Aahh Winter! The cooler weather has finally hit, and it’s usually around this time of year that a holiday calls. We usually head to the snow, or escape the cold for the European Summer, or a tropical island somewhere of the coast Bali.
For the last two years it has been the latter. Island of choice – Gili Trawangan
It started as a birthday getaway to celebrate my 30th, and my partner, Ross, and I found ourselves back there again the year after.
It’s such a quick and relatively inexpensive trip that Ross and I started discussing the possibility of making it our annual winter escape. Even with plans to start a family on the horizon, this spot would be a perfect getaway with little ones in tow.
Not only is Gill still a little more isolated then main island Bali, but it truly feels like an escape from the every day, and you leave the island longing to return the next year.
But alas, I decided to open a shop. Life as I knew it was sure to change! Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love where I’m at, and knew that it would mean sacrificing holidays and our plans for starting a family for at least a year or so. But man, when this time of year rolls around, I start to day dream about island life – first world problems, right!
With a tropical escape on my mind, I thought I’d pay homage to what I like to think of as “My Island Home”
Read on for Gili Island travel and adventure tips, and my fave Salt Gypsy set to surf in!
The Gili islands are just off the coast of Lombok and only a two hour boat ride from Bali. We opt to head to the harbour village of Sammer in Serangen as soon as we land, and have found that catching a flight that arrives in the evening works best as it means a short night stay in Sammer, a chilled morning, and a short stroll to the boat that will take you to the islands. Much less stress than landing in the morning, and trying to get through the crazy Bali traffic to catch the boat in time.
While it’s all pretty much smooth sailing once on board, be warned that you will encounter chaotic crowds of tourist who don’t give crap about personal space, or understand the meaning of a line while you're checking in. Once on the Gili Flyer you’ll have your own seat and can sit back and take in the scenery, or watch one of the blockbuster movies they usually play – if you’re lucky enough to get a pair of headphones that actually work! The crew are super friendly and hand out water when you get on board, but I’d definitely recommend taking you’re your own to keep hydrated in the Bali heat.
Once you arrive and step off on to the pristine sand - well at least the colour is pristine, sadly you will see pieces of plastic rubbish around, but not as much as Bali – you’ll find yourself in the hustle and bustle of Gili T’s “party side”. Unless partying hard and fighting your way through crowds is your thing, I would recommend staying clear of this side! We stayed on the other side of the island for both our visits, and Le Pirate is our fave! Rad little cabanas with the beach only 50-100m from your front door. We tend to be creatures of habit when it comes to accommodation. We love to explore, and have lots of outdoor adventures, but when it comes to accommodation we would prefer to go back to a place tried and true. Friendly staff, great food and clean cabana – you can’t go past that!
All three islands that make up the Gilis are totally car free, yep your heard that right! The only means of transport are horse and cart or pedal power. Depending on how much luggage you have, you can hire a donkey cart to take you across the other side. Be prepared for lots of bumps, but it’s the quickest way. If you travel light, you can always hire a bike for the length of your stay and pedal to your accommodation (if you know where you’re going) and ride back when it’s time to leave.
Our days could be summed up in a few short words - Surf, eat, explore, repeat. With the occasional snorkel outing & trips to the other Gilis (Meno and Air) thrown in, and of course lazy afternoons in the sun with the customary Bintangs.
Snorkel tip - I definitely recommend heading back to the busy side of the island to snorkel as there is a resident turtle, plus you don’t have to walk through the reef shoal to get to the good stuff.
Every morning we would roll out of bed, wander over to the outdoor restaurant and enjoy our breaky of Nasi Goreng, coffee (you can actually get a pretty decent latte) and an array of complementary fresh fruit and traditional Balinese pastries and black rice pudding - yum! These big breakies worked well for us, as most days we were too busy surfing and exploring to stop for lunch.
Next, we loaded up our beach bag – Salt Gypsy two piece, The Beach People towel, go pro and sun cream are my go-to’s – grabbed our boards (the second trip we took our own boards, but hired some pretty decent ones the first time round) and jumped on our bikes for the cruisy 15 minute cycle around to the southern point. Depending on the swell and weather conditions there are a couple of choice waves along the way, but most days we would end up at Bonkas surf break.
The water is so crystal clear on Gili that you can see right through to the reef below and spot fish, colourful coral and the occasional turtle in between sets.
A couple of days into our stay we headed over to Gili Meno for an afternoon of exploring and it didn’t disappoint. The snorkelling here is better than Gili T - the reef is bigger, brighter and there is an amazing under water structure to check out. I had first read about this underwater sculpture by Jason deCaires Taylor before heading to the Gili’s the first time around, but we couldn't find it. On our second trip I was pretty keen to check it out, and after searching the water for it, and then asking a few different Meno locals, someone was finally able to pointed out where it was, and it was defintely worth the hunt!
With the mystery of the underwater statues solved, we decided to walk around the island. It took us about a 2.5hr stroll with a couple of swim stops. We also grabs a couple grilled corn cobs and some Bintangs from one of the local street carts for lunch . You’ll find these mobile carts dotted around the island. The corn is so fresh, and you can’t go past the option of having your freshly roasted cord slathered in spicy butter!
It’s pretty easy to get to and from Meno from Gili T. The first time we went we kayaked over. The second time we paid one of the local boats to take us over and set a time for him to come back. If you plan to walk around the island, choose the latter, as there is nowhere to leave your hired kayaks while you explore.
With salty skin and adventuring hearts full of wonder, we would head bad to our beach chairs at Le Pirate and enjoy a lazy afternoon of beer, books and sunshine!
All in all, the Gilis are a magical place, and whether you're an adventurer at heart, or just want to wind down and spend your days basking in the sun and sea, these beautiful and tranquil islands are the perfect escape!
I'll leave you now with how our days would end - watching the glorious, golden ball of light as it settled over the ocean and slipped beyond the horizon.
Written by Safa Itote
All images and videos were taken by Safa Itote & Ross Kealy