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North Lombok – Heading for the Mountains

North Lombok combines a stunning coastline, beautiful terraced rice fields under the shadow of Mt. Rinjani and a traditional culture that holds strong to its values. Only 35km east of Bali, there is a charm to North Lombok; a destination that few tourists venture to and so awaits your discovery.

North of Senggigi

The road heading north out of Senggigi hugs the ocean and winds its way around the coastline, offering cliff top vistas at regular points. Dotted along the coast are beautiful, idyllic white sandy beaches and coves that lend themselves to stopping. You won’t find more than small warung offering local fare, as very few tourists visit this beautiful area. There are no large tourism developments along this stretch of coast; however a little tucked away oasis does exist at Sire Beach.

Discretely nestled in its own little world is Tugu Lombok. It’s worth a stop here for lunch and a swim. This charming boutique hotel is a showcase of Indonesian heritage, exquisitely furnished with antiques and paintings of a bygone era; you can spend quite a lot of time here. There are beautiful old statues in the spacious gardens and an enormous rice-barn shaped open restaurant adorned with classic artwork and relics from the past.

If you have time, a bit of pampering at the Buddhist Borobudur styled temple spa is simply out of this world. After a scrumptious lunch, I took a walk along the perfect white sands of Sire Beach. From the beach, you have views across the Lombok Straits to the Gili Islands, a group of three little paradise islands, which are accessible from Tugu by boat.

Senaru Waterfall Magic

The Awesome power of Tiu Kelap Waterfall near Senaru. Photo by David Metcalf

Scenic villages and fishing towns spread out at intervals along the cliff-bound coastal road, and our detour inland to Senaru was the next highlight. At the foothills of the mighty Mt. Rinjani, this delightful little town is alive with mountain climbers and eager backpackers. They are getting ready to take on the serious two-day trek to the summit of Rinjani, the second highest mountain in Indonesia, which sits at 3,726 metres (12,222 feet) above sea level. You have to be in good physical condition to attempt the challenging climb and preparations are necessary for the trek like tents, porters and a guide.

For those not so inclined to reach such lofty heights, myself included, Senaru offers beautiful nature walks.

It’s worth taking one or two days to soak up the atmosphere, the cool temperatures and to enjoy the forest trail walks and highlights of this stunning mountain region.

Approaching Senaru, you wind your way up the hill and the temperature drops noticeably. A small hotel with picturesque little cottages is a great stopping point, and I found it pretty difficult to get motivated to leave this idyllic spot. The Pondok Senaru Cottages and Restaurant have positioned the dining room tables, perched on the edge of two very dramatic vistas. Sipping coffee from your perched position you first take in the forests that cling to the mountainside and at eye level you look across to one of the tallest waterfalls on the mountain. The drop is 40 metres but from this spot there is only silence and nature between you and the thundering mass of water that beckons you across the valley. As you drag your view away from this show of power and beauty, you look out towards the ocean across a series of rice terraces cascading down the valley. Possibly some of the most beautiful you will ever see; local guides will willingly take you on walks through this magnificent landscape.

Porters trek through the savannah before beginning their steep ascent into the clouds that envelope Mt. Rinjani. Photo by Angela Richardson

The highlight of Senaru is the well-maintained forest trail that leads to the two massive waterfalls, one very close (only 20 minutes) and the other one, an hour further on. As I entered the forest, I heard crashing above me in the trees and looked up to see a family of monkeys swinging from branch to branch, on a serious quest for jungle food. The first waterfall, known as Air Terjun Sending Gila is pretty impressive with a long 40-metre drop. The trail brings you right underneath the spray of this cascading natural beauty. If this is all you can manage, it is well worth it, however, with a bit of extra effort, the next waterfall offers a little more.

I was keen to see the next waterfall and my guide took me an alternative way through an old tunnel, flashlight leading the way. We had company on the way as docile bats dangled above us. The knee-deep, swift flowing water kept me alert and moving at a pretty keen pace. We popped out into the sunlight about 10 minutes later and continued, accompanied by a variety of birdsong, and arrived around 30 minutes later at our destination, Air Terjun Tiu Kelap.

I heard the thunderous roar of this massive waterfall well before I saw it. This waterfall was bigger and worth the extra one-hour hike. The sheer volume of water cascading over the black volcanic rock wall left me speechless (and deaf). A perfect, natural swimming pool beckoned me in, and I took the plunge and braved the icy cold, pure, clean water and soaked in the exhilarating power of the thunderous fall. A delightfully revitalising experience.

Sembalun Valley

The rich, fertile volcanic soil of the beautiful Sembalun Valley spreads out from the eastern slopes of Mt. Rinjani and turns a verdant green in the wet season. Agrotourism is developing in this area, and I stopped at a recently opened villa complex. Sembalun Agro Villa and Restaurant, which is located in a strawberry patch and gave me the chance to savour something that was a first for me, fresh strawberry juice. The fruit was picked from the fields surrounding the villa – what a delight! A vast patchwork of colourful fields spreads across this valley floor and neatly planted rows of cabbages, potatoes and garlic greet you in all directions. It is a scenic wonder from the top of the pass above the town of Sembalun Lawang.

Sembalun Lawang village is another access point to start the trek to Mt. Rinjani and apart from Sembalun Agro Villas, there are several clean, affordable homestays and other low budget options on offer. The Rinjani Information Centre is worth a stop with their extensive display of information explaining the Mt. Rinjani trekking routes and short walk options. The centre can also provide you with tents, local trekking guides and supplies. Apart from the summit hike, there are one- to four-hour guided village walks and a wonderful wildflower walk, which can be easily arranged from the information centre.

North Lombok is an adventure. Under the shadow of Mt. Rinjani you have a world of beauty and natural wonder, with very few tourists sharing space with you, making it one of the best-kept secrets in the vast Indonesian archipelago.

Mount Rinjani

Mount Rinjani crater lake with a new volcano growing in the centre. Photo by Angela Richardson

Mount Rinjani is sacred to Hindus and Sasaks, and offerings are made to the Gods at certain times of the year. These pilgrimages involve many people, including Balinese, who offer gold and jewellery to the lake during the ceremony of Pekelan before they make their final ascent to the summit. The cobalt blue, crescent-shaped lake, Danau Segara Anak, sits 600 metres below the crater rim and stretches for 6 kilometres.

The mountain now has an active baby volcano. This cone emerged only a couple of hundred years ago. The summit is 3,726 metres (12,222 feet), however it used to be over 4,000 metres (13,123 feet) before the eruption in 1257. The peak erupts at intervals and over the last decade has sent ash and smoke over the entire Rinjani caldera. The healing properties of the natural hot springs are well known to locals and many visit to soak in the mineral water.

Trekking season is April to October. Check with the Rinjani Information Centre first. Due to landslides, the trail is closed during the wet season from November to March.

Rinjani Information Centre (RIC), Sembalun Lawang: 0878 6334-4119 (6am to 6pm)

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