The unfamiliar sounds of roosters crowing failed to wake the boys. The most luxurious breakfast is not the Zillion Dollar Lobster Frittata, but a simple one with a sunrise view. Komang was surprised to see us walk back to our room after breakfast. He thought we were still sleeping and didn’t want to disturb us.
Our first stop was the harbour where we bought our return tickets to the main island of Bali. As our nightstop would be Tirta Gangga, Sanur would not be an ideal landing site. There are also ferries going to Padangbai, but we opted for the fast boats to Kusamba, not far from Pandangbai and Candidasa. We managed to get our seats on the Gangga Express to Kusamba, departing 3.00pm.
We were soon on our way, zipping down the coastal road unimpeded. I ranted about the crowds and Komang assured me that it would not be so bad on our second day. For one, we were starting off early – before the boats arrived from Sanur. Secondly, according to him, the east coast is not as often visited. From the scenic coastal road, we started to go inland, entering forests and farms. It was an excellent and relatively deserted road that climbed into Nusa Penida’s interior. For an island only 12km across, Nusa Penida does have quite a bit of diversity.
Our first stop for the day was Molenteng. This refers to that outcrop you see in the picture below. There is an altar and a little shelter. Beyond the summit ridge, is a straight and long drop into the sea below. There are huts or tree “houses” (also called rumah pohon) built on a clearing before steep steps lead to the top of Molenteng. These are very small woody buildings which can be booked for Rp 300,000 per night.
Komang was right about the crowd here. Maybe because it was early, maybe because it was relatively unknown, there was no queue or crowd at the various vantage points, just a trickle of tourists. Apart from the breathtaking views out to sea, the tree houses are also an attraction here. As you can imagine, there are no attached bathrooms in these tree houses. There is also no security, let alone privacy as anybody can climb up there with or without a ladder.
The main attraction is not Molenteng itself but the view around Molenteng. Some people call this place Bali’s Raja Ampat as it resembles the real Raja Ampat, a cluster of forested islets off the coast of West Papua.
Like Kelingking, the random sculptor who is Mother Nature has gifted us with an aerial view of these magnificent tooth-like islets. I wonder if we ever had features like that in the form of Dragon’s Teeth Gate 龙牙门 which once stood just outside Keppel Harbour until they were blown up in 1848 to widen the passageway into Keppel Harbour.
An ancient who has no clue about the age of the earth or the power of persistent wind and water action may be tempted to believe that these stones were chiselled out from blocks of chalk by some superbeing. A bird who didn’t know better might think that we have wings too. When I first saw these pictures, I actually thought you would need to drone to capture them.
Our following destinations were Diamond Beach and Atuh Beach (same area). By now, the crowds have arrived and Diamond Beach is definitely not even relatively unknown. To begin with, we couldn’t even get anywhere near the car park and had to park some 200m away.
Diamond Beach is easily my favourite of all the sites on Nusa Penida. One of the reasons to spend more time is that like a diamond with many facets, a different angle brings out a different kind of beauty at this almost unearthly site. But the reason for this realm of fantasy to be named Diamond Beach may have more to do with the diamond-shaped rocks you see below.
Unlike Molenteng, there is a way down. Unfortunately for those with weak knees, it’s a long and steep path. This has effectively kept the older fogies doing their selfies near the top. The path was cut out from the sheer wall of the cliff. It descended all the way to the rocky terrace just above the surface of the churning, splashing waters.
The view from above and below are quite different and both are equally beautiful. On the sheltered terrace below, was a queue for a swing that would bring the rider on top of the waves. Exhilarating, no doubt, but would you join a queue and pay money to do it just for a few seconds of video? A slightly less popular Instagram prop is a giant bird nest. You can climb into the nest, stick your neck out of the entrance and smile like a bird. All this would have made very interesting photo opportunities if not for the need to stand in line and yawn as you watch others pretend that they are enjoying some unique experience. When it’s your turn to swing over the waves or act like a bird, you need to feign excitement as others in the line yawn. Of course, the “barrier” to entry here is a bit higher, so the queue is considerably shorter than most others we’ve encountered on the island.
As with the Angel Billabong/Broken Beach combo, our next destination, Atuh Beach, lies just next to Diamond Beach. Following the coastline, one path ascends to a viewpoint and another descends to the rather small Atuh Beach. This path was a lot more manageable as this face of the rock is not a vertical wall.
While it may not be a suitable setting for shooting a fantasy movie, Atuh Beach has very different visitors from its neighbour. Folks here were genuine beach-lovers and not acting Instagramers. They have probably planned to stay here for days if not weeks. It is less crowded and somewhat more pleasant than Crystal Beach as the warungs here are neater and more organised. There is also a temple, Atuh Beach Temple which lies just behind the beach. As the water was rather choppy, nobody seemed keen to swim out and explore that rocky rhino outcrop.
For those who didn’t come prepared to swim, there is quite a bit of hiking to do, the heat and humidity of the lowlands notwithstanding. The picture below shows the path of descent to Atuh Beach. The little shelter perched at the top of the cliff is a viewpoint. At the other end of the beach is another path where you can climb to another car park, good for those who intend to visit Atuh Beach only.
That’s where the above picture was taken. You can also capture another view of the rocky rhino from this viewpoint, except that this path is a lot more forested compared to the very exposed trail on the path closer to Diamond Beach.
We left at about noon. By then, all the cars had vanished, leaving ours sticking out like a sore thumb. We would have avoided the crowds if we had come at this time, but the downside is that at this time of the day, the sun would be in roast mode.
Komang gave us a choice of Teletubbies hill or Giriputri Temple. I chose the latter. Like many temples in Bali, you need a sarong to enter this one. So we all rented our sarongs and ascended the steps to the peculiar entrance. At the top, a priest blessed us with holy water before we stepped into hole. After crawling through a tunnel a couple of metres long, we found ourselves in a very smoky, incensed filled cave temple. With a festival ongoing, the temple was crowded with kneeling devotees and priests performing rituals at the altars.
After getting out of the temple, it was time for lunch and we had it at a rather classy place with tables and chairs planted on broken coral. It was an original idea but it was not very pleasant to walk on a floor littered with broken coral. With swings in the sea, the ambience was great, but the food was decidedly expensive and subpar.
With lunch settled, we headed off to the harbour. The only reliable information on the ticket was the time. There was a number 3 written on it, but our boat was number 7. Had we waited for number 3 (docked further down the beach) we would have literally missed the boat. We bade Komang farewell and when it was almost 3.00pm, I just followed everyone with a similar-looking ticket and boarded the boat. The staff checked our tickets and confirmed that we were on the right boat. Off we went, reaching our destination in under 30 mins.
Kusamba turned out to be a much more pleasant place to embark and disembark. There were no crowds and the black volcanic sand on the beach was something new for the kids. I planned to leave the beaches aside and head for the mountains for the next phase of our trip. From here, we caught a taxi to our next nightstop at Tirta Gangga.
Back in the air-con comfort of a car, we gradually pulled away from the coastal road and were soon in the hilly terrain of east Bali. It took us some trouble to find our booked homestay and even when we managed to locate it, the young man in charge told us that he didn’t get our booking! Luckily, the matter soon got sorted out and we quickly settled into our very clean and pleasant room.
It soon got dark. We ordered a simple nasi goreng each for dinner and turned in for an early night.