Photo: A great day at Uluwatu.

Introduction

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Bali’s dangling southern bauble, known as The Bukit (“hill” in Indonesian) is the limestone plateau attached to Kuta and Ngurah Rai International Airport in the north by the narrow isthmus that is Jimbaran—it boasts some of Bali’s most famous surf breaks and most astonishing clifftop views.


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The dry rocky, scrub-covered landscape is a striking contrast to the lush rice terraces and tropical vegetation that grows in the rich volcanic soils to the north and has more in common with Nusa Penida to the east. The Bukit’s star attraction is a string of jewel-like beaches along the west coast, home to famously challenging surf breaks and some of the most stunning coastline on the entire island of Bali.

Plenty of sand for you and me. Photo taken in or around Bukit, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Plenty of sand for you and me. Photo: Sally Arnold

It was surfing that first bought foreigners to the Bukit: International attention was piqued by the 1970s seminal surf classic, The Morning of the Earth a film by Albert Falzon which brought Bali’s culture and the staggering beauty of the Bukit into Western cinemas and had an indelible impact on the surfing community.

As Falzon wrote: "The sequence at Uluwatu was a two-day affair. The first time I went to Ulu’s it was two feet … the smallest I’ve ever seen it even after visiting Bali countless times. A few days later the beach break came up so we decided to go to Ulu’s and see what it was like … when we walked to the edge of the cliff there were lines all the way to the horizon … it was about ten feet. We surfed and filmed there all day much to the amazement and amusement of the locals who had never seen surfing before and spent the night against the cliff on the small beach next to the cave. It was a full moon and with Rusty playing his guitar, a few Balinese fisherman perched on the rocks against the cliff face and an exploding sea not far in front of us it was a pretty memorable experience."

Sun + Surf = Stay. Photo taken in or around Bukit, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Sun + Surf = Stay. Photo: Sally Arnold

It took a few decades for everyone else to catch on, but catch on they have, and the pace of development is, like many areas in Bali, sadly unsustainable.

Historically, due to the infertile conditions, the Bukit was an impoverished area with very few crops and people eked a living from fishing and producing salt and lime (for betel nut chewing) and drinking water had to hauled in from Kuta. Today, much of the obvious poverty has disappeared, but the water issues remain—the Bukit is basically a massive limestone rock with little natural water storage ability. Some hotels have dug their own wells and created recycling plants, but due to the terrain, wells must be extremely deep and water is most often trucked in from Denpasar. That developers continue to build private pool villas and sprawling resorts on the Bukit is testament to how ridiculously asinine and short-sighted some of the development on Bali truly is.

Eyesore in progress. Photo taken in or around Bukit, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Eyesore in progress. Photo: Sally Arnold

The Bukit is still very much on surfers’ radar seeking the breaks of Balangan, Impossibles, Bingin, Padang Padang and Uluwatu. You’ll see an endless stream of motorbikes with surfboard racks zipping from break to break trying to chase the best waves. Nowadays non-surfing travellers find plenty to entice, least the stunning coastal landscape. Note that not all the beaches are safe for swimming, but you can often lay on a sun bed in the sand or watch the waves from an infinity pool.

Luxury resorts have replaced many of the ramshackle beach shacks along much of the coast though plenty of the former still can be found. Fancy cafes and restaurants outnumber local warungs and surf shops are dispersed with funky boutique homewares and clothing stores. Beach Clubs are sprinkled around the region, often with pricy entry fees or minimum spends, but can be enjoyable spots to luxuriate for a day and enjoy the facilities, particularly if you are not staying in a fancy joint. Uluwatu is also becoming a popular area for yoga retreats.

Empty beaches can still be found. Photo taken in or around Bukit, Indonesia by Stuart McDonald.

Empty beaches can still be found. Photo: Stuart McDonald

As far as cultural pursuits, a trek to the southwestern extremity is worthwhile to view Pura Luhur Uluwatu as the sun dramatically sets on this important Balinese Hindu temple and to watch the highly entertaining kecak dance. Perhaps not so worthwhile, is a stop at the popular Garuda Wisnu Kencana Cultural Park (GWK)—billed as a cultural theme park, this place is home to three giant and quite impressive, but unfinished sculptures, and not much else. They advertise a programme of traditional dancing, but the performance we saw was not only cheesy tourist fodder, it was over in a matter of minutes. Broken footpaths and unkept construction materials strewn about is unsightly and dangerous and the whole thing seems to be built rather oddly within a disused quarry. It is interesting the see the sculptures, but for the 130,000 rupiah for the combined entry and parking is not worth it. Perhaps reconsider when the project is complete.

For a mix of culture and beach, Pantai Pandawa may have interest for some. This pretty beach is popular with tour groups, and has good swimming, life guards, a stretch of golden sand and sun lounges for hire, and carved in to the high cliff face behind, are giant alcoves that house statues of the Pandawa brothers, characters from the Hindu epic the Mahabharata. Entry fee is 8,000 rupiah plus parking.

There is more than just beaches too! Photo taken in or around Bukit, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

There is more than just beaches too! Photo: Sally Arnold

Almost due north of Pantai Pandawa on Jalan Raya Nusa Dua Selatan in the middle of a construction site (June 2018) is an abandoned aircraft that has become a bit of a tourist attraction. A couple of small warungs by the roadside mark its presence and you can climb up the hill a bit for an overview. At the time of research there was no entry fee.

You could spend a day or a week hopping from beach to beach or pick one for the duration of your stay, each with a range of accommodation options within walking distance of the waves. The Bukit is not serviced by public transport and a local transport cartel make getting about a very expensive affair, so most tourists end up hiring motorbikes or staying put in one beach area. Around Pura Luhur Uluwatu and GWK the traffic can build up with tour buses and simply be awful.




Orientation
The Bukit connects to Kuta and the airport via Bali Mandara Toll Road and Jalan Bypass Ngurah Rai and which swings east to Nusa Dua and also connects to Jalan Raya Uluwatu at Jimbaran. Jalan Raya Uluwatu runs south past GWK and swings west to link to Pura Luhur Uluwatu. This road around Ungasan is the most developed area. A series of secondary loop roads that lead to most of the surf breaks link back to Jalan Raya Uluwatu to ensure that you are never lost for too long.

At each beach area, some accommodation and eateries can only be accesses from the beach or by climbing down steep cliff staircases, but hotels, guesthouses and restaurants are not just confined the beach, and continue back along the connecting roads usually for a kilometre or so. Each beach area has connivence stores, many with ATMs and ATMs are also located in Ungasan.

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