Beginner on a bike - Lombok's stunning south coast


"If you can ride a bike you'll be absolutely fine." I was far from convinced. If it wasn't enough that I'd reached the age of 46 without ever having ridden a motorbike, on our way into Kuta in southern Lombok just a few hours earlier we'd witnessed the sombre aftermath of a fatal crash between a motorbike and a lorry. But still, we'd come to see the fabled beaches of South Lombok and a motorbike appeared to be the only feasible way to getting to see them. After a short demo and a ride with one of the staff from the guesthouse as my passenger, who screamed "Valentino Rossi!" in my ear as gentle encouragement as I wobbled across the car park, I was ready to go.

Of course it's easy to say after a relatively uneventful day, but for a beginner's day out on a motorbike, the quiet road along southern Lombok's coast is probably one of the less dangerous options. The few people we encountered were not in any hurry, and there are no nasty drops at the sides of the road. Best of all, the bike I had could just about touch 30 mph on the flat, and up the coast's many hills I suspect it would have been just as quick to get off and walk.  

Kuta is an unremarkable village, geared mainly towards the handful of surfers who come for the legendary waves off the southern coast. There are a handful of bars, pizza restaurants and gear shops, but nothing that would tempt a disorganised new arrival to stay in town rather than make the trip to the nearby beaches.

With my nervous wife clinging tight to me at the back of the bike, we left Kuta and apart from the occasional farmer carrying far too many rice sacks on his bike, I had no hazards to worry about. Our first stop was the beach at Mawun, a short detour from the main road. After paying 10,000 rupiah (50p) at the informal checkpoint, we parked the bike and set off to explore. A handful of  hawkers called over to us, but in the intense heat they weren't tempted to leave their seats in the shade, instead clocking us for our return when they sensibly figured that we'd be thirsty.



Mawun Beach is certainly a stunner: a long curving bay of golden sand, lush vegetation on one side and turquoise water on the other. The ocean was warm, the sand underfoot was soft, the waves gentle and unthreatening for a shaky swimmer. Taking a walk around the bay we passed a fisherman getting his boat ready for a midday sail, while a group of Indonesian girls in hijabs chatted to a tall Australian girl who towered over them in her bikini. Back in the shade I behaved as expected as I bought a coconut from the girl who'd tagged us on our arrival.

If Mawun is special, Selong Belanak Beach a few kilometres further west raises the bar a notch higher. Even these two people who are normally indifferent to beaches would have been happy to linger for an afternoon. Not only does it tick the soft golden sand/warm turquoise sea boxes, but there's plenty to watch as you laze in the sun. Confident surfers ride the waves while beginners wobble and try to balance for the first time. The colourful full-length outfits of local tourists contrast with the foreigners in their budgie-smugglers and bikinis. And to cap it all, there's the Laut Biru cafe serving light snacks and not-so-light cheesecake in the precious shade.

The ride back to town was slower (we were carrying cheesecake after all), but by the time we handed the bike back I felt thoroughly pleased with our day out. We'd enjoyed some of the finest beaches we'd ever seen, and at the same time managed to come back without any alarms. Valentino Rossi may have nothing to worry about, but at least I'll be more relaxed about taking on a motorbike if the need arises again.


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Lombok - which Gili is right for you?


In Lombok's local language, Sasak, the word “Gili” simply means “small island”. And, besides the famous three off the north coast – the ones that most of us mean when we talk about “the Gilis” – there are over thirty more Gilis scattered around Lombok. Most, however, have neither permanent inhabitants nor anywhere to stay.

Today, a Gili (or even two) seem to sit alongside Ubud as an Indonesia must-do. But which Gili is right for you? Trawangan, Meno or Air in the north? Or one of the quieter “Secret” or “Southern” Gilis, on Sekotong Bay, down south?

It's simple to get between Gili Trawangan, Meno and Air – a public boat does the circuit several times a day, and boat charters are easy. To get from one Southern Gili to another, you'll need to charter a boat.

For Good Times: Gili Trawangan

By far the busiest of the Gilis, Gili Trawangan absolutely heaves during the July-August high season. It's calmed down some from its decadent peak of a few years back – only a fraction of the bars now advertise shrooms – but, rather like Koh Tao on Thailand, Gili T pulls in goodtime backpackers who want to dive all day and party all night, with the occasional day snoozing in the sun. Gili T is not cheap – especially not in high season, when prices can triple from low season – and there's better diving off Bali and Flores, but it IS a great place to meet other solo travellers. There's more to do on Gili T than the other islands, while accommodation spans the gamut from uber-luxe hotels and megavillas to hostels and homestays.



With Kids: Gili Meno

Gili Meno is the quietest of the three northern Gilis, with white sand beaches that can be quite blissfully deserted. Want to play at Swiss Family Robinson but still have a choice of where to eat dinner? Gili Meno is for you. Right across the strait from Gili Trawangan, the snorkelling is good, the wandering is great, and kids will have a wonderful time exploring the island in safety. Note that accommodation prices are very much higher than Bali, especially in high season, and, as with everywhere on the Gilis, be aware of currents when snorkelling.

With a Partner: Gili Air

The vibe of Gili Air is halfway between Gili Trawangan and Gili Meno. Waterfront fresh fish barbecues? Check. Cocktails and imported wine on a white sand beach? Check. Quiet strolls along the beach, or through the village? All possible. Accommodation isn't cheap, but it is negotiable, outside of high season.

For Village Life: Gili Gede Indah

Gili Gede Indah – literally “big, beautiful little island” – is the major island in the Southern, or Secret, Gilis: to get there, catch a boat from the tiny port at Tembowong. Four named villages and a cluster of hamlets scatter the island, making it a wonderful spot to enjoy the simple rhythms of village life. Beaches suffer from litter, but charter a boat for great island-hopping and snorkelling. There's budget to midrange accommodation on the island, but very little choice of where to eat.

For Desert Island Bliss: Gili Asahan or Gili Nanggu

Currently home to just one resort, Pearl Beach, and a few simple houses, Gili Asahan, south of Gili Gede Indah in the Southern Gilis, is the Gili to hit if you're looking to play castaway in style, although the $90 bungalows are pricey by Indonesian standards: the resort can arrange pickup (or charter a boat from Tembowong). On a budget? Head to Gili Nanggu, in the northern cluster of the Southern Gilis. It gets busy with daytrippers at weekends and on local holidays, but outside those times you might well have the island and its solitary resort to yourself: boats leave from the beach south of Sekotong.

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Published by Stuart Lodge