Last autumn, I decided to revisit Indonesia for the fifth time and once again, it didn't disappoint! I’d previously spent a total of 4 months between Bali and Lombok, so this time I was looking forward to visiting some new islands, returning to the temples and tasting some more of the traditional spicy sambal!
As I stepped off my flight in Bali, I was welcomed with the sight of a fiery orange and pink sunset, the sweet smell of clove-scented cigarettes and the dreamy sound of the Balinese xylophone; this country never fails to seduce me.
I began my adventure with two nights in the arty area of Ubud. It’s known for its greener-than-green rice paddies, the monkey forest full of the cheekiest moneys in Bali, local cooking courses, yoga retreats and classes in silver-smithing and woodcarving - not to mention the multitude of touristy cultural dance shows you can see.
I stayed in Wenara Bali Bungalows, close to Monkey forest. Some days you might wake up with a monkey on your balcony staring in, but it was within walking distance of all of the action and very reasonably priced with rooms form £18. We mainly chose this property as it had a pool and we thought a dip in the pool after our long flight would be needed! However if you want to indulge a bit more I would recommend heading a bit further out of town into the beautiful rice paddy fields and jungles where there are some stunning properties such as the Hanging Gardens of Bali where you can chill in the sumptuous infinity pools, found just North of Ubud in the jungle.
I planned an afternoon cycling through the local rice terraces. My plan was to whizz through the lush fields waving at the rice farmers as I went... the reality was pretty different. Having hired a bike without a guide and asked for directions to 'the most beautiful rice terraces in Ubud'; we ended up cycling uphill in the midday, humid heat expecting to see the rice terraces fairly soon. After a very long slog, we made it just in time for sunset (about two hours later) however the view was amazing. Congratulating our efforts with a cold Bintang beer was all we had time for as we quickly had to turn back so we could get home before dark.
Later, whilst laughing at our failed attempts at a rice paddy cycling adventure, some people we'd met in the bar told us they’d visited some just 10 minutes from the town! The moral of the story – do your research or go with a guide!
Heading out from Ubud, we decided to visit some more spots in Bali. We visited a less-touristy monkey forest in Sangeh, where the monkeys seemed much friendlier. We ventured out to some famous temples including Taman Ayun Temples and Pura Ulun Danu Water Temple, and finally the Tegallalang rice paddy terraces before finishing with sunset over Tanah lot temple.
Our next stop was the laid back town of Canggu, the ideal place for surfers and travellers who are looking to avoid the hectic tourist hotspots of Bali. From here, we’d booked on to the island-hopper adventure with Mojosurf, for 6 days of surfing in Canggu, Pulah Mereh (Red Island) in Java and Nusa Lembongan island, East of Bali mainland.
On the first morning, we were collected and brought to Mojo HQ to collect our boards, rashies and to watch a surf lesson video, before heading to a secret reef break.
There tour group was about 10 people; some on short surf packages, some (like us) heading off on the 6 day surf trip which visits Lombok rather than Java and a few more on the 8 day surf trip.
After a quick recap of how to pop-up and a briefing on the surf spot, we all had to paddle out pretty far to where the waves were breaking in the reef. The paddle out such a long way is tiring, instantly making me realise my lack of surf fitness. We all sat on the shoulder of the wave whilst waiting our turn... I was up second and felt a bit daunted as the waves were big and unbroken. I paddled over to 'Rasta' the dreaded indo surf instructor who’s hair probably weighed more than he did. He helped me position myself and gave me an extra last push to get my speed up to catch the wave. I was surprised to have caught it and scrambled not so elegantly to my feet! I was so happy to already be surfing quite a big, unbroken wave in beautiful warm waters, the trip had started well.
The morning surf carried on like this and I caught a few good waves with the help of the 'speed shunts' the instructors were handing out, where the instructors help massively by giving the back of your board an extra push just as the wave approaches. Despite the large waves and distance from the shore, the surf is perfect for learners, breaking slowly from the apex and gently spilling over, with time to get to your feet and ride the wave quite a way to the shore. The jetlag disappeared instantly with the salty sea and washing it away and excitement of catching a big wave waking my senses and psyching me for the days of surfing to come!
This Mojo surf tour suits beginners to experience surfers. The majority of the people on the tour were beginners with a little experience, some with none at all and about a third could surf but still wanted some guidance and help getting onto un-broken green waves. I have had a few surf lessons in my time however over the last few years I have always just hired a board and tried to figure it out myself.
I cannot express enough how much more I progressed on this trip than if I had just hired a board and visited these places myself. The confidence it gives you to paddle out into foreign waves with an instructor, where the line-up is filled with locals is immense. They can give you vital info on exactly where to position yourself to get the best chance of catching a wave, when the tides are right on a particular break and are on hand to help out if you if you need any advice!
After a successful morning, we were then whisked off to Denpasar airport for a quick flight over to Java. After a short transfer from the airport, before we knew it we were at Red Island (Pulau Merah).
Pulau Merah takes its name from the rock islet jutting out from the sea in front of the beach. Pulau meaning island and Merah meaning red, it’s thought that the ‘red’ refers to the oxidized rock under the vegetation that now covers it the rock, others say it’s the colour the sand turns at sunset.
Seclusion is probably Pulau Merah’s best asset. Bali’s surfing spots have been inundated by surfers for decades, now people looking for less crowded surfing spots and more authentic experiences now seek out Pulau Merah for its natural surroundings and its resemblance to the old, pre-tourist Bali.
Red Island, has a beautiful and immense sandy beach with a prominent rock formation poking out of the sea – picture perfect and almost deserted. The waves looked fun and only a few local kids were surfing when we arrived in time for sunset. As we arrived we grabbed Bintang beers and watched the sunset from our pool, whilst getting to know our surf guide George and the other guests who all jumped in the pool to say ‘Hi’!
I was surprised at the quality of the accommodation on this tour; although it was a dorm, it was set in manicured gardens, surrounded by beautiful, private bungalows with an infinity pool. We were housed in a huge palm leaf woven room with bathroom, fans and bunkbeds. We were just 3 in the room of six beds and we felt so safe and at home I don’t think we locked our door once. The tour doesn’t advertise private rooms, however I’m sure they could give you a quote if your dorm room days are in the past.
The next 3 days followed a similar pattern, surfing, eating amazing buffets of Indonesian food and the odd bit of arak tasting!
After four days in this deserted Javanese paradise, it was time to head back to Bali for the next stage of the trip - surfing on Nusa Lembongan and island south east of Bali.
We flew back to Bali and were transferred by car and boat to a luxury hotel on a hill overlooking the reef named ‘playgrounds’ – I presumed that this would be where we would be surfing seeing as we weren’t exactly ‘pros’. Over dinner with our new surf guide, he told us that the next day we would either be surfing lacerations or Razors reef breaks. Neither name filled me with confidence…
The next morning we got ready and jumped in a local surf boat which took us and our boards out to the waves which were a 10 minute boat ride out to see and not breaking on the beachfront. Our local instructors showed us where to position ourselves on the waves and when to paddle, along with the occasional last minute push into the wave. Again, the conditions were perfect for us and the sea was as warm as a bath, with long waves we could ride for what seemed like forever!
Nusa Lembongan is not only filled with perfect waves, but offers the opportunity to snorkel with giant Manta rays too.
This activity is included in the Mojo surf tour and all of us being-lovers meant that everyone was super excited about the prospect of swimming with these gentle giants. Setting off early in time to meet these graceful, gliding creatures, we zoomed off in a speedboat towards Nusa Penida Island where these creatures can be found. We were lucky and found a couple of giant Manta Rays which were amazing, if hard to keep up with (even wearing fins!). Before long, they descended into the deep blue leaving us wanting more.
After two days of surfing on the mojo surf 8 day island hopper trip, the tour was over, I absolutely loved every minute of it and would happily go on another one again!
The improvement I saw in my surfing was massive compared to just renting a board. I was able to get boats to reefs that I could barely see from the shoreline, paddle out in unknown waters to far breaking reefs with the comfort of knowing an instructor had their eye on me, we discovered secret beaches with the local knowledge of the guides and everything from the food to transport, flights and instruction was taken care of so no time was wasted and all we had to concentrate on was catching as many waves as possible.
This tour is also great for meeting new people; quite a few of the girls on my trip continued travelling onto other islands together promising to continue surfing where they could, learning with a bunch of other people from around the world was great too, we would egg each other on to paddle for bigger waves and cheer each other on and laugh at each other’s wipe outs and embarrassing surf photos!
If you think you’d like to book an epic surf trip in Indonesia or Australia, call us on +44 1273320580 and ask to speak to me (Sara), I’ll be happy to advise you and help you find your perfect surf adventure!
These trips can be perfect starting points to meet people and to learn the sport allowing you to carry on, on your own afterwards. I’d recommend staying on in Indonesia to experience the jungles, temples and wildlife that you don’t see from a surfboard and we can help you plan where you can go after your tour has finished.
I actually decided to stay on Nusa Lembongan a little longer as I had a few days before I was due to leave for Sulawesi. Staying on the small island I busied myself with scuba diving to see more Giant Manta rays and in search of the rare Mola Mola or sunfish. I zoomed around the islands’ beautiful beaches nestled in-between rocky outcrops and experienced a once every 7 year ceremony where a group funeral was held for 67 locals. The proceedings and ceremonies were carried out over a number of days and finished in an elaborate procession of banging music and the local men carrying the bodies of the deceased in coffins placed within a sarcophagus in the form of a buffalo or a temple. These structures were raced backwards and forwards down the streets with the music getting more and more intense, it was quite a sight and privilege to see!