A two hour ferry ride away from the madness and traffic that is Bali lie some of the most beautiful small islands that we have ever come across. Rising gently out of the sea these three small sandy islands Gili Air, Meno and T are almost completely flat and sit just off the coast of Lombok. They are known for their easygoing nature, beautiful beaches and lack of motorised veichles. Coming ashore on Gili Air from the ferry we were greeted by horse and carts, the smell of frying food and the sounds of a small but bustling dock.
We found our accommodation fairly quickly (it’s advisable to book as early as possible because of how little there is in the way of affordable on the island) and set about exploring. Gili Air is from what we were told the happy middle between a rapidly developing party island on T and a very sleepy Meno. We found that the whole island took about an hour to walk around, there are stunning beaches on virtually all of the coastline along with small beachside bars and bungalows to rent. We spent a lot of our time here snorkelling – there are some stunning coral reefs very close to shore, doing this we saw stacks of clown fish, triggerfish and pipefish. We also rented bicycles to get around, feeling a lot safer to share the roads with a few horses than the thousands of scooters on Bali! Every evening we would try a different small restaurant of which there were many scattered around the island – the main dish on offer was some of the freshest seafood we had ever seen.
As well as snorkelling we found the crystal clear waters calling us in for a dive – something that we did through oceans 5 dive centre. We paid for a dive at shark point, desperately hoping to see some sharks! We were not disappointed! We saw about 8 reef sharks ranging from babies to 5ft! After that we took part in a reef cleanup near the Gili Air pier. This was particularly interesting and also depressingly eye opening to quite how much crap we throw in the ocean – we spent a good hour filling sacks with bottles, plastics and various other bits cast overboard from the boats overhead. We ended up with five or six full rubbish sacks and celebrates a productive days diving with a well earned beer!
The next day we decided to head to the quietest island of the three, Gili Meno. To get there we took one of the many public boats going from the pier for 35,000 per person. Boarding the boat was a fun experience as the public boats don’t actually go from the pier meaning you have to wade out knee deep into the sea with your luggage and clamber aboard. When we arrived we could see why it had the reputation of being the sleepy island of the three – there were are just a few restaurants and guest houses dotted around along with a lot of cows roaming around gazing. The beaches were somehow even more beautiful than Gili Air and we’re all very quiet! Our guesthouse was in the middle of the island near a large saltwater lake surrounded by mangrove which was full of large birds and some terrifyingly gigantic spiders sitting menacingly in the middle of their webs.
We took full advantage of the crystal clear water around the island and spent most of our time snorkelling. Like Gili Air there was an amazing coral reef surrounding Gili Meno which was bursting with life. Here we spent hours seeing huge schools of tropical fish and most excitingly for us a giant sea turtle!
What struck us as we stayed on Meno was how welcoming and hospitable everybody was – one night the power cut out and there was a heavy storm so we were stuck in our room passing the time reading by torchlight. The owner then knocked on the door and told us that his wife had cooked for everybody because we wouldn’t be able to go out. Another night we noticed a large celebration going on and that all of the locals had seemed to close their businesses to attend – we went to see what was going on and were welcomed in to join them. It turned out that it was a wedding and virtually all of the island was in attendance! When it finally came for us to leave we were quite understandably sad to do so!
There are many words I can think of to describe the islands but the one that sticks in my mind is idyllic. They were the perfect opposite to Bali for us and such a welcome relief from the fast pace of Java!