People smirked and rolled their eyes when I talked about finding “unspoilt Bali”, of getting off the beaten track in this most populous and popular of south-east Asian islands.
Exploring the other side of Bali
When I was researching going to West Bali National Park the guidebooks were brief and I couldn’t find many images online. Looking at the Bali map it just looks like a blank green space in the north east of Bali island.
So it is difficult to be prepared for what West Bali National Park is like. The best way I can think to compare is to say that when I arrived I thought I’d been transported across continents to Africa.
The Savannah woodland is mainly deciduous trees and the in the dry season the landscape is, well, dry. It may not be what you expect to see in south-east Asia but it has a unique beauty and the dry season is a great time for viewing the wildlife.
Yes I know, wildlife in south-east Asia! In the densely populated parts of Bali and the other south-east Asian countries it is rare to see any wild animals outside of a monkey temple.
It is hot and dry here so keep plenty of water to hand and slap on the sunscreen as with less pollution in this area the sun feels stronger so it’s a bit different to usual Bali weather.
You can count the Bali hotels in this part of the island on the fingers of one hand but there is only one Bali accommodation with a permit to operate within the National Park itself. The Menjangan is a well-appointed eco lodge set in 382 hectares of land within the boundaries of the park.
I am sometimes a little cynical about the label ‘eco-lodge’. I looked up Eco Traveller Guide for the internationally recognised criteria an Eco lodge must embrace and yes, The Menjangan fits the bill. And there is no doubt that here you are truly surrounded by nature.
Driving in from the main gate we saw a pair of tiny brown Barking deer and three large, soft-grey Menjangan deer browsing peacefully in the undergrowth.
With so much of the park to explore, transportation within the resort is by safari vehicle and my daughter and I were very excited rocking along the roads on the top deck, watching out for families of macaques, iridescent blue kingfishers and great goshawks high up in the Pilang trees.
There is mountain biking, and horse riding and birdwatching walks – so many ways to enjoy this beautiful and unique environment. Further into the West Bali National Park you can hire knowledgeable guides and look for the rare and endangered Bali Starling.
The restaurant is down by the beach – an unbelievably romantic setting – with beach loungers, private pavilions and blown glass lanterns. All this was forgotten when a mother Menjangan deer and her little fawn came picking their way through the mangrove shallows just a few metres from our table.
Under a starry sky and a crescent moon I watched the bobbing lights of two tiny fishing boats riding at anchor offshore and enjoyed an excellent Nyatnyat Celeng (pork braised with Balinese spices).
Next morning the safari vehicle took us to the Bali Tower, where breakfast is served on a wide deck extending out over the Savannah. Looking across to the mountains of Bali and over the strait to Java I drank fresh watermelon juice and tucked in to a delicious breakfast.
My objective for the day and the trip was to join a dive boat going out to the azure waters surrounding Menjangan Island, which draws experienced divers from around the world to its pristine reefs. More on diving Menjangan Island in another post.
Another highlight of my stay in West Bali National Park was the sunset (see top). The Bali Tower, where you will find the reception and Breakfast/lunch restaurant, goes up and up five storeys to a viewing deck that offers views across the water to the volcanic cones of Java. In the warm breeze of the tropics the golden evening caught the spreading tops of the trees and sent a subtle pink and mauve cast across the sky.
When I left West Bali National Park I felt like I’d been in another time and place. And I might as well have been on a different planet to overdeveloped south-east Bali.
By Natasha von Geldern
Did you get out of Kuta? West Bali National Park is a very special experience.