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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Southwest, Pristine Beaches, They Call The Secret Islands

Floating tn the sparkling turqoise waters just off the southwest coast are twelve small islands called the southwest gilis. Unlike the fomouse gili island in the northwest of Lombok, the southwest gilis are largely uninhabited and have yet to be discovered by most travellers, thus they are often called "The Secret Islands"

South of the bustling ferry port of Lembar on Lombok’s west coast is the island’s best-kept secret. A meandering road leads all the way to the far south, hugging a spectacular coastline of sugary white sand beaches, bays, hidden coves and a collection of glistening offshore tropical islands. Scenic coastal drives don’t get any better and if you are seeking that quintessential deserted beach idyll, the sheer choice of spots to escape to will likely leave you breathless.

The whole of the southwest is ripe for adventurous sun seekers and at Desert Point in the far southwest, you will find some serious waves, lauded as one of the world’s truly great surf spots. Along the twisting coastal road beyond the main tourist centre of Sekotong, you will encounter incredibly colourful images of rural life - water buffalo ploughing rice fields, lobster fishing, small pearl farms and rustic fishermen’s huts dotted alongside blinding white sands.

Sekotong
The Sekotong area is located just a few kilometres south of Lembar harbour and comprises two gorgeous sandy bays at Sekotong and the nearby village of Taun. There are a number of new hotel developments taking shape here yet it is still light years away from becoming overrun with visitors; you are still likely to have a wide stretch of brilliant white sand all to yourself. This is the jumping off point for the handful of ‘secret Gilis,’ tiny offshore islands which are dotted just offshore around the two bays. Beach life is an uncomplicated affair - getting horizontal under swaying palms and swinging in a hammock or a slightly more adventurous option is a day of deep sea fishing. In recent years the area has become something of a scuba divers’ haven with a series of newly discovered dive sites, and pristine coral reefs being found all the time.

The ‘Secret Gilis’
Between Sekotong and the Desert Point surf break in the west, there are a dozen dreamy, idyllic small islands just offshore teaming with spectacular reefs and abundant soft white sand.  Little more than tiny specks in the ocean, all exude a peaceful, back to basics ambience and even the more established Gili Nanggu, Gili Gede and Gili Asahan are delightfully low key. Other islands include Gili Sudat, Gili Tangkong, Gili Genting and Gili Lontar, all of which offer unforgettable snorkelling and scuba diving close by.  All the islands can be reached by private charter outrigger boats from Sekotong.

Gili Gede is one of the few islands in the area that has accommodation, at Secret Island Resort on the south, Via Vaccare on the northwest and Madak Belo on the east.

Gili Gede is large enough to provide a range of activities such as hiking to the hills in the centre for fantastic views across the other islands, exploring deserted beaches and hidden coves and meeting the people living on the island, who are very friendly and, as yet, unspoilt by tourism.

Secret Island has comfortable budget accommodation, including a unique bungalow perched on a pier over the reef – the only one in either Lombok or Bali. The Resort offers a host of activities that all the family will enjoy, while also being a place where you can get away from it all.

Secret Island can also organise fishing trips and island hopping excursions to the other beautiful islands in the area, most of which are deserted, about their comfortable 9m custom-built boat “Scorpio”.

To the south of Gili Gede, the islands of Gili Ringgit, Layar and Asahan are lined up like secret treasures in the calm sea.

Bounty Cruises, a Bali based company, own a large parcel of land on Gili Ringgit and have constructed a boat mooring and pier on the island. There is good snorkelling on the west side of Gili Ringgit, accessed by boat. Large gardens of hard and soft corals lay just beneath the surface and the reef extends along most of the island’s coast.

On the other side of the island is where the pier is located, with a fantastic white sand beach. It is a favourite for guests from Secret Island Resort, and Dive Zone often brings divers to the island to relax in between dives, as the scenery and beach here are so lovely.

It’s easy to snorkel offshore, just north of the pier and, although the reef isn’t as large as on the other side of the island, there is still plenty to see. Bright blue starfish drape themselves across patches of coral, and bright yellow and black Moorish Idols dart through the water. Schools of hundreds of small iridescent fish swim past and weirdly shaped squid drift by in the deeper areas.

We met a boat load of happy tourists on Gili Ringgit, out for the day with Dive Zone, who described the diving as some of the best they’ve ever experienced. Most couldn’t stop gushing about the huge school of turtles they had just seen near Gili Layar!

All around these Southwest Gilis, abundant coral reefs lay just below the surface waiting to be explored, filled with thousands of brightly coloured tropical fish, huge sprawling blue starfish and magical turtles gently gliding through the water.

Slightly south of Gili Gede, beautiful Gili Asahan attracts visitors with deserted white sand beaches, clear calm waters and swaying palm trees.

Pearl Beach Resort, the only accommodation on the island, is a lovely boutique hotel with charming and well-designed bungalows looking out over a breath-taking beach. Of a higher standard than most of the southwest accommodation, each bungalow has a private terrace and western style bathrooms with hot water.

There is also a beachfront restaurant serving western and Indonesian meals, and good snorkelling directly from the beach.

The resort is popular with divers and can arrange diving and snorkelling trips, as well as island-hopping tours. Pearl Beach is perfect for romantic escapes and for those seeking the tranquillity of a private island resort.

Leaving Gili Asahan and back on the mainland there are small home-stays and private accommodations spaced out along the road to Bangko-Bangko – known as Desert Point and the surfing Mecca for those in the know – located on the far southwest tip of Lombok.

The wide white sand bay is lined with fisherman’s huts and draws hundreds of surfers every year from as far away as Hawaii and Brazil to challenge the huge waves of Desert Point, just offshore.
Although the road deteriorates after Labuhan Poh, it is still passable for most vehicles in the dry season. During the surfing season, from mid-May to September and again in December, the beach is buzzing with surfers, but otherwise it is a remote and peaceful area. Bali is clearly visible, with the island of Nusa Penida only about an hour’s sail away.

The drive to the point is dotted with bucolic scenery and tiny villages, making it a worthwhile trip even for non-surfers. There is basic surfer accommodation in the area and plans for development in the near future.

Those who wish to explore the underwater world further can join dive adventures with either Dive Zone in Sekotong or Odyssea Divers at Cocotinos

The dive sites reflect a good cross-section of what Indonesian diving has to offer. Dive in and be fascinated by turtles, white tip reef sharks, cuttlefish, moray eels and many other varieties of marine life. The reefs are full of bright soft corals and colourful corals, which harbor an amazing variety of rare marine life, including ghost pipe fish, leaf fish, pygmy seahorses and much more.
The southwest is slated for tourism development and it’s easy to imagine hotels and resorts on all these beaches and islands in the future, as well as yachts, fishing boats, windsurfers, dive boats and the like. But for now, the Southwest is unspoilt and the Gilis remain the secret islands… stunningly beautiful, pristine and unique; and known only to the lucky few.