Bali’s Wild West
Indonesia 13.04.2018 David Abram
A light breeze blows off the Java Straits, causing little waves to slap against the prow of the launch as we skim across the bay. The sun is low on the horizon and the colours are rich: cobalt blue water; topaz sky; lime-green vegetation; and along the shoreline, streaks of pearl-white shell sand.
We are off the sparsely populated western tip of Bali, exploring a stretch of coast that couldn’t be more different from the bright lights of Denpasar. No beach discos or hawkers here. Just miles of empty mangrove, jungle and savannah, framed by a breath-taking backdrop of forested ridges and the distant cone of a dormant volcano.
Our destination is a deserted islet called ‘Menjangan’, or ‘Deer Island’. The name refers to the herd of rare dwarf deer that live on it. The animals swim across the channel from the mainland each year in a mass migration (something I’d love the see!). There are also plenty of them grazing the little beach in front of our hotel. I spotted one just after sunrise, nibbling daintily at the bushes next to our breakfast terrace.
But it’s not the deer we’ve come to see. The reef surrounding Menjangan ranks among the richest in Asia, supporting an astonishing wealth of multi-coloured aquatic life, which you can experience on dives, or just with a snorkel and face mask.
Our boat pulls up close the beach, and we follow our guide through the shallow sand beds, spotting batfish, clams and starfish as we near the edge of the reef. The drop-off at Menjangan is where things really take on a whole new complexion. Immediately, I spy a shoal of green chromis swirling around coral beds of exquisite colours. Floating along the top of the wall are several parrotfish and a few Java spinefoot. Our guide picks out three species of angelfish (he later said there are at least five here) and some spectacular little clownfish, like characters straight from one of the Nemo movies.
Soft coral at the Menjangan reef drop-off.
Marine turtles frequently appear out of the deep blue here, but unfortunately not on this occasion. Even so, on the boat ride back, I felt like I’d just been swimming through my very own Blue Planet sequence. I’d snorkelled in these seas many times before but never experienced colours like those – a consequence of some zealous conservation by the Indonesian government, which has banned blast fishing around the national park to protect the coral.
View from our beach villa at The Menjangan boutique resort
Back at the hotel, we spend the afternoon lazing on the beach, which we have entirely to ourselves, swimming and lounging in the shade as the heat builds. Over at the island, I can see more boat traffic now. The beauty of staying close to the island is that you get to visit Menjangan in the morning, before the dive schools from further afield show up.
The Bali Barat National Park is also a wonderful place to wallow in the wilderness after a week or more of road touring, as we’d just done on neighbouring Java. The birdlife is as abundant as the marine life, the water blissfully warm and transparent, and views of the hills inland simply mesmeric.
We spent two nights in the park, but could happily have stayed longer. Our boutique hideaway, the Menjangan, ticked every box and provided the perfect base, but we visited a couple of others that were no less appealing, including a lovely luxury tent camp with an infinity pool looking across the bay.
Development is scarce and well spaced – a far cry from the resorts of the south coast. We roamed mainly around the north and northeast of the island, and found it all a revelation. Bali’s unique Hindu culture and striking landscape combine to create an atmosphere that has seduced visitors for centuries. We’d thought there would be far too many fellow travellers, and that the coast would be ruined and a depressing experience, but that couldn’t have been further from the reality.
Our only regret: that we couldn’t shake loose for another fortnight and explore neighbouring Lombok. That’s the thing about Indonesia: there’s always another island on the horizon.
The Menjangan Dynasty Resort
Click here to view our Java and Bali itinerary.