The Nusa Islands of Bali

This is the real and honest truth about visiting the Nusa Islands - Lembongan, Ceningan and Penida. Forget all those beautiful Instagram photos of deserted beaches and the empty vistas at sunset, this is the honest truth about getting around on these islands and what to expect. Don't get me wrong, it's stunning, but it's also dangerous and not exactly how Instagram makes it seem.

During my annual trek to Bali for a couple of weeks of rest and relaxation, I decided to take off for a few days with my friend Jo to explore the Nusa Islands, and here's exactly what happened...

Each year I book my tickets and head off for the sunshine and cocktails of Bali. Usually I just spend the two weeks hanging out with my parents at their private villa in Sanur (yes, I get along with my folks really well and we have a blast), but this time round I'd asked a friend of mine, Jo, to come over as well because I wanted to do some exploring as this was likely to be my last trip to Bali for quite some time. Being that she lives in Perth, she's in the lucky position of only having a three hour flight to get to Denpasar, so she immediately agreed.

THE NUSA ISLANDS - the low down

The Nusa Islands - Lembongan, Ceningan and Penida - are absolutely stunning and I wanted to make sure I took the chance to explore them after all my trips to Bali in the past. These three islands are located just off the coast of Sanur and are usually described as being what Bali was like 20 years ago (and it's true).

But first things first, here are the basics...

The three islands are all different sizes, with Lembongan being the main one. Lembongan is the first island and is in the throes of a massive tourist influx. Hotels, homestays and AirBnB's are going up fast, along with restaurants, tourism operators and housing. The second island is Ceningan (pronounced Cheh-ning-gen), and is attached to Lembongan by the famous yellow bridge (see below).

Ceningan is the smallest of the islands and you can pretty much get round the whole place in less than a day. Unfortunately on this particular trip I wasn't able to make it to Ceningan because we ran out of time. The third island however, Penida, is by far the largest and has the most to see. If you're planning on visiting the islands, I would allow the bulk of your exploring time for Penida.

LEMBONGAN - How to get there and where to stay

In order to get to the Nusa Islands, you have to catch a boat. Pretty much all the boats leave from Sanur, so if you're staying in a different location you'll need to find your way to the where the operators are located. There are a number of public boats that go across to the islands, or else you can take one of the fast boats. I'm not sure how safe the public boats are so I went with one of the providers who have the tourist fast boats.

When you get to the docks (just ask your local cab driver to take you to where the fast boats to Lembongan leave and he should get you there), you'll see the road ends at the beach. There will be a million scooters and bikes parked there. This is where the public boats leave, but in order to get one of the more reliable fast boats, you need to turn right and walk through a little market and along the front of the beach. All the operators are in little stands all the way along, and the most well known are Scoot and Rocky. We actually ended up negotiating a deal with another operator who were called Sri Rejeki and they were great.

We wanted to travel Sanur to Lembongan on day 1, but then Penida to Sanur on day 3. This was no problem and I was able to secure a discount, costing us about AUD$40 each for the return trip. Additionally, most of the providers will have free transfers to your hotel when you arrive in Lembongan. Also, keep in mind that these fast boats don't run all day every day, they have set timetables so make sure you read up and select times that are going to work for you. Generally all the boats leave Sanur at around 9am, and you can buy your tickets a few days in advance (this is what we did to ensure we didn't miss out as the boats do book out).

Ok so you've bought your ticket, what else do you need to know? First is that you need to show up at least 15 minutes before your departure time, present your ticket, and then they'll give you a coloured lanyard to identify where you're travelling to. Additionally, you'll be given a sticky label to put on your chest (like a name tag) that says where you're going to be staying so the drivers at the other end can take you to your hotel.

You then have to hang around for a while waiting for the boats to be ready. All the operators leave from the same place so all the boats are lined up together.

The other really important thing to know here is that you have to wade through the water in order to board your boat and disembark at the other end (generally up to mid-thigh level), so make sure you wear shoes you can slip off - thongs (or flip-flops for you Americans) are perfect. The other thing to note about the boats is that you'll have a hell of a time lugging around suitcases, so I'd highly recommend packing a backpack instead.

Jo and I went for only 3 days and we each took a small backpack that we were able to keep with us at all times. Larger luggage is taken on board by the crew and secured on the roof of the boat.

Once on board you have to sit inside and you won't be allowed to go up the top or out the front because the water crashes over the top of the boat and it's quite a bumpy ride (for those of you who get seasick I would advise taking something for your stomach). The ride to Lembongan is about 30-40 minutes. We made the rather poor choice to sit right up the front and that meant we couldn't see out because the front of the boat tilts up as it powers through the waves, and we also didn't have a window for fresh air (hence the slightly queasy stomach we ended up with).

When you arrive at the other end, basically everything is done in reverse from when you boarded. They'll reverse the boat into the shoreline, you'll disembark into the water, wade up onto the beach, then they'll unload all the luggage. From here everyone breaks up and goes their separate ways with their shuttle drivers, and this is the first big point about Lembongan - the Tonka Trucks of Death.

This is what Jo and I called these little rattling death traps that are used to take you around the island. They feel like you're sitting on a rollercoaster but without any seatbelts and the very real possibility that you might vomit. Seriously, we drove from one side of the island to the other and when we arrived I had to wait 5 minutes for my organs to catch up - my insides felt like they'd been put through a blender.

If you're going to ride in these things you need to make sure you hold onto your hats (Jo lost hers out the back of the truck and it nearly got run over). Also, the other really big note here is that transport on the islands is WAY more expensive than on the Bali mainland. We took one of these little trucks from our hotel to the bridge (more on that soon) and it cost AUD$10 each way - not cheap by Bali standards. Anyway, after our shuttle driver located us on the beach after we'd waded up onto the sand, he took us on a very short trip to our hotel, and boy were we in for a treat.

THE TAMARIND RESORT - our base of operations

We were incredibly lucky to be staying at the magnificent Tamarind Resort during our trip to the islands. This place is pretty much the only 5 star resort on Lembongan and is so worth it. You can tell just from the Reception area that this is an incredibly unique place to stay. Perched on the side of a hill in Jungut Batu, this resort has unobstructed views out across the ocean all the way to Mt Agung. The entire hotel is built around a 300 year old Tamarind tree that is the inspiration for the name.

We had an entire 3 bedroom, 3 story villa all to ourselves and it was absolutely stunning. The resort has everything you'd expect from a 5 star hotel - restaurant, 2 infinity pools, spa, gym, concierge and more. The villa though, you just can't go past this villa.

On the ground floor is the main lounge and kitchen, as well as the master bedroom with a gorgeous outdoor bathroom (including a bathtub) and a huge bed. Upstairs on the second floor are the second (queen bed) and third (twin beds) rooms with a shared bathroom. The queen room also has a private balcony that has spectacular views out across the bay. And finally, the pièce de résistance, the third floor is an outdoor rooftop entertaining space with a dining area as well as a lounge. This place became our refuge over the next 3 days - it was stunning.

(Scroll through the photos above to see where we stayed)

After arriving at the hotel, checking in, dumping our bags and exploring the entire resort, we were ready for our sightseeing day around Lembongan. The concierge arranged for another Tonka truck to take us around for the day, which cost us about A$50. We had 2 major places that we wanted to visit - Devil's Tear and Dream Beach. Both of these locations are not far from each other which makes it easy. After bouncing around in the back of the truck for a while, we finally arrived.

LEMBONGAN - Devil's Tear and Dream Beach

Devil's Tear is a small coastal area where the rocky coastline gets pummeled by the breaking waves. There is one particular area that has been eroded to form a semi-circle in the cliff and when the waves hit it forms a blowhole. This is known as the Devil's Tear. (Click through the images below to see how beautiful it is.)

Many tourists visit this area and it's incredibly dangerous due to the slippery rocks and the turbulent waters. The view is stunning though, the water is crystal blue and the noise is deafening.

Now, before I continue on, here's the thing you need to know about the reality of all the sightseeing you'll be doing on the Nusa Islands versus the Instagram photos you've seen online - you're never alone.

In the photos above it looks like there's not another soul in sight and that the rocks are empty, but that's just because I've taken these photos at the right angle. Throughout this blog post I'm going to try and give you a glimpse into what the reality is of each location, and here's what Devil's Tear really looks like...

(If you click through to the second photo you can see a close up of the little stalls at the top of the cliffs that sell drinks and snacks as well as touristy stuff.)

As you can see, there were tonnes of people there and so in order to get those great pics that make it look like you're the only one, you have to be clever with your angle. Also, it doesn't hurt to ask people to move aside so you can take a pic.

While Devil's Tear is wild and quite dangerous considering the lack of safety barriers, Dream Beach on the other hand, is a protected little cove surrounded by cliffs. Just up the road from Devil's Tear, it's a perfect place to grab a Bintang and watch the waves roll in.

To get to this little beach you literally only have to drive for a couple of minutes as it's just up the road from Devil's Tear. It's not the prettiest of beaches but the water is a really nice colour and it's an ok spot to take a dip as it's quite protected but the current can be pretty strong.

Again though, the above photo was taken at the right angle. Below is a look at what the rest of this beach looks like...

We then headed up to the top of the Island wher we had a quick look at the mangroves before making our way back along the coast, stopping here and there for a cocktail and to walk on the beach.

After a full day of exploring Lembongan and rattling around in the Tonka trucks until we felt sick, it was time to call it a day and head back and make the most of our stunning villa at the Tamarind Resort. We spent the rest of the afternoon by the pool, watching the sun set before eating dinner at the lovely little restaurant. Waving a quick good night to each other, we trudged off to our cloud-like beds (which had been turned down for us) and fell asleep at like 8.30pm. An eventful first day.

PENIDA - How to get there and what to expect

Day 2 and we were raring to go early on. The night before we'd ordered our breakfasts to be delivered to our villa so we could get an early start. We'd also asked the Concierge to arrange for a driver to take us down to the yellow bridge so we could catch a boat across to Penida for the day. So at about 8am we made the trip down to the bridge. We wanted to be sure that we'd get to Penida before all the huge day-trip tour groups arrived so we could stay ahead of the crowds.

In order to get to Penida, you must take one of the small boats across and they all leave from the base of the yellow bridge. In the photo below, you can see the boats lined up in the water. Unlike the fast boats that bring you from Sanur to Lembongan, these ones are all open and don't travel as fast.

In the next photo, this is where you buy your tickets for the boats across to Penida. You can buy one way or return trip tickets. Our return tickets were just AUD$10. Again, make sure you check to see what time the last boat leaves and be sure to be back at the same place you were dropped off in Penida so you don't miss your trip back!

Once you've bought your tickets, you'll be escorted to your boat. Again, keep in mind that you have to wade through the water at both ends so don't wear long clothes or shoes that you want kept dry - you're definitely going to get wet.

The trip across to Penida is lovely, and there's plenty of opportunity to take photos and enjoy the sea breeze. It only takes about 15 minutes to get from the yellow bridge to the main beach on Penida.

Once you reach Penida, you'll be greeted by all the locals looking to hire out their scooters and this is where I have my first (and pretty much most important) piece of advice. Are you ready?

DON'T HIRE A SCOOTER!

I did tonnes of research about the Nusa Islands and about how to get around whilst there and literally every single blog I read said the same thing - hire a scooter for $7 a day because it's the only way to get around. This. Is. A. Lie. Scooters are not the only way to get around, and in actual fact they are the most dangerous way to get around (especially considering the fact that almost none of the scooters come with helmets). We were on Penida for two days and I can't tell you how many times we saw accidents, injured people and discarded scooters lying on the side of the road because they'd crashed.

There is a much safer (and infinitely more comfortable) way of getting around on Penida - hire a driver. And here's why...

The roads on Penida are beyond anything you can imagine. There are a few "main" roads that are properly sealed and aren't too bad, but head out to any of the tourist attractions and you're going to be wishing you had the ability to fly real quick. The roads are atrocious! They really shouldn't even be called roads because they're nothing but dirt tracks that have potholes so large you'll spend half your time worrying you're going to disappear into them. It's incredibly dangerous on these roads but 100 times worse if you're on a scooter. Below is a quick video that I shot to show just how bad the roads are. Whilst I'm semi-able to hold the camera still, just look at how badly the dashboard and the rest of the car are jumping around:

Apart from the condition of the roads, are the other hazards. First off, it's a really long drive to get anywhere on the island. I'm talking hours to get from one side to the other and hanging onto the back of a scooter, for four hours, with no helmet, on dirt tracks, in the middle of nowhere, in the boiling heat is not what I would consider fun. We passed one couple who were pulled over on the side of the road so the girl on the back could layer all her clothes on the seat to give her some more padding protection from all the bouncing around. Another couple were so sunburnt they practically glowed in the dark. Another couple were hobbling down the side of the road bleeding because they'd crashed - he had broken bones and she had an horrific case of road rash.

And yet despite all this is the biggest reason of all - take note here all you Aussies especially - unless you have a current motorbike licence in your home country AND an international licence, your travel insurance will not cover you in the case of an accident.

I can already hear some of you saying "that's not true", but believe me it is. You need to read the fine print in the terms and conditions of your travel insurance policy. Jo was positive that she was covered because she'd specifically bought the extra package that included cover in case of a motorbike/scooter accident. It wasn't until I went through her policy with her that I was able to point out the clause that said if she didn't have a motorbike licence in Australia she wasn't covered. This also applies if you're riding as a passenger - the person who is actually driving must have a licence. And of course the most obvious clause is that you have to be wearing a helmet (which 95% of people we saw on Penida weren't).

I'm sure you've all seen on the news when someone has crashed in Bali and now their family has set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise money in order to bring them home because the medical bills are astronomical and their insurance didn't cover them? Let that be a lesson to you - do your homework.

Jo and I opted for something much better - we hired a driver. Now I can see how this might not be as attractive because it does cost way more than hiring a scooter (each day was about AUD$40 per person which really isn't that bad), but the benefits couldn't be denied. First off, we were safe. We didn't even stub our toe because we were safely ensconced in the back seat of an SUV with a local driver who knew the roads like the back of his hand. Second, we were in air conditioning.

I'm not sure how much you know about Bali, but here's one thing you should be aware of - it's hot. And when you're out on the road or hiking up and down the cliff faces to visit all the beautiful places on Penida? It's really hot. Having a driver meant we had an air conditioned car to jump into and cold water on hand to immediately cool us down again. We were also able to take our bags with us and leave everything locked safely in the car while we went exploring.

Which leads me to the sights we visited on day 2...

PENIDA - Kelingking, Paluang Cliff, Peguyangan Waterfall

If you've done any research or Googling of either Bali or the Nusa Islands, no doubt you've seen photos of the infamous rocky outcrop that looks like it belongs in Jurassic Park. Known as T-Rex beach, Kelingking has soared in popularity thanks to Instagram. What used to be a secluded spot is now visited by hundreds (if not thousands) of tourists every day. This place is a must on your itinerary, but I'd advise you to plan your trip carefully.

Being the slightly organised-obsessed person that I am, I had worked out the best time to visit each location on our trip and so we arrived just before all the crowds. Most of the tour groups arrive on Penida at about 10am so I'd aimed to be there well before that to ensure we had the best experience possible. When we pulled up into the parking area there were only a handful of other cars parked, meaning we didn't have to fight through the crowds.

(The car park when we arrived at Kelingking)

I managed to get the below photo of Kelingking, but be careful here as you're literally standing on the side of a cliff looking down onto the beach that is a really long way down. If you have any kind of vertigo or fear of heights (as I do) this can be a bit challenging.

Warning: Whilst you're there, be very careful of the monkeys. They may look cute (to some people), but they've been known to steal stuff and even bite people. I would advise not getting too close to them, especially to take photos or selfies. It's not worth the $8,000 trip to the hospital for a rabies shot (read this if you don't believe me).

I know most people like to get the "sitting and looking down at T-Rex" photo, but even though we were there before all the tour groups arrived, there was still a line to get that particular photo. So instead, Jo and I actually went for a walk along the ridge line to see if we could find another point to take a photo like that. We ended up finding the below vantage point which worked a treat.

We'd been at Kelingking for about 40 minutes, and after taking this photo we headed back to the main viewing point and the car park. Here's what the line to take those Instagram shots now looked like (and this was before the tour groups arrived) ...

Having already taken the photos we wanted here, we jumped back in the car for a minute or two and headed off a little further up the road to Paluang Cliff. Now I'd never actually heard about Paluang Cliff but our excellent driver told us that we had to see it whilst we were there, and he was so right. There was only one other car in the car park and the views were breathtaking.

(Just above the tip of the boat is where the Kelingking viewpoint is)

In addition to the gorgeous views, there are a couple of these (now very common) birds nest type structures. For a AUD$1 donation, you can take some photos in them which is exactly what I did - have to do the tourist thing sometimes as well as support the locals!

Whilst we were there we saw a huge pod of dolphins playing in the ocean below us and we spent a good half an hour just taking it all in. After finishing there we had to drive back past Kelingking and the car park was already completely full with almost 100 vehicles and people absolutely swarming the area (the line continued all the way down the road even). Lucky we got in early!

Next up on the itinerary was Peguyangan Waterfall. Ah, the famous (or infamous depending on your point of view) blue stairs. Peguyangan Waterfall was on my list of places to visit from the moment I started researching the Nusa Islands. Photos of people on the blue stairs heading up or down the side of a cliff were everywhere and I wanted to see it for myself. What those photos don't tell you is that it is terrifying!

Those pretty blue steps? Yeah, they're about 4 inches wide, meaning you can pretty much get just the ball of your foot onto each step with the very real possibility that you're foot is going to go right through one of the gaps and you'll be walking with a limp for the rest of your days. The photo below shows what I mean, although it was taken in a particular spot where there was actual ground underneath, however most of the climb there is absolutely nothing below your feet.

(Scroll through the photos above to see exactly what these stairs are like!)

There are parts of the staircase that are literally vertical, like a ladder (second pic above). All of this is combined with the fact that safety standards in Bali are, shall we say, lax? Not to mention the fact that you're literally hanging off the side of a cliff (third pic above).

In addition to all this is the pure physicality required to climb all the way down and then all the way back up again. I don't claim to be terribly fit but I can generally hold my own. The staircases of Penida however, defeated me. We got down about a quarter of the way, took one look at the faces of the people coming back up and decided that we'd risked life and limb quite enough for one day. We took some photos, turned around, and promptly climbed right back up again. Despite all this however, the views are indescribable and the below photo just doesn't do it justice. 

It was now early afternoon and Jo and I agreed that we'd probably had enough for the day. Don't get me wrong, it was all stunning to see, but it was also hours bouncing around in the back of a 2WD car doing the job a 4WD would've struggled with. So we headed back to the port, waved goodbye to our driver and hopped a boat going back across to Lembongan.

Upon arriving back at our hotel room, we immediately changed into our bikinis and spent the remainder of the afternoon chilling out by the infinity pool, reading our books and drinking cocktails. Once the sun had set, we headed inside and got ready for dinner.

Jo had spotted a whole bunch of restaurants that looked out over the bay and we were eager to explore and find some good food. We ended up at a restaurant called Muntigs. It's set into the side of the cliffs right near the Tamarind Resort (we walked there) and has stunning views out across the bay. We had a candlelight dinner underneath a Frangipani tree and it was just magical. Below is a photo taken at the base of the cliffs looking out across the bay.

After we were filled to the brim with a delicious duck dish (me) and Nasi Goreng (Jo), we strolled home and flopped into bed. Our third and final day was coming up and it was by far our most ambitious...

PENIDA - Atuh Beach, Diamond Beach, Tembeling Beach & Waterhole, Broken Beach and Angel's Billabong

Once again Jo and I had arranged for breakfast to be delivered to our rooms first thing in morning so we could get an early start. We got a Tonka truck to the bridge, bought our one-way tickets for the boats across to Penida (as we were travelling back home to Sanur direct from Penida on the fast boats), and set off. Being our last day, Jo and I had our backpacks with all our belongings with us so it was imperative that we had a driver so we could lock all our stuff away in the car while we were off sightseeing.

We had a different driver than the day before, but again he was absolutely wonderful and very knowledgeable about the island. I showed our driver the itinerary I'd put together for the day, haggled a price (AUD$80 for the whole day), and we were away. Unfortunately, in order to make it to our first destination we had to drive right across the entire island which meant 2 hours on the roads from hell. We were heading for Atuh Beach and Diamond Beach and here's were our story starts off not so great.

The day was already hot, really hot. Jo and I were a little cranky after being tossed around for two hours in the back of the car and by the time we reached our destination there were already tonnes of people there.

As it turns out, Atuh Beach and Diamond Beach are in the same place. You walk out along the top of a cliff outcrop, and on one side is Atuh Beach and on the other side is Diamond Beach. The other thing to note here is it is a big climb down to both locations. This wouldn't be so bad if you didn't have to climb all the way back up again in the blazing sun and heat. In the end, I'm sorry to say that we decided to just appreciate the views from the top due to the heat and crowds of people. Below is looking down one side to Diamond Beach, which requires you to climb down the cliff face on the very long staircase.

And here is the line of people waiting to climb down to Diamond Beach (and this is before the tour groups had arrived from the mainland)...

On the other side is Atuh Beach, which also requires you to climb down to reach it. Whilst Diamond Beach is pretty sparse and doesn't have anything in terms of shops or places to eat, Atuh Beach is a good place to stop and have a beer and possibly a swim.

After spending a little while wandering around the top of the cliffs and taking photos, Jo and I were ready to head to our next destination. This little sojourn was good, but not epic, especially after the awesome views we'd seen the day before. As a side note, because these two beaches are literally on the other side of the island, if you're stretched for time then I'd give these a miss. Whilst very pretty, there are better places to see that are closer together on the other side of the island.

So after the stunning views we'd already seen the two days before, I figured we couldn't do much better than that, could we? Turns out Penida has many surprises in store, and next up was Tembeling Beach & Waterhole which I'd been most looking forward to. Here's how it unfolded...

As I've mentioned previously, I'm a planner when it comes to sightseeing trips. I do heaps of research so I'm as prepared as I can be. I want to make sure I see everything I want and don't waste time trying to work out what to do and where to go. This organisation and research came in very handy when we visited Tembeling. I knew that it wasn't going to be as simple as driving to the location, doing a short walk and then taking in the views. Tembeling is in the middle of nowhere and thus there is no other way to actually reach it than by scooter. Luckily, there are some enterprising young fellas who've set up this exact service for tourists like us.

Arriving at the entrance in our lovely air conditioned car, we were required to pay a scooter rider to drive us down to the main entrance to Tembeling. This costs about AUD$10 per person which was fine with us.

A word of warning though - make sure you book a round trip not just one way! Yep, turns out it's possible to pay only to be taken one way or to walk the whole thing and we did see some silly people who had chosen this option and were most definitely regretting their decision. Also, please note that whilst I don't agree with riding on scooters without helmets, in this instance helmets were not available but we were assured the ride was just a couple of minutes and we'd be fine. The riders were all very nice and though we did make it there and back safely, I will say it was not for the faint of heart.

After bouncing around on the back of the scooter going 80km an hour with no helmet, up and down hills and over rocks and broken paths that felt very much like we were riding a rollercoaster with no safety harness, we arrived at the final entrance point with our insides feeling like they'd been put through a blender (again). (Note: make sure you keep a hold of your hat if you're wearing one as Jo lost hers along the way. That damn hat was the bane of our existence!)

The other thing to be aware of is that if you're not used to clinging onto the back of a scooter in the middle of the forest, then there's a good chance your legs are going to resemble the consistency of jell-o by the time you're done. It took me a solid 2 hours for mine to stop shaking - although I think it was a mixture of adrenaline and exhilaration.

We reached the end of our scooter ride and from here we had to walk down to where the actual waterhole and beach are. There is a massive set of stone stairs that are cut directly into the side of a cliff before reaching the forest floor. These stairs are very large and the walk can take it out of you quite quickly. So feeling like a newborn baby deer, I started my way down the stone staircase on wobbly legs.

(It doesn't look too bad in this photo but this climb isn't easy if you're unfit)

When you reach the bottom however, it all becomes clear why this is a hidden wonderland. The first thing you'll see is the waterhole. It's blue, still and quiet - so peaceful. Unfortunately I didn't get a great photo of this, but you can get an idea of what it's like...

After you've taken in the beauty of the waterhole you continue on down the path through the rainforest to the tiny hidden beach. First off you'll walk through this lovely little enclosed rainforest path...

In the photo above you can see what looks to be a cave leading off to the right, and that's exactly what it is. The incredible thing about this cave is that visitors have been creating their own little rock piles and so there are literally hundreds of them all over the place now. The below photos show the cave entrance and the rock piles, as well as the water on the other side. When we were there the water was right up high, but I'm not sure if that's definitely high tide or not. It's possible that the water goes out far enough that you can walk on the beach here, but I'm not sure. Either way, it's not the main beach that people go to visit, that's what I'll show you next...

(Apologies for the poor quality of the photo but it was the best I could do at the time)

So after you've climbed through the cave opening and taken in the stunning views from the rocks and seen the little rock piles, it's time to visit the main attraction (or at least I consider it to be the main attraction). We climbed back through the cave and back onto the path and continued downwards through the forest until it opened up in front of us to reveal a stunning beach with another little waterhole.

The photo above shows the cave from before and the path that we came down on. This little pool is absolutely gorgeous and really warm. This little girl was having a splash all on her own as there were barely any people here. This whole area is really small and there were only about 5 people there apart from us which made it even more special. So quiet and peaceful. The below photo is facing the other direction from the one above, and this is where you get the really breathtaking views of the ocean, the cliffs and the azure skies.

(This was probably my favourite photo of the whole trip)

Tembeling Beach, what a magical place this was.

After taking in the serenity of this hidden paradise, it was time to head back up that huge stair climb. Jo, being much fitter than I was, made it back to the top well before I did, while I lumbered along behind her coming up with some incredibly creative swear words. I managed to make it about half way before I had to stop at a little hut thingy to sit down before I had a stroke.

I was sitting there trying not to vomit on my shoes because I was breathing so hard when a lovely group of French tourists passed me by on their way down. They looked a little alarmed at the sight of me as I sat there listing to one side with my eyes squeezed shut and begging the Gods to end my pain. However I assured them I was fine and that I appreciated their concern as well as the fact that they'd documented my wheezing, purple face for all eternity on their Go-Pro. After waving them onwards I told them the climb was worth the effort and that if I was still there when they were coming back up, then they could worry (for some reason they found this hilarious but I was actually being serious).

Eventually I made it back to the top of the stairs with Jo shouting down encouragement to me as I heaved myself up the last few steps. And then it was time for another jelly-leg-inducing ride. Yep, what goes down must come back up and so I climbed onto the scooter behind my trusty driver, wrapped one arm around his waist and grabbed hold of the bar behind me as we did the reverse-rainforest-scooter-rollercoaster-ride. When we finally made it back up to the car park where our driver was waiting with our drink bottles and air conditioning, I decided they could stick a fork in me because I was done.

Unfortunately we still had one more location to visit and considering I was the one who'd beaten Jo into submission to carry out my ambitious itinerary, I couldn't back out. So we piled back into the car and set off for our final destinations of the day - Broken Beach and Angel's Billabong (luckily they were located in the same place).

Broken Beach is a natural wonder because it's basically a giant hole in the ground. There are caves and cliffs all around the coastline of Penida and Broken Beach was formed when part of the roof of a cave collapsed, leaving behind a ring with a giant hole in the middle. Below is a drone photo taken by another blogger to give you an idea of what it looks like from above...

Most of the photos in this location are taken with someone sitting on the edge dangling their feet in while the photographer stands behind them (similar to those taken at Kelingking). The truth of the matter however, is that you have to get there first thing in the morning (I'm talking right after sunrise) in order to take a photo like that without other people in it, because like most of these attractions, there are tourists everywhere. So in order to get our own unique photos, Jo and I took a little wander and headed off to the left of the sinkhole in the photo above to the rocky outcropping overlooking that stunning blue water.

After taking in the beauty and enjoying a little peaceful solitude looking out over the ocean, we made our way to Angel's Billabong, and this is where the real truth comes out.

Ok, so if you've done any Googling of places to see on Nusa Penida then Angel's Billabong will be on every list, and for good reason because it is a gorgeous place... if you get it to yourself. This is what the photos will look like when you see Angel's Billabong advertised on other blogs and webpages...

Gorgeous right? Yeah, well remember what I said earlier about getting in at sunrise because otherwise you'll be surrounded by tourists? Well, here's the reality behind the Instagram.

(Scroll through these photos to see the behind the scenes)

Unfortunately I'm afraid to say that I didn't get my Angel's Billabong photo. There were hundreds of people there and everyone wanted that epic photo of looking like they had the place to themselves and had spent an entire day frolicking in an oasis. There was no way I was taking my clothes off in front of all those strangers and then trying to maneuver people out of my way while Jo perched on a rock to try and get the shot whilst simultaneously beating away overzealous amateur photographers (our friendship only extends so far). So after wandering around a little more to take in the rest of the sights, we met back up with our driver and made the (thankfully shorter) drive back to the main harbour to catch our fast boat back to Sanur.

We then had to go through exactly the same process for the fast boats as when we'd first left Sanur - except this time we were able to board the boat from a dock rather than have to wade through the water. We gave them our tickets, were given our little coloured lanyards to indicate where we were going, then waited with all the other travellers until our boat was ready. After they'd loaded all the luggage (we kept our backpacks with us as they were small), we all climbed on board and luckily Jo and I got seats next to a window which meant fresh air. When we arrived back at Sanur we weren't feeling ill at all, until we saw what was waiting for us.

Remember that nice beach we walked down and then waded into the water to board our boat on the first day? Yeah, that's not where you land on the way back. Instead, we arrived in front of a huge wall of rocks that descended into the ocean. So as the waves are crashing around us, we had to clamber out of the boat and then somehow make our way to the boulders in bare feet, and then somehow climb our way up the rocks to the road above. Luckily Jo was much more surefooted than I and so she lead the way, holding my hand for stability.

Unfortunately I was too concerned about not breaking my damn leg and not slipping down the rocks that I wasn't able to take any photos to show you just how insane this was. I did a little Googling online myself and managed to find a couple of photos that sort of show what I'm talking about however none of these are at high tide and none of these are facing the shore, but it's the best I could do!

Jo and I then proceeded to walk for 20 minutes as we struggled to find a cab to take us back to our villa at my parent's place. Luckily, after walking for 10kms along the bypass with a thousands cars and scooters going past, we flagged down a cab and collapsed inside. Five minutes later and we were dropped off out the front of the villa. We finished off the day with a lovely dinner at a local restaurant and cocktails to make us smile before tumbling into bed, asleep before our heads even hit the pillow.

So there you have it, the honest to goodness truth behind the Instagram of the Nusa Islands. It was beautiful, wild, hot, busy, overcrowded and wonderful all at the same time. Jo and I are so glad we did it though, it was well worth the adventure. When I asked Jo what her favourite part was she immediately said it was the Tamarind Resort, which I almost agreed with. For my part though, I'd have to say that the waterhole, rainforest and secluded beach at Tembeling was the highlight for me.

Final Thoughts

So if you do get the chance to explore the Nusa Islands make sure you're fit, make sure you hire a car (not a scooter) and make sure you take a camera, because it'll be the trip of a lifetime. Best go soon before it gets any more popular than it already is!

Until next time,

Nat x