Diving and motorbiking on the east coast

Trip Start Jun 04, 2005
Trip End Apr 05, 2006

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Where I stayed
Padang Bai Resort

Flag of Indonesia  ,
Wednesday, September 28, 2005

And so it was goodbye Flores... we'd seen and experienced some unique and traditional ways of life, revelled in the vast, sparsely populated landscapes dotted with volcanoes, and loved the people. We arrived in Denpasar at about sunset on Thursday 22 September, and, along with Eric, a French guy we met at Ankermi, hired a taxi to take us to Padang Bai, a small port town on the east coast of Bali and the departure point for ferries to Lombok. Rich was kind of dreading the return to busy-busy Bali, and the plan still was to try and get across to the Gilli Islands, off Lombok. However, with only three and a half days before our flight to Oz (and having heard that getting to the Gillies takes about a day by ferry-bus-ferry) we were considering just staying put in Padang Bai and arranging some diving in the area.

We found Padang Bai to be a pleasant little seaside resort. Cozy hotels and bungalow accommodation huddle tightly around the sharp curve of the small bay, and a number of 'warung' (informal eateries) line the sandy beach scattered with traditional outrigger boats. It's quite quiet, even though it is on the tourist trail - most people simply pass through for a night on their way to Lombok. We found a fabulous little bungalow for a good price, had a lovely seafood meal and popped into a few dive shops. We signed up for a two-dive outing for the following day to a spot where 'mola-mola' (sunfish) are often seen. The big attraction of diving the east coast of Bali is the chance to spot mola-mola and massive manta rays at certain times of year, when the water is cool enough for them.

So on Friday morning we kitted up and hopped aboard a modified outrigger boat for the short journey out to Gilli Tepekong. Our guides were the proprietors of OK Diving, a Czech couple named Adam and Radka, and the other divers included two fellow Czechs with camera equipment who were filming a promotional video for OK Diving. Both dives around Gilli Tepekong were spectacular - plenty of colourful fish and interesting corals - though the currents were strong and the mola-mola were nowhere to be seen. Still, a great day's diving with a very professional outfit.

After returning to shore we promptly signed up for another day with Adam and Radka... Saturday's longer boat ride, on a much bigger motorboat, took us out to Nusa Penida. The first dive site of the day was Crystal Bay, a small cove situated on the narrow strait between Nusa Penida and Nusa Lembongan. The visibility was excellent and Rich was delighted to spot a sea snake within minutes of hitting the water.

The idea was to swim around a point to a cleaning station where mola-mola are often seen. However, the currents got the better of us, and we had to abandon plan A. We spent the rest of the dive exploring the terraces of colourful soft corals that fringe the sandy bottom at the centre of the bay. The second dive was at Manta Point, a cleaning station renowned for the number of manta rays that frequent it. We spent 84 minutes in the water (our longest dive to date!), mostly at about 8 metres, just hanging around waiting for mantas. One beautiful, large animal put in an appearance - in the course of the dive he returned three times. What an unforgettable sight! The grace with which a manta flies through the water makes most animals look clumsy by comparison.

That evening, after two dive days in a row, we were exhausted. Nevertheless, we planned to go exploring the interior of the island by motorbike the next day. Our plans were scuppered, however, by heavy rains on Sunday morning - we got onto the bike at about 9am but did not get very far at all before deciding it was simply too wet. We postponed the motorbike ride to the following day, and declared a day of rest: we spent rest of the rainy morning catching up on emails and in the afternoon, when the clouds had lifted and the sun came out, we wandered down to Blue Lagoon, a little cove just north of Padang Bai where the snorkeling is good. Rich had started to develop a skin infection on his face, so decided not to swim. He had quite a few massage and sarong touts for company while I was in the water! In the late afternoon we strolled through town and found a bookshop, where we bought a dictionary for Thomy in Lamalera.

Monday 26 September was the day of our departure from Bali - our flight was at midnight (or so we thought...) so we had the day ahead of us. After packing our stuff, we took the motorbike out for the day, and headed up into the hills. It was here that we had our first encounter with the long, greedy arm of Indonesian law. An hour or so into our ride, along a country road, we were stopped by five (!!!) policemen on motorbikes. One stepped forward and asked for Rich's driver's licence. He peered at Rich's UK card and said: "Oh, mister, you need an international licence. You can either go to justice, that can take weeks; or you can pay a fine." Of course, we had no inclination to go before the courts, so we asked him how much the fine was. "Ah, mister," he said, "You tell me what you want to pay." So there we found ourselves in the rather odd position of bargaining for a fine, or rather bribe. We offered him 20,000 rupiah (just over a pound) and he seemed content with that. "Enough for my friends and I to get a drink," he said.

Well, after paying off the cops and asking for an assurance that we will not be stopped again, we were on our way once more. We drove a very steep road halfway up the volcano Gunung Agung (Bali's highest peak at 3142m) to an atmospheric but deserted temple called Pura Pasar Agung. The views over the east of the island would have been spectacular was it not for the sea of swirling cloud around us. From there, we headed further north, through landscapes of terraced rice paddies, to the crater lake of Danau Batur. This is one of Bali's most visited sights, and rightly so... from the rim of an enormous volcanic crater, one looks down onto the massive blue expanse of a lake far below, fringed by villages and fields. As usual, the popularity of this sight brings the customary swarm of touts and hawkers... one cannot spend very long at any of the viewpoints without having to retrain the urge to shout "I said NO! Just bugger off!"

The ride back took us through some breath-taking rice paddies scenery, and I found it sooo frustrating being without a camera (the piccies attached here were taken with the camcorder...not so great). We arrived back in Padang Bai at 4.30pm, grabbed our bags and boarded a shuttle bus to the airport, all ready for our flight to Darwin later that evening... or at least, that's what we thought....(see next entry!)
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