Beautiful Bali

I think it was the excitement of finally seeing the Americas Cup in person, I guess I just got a bit carried away… but when the auctioneer slammed down the hammer and said ‘SOLD!’ it looked like we were off to Bali!

We were at a fundraising event for the Pleasant Point Yacht Club. Their club had been badly damaged in the 2010 Earthquakes and eight years on, they are now finally in a position to try and rebuild some clubrooms. Emirates Team New Zealand had recently won the America’s Cup and were doing a tour around the country. One of the auction items was a week in a luxury villa in Bali. A quick check with Vic, Johnny, Craig & Nic seated next to me and a text to Andrew, James & Elisa confirmed they were keen too, and after an adrenaline fuelled bidding session it was ours!

There was a slight panic about the whole trip when a couple of weeks before our departure, the volcano, Mt Agung belched a huge cloud of ash in to the atmosphere, cancelling flights and stranding travellers.

Thankfully the volcano settled back down again and we jumped on an Air New Zealand plane and after about 10 hours, landed in a very hot, sticky and busy Denpasar airport.

The Villa

The Villa Abagus we’d won in the auction came with return airport transfers and so we bundled in to the minivans and had our first taste of the crazy traffic zooming in all directions. Located in Seminyak, the airport is only about 10km away, but with the snarled up traffic this trip can take anywhere from 30 mins to an hour.

We made a quick stop off at a convenience store to buy some Bintang beer and snacks, and then finally we were there, relaxing by the pool and settling in to the amazing property.

A villa is a fantastic way to spend a holiday with a group of family or friends. You’ve got your own private space to relax and spend time together without having to deal with any other people (like you’d have to in a resort). We had four huge double bedrooms all with private ensuites, perfect for eight people. Our villa also came with two lovely housekeepers who cooked an amazing breakfast for us every morning too.

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The next morning we had a big earthquake. A neighbouring island – Lombok had just been hit with a 6.3 magnitude quake, bringing down buildings and killing ten people. (Sadly the day we left they had an even bigger devastating earthquake where even more people were killed.) We are all pretty used to earthquakes – having just lived through nearly 20,000 aftershocks following the big Christchurch earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. But we all did a bit of a mental calculation about possible places to shelter under and where we might head if there was a tsunami.

Despite the wobbles we were all keen to get out and explore, so we hit the streets and walked in to to the main shopping area. Seminyak is packed full of great coffee shops, lovely restaurants, boutique clothes shops, homewares, LOTS of touristy tat, and hustle and bustle.

Shopping

Shopping generally involves a bit of friendly bartering, unless you are in a shop with price tags – and then you don’t barter. There is heaps to buy, with shop after shop selling practically all the same thing- general touristy stuff. There were also some great clothes shops too but I was so hot and sticky I couldn’t bear to go in and try stuff on. Still we bought our fair share of bits and bobs, and of course as soon as you get back home you wish you’d bought more.

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Currency

The Indonesian Rupiah has got lots of 0’s. 100,000 works out to NZD$10, so we just had to take off four 0’s, which sounds simple but its pretty easy to get confused

There was a bit of debate among the group as to what was the best way to access money.

After being turned away from my local bank and the currency place at Christchurch airport, I finally managed to change some NZD in to IDR at Auckland airport and got charged a whopping transaction fee from Travelex, so I wouldn’t necessarily recommend them.

The others decided to take some NZD$ cash and try their luck with the currency exchange shops in Bali. This was met with varying levels of success. Some transactions went smoothly, but Andrew somehow got swindled in a very dodgy place (which had a very good exchange rate advertised) when we figured out what had happened, the shop was shut and had somehow gone from being a currency exchange to a very dusty old sarong shop…

Hotels, larger restaurants and nicer shops would all take credit card. There were money machines also on the street too – which is where I got most of my money from. The conversion rate wasn’t too bad either. It just pays to be careful with your card in case it gets skimmed – which has also happened to us in the past but thankfully not on this trip.

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Sharing the Cost

With a group of people travelling together we have always found it easier to have a kitty for shared expenses, such as when we all eat out together, catching taxis, drinks, breakfast foods at the villa – all that kind of thing. Everyone puts in the same amount to start off with, and when the kitty starts running low, you just all put some more money in again.

Surfing

After a really long walk we eventually made it to Seminyak beach. We’d bought our togs (kiwi word for swimming costumes) in anticipation of a swim in the sea, but the ocean was really rough, and red flags lined the beach warning people to not go swimming. All along the beach are these great little beach bars. We found one offering surfing lessons, cold beers and a couple of locals playing their guitar. So we parked ourselves up there for the afternoon, waiting until the tide went out and the waves eased off a bit for Craig & Elisa to have their surfing lesson.

If you want to learn to surf then Bali is a great option, lots of great waves, warm water, and cheap one on one tuition.

I was pleased that some efforts were being made to clear up some of the rubbish on the beaches, while it all looked quite tidy on top you only had to dig down a little way before the sand revealed lots of bits of plastic.

Ubud

The next day we’d booked a tour to Ubud. Only 30km from Seminyak in the mountains – but at least an hour’s drive in the traffic. We arrived early morning and wandered around some of the temples and shops before having a nice lunch and another cold beer.

Then after lunch we were off on a bike tour with E Bikes Bali. They picked us up from the centre of Ubud and drove us up in to the back streets where we were fitted with helmets and E-bikes. Then we were off! Zooming along the narrow streets and up in to the stunning rice paddies.

It was an excellent tour. We stopped off at the rice paddies where our guides explained the farming process, then on to a local temple where we watched some school girls practicing their marching for an upcoming celebration. Then it was on to the Tegalalang rice paddies. A protected UNESCO World Heritage site. We went off-road weaving our way through the rice fields on a narrow track. I got a flat tyre but my bike was quickly swapped out with a spare from the support vehicle. Our guides were really knowledgeable and even stopped the traffic at each intersection.

We stopped off at a coffee plantation and sampled some of the most expensive coffee in the world Kopi Luwak – or coffee thats been eaten by a very strange vegetarian cat – and then pooed out the other end of the cat, roasted up and made in to a nice cup of coffee… mmmm – well when in Rome! So we all had a try, and it certainly was nice coffee, but I wasn’t tempted to spend $70 on a small bag of it to take home.

Then it was back to base and we had dinner at a nearby restaurant before being transferred back to our hotel.

All this for just NZD$60.00 per person. Brilliant.

Ubud is lovely and if we’d had more time, it would be well worth spending some more time exploring some of the other sights in the area.

Diving

The following day we had a dive trip booked with Adventure Scuba Diving Bali, but there had been some bad weather so they delayed our trip for another day. Their base was located just around the corner from our villa, so we checked in, got measured up for our gear, checked off all our dive certifications and paid.

We decided to do a private group charter. We prefer to be on a smaller boat, and with eight of us, the cost worked out pretty much the same as joining one of their usual scheduled departures. It also meant they could tailor the dives and day to suit our abilities.

For a total of USD$1200 we got the exclusive boat charter, transfers from our villa, all our gear hire (we’d also bought some of our own stuff), lunch and refreshments, two boat people and three dive guides. Brilliant!

The marina area was chaotic with heaps of tourists jostling to get on to boats. However it was luxury for us to be able to just step on board a boat which was already fully stocked with all the tanks and our gear and everything else without having to do anything at all!

We headed out to Nusa Penida – a group of islands located between Bali and Lombok, about a 30 minute boat ride through some very turbulent current.

Our first dive site was Manta Point, and it was absolutely PACKED with boats! We dropped in and had a bit of a swim on the surface through the choppy water and swimming between boats before slipping under the waves and in to the gloom below.

I’ve always had trouble with equalising my ears and today was no exception, but I was able to forget all about that when I saw a huge turtle and then an enormous manta ray ‘flew’ past. This spot is a popular cleaning station for these incredible creatures. It was truely awe inspiring to get so close. There were LOTS of other divers down there too, but somehow our guide managed to separate us from the rest of the crowds and away to another spot where we stopped and watched more Mantas fly by. Incredible.

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The next site was the Coral gardens. I opted to snorkel as it was a much deeper dive site and they were hoping to see some sunfish. I didn’t want to hold everyone else back with my sore ears. Sadly the bad weather from the past few days had destroyed much of the coral that the area is named after.

The final site was a drift dive at SD Point. The fast current carried us along past incredible hard and soft corals, heaps of fish and crystal clear water. It was stunning, and once again I was pleased that I saw hardly any pollution apart from one plastic bag that I was able to pick up.

It was a brilliant day. Adventure Scuba Diving Bali are great operators. We felt very safe and well taken care of.

Since coming home, one of my friends recommended requesting an early departure from the wharf to avoid all the boat congestion at Manta point. Not sure how easy that is to do but it could be an option if you are heading that way!

James, Elisa, Vic, Johnny and Craig went for another dive the next day. The USS Liberty – a famous wreck located on the Eastern Side of the island, it involved a three – four hour drive in each direction, but they said it was brilliant and perhaps next time it would be worth doing an overnight trip to break up the long drive.

Nicci, Andrew and I stayed behind for some shopping and massages! You can get really cheap massages all over the place in Bali. We chose a place just up the road from our villa called Poppies. Prices can range from about NZD$15 for an hour right through to more luxurious (and more expensive) day spas.

Getting Around

Apart from getting swindled by the odd money exchanger, the other way to spend more money than you need to is in taxis. The best way is to ask for the meter to be switched on, as the flag fall is about 70c and then 40c per km. That means that you can go a really long way for about NZD$2.50! (I think we paid $25 for one taxi ride where we should have paid $2.50 because it felt like what we would have paid $25 for in New Zealand!) Bluebird taxis are the ones that definitely have a meter. Others will negotiate with you and about 50,000 (or $5) is a common figure. It would probably have been cheaper to do the meter but we started getting a bit of bartering fatigue so it was easier to just agree and get in to some air conditioning.

However the traffic is terrible. It is quicker to walk most of the time!

Some people choose to rent a scooter – if you are brave enough to do that and have a travel insurance policy that allows you to do that then good luck to you…!

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Night Life

There are heaps of great bars and restaurants around, too many to mention. We had fantastic service and amazing food at great prices everywhere we went. The one thing that is expensive is wine. The Sunset Rooftop Bar at Double-Six hotel is pretty flash and a nice spot to watch the sun go down – and they have a happy hour!

The Cocoon Beach Club next door was having a huge pool party when we went past, so we stopped in for a dance with all the scantily clad people dancing with their phones on selfie mode. Great people watching.

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Food & Drink

One of our favourite things to do when travelling is to try all the local foods and drinks. Our breakfasts were cooked for us each day in the villa. During the day and in the evenings we ate in restaurants. Food is really cheap and absolutely fantastic. We didn’t have a single bad meal and Indonesian food and flavours are amazing.

As mentioned earlier – wine is expensive, but Bintang beer is great! We also enjoyed fresh smoothies, great coffee, coconuts, and we bought some duty free Gin and Rum with us to drink in the villa.

You can’t drink water from the tap, but the villa provided filtered water and no one in our group got sick.

One of the other great things I got to do was to catch up with my cousin Steve, who I was friends with on Facebook but had never met! He also happened to be in Bali at the same time we were and we were able to figure that out via Facebook and catch up for a lovely lunch on the beach.

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Bali is an awesome place for a visit. Great food, lovely people, fabulous affordable accommodation and shopping, incredible diving and sightseeing. Thanks to my fab friends James, Elisa, Vic, Johnny, Craig, Nic and of course Andrew for coming along for the week. We will definitely be back. Might have to sail there next time!

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