GILIS (ISLANDS) OFF LOMBOK AND MT. RINJANI

GILIS (ISLANDS) OFF THE WEST COAST OF LOMBOK

The Gilis (off the western coast of Lombok) — Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno, and Gili Air — are three beautiful islands with great snorkeling, amazing rock ridges and an active part scene that have been popular with backpackers In local Sasak language, "Gili" means "island". In the Indonesian language, plural is denoted by repeating a noun. So "Gili Gili" literally means "islands”. Travel on the islands are only by bike or “cidomo” the small horse-drawn carts taking three persons per ride. There are plenty of hotels and restaurants built in keeping with the islands’ homely village atmosphere.

White sandy beaches. Tropical coral reefs. Warm inviting waters. All this awaits you on the Gilis. And with no cars, no motorbikes and no distractions other than beautiful tropical island scenery, the Gilis off the northwest coast of Lombok are truly an ideal destination for a tropical getaway. Renowned for friendly locals and superb natural beauty, each of the island’s are well prepared for tourists. Gili Trewangan is the largest and most popular of the three islands. It has a vibrant nightlife to keep you entertained once the sun goes down. With a wide collection of restaurants and bars, you’ll never be short of entertainment here.

Gili Air and Gili Meno are also popular islands. They are similar to Gili Trawangan but smaller and slightly less developed. Gili Air is the small island it has the largest local population and is closest to the mainland. The hotels are scattered around the island, which has the feel of a large village. Gili Meno is the smallest island and, with only a few hundred permanent residents, it has the most remote feel to it. For a long time Gili Meno was the place for those who wanted to rough it. It had no electricity. It has now had power for around 25 years. It also boast the widest beach in the Gilis.

According to Lonely Planet: “Floating in a turquoise sea and fringed by white sand and coconut palms, the Gilis are a vision of paradise. And they're booming like nowhere else in Indonesia — speedboats zip visitors directly from Bali and hip new hotels are rising like autumnal mushrooms. The lure of big tourist dollars tugs against the traditionally laid-back culture of the islands, the alternative spirit imported by Western partygoers and a buoyant green sensibility.

“While the outcome is uncertain, for now the Gilis retain their languorous charm (partly due to local efforts to exclude dogs and motorbikes from the islands).Each island has its own unique appeal. Gili Trawangan (aka Gili T) is the most cosmopolitan, with a raucous party scene and plenty of upscale dining and accommodation. Gili Air has an appealing mix of buzz and bliss, while little Gili Meno has the strongest local character.”

Activities on Gili Terawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air

For divers and snorkelers, there are few places better than the Gili’s where you can get up close to all kinds of marine life including a green turtle (Chelonia mydas) in all its glory. Swim up and watch this graceful creature glide through the ocean. You should be able to spot these turtles at depths of 10-20 meter below sea level. Check out other spectacular reefs and ominous dive sites like Shark reef.

Snorkeling is good off the northeastern coast. A number of dive companies offer lessons and dives. There are many boats that run between the Lombok and the island and take visitors on various trips. While I was on Gili Trawangan my friends and I rented a boat for a day and went to Gili Pop and Gili Nanggu island which are nearby. We went snorkeling from the boat in the gardens of blue coral which are found there. Gili Po is very popular. It is possible to walk around it in 15 minutes. The reef is filled with angelfish, parrotfish, triggerfish, butterflyfish and lizardfish.

Explore Turtle Point on Gili Meno for your best chance of seeing a sea turtle. Snorkel equipment can be rented at any of the diving spots nearby or on the beach itself. At the Wall's diving spots at Gili Trawangan, divers plunge to depths of 18 and 20 meter and often see white tip sharks, manta rays and turtles. At Wreck Point, around 500 meters from Mentigi beach at 43 meters below the surface, you’ll discover the remains of sunken ship full of ridge of rocks.

During peak season (June-August) the Gili’s are fully booked so it’s best to make your reservations at least four months in advance. Cars and motorbikes are prohibited on the Gili’s giving each island a very peaceful atmosphere. The best way to get around and explore the islands is by bike. Some places rent bikes; some hotels offer them free for their customers. A horse-drawn carriage or cidomo is another popular way to get around for both locals and visitors. A tour around Gili Terawangan in a cidomo for three costs around Rp. 150,000,taking around half an hour. Of course you can always walk. If you want to travel between the Gili’s you can hire a motorized boat. If you want to take scuba diving lessons make sure you bring enough money to cover the cost of hiring a diving instructor and equipment.

Gili Trawangan

Gili Trawangan (a motorized outrigger boat from Bangsal) is a delightful place that has become a bit overdeveloped in recent years but remains fabulous. Great reefs for snorkeling are right off shore. The coral is great and the fish were very colorful. There are no motorbikes of hawkers. Most accommodation is in the form of basic bungalows Some offer a bungalow with meals for about $25 a day. Full moon parties may still be held on the southern part of Gili Trawangan. Here DJ’s spin tracks of house, dance and techno until dawn.

Gili Trawangan has the most guest houses and restaurant; receives the most visitors; and is regarded as a party island of the three Gilis. It is a popular hang out for young backpackers. There are no police on the island and many young people and locals too are fond of doing mushrooms. In recent years it has become a little overdeveloped and too popular. There are problems with waster disposal water supplies. The prices of accommodation vary greatly between the high season in July and August when they be three or four times higher than the low season.

While snorkeling off Gili Trawangan I saw a school of a couple dozen huge coral-eating fish — humphead wrasses — that had huge foreheads and were about two meters long. During a night snorkel I saw a shark through the beam of my flashlight. Some reefs suffer from bleaching and damages from anchors but there are still lots of fish. Turtles are often seen. Sometimes manta rays cruise by.

Eric Weiner wrote in the New York Times: “Gili Trawangan, has earned a reputation as a requisite pit stop on the backpacker circuit. Once famous for its anything-goes full-moon parties, Gili T, as it is known, is now veering toward being more tame and up market. I arrived by boat and immediately decamped at the Beach House, an eclectic bar and hotel that, while lovely, has no beach. Gili T takes Lombok's laid-back vibe and turns it down a few more notches. There are no cars or motorized vehicles, only bicycles and cidomos, the donkey-driven "taxis" prevalent throughout Lombok. (Local wags call it "the Lombok Ferrari.") Without the din of traffic to contend with, Gili T offers visitors an audio buffet: the call to prayer mingles with the clinking of beer glasses and the sing-song of hawkers and giggling children on their way home from school. [Source: Eric Weiner, New York Times, September 24, 2008]

“The most common sound heard on Gili T, though, is one simple phrase: "Kenapa tidak" — why not? Want to sleep until noon? Kenapa tidak? Want to order one of those magic mushrooms on the menu? Kenapa tidak? (They're legal here.) Or, like me, you can pass on the craziness and just enjoy the wonderful snorkeling. Kenapa tidak? Tami Ortenau, a graphic designer from Los Angeles, came to Gili T on a lark, a side trip from Bali. When I met her, she'd already extended her stay twice. "I could spend a month here," she said, clearly smitten.”

Accommodation, Restaurants and Getting to the Gilis

Currently there are more than 100 accommodations situated in the Gili area. Mostly at the northern part. Some are even international-scale hotels. Prices range from Rp. 400,000 per room at the simpler hotels to Rp. 1.7 million per night for a cottage at the more upscale establishments.

Typical of what you can find on Gili Trawangan is The Beach House ( 62-370-642-352; beachhousegilit.com), described by the New York Times as “A funky, mish-mash of a hotel that somehow manages to work. Rooms range from un-air-conditioned boxes to lavish bungalows with private plunge pools, and are priced accordingly.”

Among some of the restaurants and places to eat at Gili Gilis are Toto & Peppino (Italian Food, Tel. +62 821 4471 9994) on Gili Air and Scallywags (62-370-631-945; Asian fusion cuisine) served beachfront on Gili Trawangan. In 2008 it boasted the island's "first and only wireless internet connection," which may or may not be a selling point. Expect to spend $30 for two, without drinks.

Boat service is available to the Gilis from Bali or Senggigi The Gilis are easily reached by speedboat from Senggigi, taking only some 20 minutes boat ride. Many tourists also travel direct to Gili Trawangan by ferry that leaves Bali daily from Serangan or Padang Bai. (for details check: bluewater-express.com), In the old days, many travelers took a bus to Bangsal and organized a boat there to the islands. The public boats there operated like public transportation and left on a when full basis, usually with about a dozen people..

Gili Terawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air are easily reached by speedboat from Senggigi. Speedboats with a capacity for 10 passengers can be chartered at between Rp. 800,000 to Rp. 1 million two ways. Travel time is around 20 minutes. There are also regular passenger boats from Senggigi harbour, tickets cost Rp. 10,000 per pax. The regular fast ferries from Bali direct to Gili Trawangan, departing Serangan at 8:00am and 10:00am, and daily from Padang Bai, leaving at 11.15am.

Mount Rinjani

Mount Rinjani (northen Lombok) is the second highest mountain in Indonesia and the highest outside outside Irain Jaya. Towering over Lombok and dominating the northern part of the island, it is a 3,726-meter- high volcano. Inside the crater is the cone from a major eruption and a crescent-shaped blue lake known as Danau Segara Anak (“Child of the Sea”), which is six kilometers across a its widest point. There is a magnificent view of the lake from the edge of the crater. A trail goes down to the lake along the cliff-like walls of the inside of the crater but it was too scary for me.

Mount Rinjani (Gunung Rinjani)last erupted in 1994. The eruption change the shape of the cone and sprinkled ash over much of Lombok. The lake is 600 meters below the edge of the crater. The cone next to the lake is a couple hundred years old. In July 2018, Lombok was struck by 6.4-magnitude earthquake that killed 17 people and stranded nearly 700 hikers on Mount Rinjani volcano. Rescuers were called in after the earthquake caused landslides that cut off key trails off the peak.

Part of the famous ‘ring of fire’ this mountain also holds spiritual significance for the local people. It’s thought that the name Rinjani comes from an old Javanese term for ‘God’. On certain full moon nights pilgrims climb up the mountain and then climb down to the lake to make offerings to the spirit of the mountain. Both Balinese and the Sasaks regard the mountain as a home fr the gods. On the northeast side of the crater there a some hot springs which are said to have healing powers.

Mount Rinjani Area

Mt Rinjani lies within the Gunung Rinjani National Park. The park covers 41,330 hectares and sits inside a major bio-geographical transition zone (Wallacea). This is where the tropical flora and fauna of South East Asia meets that of Australasia. This National Park was established in 1997 and is one of over 40 throughout Indonesia. Around the slopes of Rinjani there are lush forests sprinkled with waterfalls, rice terraces and hot springs and surrounded by stunning scenery. There are some good water holes for swimming. For details o the routes check the Lonely Plant Guide. Guided village tours can provide a glimpse of local culture and the opportunity to meet the locals.

Tetebatu is a village nestled on the slopes of Rinjani with magnificent views of rice paddies and tobacco plantations. From here, hire a guide to take you to Taman Wisata Tetabu (Monkey Forest) where you’ll find cheeky black monkeys and spectacular waterfalls.

On his trip in the Rinjani area, with his guide Bahar, Eric Weiner wrote in the New York Times:The smooth roads of Senggigi soon give way to potholes the size of craters. "Rupiah road," declares Bahar, a play on the Indonesian currency, famous for the large number of zeros it contains. “We stopped for food...I opted for the more humane sarobi, a dish of rice flour, palm sugar, coconut milk, chili and tapioca — all rolled into a banana leaf. It's delicious and sets me back 1,000 rupiah, or 10 cents, at 9,577 rupiahs to the dollar. [Source: Eric Weiner, New York Times, September 24, 2008]

“After much bouncing and shaking, we reached our destination. The town of Tetebatu is nestled in the foothills of Mount Rinjani, sacred to the people of both Lombok and Bali. The views from the summit are spectacular. Or so I hear. I passed on the arduous two-day trek and instead explored the verdant rice fields in the foothills. Tetebatu is the perfect place to sample (carefully) Lombok's cuisine and enjoy air that is a few blessed degrees cooler than along the coast.

Within Gunung Rinjani National Park, there are three famous caves here Goa Susu, Goa Payung, and Goa Manik. Susu Cave is a good place for self reflection and is often used as a place to meditate. A network of healing hot springs. called kokok putih, are the perfect place to rest your weary body. Locals believe the springs have healing powers. Water is collected from here and mixed with herbs to make medicinal oil. This is called Siu Satus Tunggal or in Bayan language Siu Satunggal which means that it can be used to cure a thousand types of disease.

Local strawberries grow along the route to Mt. Rinjani. While the fruit is red like a strawberry it has thorns like a rose. This fruit has a sweet and slightly sour taste and is good to eat, especially for trekkers who are hungry and thirsty. The Eternal Flower or Edelweiss is a rare and precious plant. The flower cannot be removed from the park. It is a part of the mysterious world of the spirit kingdom. In the past, someone who wanted this flower had to be brave enough to fight and gamble his soul. That is why the flower is called Sandar Nyawa.

Hiking on Mount Rinjani

The hike up Rinjani is very popular. The trail through the forests where the locals still go monkey hunting is very steep and sometimes slippery. Some steps are notched into the trail which helps a lot. The hike can take anywhere from two to five days depending on your fitness and whether or not you go inside the crater. It’s a tough climb. The climb inside the crater is slippery and dangerous in the wet season. Be prepared for cold and rainy weather and have the proper equipment for camping..

Most people begin the hike in the village of Senaru. There are a number of guest houses here. Guide can be arranged here but it is easy enough to figure out the route up to the crater rim which is what I did. The easiest thing to do is follow the well trodden route and take the same way back. For other routes a guide is recommended. One popular way to climb Rinjani is through a three or five day hiking expedition, starting at Senaru and finishing at Sembalun Lawang. Trekkers begin from Senaru, hiking to the stunning crater rim, down to the crater lake and then onto Sembalun Lawang. More information about trekking up Mount Rinjani is available at the Rinjani trekking club website. The trek from Senaru to Sembalun Lawang, is considered one of the best treks in Southeast Asia. More adventurous trekkers may want to head all the way to the summit of the volcano. This is best reached from Sembalun Lawang and takes four days, finishing up in Senaru.

To ensure that local communities benefit from tourism revenue, the Rinjani Trek is managed by a partnership of National Park officials, the public and private sectors of the Lombok tourism industry and community representatives. Community run cooperatives coordinate the Trek at the Rinjani Trek Center (RTC) in Senaru and the Rinjani Information Center (RIC) in Sembalun Lawang. Revenue from tourism activities and entry fees is used for conservation, management and assisting the National Park with maintenance of the Rinjani Trek, thus ensuring its sustainability. This management model is unique in Indonesia and considered an example of best practice of ecotourism in Indonesia.

Tips: 1) The climb is not to be taken lightly. You need good hiking boots. 2) Once you arrive at the crater rim it tends to get cold and windy, so you will also need warm clothes. 3) A guide is essential as parts of the path are indistinct. Independent hiking is not recommended. 4) Don't go there during the rainy season since paths will be slippery. Often it is not possible to climb during rainy season due to the hazard of falling rocks. 5) It's better to bring your own sleeping bag but, if you don't have one, they can be hired. Tents can also be rented.

Rinjani National Park (rinjaninationalpark.com) offers several trekking and hiking packages, many of which include pick up from your hotel in the city. Also included in package tours are experienced guides, first aid, meals for the duration of the trek, mineral water, as well as alcoholic beverages. Equipment provided includes tents, sleeping bags, mattresses, cooking utensils, portable chairs, disposable toilet and toilet tent. Visitors are advised to bring comfortable shoes, warm clothing, sunscreen, insect repellent, personal toiletries, and of course, your camera.

For more information please contact:
Gunung Rinjani National Park Office, Jl. Erlangga 88, Mataram
Lombok - Nusa Tenggara Barat
Tel: (0370) 627764, E mail: tngr@indo.net.id

Danau Segara Anak

Danau Segara Anak is a volcanic lake formed in the caldera of Mount Rinjani over 2,000 meters above sea level. The lake spans across an area of 11 square kilometers, and reaches depths up to 230 meters. Danau Segara Anak (meaning “Child of the Sea”) is located on the west side of Mount Rinjani in the village of Lawang Sembalun in Lombok, East Indonesia. The mystifyingly blue color of the lake gives Segara Anak its name.

The trek from the Senaru Village, and through the crater to Danau Segara Anak takes two days and a night. It begins with a hike through a lush, tropical rainforest, and up the mountain to the rim of the crater. The trek to the Senaru rim is a challenging climb up steep terrain and high cliffs, but the exhaustion is well rewarded by the breathtaking panoramic view of the sun setting over Mount Rinjani, Bali and the Gili Isles on the horizon, and the dazzling blue waters of Segara Anak glistening hundreds of meters below. The top of the crater is a popular camp site for both foreign and domestic tourists on this journey to spend the night. It is advisable to set a morning alarm so as not to miss the magnificence of dawn from atop Rinjani.From the crater’s rim, it is a sharp descent of about 600 meters to Danau Segara Anak.

Part of Segara Anak flows down a steep ravine forming one large waterfall and several smaller ones. There are also four natural hot springs in the lake which are said to hold magical healing powers, and many make the climb solely for medicinal purposes. Despite its high altitude (2,010 meters above sea level), the lake is not as cold as one might imagine. Tthe surface water of the lake is unusually warm for such heights, at about 20-22 degrees Celsius—well above the mountain’s “room temperature,” which is about 14-15 degrees Celsius.

Between 2008 and 2009, researchers of Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation as well as UniversiteLibre de Bruxells conducted a geochemical and thermodynamic study on Segara Anak. The tests showed several leaks in the volcanic system of Gunung Baru; the cone in the center of the lake. These leaks from the magma chamber seep a large supply of hot water into Segara Anak, indicating a direct relationship between volcanic activity and the lake’s high temperature. The geochemical composition of the hot water showed a number of elements such as chloride, sodium, potassium, and sulphate. Although rich in elements, rainwater that enters the lake assists in thinning its chemical content. Segara Anak also maintains excellent circulation, and is therefore not harmful to life.

Lake water circulation takes place when the density of the water is higher at the surface than at the base. Rainwater has a higher density than the hydrothermal water, and therefore moves downward, while waters from the hydrothermal vent move up. This is an on-going process providing well-mixed water and bringing the acid level of the lake to neutral—suitable for breeding fish.

In 1969, volcanologists from the Directorate of Geology (London) examined the lake and recommended the cultivation of fish. At that time, there were no fish in Segara Anak. In 1985, the Nusa Tenggara Barat provincial government finally began breeding fish in the lake. The fish bred rapidly and the lake is now home to millions of tilapia and carp, making Segara Anak not only a popular spot for fishing, but some locals of the area even make a living from this.

In the 1980s, the areas surrounding Segara Anak pulsated with wildlife. Grouse, hornbill, and barking deer thrived around the lake. Several species of monkey could be found in the forests, including the rare black ebony leaf monkey, and the black crested macaque, indigenous to Indonesia. But human intervention has changed the ecology of the lake. With more and more people climbing up the mountain and into the lake, more and more species have begun to disappear. Initially, people only caught fish, but then grouse, which soon led to deer hunting as well. Now few grouse remain, and the deer are no longer found along the route. It is estimated that only a hundred or so remain. In 1998, Danau Segara Anak was immortalized in paper money on the ten thousand rupiah bill.

Like other crater lakes around the world, Danau Segara Anak owes its existence to huge volcanic eruptions that blew away the top of the mountain and created a caldera massive to enough to allow a huge lake to form in it. The crescent-shaped lake is about six kilometers across at its widest point and is located 600 meters below the crater rim. Rising from the waters of this lake is a new volcano, Mt. Baru (Gunung Baru), which is a result of a series of eruptions during the 1990s. Segara Anak is a spiritual place. The Balinese come here each year and perform a ceremony called pekelan where jewelry is placed in the lake as an offering to the mountain spirit. The Wetu Telu people also regard the lake as holy and come here to pray on full moon nights. People believe that Gunung Baru is the navel of Gunung Rinjani.

Accommodation and Getting to Mt. Rinjani

From Mataram, it is a three hour scenic drive to Senaru Village, which is the main access point to Rinjani National Park. Senaru and Sembalun Lawang Villages are the two starting points to climb Gunung Rinjani. Senaru Village is a three hour drive north of Mataram, while Sembalun Lawang Village is approximately a four hours drive to the east of Mataram. You can get to Senaru by taking public transport to Bayan and then walking.

Senaru Village has a range of simple, yet nice inns, hotels and as well as several restaurants amd cafes serving an assortment of local dishes. There are also cheap hotels and homestays around Sembalun Lawang. Most guides will organize food for you on your trek or you may prefer to take your own supplies. Most trekkers buy their supplies in Mataram or Senggigi.

Tetebatu (at the foot of Mount Rinjani ) is a former Dutch hill station in a highland area with a jungle filled with black monkeys. A popular hiking destination is Jewruk Manu waterfall. It drops 100 feet and has a water hole popular with noisy local kids. There are e picturesque rice paddies in the area. Most of the land is owned by a single family, who also own the over-priced hotels and restaurants. Sendagitta Waterfall is a popular day hike destination. One can also visit traditional Sasak villages.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Indonesia Tourism website ( indonesia.travel ), Indonesia government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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