Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Nusa Lembongan - A Bali Offshore Gem

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 Last visited late July 2012


Cool pool at Dream Beach Bungalows - Nusa Lembongan. Actually there is another rim pool just below this one.

Nusa Lembongan is a small island about 15km off the south east Bali mainland. It and even smaller neighbour Nusa Ceningan are dwarfed by nearby bigger, higher Nusa Penida.

Lembongan has 4 very good reef surf-breaks suited to expert wave riders and was “discovered” by surfers in the 70s. This in turn attracted backpackers to the budget accommodation and laid back island life at Jungubatu Bay, the main surfing area. Midrange and higher tourists then became interested with some pretty attractive accommodation going in on non-surfing Mushroom Bay a few km south west. In recent years this type of development has accelerated greatly - with Mushroom Bay fully built out some time back most of this new stuff is on the southern hill overlooking Jungubatu Bay and lining the cliffs and small beaches between there and Mushroom Bay. I was amazed by the amount of new development since between my 2006 and 2009 visits. My latest 2012 trip saw even more development not only in existing areas but on the cliffsides south of Mushroom Bay. Nusa Ceningan is getting a few nice resorts too - plus some more budget options. However the Nusas are not overdone as say Gili Trawangan has become - as a matter of fact I reckon Lembongan/Ceningan is a better option than the Gilis, being much easier to reach from Bali where most people start, and having more variety.
Note that diving is now a popular activity, snorkelling trips to the seldom visited bays of Nusa Penida are rewarding and it is possible to organise fishing expeditions. Hiring a motorcycle or bicycle and exploring Lembongan and Ceningan is good value. Walking the coast track from Jungubatu to Mushroom is pleasant scenery wise.


Nusa Lembongan with neighbours Ceningan and Penida (far right). The northern half of Lembongan is quite flat, the southern hilly. Ceningan is even hillier while much of Penida is a very high plateau.
The surfing area of Jungubatu Bay takes up the top half of the west coast. The surfers’ places are towards the northern end, a lot of the new midrange stuff is built up the hill at the southern end with fabulous views.
Mushroom Beach is near the western most part of the west coast. Lovely Dream Beach is a few km south of this in the south-west of the island.
This is a small island - Google Earth shows a straight line distance of 4km from the lighthouse to Dream Beach. (map from Made the motorcycle tout)


I modified this Google Earth image to show the main places mentioned on this page - 1-Mushroom Bay 2-Dream Beach 3-Lembongan Village 4-Coconuts 5-Jungubatu Lagoon 6-Jungubatu village (actually strung along the bay and road from 4 past 7) 7-Agung View, Ketut's and Mainski Inn 8-Mangroves 9-Nusa Penida
A-Jungubatu-Mushroom Bay coastal path



BEACHES

Nusa Lembongan's tourist beaches are on the west coast facing the Bali mainland. The following are from north to south:

JUNGUBATU
JUNGUBATU is the original visitors' beach on account there are 3 very good reef breaks for surfing along the fringing reef about 250m off the shore. The reef acts as a good shelter to the lagoon behind making for a safe anchorage. This shot is a good one to click-expand.


Jungubatu Bay from my May 09 accommodation, Agung Bungalow’s seafront dining area. The bay is protected by a fringing reef about 500m from shore with 3 passes - each pass has an excellent and very challenging surf-break. Waves breaking on the southern most section of the reef can be seen in this shot. Local boat guys have a thriving trade shuttling surfers out to the reef - 500m is a fair paddle.
The far end of the lagoon has some big platforms near the reef where fast daytrip boats from Bali moor - people use the platforms as a basis for snorkelling, water skiing, banana boating and paragliding. The south west corner of the island near Dream Beach is far right background.


Another shot of the lagoon. The new midrange and better developments up the hillside at the far end can be better seen in this shot. This now continues in patches along the coast to Mushroom Bay which is out of shot to the right.Close to the camera are a bunch of surfer/traveller places, although I was amazed at the push upmarket of quite a few. Mainski Inn, one of the originals, now has aircon and a real nice horizon pool out front - and prices to match. Google for the website. Neighbour Ketut‘s, the first place I stayed at on Lembonan some years back, is now very similar. My place this latest trip, Agung (yep, you can see Bali’s Agung volcano when there is not too much clould - best early morning in May) was more old-style surfer digs - my basic but comfy room was only 70k (abt $US7 at the time) and they had some attractive two storey bungalows at 150k a double or 200k for 4. These prices didn’t include breakfast. Their food wasn’t bad or expensive, and there were plenty of neighbouring bay-front restaurants. As you can see the beach along Jungubatu is nothing to get excited about - plenty of (often untidy) sand at low tide but in many areas none at high tide.

July 2012 pic - biggest change from my '09 visit was the extension of the sea wall front right for almost the full length of the beach although it is largely obscured in background by sand deposits - last wet season must have been pretty benign with little erosion. Check Agung volcano in background. This is a high tide shot - the area in the pic below is shot from in font of those building right foreground.

Fishing and sea-weed farming are the traditional industries at Lembongan. At low tide the locals tend their sea-weed plots. This is towards the southern end of Jungubatu Bay - note the daytrip platforms in the background. There does not seem to be any unpleasant odour associated with this sea-weed activity.

COCONUT BEACH
If you take the cliff path along the headland at the south end of Jungubatu Bay you will reach in under 5 minutes this smallish beach. Not too much sand here at high tide and a disappointing amount of flotsam and debris at low - a bit surprising seeing there were several nice midrange resorts and villa operations adjacent which you would expect to spend some time cleaning the beach.

TAMARIND BEACH
A short distance further along the path from Coconut you arrive at Tamarind Beach. This is another not-so hot-at-high-tide location - only a small patch of dry sand is left at the far end. When I first came to Lembongan this beach was regarded as the quiet alternative to Jungubatu with some good backpacker places behind the sand. Now most have upgraded to flashpacker and lower midrange with several new joints joining them.
 To continue to Mushroom Bay, take the road leading uphill from immediately behind camera and turn right after about 30m up the first side lane.
Click-expand to check much of Jungubatu in far background.

MUSHROOM BAY
MUSHROOM BAY is the main midrange/high end beach on Lembongan. You can walk over here from Jungubatu, the other main concentration of accommodation via a coastal track which passes several other small beaches in about 30 minutes. Or motorcycle the longer route via Lembongan village. Mushroom Bay tends to be pretty busy from mid-morning to early afternoon with daytrippers from Bali but is very laid back at other times. A fringing reef means water near the beach is pretty calm. There is a smaller, often deserted beach around the far headland.


The smaller back beach at Mushroom Bay - walk around main beach's northern headland on the rocks exposed by low tide or take the steep path that drops to the beach from behind Mushroom Beach Bungalows' restaurant.

Mushroom Beach Bungalows' scenic restaurant on the north-eastern headland. This was flash-packer standard when I first visited the island but is now decidedly midrange with a nice pool and upgraded bungalows, some with air and hot water. Food and drink prices not too bad (still a bargain by western standards) but bottom-bargain yummy stuff is available a short distance up the road which heads inland about 75% down the beach.



View from Mushroom Beach Bungalows' restaurant. Mushroom Bay has a good selection of other midrange and higher places. Some less expensive accommodation up that road leaving the beach, but a small range compared to Jungubatu.

SUNSET BEACH/SANDY BAY
 

The very next bay of any size to the south is called Sunset Beach as was the whole bay originally but I notice the restaurant there is now referring to its location as Sandy BayIf you are staying on Mushroom Bay you can walk here in under 15 minutes via the small lane leaving from the southern corner of the beach. Apart from the nice beachfront restaurant the area had a flash villa place with pool on the northern headland immediately behind camera and two other similar places under construction in May 09 - one of them had already closed down when I called around in 2012 but there were a couple of other joints being built. Compared to Dream Beach to the south the surf was tricky but the beach markedly inferior with a line of rock at water entry level.

This is the pool of THE BEACH CLUB at Sandy Bay. The restaurant here gets raves on Trip Advisor (#1 rated dining on Lembongan) although not particularly expensive and the outlook is certainly dramatic with the usual big dry season south easterly swell. 

DREAM BEACH
DREAM BEACH - best on the island and the best in Bali IMHO. This is near the south west corner of the island - that’s Nusa Ceningan in the background.
One caveat - this was shot in a lull in the waves: the surf is quite tricky here. There is a permanent rip current on the far side of the beach - anywhere past that clear-sandy area extending out into the water where the people are should be avoided otherwise you may find yourself disappearing towards the d
istant fringing reef and the bigger waves at a rapid rate of knots. Remember, if you get caught in a rip current swim sideways out of it - towards the centre of the bay in this case.
The above pix was shot from the loft dining-drinks area of Dream Beach Bungalows which can be seen in the shot below.


When I first visited this beach there was a very simple warung and no bungalows. A long time guest told me owner Wayan has put a couple of new bungalows in each year - ph 081 239 83772 or 081 337 457 842 for bookings or google Dream Beach Huts. As you can see below they are very attractive, but by the time of my latest visit pricing had gone decidedly into the midrange in Bali terms. This beach seems to attract those European couples and families who seem so expert at finding little known gems. Actually on my latest trip the motorcycle parking lot and restaurant was full of daytrippers from other Lembongan locations.

Dream Beach Huts rather attractive bungalows. Something new on my latest trip, a nice pool with sensational ocean views. See opening shot up page.

OTHER LEMBONGAN LOCATIONS.

Just south of Mushroom Bay is a handful of cliff-top resorts. Look to be the perfect places to relax. No good beaches adjacent but both Mushroom Bay and Dream Beach are around 10 minutes walk.


Lembongan village - this is a surprisingly large settlement built on the slopes leading downhill to the eastern shore of the island. Typical Balinese village with houses behind walled family compounds.  That's the school right of image. Not too much to see in the village apart from an apparently underwhelming underground house kids will lead you to for a small payment.
The second village in the island is Jungubatu village - a linear settlement behind the beach with a fair range of touristy services and some less expensive places to stay.


 GETTING THERE. 
Public boats leave the small harbour at Sanur, 20 minutes from Kuta on Bali, at 8am and 11.30am. They take about 80 minutes to cross. Cost was 55K in May09, the last time I used them. More conveniently, Perama, one of Bali’s bigger transport operators can pick you up at your Kuta hotel around 9am, shuttle you across to Sanur and have you on Lembongan via their own similar  boat before mid-day for less than $us15 (again '09 prices - Perama has a good website, google for latest prices and times).


The public boat arriving back at Sanur. Top deck a great way to travel - but take some sun protection.

Even quicker are the daytrip operators who can take you out on their big fast boats for around $35. Bounty Cruises (www.balibountygroup.com) and Bali Hai (www.bali-paradise.com/balihai) are two of a number of daytrip outfits. If you simply want to do the daytrip you are looking at $80-120 (once again all 09 prices: I'd google Nusa Lembongan day trips for latest info and operators)

Bali Hai's big fast cat leaves for the mainland around 1430
 
These days there are a number of speedboat operators who can whisk you out even quicker (35-45 minutes) for around the same money as a one way ride on one of the day trip operators - Google will find them. Most run from Sanur but a few are based at Benoa Harbour and Serangan closer to Kuta and Nusa Dua. All tend to do free pickup and transfers from the main southern tourist strip.
Note the public boat office at Sanur now runs 3 speedboat trips per day too - for around 200k which is cheaper than the other outfits, but would not include a shuttle from your accommodation.
Useful for island hoppers - Scoot Fast Cruises runs a fast boat from Sanur to Lembongan which then carries on to to Gili Trawangan then Teluk Kode near Senggigi at Lombok.


Travelers leaving the beach at Jungubatu bound for the Bali mainland. Note some fast boats go to/from Mushroom Bay - others Jungabatu. Most of the latter offer a free shuttle around to Mushroom. All the Lembongan fast boats seem to have an enclosed cabin which is ideal if conditions are rough or choppy - unlike most Thai speedboats which are more open.

It is also possible to buy a ride for a few dollars on one of the seaweed boats or supply boats from Kusamba on the central eastern coast of Bali. I came across on my first trip with two Dutch surfers from the gorgeous little town of Padangbai, north of Kusamba. We chartered a local fisherman to take us in his small prau at just under $10 each - you can get some serioulsy big swell on this trip in the right conditions, awesome in a 5m outrigger. Padangbai is the port for the big ferries from Lombok.



Small fishing praus near camera. In background, the daytrip operators have established pontoons from where they moor their boats apon arrival and base a lot of their water sports from. Note Bali's mainland's Mount Agung in the background.

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NUSA CENINGAN

Ceningan and Lembongan are linked by this narrow bridge not far from Lembongan village. Ceningan is smaller and higher than Lembongan and way less touristy and settled  - most of the population live along the island's westerm shore visible in shot and are engaged in fishing.


Some super steep slopes lead from the western coastal strip up onto a plateau which tends to run for 80% of the island. Because the area is limestone based and does not hold rainwater well farming up here is pretty scattered and there is not a lot of other activity. This is typical of the high country road - narrow and in poor condition, much worse than in '09.


The south easterly swell hitting the shallower water between the islands tends to throw up some big surf - one of Lembongan's experts' surf breaks is in this region.


Towards the south of Ceningan the plateau drops to a lower ledge. Right at the southern tip is this fabulously sited warung - just the place for a snack or drink after a long bicycyle or motorcyle ride. If you click-expand you may be able to see Dream Beach in the background.


Walk 300m east from the point of the previsous shot and you are looking at higher, bigger Nusa Penida background. That neat Ceningan headland resort in foreground is new from my previous '09 visit.


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This is a copy of an article I did on Lembongan after my first visit (I have done 4 visits in total) which was published in the travel section of an Australian newspaper. It gave me a bit of a thrill, because I have no training as a writer. There are some practical facts at the conclusion. I wrote this in the period I used to travel super light - before compact digital cameras - so I had no shots. The newspaper found some in their files - I've used pics available on the net here, as I did for the first version of this page.


Surfers, divers, backpackers, package tourists and high end travellers will all find laidback tranquility on the small island of Nusa Lembongan.

Okay, I have found one! After a half dozen snorkelling trips covering at least fifteen different sites in Lombok and Bali, in which I have seen some great coral, an excellent variety of multi-coloured fish and some really big turtles, I am face to face with my quarry. Jammed into a small crevice three metres below the surface in a small inlet on the rugged southern shore of Nusa Lembongan is a magnificent lobster, huge feelers waving in the current. Resplendent in its striped tropical livery, it looks so different from the mono-coloured green of the lobsters back home.

I have been peering under coral outcrops, diving into canyons in the rocks, separating seaweed to see what is in crevices, and at last success! Only one small problem. I have no glove. Here is a specimen that would drive cookie back at the bungalows insane, and I am facing the risk of a lacerated hand if I grab it. So I signal my fellow snorkellers, five Basque girls and their three male companions. They take turns diving down to check this magnificent specimen out. In a way it would be a shame for it to end up in the pot.

We then swim in to the small beach under the cliffs at the back of the cove and sun ourselves for a half hour until the boat guy signals it is time to head back to base.

Visitors returning from a snorkelling trip out of Nusa Lembongan (image Island Explorer Cruises)

Twenty minutes later I am sitting on the upstairs balcony of my $12 bungalow overlooking the beach in the surfer/backpacker section of Jungubatu Bay. A local motorised prau taking harvested seaweed across to Kusamba on the mainland is sliding across the lagoon in front of me and further out I can see kamikaze Japanese surfers and suicidal Brazilian bodyboarders doing banzai runs at Shipwrecks, a lightning fast right hand break along the edge of the fringing reef. It was surfers who first discovered this lovely little island 20km off the east coast of Bali in the 70s. There are five surfbreaks here, the others more distant and best reached by hiring for a few dollars one of the small fishing praus always waiting on the beach.
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Jungubatu surfbreak (image Island Explorer Cruises)
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Budget accommodation quickly developed to cater for the surfers. Backpackers soon heard of the combination of laid back island beauty and cheap digs, as did divers, attracted by the clear water and excellent reef sites which are unspoiled by Asian standards. The result is a string of a dozen or so bungalow outfits and restaurants lining the shore along the northern end of the bay. A room here ranges from under $5 for basic but clean and comfortable through to around $20 for very comfortable. Food is little more expensive than the bargain mainland prices, except for seafood, which is cheaper - my favourite garlic-fried barracuda with lovely sauce and side plate of rice costs $3. A large bottle of beer will set you back $2.50, a thick papaya, pineapple or banana fruit juice $1.

This accommodation-restaurant strip is no real place for ravers... Usually at least one place has some music after dinner and another couple show latest release movies on widescreen TVs. But for a lot of people, conversation at one of the seaside tables, sipping a drink or three while watching the lights of Sanur and other mainland Bali towns twinkling across the Badung Strait is a fine way to spend the evening.
The Jungubatu backpacker/surfer strip - Agung volcano on the mainland in the background (image Panoramio - Arouel)
So what to do after lunch? Yesterday I grabbed a hire bicycle and toured the island. Lembongan is only about five by two kms, and largely flat in its northern three quarters. Simple tracks follow the coast and divert to avoid the northern mangroves and here you can observe the unhurried pace of island life - fishermen’s huts in pockets around the coast, some simple farming further inland, a small area devoted to salt making and one or two coastal warungs where you can stop and buy a drink or a snack. Local women spread washing to dry on roadside rocks and old timers pass the hours sitting and jawing on simple roadside platforms called bales. Bicycle riding is very safe. Over several hours I was passed by less than a dozen motorcycles and I saw no other motor vehicles.

There are two villages, Jungubatu at the southern end of the bay, a simple ribbon development with a bank, wartel (telephone kiosk) and a range of basic shops and Lembongan, a bigger development in the hilly northern section with maybe a thousand inhabitants. Some local kids will flag you down here and offer to take you on a guided tour of the Underground House for a dollar or so. This collection of interconnected underground caverns was built by a local as a memorial to himself. Some Belgian travellers had told me it is cramped and claustrophobic and no big deal, so I passed up the offer.

A short distance from Lembongan village, a new suspension bridge crosses the narrow passage to neighbouring Nusa Ceningan. Roughly equal in size to Lembongan, it is much more hilly with some seriously challenging slopes that will cause the unfit to wish they had taken one of the hire-motorcycles instead. However the effort is worth it. From a viewpoint on the southern tip of the island I can see back over Ceningan and Lembongan to Bali. Directly below me the cliff drops into a bay very similar to the lobster’s home this morning and to the west is Nusa Penida, a much bigger island with 100m cliffs falling abruptly to the ocean. Penida’s nearest point is only one km away across a narrow passage. I could see dive boats parked in two of the inlets facing me. Tomorrow’s snorkel trip goes across there, one I definitely won’t miss.

I came across an unlikely sight shortly after starting downhill. Pushing his bicycle up a killer slope was an itinerant ice-cream seller, complete with cooler box and a Mr Whippy like tune produced by a small generator connected to the front wheel. Who he aimed to sell to up here, with only a few scattered farming huts, is anyone’s guess. Perhaps the crazy cycling tourist. He probably overcharged me at a dollar for the choc-coated ice cream, but in its slightly melted state it was simply delicious and worth three times the price.

Lembongan and Ceningan have less than five thousand people between them. It took me around 4 hours to do my leisurely tour and I swear half the people I saw were kids. Indonesia has a system of shift schooling in some areas (morning school for some kids - afternoon for others) and in other areas extended mid day breaks from class. So no matter what time of day, there always seems to be kids walking along the tracks to and from school. And when you pass a school, kids in there too. Immaculate in their blue and white or all brown uniforms, they unfailingly greet you with a wave and a smiling “Hello!”

Okay, maybe no cycling this afternoon. I notice a few backpackers piling into a prau loaded with fishing rods. There are apparently some excellent angling spots in the near vicinity. But I feel more like a laze on a beautiful beach and maybe a leisurely swim.

The beach at Jungubatu is not exactly shabby, but the tide has gone down so that much of the lagoon has become shallow pools and exposed coral flats. Great for the seaweed farmers to tend and harvest their crop (and no, as far as I can tell, there is no smell involved) and excellent for fossikers to inspect the micro-life of the pools and collect seashells. But not so great for a swim. No problems, I know an excellent place.
An excellent place - Mushroom Bay on Lembongan (image - Holiday Check)
-I walk down the beach, past the village and then take the coastal path along the cliffs heading south. Down to my right the seaweed workers are banging anchoring stakes into the coral. Further out in deep water are two big shaded pontoons with fast motorised catamarans moored to them. These are big daytrip boats from Bali. I can make out groups of snorkellers in a section near the pontoon and there are kayaks and a banana boat ride operating on the other side. To my left a handful of mid-range bungalow places are built up the hillside with panoramic views over the water and back to Bali. See shot of Coconuts below.

Coconuts Resort overlooking Jungubatu Bay - on a later trip I stayed in the highest chalet. Nice midrange place (images - Island Explorer Cruises - Coconuts Resort)



Fantastic view from the top bungalow. But killer set of stairs to get there
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I cross down over a couple of nice beaches and small coves and after about 20 minutes reach a simply gorgeous beach in a place called Mushroom Bay, so named for the shape of some coral outcrops offshore. This place has blinding white sand, deep water even at low tide, some good coral for snorkelling and casuarinas growing behind the beach for shade. Not surprisingly, it had attracted some high-end and mid-range boutique hotels.

After a leisurely swim, I elect to sit on the sand at the southern end of the bay, which by mid afternoon is shaded by the trees. There are maybe two dozen people scattered along the sand and the occasional prau comes in and unloads daytrippers who mainly head for the pool area of the Beach Club behind the trees. The emphasis here is on tranquillity. Unlike most beaches in Bali there are no hawkers with their: “pineapple - papaya - shells - massage - beer - paintings - sunglasses - I give special price - later? - tomorrow? - okay, when?” The beach back at Jungubatu has a similar absence of these people - with the sole exception of the boat guys who wander along in the morning and ask you if you would like to join the snorkelling or fishing trip. Plus I did see my ice-cream guy down on the beach at the village on the way over.

Another unlikely sight. An old wizened local leads one of the doe eyed island cattle down a path from the southern headland. Two cute untethered calves tag along. The animals have small tinkling bells around their necks. They cross a section of the beach and take the road towards Lembongan village. After 20 minutes they retrace their steps. I can hear the bells long after they disappear back up the headland track. Please don’t think this beach is part of the island’s answer to the Canning Stock Route - I see this once in three afternoons on the beach.

After a few more swims and an explore of a deserted sandy cove immediately to the north around a small headland, I start to stroll back to Jungubatu. But first a pleasant diversion. At the top of the stairs leading out of Mushroom is a little warung, sensationally perched on the northern headland looking back over the bay and out to sea. Food and drink prices here are only about 20% higher than back at Jungubatu, as is the tariff for their few bungalows. This is the perfect place to grab a late afternoon beer or juice, check that lovely beach and watch the sun go down in a golden glow behind southern Bali. Any breeze tends to disappear around sunset, turning the sea into molten glass. Even better, when I turn a little I notice that the usual late afternoon melt-off of clouds around Agung, Bali’s loftiest volcano has occurred. Agung is considerably higher than Kosciusko and at this close distance should be pretty spectacular. But when the clouds part, it is always twice as high as I expect. The peak has a northern ridge which drops precipitously to the coast no more than 25km from where I sit.
Awesome.
Mount Agung, Bali, from Coconut's Pool overlooking the bay at Jungubatu, Nusa Lembongan (image Island Explorer Cruises)

UPDATE - see Tom's February 2010 and Julie's July 2012 trip reports to Lembongan in the READERS' TRIP REPORTS section.
If you want to do a trip report on Lembongan send text and pix to lajolla22@hotmail.com



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If you are visiting Lembongan perhaps you would be interested in:
THE GILIS

BALI

BALI'S BEST BEACHES

BUDGET SERAYA AND KANAWA ISLANDS

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If you have any comments or questions please put them on THE FORUM rather than below. I don't get a chance to check all threads daily, but unless I'm travelling I'll try to monitor THE FORUM regularly.