But we pushed on. And still, we weren’t quite sure if we were supposed to be here.
A staff member however did emerge, directed us to park our car in an overgrown car space, and helped us manoeuvre our luggage and two children down and through a larger expanse of dilapidated-ness. Yikes, we thought. Also: crap, we’ve paid in advance.
We eventually stopped, however, at one of the piers used by boats to get to northern Bali’s stunning Menjangan Island, with a charming wooden vessel waiting to whisk us away. As we puttered out, the mainland’s majestic mountains coming into distant view, our hopes started to rise. Maybe we hadn’t done our dough!
Less than 15 minutes later we pulled into another pier with two tattered orange penjors arcing over its fading beauty. Helped ashore, again by very attentive staff, we took a seat at an ageing picnic table, sipped on a welcome drink, and were warned during a welcome spiel about the animals we were likely to see around the resort’s grounds: wild pigs, deer and monkeys, for starters. “Yeah, right,” I thought. “As if.”
We trudged along a slightly crumbling path, past dangling lightbulbs, shrubby undergrowth that put in mind a murder mystery and a stinky rubble-strewn water/septic tank thing, and were delivered to our air-con wooden bungalow, one of 16 or so on the resort’s spacious — and national park — grounds. Yet two generators keep electricity surging through the resort — I mentioned it was in national park, right? — night and day.
And it would have been beautiful, around a decade or so ago when the resort opened. The mixture of wood and Sidemen-style tiles was luxurious underfoot, the decor calming, and the silence (when not interrupted by the 14 dirt bikers who roared through the centre of the resort) — well, it sort of flitted between expectant, menacing and relaxing.
We did have some safety concerns regarding our two kids five and under playing on the deck. We think perhaps the balconies originally had sea views, but they’ve allowed the trees to grow back. Or haven’t had the means to keep them trimmed down (the Waka’s own website talks about seeing the sun on the bay from them… um, no).
The bathroom was particularly pretty, with a run-away-to-the-circus colour scheme in the tiles. Neat little blinds lifted up to rest on wooden hooks to let light in; but the lower walls had peeling paint and the shower drain quickly, though not catastrophically, clogged up.
The air-con was chilled, the hot water worked; the minibar was well stocked; it was peacefully, blissfully still. We felt like bulldozers were about to arrive any second to knock it all down and start over.
The beachside restaurant (set beside an apparently abandoned beach bar) in theory had limited hours for meals, but in practice, the half dozen or other people in our little Cluedo-esque getaway ordered at any time we liked. The menu was heavier on Western food than Indonesian (or Balinese) and I dare say the pasta sauce was out of a bottle… but the serving sizes generous, the cinnamon toast yummy, and the Bali kopi (coffee served cowboy style) was very drinkable.
The pool, set in front of a sort-of abandoned two-storey building that staff described to us as “a big building”, had likely not had a good scrub for some time. On our second day we noticed it was chock-full of water boatmen — we found out what they were during a moment when the WiFi we were promised actually worked. The critters were harmless — interestingly though they like to feed on algae — but there was still something about easing into bug-filled waters that led us to get an early boat home.
But that was after I rested a while on one of the wooden deckchairs surrounding the pool. I stretched back to put my arm behind my head and the back of the chair broke and collapsed under me — quite entertaining for the kids.
But hey, this was a beach break, right? And the snorkelling, while not as good by any stretch as Menjangan across the way (from the resort, a very steep US$160 for four people… we passed this time), was more than enough to entertain a five-year-old first-time snorkeller.
And we saved the rather generously sized bread basket from breakfast for a little fish feeding from the pier, the end of which gradually descends into the water, making it a great spot to get close to the water (and get in for snorkelling). We spotted some very intriguing fish that looked like drifting seaweed, as well as a squid.
We did explore the library, which had a few books, and a jar of pickled — preserved? — endangered Bali starlings. We asked a staff member why the birds were in a jar. “They were already dead.” Okay.
One of us (not me) took a mountain bike ride with a guide — for $30, the two-hour ride was pricey, but you’re a captive market and you’re not permitted to venture into the park alone. It was an interesting ride through geography quite different from the rest of Bali, with a highlight being an enormous cage built as a part of a Bali starling preservation project. It wouldn’t have looked out of place on the set of Lost.
And the animals did show up. Startled barking deer, who disappointingly didn’t bark (though they do swim to Menjangan, we were told); a few wild pigs, hanging around the staff room where the staff who had told us to make sure we didn’t feed the animals were feeding the animals; and a gang of six large black monkeys. They were just hanging out, eating fruit from the trees and doing monkey stuff.
In the name of research, I tried the open-air spa — let it be known that 19:30 is precisely the time the area’s largest mosquitoes come out to feast on any flesh they can find.
Now I’ve stayed in my share of dumps and have low expectations when I’m being charged next to nothing for a room. But our room was US$120 per night, plus $42 for an extra bed, per night. By Bali standards, that should get you something pretty swish — it’s on a par for instance with La Joya. Let’s be clear: the location was stunning, the quiet amazing and the staff exceedingly professional.
It was simply the quality of the rooms — or at least the pretensions the rooms had and failed to live up to — that was left wanting. We would have been happy to forsake with frills to have better quality, but very basic rooms given the natural surrounds. Who needs air-con right by the beach? The lack of maintenance just gave everything an air of tiredness that was vaguely unsettling and depressing. Perhaps we wouldn’t have been so disappointed if the resort blurb had mentioned something about it being set for a major refurbishment.
But the quibbles aside, it was at times a magical place. Wandering down to the beach at early morning looking at the rustic pier with the towering Balinese landscape as a backdrop was breathtaking. Having wild black tailed macaques leaping overhead as we strolled back from the water was a crowd pleaser, and cycling through the almost African savanna-style landscape, dotted with non-barking barking deer, was memorable.
But next time, I’d save my money by staying in Pemuteran. From there I’d do a day trip to explore the national park (both trekking and cycling is available from there) and I’d give the Waka a wave as I sailed past on a far more affordable trip to Menjangan.
By Stuart McDonald
Last updated on 21st April, 2015.