Gili Air is like being in a bubble. A lovely, fresh, breezy and beautiful bubble. There’s no stress in this bubble – no logistics planning or language barriers or perilous journeys. But it’s not a boring bubble either. It’s a portal to a whole new underwater world full of unknown creatures. Come here if you want to relax and explore, to be somewhere new but not too new.
Things to do
Snorkel with turtles
When we checked into our hotel and our friends, who had already been there a couple of days, told us they had snorkelled with turtles just metres away from the open air restaurant I thought they were pulling my leg. Surely you had to dive for that kind of excitement?
I was wrong. Our routine every morning at Kaluku Gili resort where we stayed was get up, have breakfast, get the snorkelling gear on and stride into the water just outside the restaurant (much easier at high tide – see previous post). The beaches themselves are littered with dried, dead corals and just offshore there is still sadly a lot of coral damage from dropped anchors and dynamite fishing. Thankfully the latter is now banned. To find the sea creature heavy areas get to the seagrass meadows and the corals close to where the drop off is into the deeper ocean.
On our third day I spent a good 20 minutes swimming a few metres away from a beautiful green sea turtle at a depth of around 1.5 metres. He was snuffling around in the seagrass meadow, taking his time, just cruising along looking for snacks. I was spellbound.
We were also treated to views of hundreds of fish species including puffer fish (a personal fave of mine due to their ridiculous, clunky shape), massive unicorn fish and parrot fish, an octopus, sea cucumbers, colourful clams, and more. Some marvellous people have shared images of them online and I’ve made a little gallery below (thanks marvellous people).
Of course, if you’re a diver you should do that without hesitation. Our friend Pete did a night dive very close to shore and saw some weird and wonderful things.
See seashells on the sea shore
Head to the northeast corner of the island and in the area of coastline next to the Gili Air resort you’ll find an area where the water is incredibly shallow and full of rocks which at first glance might not seem that exciting. But get close and have a look for the brittle sea stars (black, spindly starfish) creeping around in the sand. And on any given rock you’ll find miniature hermit crabs clustered together like a bunch of gossiping old ladies in intricately patterned shells. It’s a veritable crustacean metropolis.
Plank on a paddleboard
I found myself agreeing to do paddleboard yoga. It was weird hearing myself say yes, given I struggle to not fall over standing on flat, solid earth. It also gave me a moment to appreciate being away with friends who will push me to do things I wouldn’t normally.
Our resort was right next to the Blue Marine Dive centre which is where the SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard) yoga classes run from.
Our fierce Colombian instructor with rippling abs was the perfect character for this kind of activity. She’s chilled but she will push you to try harder, and not to be afraid of falling in. There was an initial challenge for me just getting the paddleboard to the right spot in the ocean. I wouldn’t say I’m a natural oarswoman, my tendencies are more sluglike. But after about a hundred episodes of veering left and veering right, I reached the others. Even though the spot they use for SUP yoga is at a few metres depth, the water is crystal clear and you can see little fishies swimming around as you do the practice. In fact I’m pretty sure I could hear them spitting bubbles at my downward dog attempts.
You’ll be delighted to hear I didn’t fall in (and so what if it was because I spent most of the practice clinging to my board) but the girl in front of me fell in literally every time we changed position and I envied her the irreverence. It was a bloody good workout that’s for sure.
If you’re thinking of doing it remember it gets incredibly hot – wear tons of high factor sunscreen (I wore leggings and a t-shirt but it’s up to you). Caps are provided – wear one. Classes run daily at 9.30am and cost 270,000 IDR.
Gawp at the sunset
In another uncharacteristic move we chose to do this by going on a run around the island (I’ll stress once more that our companions Pete and Kirsten were very good at getting us to do things we’d normally pretend we were too ill/injured to do). It was a short run around the perimeter of the island, running on the sandy sections of the path being the most challenging thing about it.
As well as stunning views of the sunset and twilight, we were treated to the spectacle of watching a muscular German Chris Hemsworth lookalike hoisting himself up a dangerously tall tree to free a bird tangled in overhead wire. As the bird fluttered away, us and the other gawpers below clapped, included the man’s young son who looked like he might burst with pride. It was all very Hollywood and ridiculous but it did give us an extended break during our run so I made sure I waited until he was fully descended from the tree (out of concern for his safety) before carrying on.
Anyway, don’t miss the sunset.
You might as well eat
I don’t think we ate a bad meal while we were in Gili.
Go for the fresh barbecued seafood at Scallywags, or if you’re a veggie like me I can’t recommend the vegetable fajitas enough.
We stuffed ourselves with burgers, nasi gorengs and delicious salads and smoothies on multiple visits to Pachamama’s. The nutty dragon shake is a highlight, and the orange cheesecake is amazing. It’s in a nice shady space down a side alley full of hanging plants. Get there early for lunch as the ingredients seem to sell out – I never managed to get there in time for the pesto courgetti. And there it is, the most middle class sentence I’ve ever written.
The Indonesian food at Ruby’s was unbelievable. I had a creamy, beautifully spiced pumpkin curry and as I understand it the beef rendang was a treat. The handmade desserts are great too.
And finally, that traditional Indonesian dish: pizza. Classico Italiano is tucked down one of the side roads but worth the walk. The service and the food are both brilliant. I actually opted for a baked parmigiana because I was stuffed from lunch, but the pizzas had a crispy stonebaked crust, a nicely blended tomato sauce and quality meat and cheese on top. Mmmmmmmm.
And that’s a wrap. (Special shout out to Pete and Kirsten for all their recommendations and chivvying.)