Tim Rainger surfs, pretty much all the time. Haven written, photographed and published the famous Stormrider Surf Series, Tim is spending winter in Indonesia. He shares his views on Bali, and encourages us to get out and explore the other islands.
WORD AND PHOTOS TIM RAINGER
“Now when I was a little chap, I had a passion for maps. I would look for hours at South America, Africa or Australia, and lose myself in all the glories of exploration. At that time there were many blank places on the earth, and when I saw one that looked particularly inviting on a map (but they all looked like that), I would put my finger on it and say ‘When I grow up I will go there’.”
Thus begins Marlow, in Joseph Conrad’s classic novel Heart of Darkness. He could have sucked the thoughts straight from my skull. For me, that ONE was Bali.Island of the Gods. Mystical, mythical, exquisite, exotic. You might have been there for a wedding. Or a yoga retreat. Or, like many, a surf trip with one or all the above thrown in for good measure.And you wouldn’t be alone.
Each year this paradisiacal Indian Ocean gem hosts a staggering ten million foreign visitors of whom 25,000 are estimated to be New Zealanders. It is with good reason. Since the early seventies, when a ragged, stoned bunch of Australian and American surfers made her charms so widely known, the island has literally exploded with tourists, drawn to its tropical warmth, spicy cuisine, beautiful, palm-lined beaches and sumptuous, glassy waves. And not least, its delightful people.
The former coconut palm grove, now known as Kuta, has morphed/devolved (depending on your point of view) into a bustling, somewhat frenetic sprawl that now stretches almost from the airport to the once sleepy village of Seminyak; today it threatens to spill even further north to what were once the rice paddies of Canggu, now home to the hipster set.
Like it or hate it, there is a lot of variety and a million things to see, do and buy in amongst all the beautiful chaos. Five-star restaurants, world-leading fashion, home-wares, sculptures; you name it, you’ll be able to find it here. The quid pro quo of this spectacular transformation is traffic, urbanisation, and crowds. Crowds in the surf. Crowds on the street. Crowds in the restaurants.
The one golden commodity you will not find in abundance on the teeming southern shores of Bali is the thing that started the gold rush in the first place. And that is peace and quiet.
For that you’ll have to channel your inner Marlow, and walk the road less travelled.
This is the world’s largest island archipelago, with approximately 18,000 islands, of which only 8,844 have been named (according to estimates by the Government of Indonesia). Of these, 922 are permanently inhabited. So, ‘spoilt for choice’ would be an understatement.
Of course surfing is a major driver for many visitors, myself included, though diving and nature tourism are increasingly popular pastimes. Over the last few years I have visited Lombok, Sumbawa, Sumba and Rote, in descending order stretching southwards from Bali.
My favourites were Rote and Sumba, for compellingly different reasons. The perception of most is that Indonesia is overwhelmingly Muslim; however, Bali is majority Hindu, Sumba a curious blend of Animism and Christianity, and Rote overwhelmingly Christian.
The people of each island are distinctly unique, and in many cases speak their own languages. Bahasa Indonesia (literally ‘the language of Indonesia’), is a variation of Malay, designed in 1928 to allow communication between these varied peoples, and once you get away from Bali, it pays to have some in the memory banks. If not, be prepared to carry a language guide at all times, for once you leave Bali, English isn’t widely spoken.
Travelling to and around Sumba is not difficult. A cheap, two-hour flight from Bali, on Lion Air or Garuda, delivers you to one of the two airports. Once there, buses abound and cars can be rented, but accommodation is scarce and other Europeans are not often seen. It pays to have a local guide and if possible to set up some plans before you arrive. Otherwise you’ll end up like me sleeping on a board bag in an unfinished building eating noodles and bananas. There is one spectacular resort on the south coast and a few others springing up on the wave-free northern shores. The food outside the two main towns is extremely basic and luxuries are non-existent. But man oh man is it a cultural blast.
Megalithic stone temples and distinctive high-roofed houses are everywhere. Water buffalo are abundant. The fish life is prolific and the beaches stunning and mainly deserted. But sadly, poverty is endemic, and like many of the far-flung spots, infrastructure is sparse. The landscape is lush, mountainous, and wildly beautiful. The people are generally very friendly and engaging, occasionally curious to the point of annoying. Many have had little or no interaction with westerners so be prepared for lots of touching of pale skin. And of course the surf is amazing. Hard to offer advice for those who aren’t resort bound. Just follow your instincts and see what evolves. For sure something will.
Rote is different. It is arid, windy and very Christian. The people are generally well-educated and English widely spoken. Getting there involves a flight from Bali to Kupang, then another connecting flight. Once actually on Rote, most tourists head to Nemberala, situated on the southern tip, where the world-famous left-hander T-Land awaits. Several resorts and smaller homestays cater for a mix of yoga tourism and die-hard surfers, who focus on the winding lefts breaking on the outer reef that guard the seaweed farm lagoon. The white sandy beach is absolutely stunning, and a safe place to swim, with diving trips an additional attraction. This is where I went with my son when I wanted to introduce him to the joys of the tropics.
ONE HANDY HINT FOR TRAVELLERS
Travelling in Indonesia can have its share of frustration: ferries not running, insouciance from the locals, begging, heat, poor service, language barriers to name a few. And at times endless waiting, waiting, waiting. Again I can’t help but go back to Conrad, the master of prose, in a scene where Marlow consults the doctor, before heading into the heart of Asia. It’s advice that rings eternal In the tropics. “One must before everything else keep calm”… he lifted a warning forefinger…
”Du calme, du calme. Adieu.”
Being close to the equator, Bali’s days are always about 12 hours long.
May, June and July are considered the best months for the weather.
Its about a ten hour flight from Auckland to Denpasar.