In pursuit of an endless summer

Exploring Gili Trawangan off the coast of Lombok. Picture: Tyler Brown
Exploring Gili Trawangan off the coast of Lombok. Picture: Tyler Brown

I AM someone who never wants to admit summer has ended for another year.

So as severe weather warnings were rolling into Perth, I jumped at the chance for a quick getaway to a tropical island paradise.

It would be three days of sunshine and beaches to get me through until the next Aussie summer hits.

While Bali is usually my go-to for a quick dose of warmth and relaxation, this time I would try somewhere new in Indonesia – Lombok.

The thought had never really crossed my mind before, with the idea of a stopover making the trip at least 6.5 hours long nowhere near as appealing as the 3.5-hour flight to Bali.

Picture: Aaron Clinch

But that’s where AirAsia has stepped in, introducing direct flights from Perth to Lombok four times a week.

Last month saw the launch of the Malaysian low-cost airline’s newest route – the plane filled with special guests, Indonesian dignitaries, media representatives, competition winners and holidaymakers lucky enough to book a seat on the much-anticipated inaugural flight.

As we started to move away from Perth airport right on 7.30pm as scheduled, we received a special welcome from the captain.

“Hopefully we get a lot more flights to get a lot more tourists to Lombok,” he said.

Picture: Tyler Brown

With a timetabled journey of 3 hours and 55 minutes, we were told it would be shorter – and he delivered!

By the time I had filled out my customs declaration form, had something to eat and watched a movie, the cabin crew was preparing for landing.

Wheels touched down at 11.10pm, putting us in the air for less than 3 hours and 40 minutes.

Picture: Tyler Brown

Coming on this trip I was told it was a quieter destination, a place you could compare to what Bali was like 20-30 years ago.

That still didn’t prepare me for how quiet it would be, unlike the hustle and bustle of Bali.

We walked off the plane (no shuttle bus required), down the stairs and we were at the immigration desks.

Once stamped in, you’re at the baggage collection – just one carousel. Easy.

Everyone was so friendly and excited to hear this was a first trip to Lombok for many.

Picture: Tyler Brown

Driving to our hotel in Senggigi was also a very different experience – a one-hour drive with no congestion or traffic is not something you would experience when travelling from Denpesar airport.

After a good night’s sleep it was off to catch a boat One of the main attractions is to explore the Gili Islands – the three small islands between Lombok and Bali.

This can be done in two ways from Lombok – by a 10-minute speed boat ride or a 45-minute traditional boat trip.

We opted for the traditional experience complete with a glass bottom to take in as much of the sea life below, stopping off at two must-see snorkelling and diving spots.

Picture: Tyler Brown

If I could recommend one thing to do, it would be to visit the underwater sculptures just off the shore of the smallest island, Gili Meno, because they have to be seen to be believed!

Formed in a circle are 48 life-size human sculptures standing together and curled up on the sea floor.

Built by sculptor and underwater photographer Jason DeCaires Taylor, Nest was placed to act as an artificial reef and to create a dive and photograph site, which is easily accessible for snorkelers and even those who cannot swim.

And with an abundance of tropical fish and even turtles just an arm’s length away, it was all the more breathtaking.

With crystal clear waters wherever you go, these types of experiences are endless and can be experienced in a variety of ways such as stand-up paddleboarding, surfing, kayaking and sea walking like an astronaut in the ocean.

Picture: Aaron Clinch

Another highlight of the Gili Islands is there is no motorised transport – no cars, no scooters, no motorbikes.

To get around the islands, you can either walk, hire a bicycle or jump in a horse and cart.

Gili Trawangan is the biggest of the three islands and it can be cycled in an hour – just to put it in perspective.

If that all sounds too active for a tropical holiday, the islands are also the perfect place to relax by the resort pool and enjoy the quiet.

Or take a stroll along the streets – where you won’t be dodging traffic – and enjoy the local cuisine from one of the many food stalls – just remembering Lombok means chilli!

Picture: Aaron Clinch

The message from the locals is Lombok is open for business.

The hope this new direct flight will boost tourism for the island devastated by earthquakes last year is very evident.

“We need to keep the local economy running, especially in this time where we are getting things going again,” our tour guide said.

“So come to Lombok and enjoy the beauty of this island, the vibrant culture and handmade crafts.”

And when it takes 3 hours and 40 minutes to get there – 10 minutes less than Bali – more people can take up the opportunity with AirAsia’s direct flights to experience something new.

Picture: Tyler Brown

This reporter flew as a guest of AirAsia and Ministry of Tourism Republic Indonesia.

Getting a taste of Lombok, the new Bali