That flash of white cliff you see from Bali's Sanur hulking in the far distance shouldn't be ignored if you have a sense of adventure and want to get away from the busy south part of the island. Nusa Penida, which centuries ago served as a gaol for the less desirable characters of the Gelgel dynasty, is easily reachable by boat from Bali or neighbouring Nusa Lembongan. Its mostly natural attractions can be seen over two days; here are some of the rugged limestone island's highlights.
First up you'll need to hire a motorbike and we'd suggest a driver as well. Expect to pay 70,000 rupiah a day for a bike, or around 120,000 rupiah a day for a bike plus driver, including petrol. You'll be met by a few eager guys at Toyapakeh, where you'll alight from your boat; English-speaking Rod is the key fixer, but a few other guys offering their services, including the helpful and lovely Dayat, whom we used on our last visit -- he speaks just a little English.
Zip around first toward the market town of Sampalan; just before you get there is the Friends of the National Park Foundation, which runs a conservation programme for the dwindling Bali starling population. A few of the birds are in a large cage on site but the foundation's focus is on trying to get the birds to breed in the wild on Nusa Penida, and they've had some success to date with several of their wooden boxes holding eggs during our visit. They told us the birds are not released on the Bali mainland as poachers snap them up too quickly; they're worth about 20 million rupiah each on the black market.
Continue next to Pura Goa Giri Putri, a temple attached to a massive cave with a tiny triangular stone entrance way (it's also known as Karangsari cave temple). If you're claustrophobic you may freak out at just how miniscule the entrance is. I didn't think I'd be able to do it but one of the guys there went ahead of me and insisted I try; once you're down on your haunches you can see the cave opens up and it's not so difficult to skedaddle in. Behind is a huge, dark, chilled interior with concreted footpaths and various Hindu shrines; it feels like quite an astounding discovery.
Next stop is Tanglad, a traditional weaving village where you can see looms in action and buy some fabric as well. It's a very low-key set up, and on our last visit it was a ceremony day so everything was shut up, though the temples were dressed very nicely.
It's quite a drive next to Guyangan waterfall, which you can scramble down 200 metres of cliff face to see up close if you're a little bit of a daredevil. We viewed it from the top of one of Nusa Penida's cliffs, then walked up some safely concreted stairs to sip on the chilled fresh springwater, pumped up to a water station nearby.
If your butt muscles are holding up, it's time for a swim at gorgeous Crystal Bay where daytripping snorkellers and sunbathers are shuttled in from Bali -- sunfish can be found in the bay at the right time. Half the grass off the beach is petitioned off with facilities for Bali Hai cruise tourists, while the rest is a coconut grove with a warung where you can sip a coconut and catch your breath.
Head back to your digs for a good sleep and on your second day you can do a spot of sunrise birdwatching -- arrange it through the FNPF -- it's all very informal. Then it's time to head to Nusa Penida's highest point, about 520 metres above sea level, where wind turbines have been installed. To and from this area you'll have fantastic views and scoot through some more desolate but beautiful landscape of the island: think cassava, papaya, bananas, breadfruit, coconut palms and teak trees.
Then it's off to Manta Point or Banah cliffs, where your breath will be snatched from you as you realise how very close you are to falling to your death over the edge of sheer soaring rock. Manta rays are known to congregate in this bay when conditions are right, but on my visit I missed out.
You'll find much of Nusa Penida a little unpredictable -- will you find a guide who knows their way? will a ceremony shutter the cave temple? -- but travelling across such a stunning landscape is more about the journey than the actual attractions you see necessarily along the way. Wear a helmet, take water and savour every minute.
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