all about the rest of the country. But there are a stupefying 17,000-odd islands in Indonesia. And as my recent travels – spent exploring the tropical idylls of Lombok and Flores as well as Bali’s less-trodden paths – to this beguiling country proved, the more islands you explore, the richer your Indonesian adventure will become.
Our Lombok journey begins at Gili Meno, just a 30-minute boat ride from the mainland. Said to be the most relaxed and romantic of the trio of Gili Islands (which also includes party island Gili Trawangan and Gili Air), we dive off our boat and snorkel around coral reefs filled with iridescent clouds of tiny silver fish, fat sea slugs, turtles and more.
After a lunch of curried fish wrapped in banana leaves at Mahamaya, a chic boutique hotel and restaurant set on the talc-fine white sand, we’re ready to explore. We hail a cidomo (a traditional horse cart, Meno’s only form of transport) and after just five bumpy minutes we arrive on the other side of the island. There, we paddle in translucent waters and laze in the palm-thatched huts lining the beach until it’s time to float back to the mainland.
The following morning we drive for two hours through jungle and verdant rice paddies into the rugged highlands to the 40-metre Senaru waterfalls. Accessed via a half-hour jungle hike, we stand knee-deep in the frosty waters letting the spray cover our faces and the mighty roar engulf us.
If we had an extra two days we’d spend them summiting Mount Rinjani, an active volcano and one of Indonesia’s highest mountains. Today, however, it’s time to head off to our next Indonesian idyll.
NATURE FROTH IN FLORES
Our aim in Flores, like most travellers’, is to track down the island’s terrifying komodo dragons, the largest species of lizard in the world that have lived on the Komodo Islands for millions of years. We hire a wooden boat with three crew members for 24 hours and set sail.
Soon we arrive on Rinca Island, one of Komodo National Park’s three main islands where about 2000 dragons are said to live. Just 10 minutes into our 90-minute walk we spot five of the two-metre dragons. They have more than 50 strains of bacteria in their saliva, says our guide, and within 24 hours of being bitten their prey usually dies of blood poisoning. We decide to keep our distance and swiftly move on along the jungle paths, then back to the boat for a much-needed afternoon siesta.
At sunset we find ourselves off the coast of Kalong Island, or Fruit Bat Island. There, as the sky morphs from orange to pink to lavender, hundreds of flying foxes rush and chatter overhead as they leave their home in the mangrove forests in search of fruit for dinner.
From here, the awe-inspiring nature moments just keep on coming.
There’s a sunrise dip at Pink Beach, where we drift over the red coral reef that turns the beach sand pink. There’s a swim with endangered manta rays at Manta Point, where dozens of the huge, playful creatures glide around below us. The piece de resistance, however, is a night on Seraya Island, where we relax in our whitewashed wooden beach bungalow just metres from the shore, swim in the beachfront saltwater pool, and watch the orange sun drop into the ocean from the top of the island’s 40-metre cliffs.
Yes there’s more to Indonesia than Bali, but we felt it would be almost sacrilegious not to pop in on our way home.
Our first stop is the island’s latest hippie hotspot Canggu where we squeeze in yoga, surfing, massages, delicious health food at cafes including Bungalow and Betelnut, and boutique shopping in nearby Seminyak. When we’ve had enough of the buzz we drive 90 minutes to Uluwatu, one of the best surf breaks in Bali, for a swim and sunset margaritas at clifftop bar Single Fin.
The next day is our last in Indonesia and we spend it at the neighbouring cliffside beach town of Bingin, enjoying what this Indonesian paradise does best. The balmy breeze, the bath-warm ocean, the sumptuous treatments at Esthetic Day Spa. The day ends at Kelly’s Warung with a bonfire and live music by the sea, where we clink our Bintangs to how lucky we are that this magical Southeast Asian jewel is right on our doorstep.