Day Trip to Nusa Penida
On a clear day, looking east from Sanur Beach across the Badung Strait, is cluster of three islands- the day trippers’ paradise of Nusa Lembongan, then the rocky outline of the largest island- Nusa Penida- and tucked in-between is Nusa Cenigan. Each are easily accessed by fast boat, taking between 45 minutes to an hour to get there from the dedicated departure precinct on the beach at the end of Jalan Hang Tuah in Sanur.
The islands are beloved by scuba and snorkelling enthusiasts and also hikers who wish to experience a bit more of an original landscape and a bit less of the hustle and bustle synonymous with the commercial developed areas of Bali Island.
Measuring over 200 square kilometers, Nusa Penida is the largest and most diverse of the 3 Nusa islands (Nusa meaning ‘island’ in Balinese), thanks to its collection of unique Hindu temples, stunning beaches and picturesque natural features of cliff formations and lagoons. The interior of Nusa Penida is hilly with a maximum altitude of 524 metres and is remarkably drier than the nearby island of Bali.
The population of around 65000 is predominately Hindu. The culture is distinct from that in Bali- the language is an old form of Balinese no longer heard on Bali. It was also once a penal settlement-used as a place to banish criminals from the kingdom of Klungkung.
The Balinese are fearful of the lonely coastlines, believing the beaches to be under the influence of Djero Gede Metjaling, the fanged giant, demon who inspired the Barong Landung dance, who lives on the barren island of Nusa Penida.
The island has some interesting temples dedicated to this giant, including Pura Dalem Penteran Ped, near Toyapakeh. It houses a shrine, which is a source of practitioners of black magic, and a place of pilgrimage for those seeking protection from sickness and evil.
Nusa Penida is a unique place to visit- if only for a day.
Many travel bloggers insist that Nusa Penida cannot be seen in one day, however it is possible to get a boat around 8am, hire a scooter around the island and then be back in Sanur in time for dinner on one of the late afternoon runs.
Boats depart directly from the beach in Sanur- there are no piers so you will need to wade to the boat, and sometimes the waves can wet you up to stomach height. The attendants will help you, and if you are mobility impaired or cannot pull yourself onto the boat, you may need to be carried. It is difficult to recommend an operator as they come and go- and don’t expect the safety standards you have in your home country. If you don’t feel comfortable, the weather is bad and the seas are high- don’t get on the boat. A responsible operator will cancel services in bad weather, anyway.
The boats from Sanur land arrive at a pier off the village of Toyapakeh. From here the views of the smaller islands, the Bali coastline and Mount Agung in the distance are stunning. There are many drivers waiting there to take you where you would like to go- or where they would like to take you- however it is recommended you organise this when you arrange your boat transfer back in Sanur.
Tourist infrastructure is sparse on Nusa Penida, but is rapidly expanding with visitors wanting a more authentic island experience. Prices for tourists are relatively high- bear in mind the costs and effort to get supplies to the island and between the towns.
The three-island cluster also forms a sanctuary for endangered species, most notably the Bali Starling. Pure white with sky-blue mask around both eyes, and a yellow bill – the iconic bird has a lifespan up to five years in the wild or up to fifteen years in captivity. It faces a high risk of extinction due to the destruction of its habitat, poaching and the lucrative captive cage-bird trade.
The beaches are generally not great for swimming as many of the shallows are filled with bamboo frames used for seaweed farming. The south coast has limestone cliffs dropping straight down into the ocean. The scenery is rugged and the rows of offshore islets are more for sightseeing, as swimming and getting too close to the unpredictable sea is very dangerous. The interior is hilly with sparse looking crops, little villages and spectacular views.
Each time I visit I like to explore a different aspect of the island. On our last daytrip, we hired a guide and walked up to the Teletubbies Hill Viewpoint. Named after the rolling hills in the children’s TV show of the same name, the viewpoint offers an incredible vista over the entire island and across to Bali. On the walk up we saw women with small hammers crushing limestone rocks from a nearby quarry to create the foundations of a sealed road. The roads on Nusa Penida are very challenging- so if you hire a scooter (Around IDR70000 a day), please exercise caution!
The terraces as you climb up Teletubbies hill are actually built to combat erosion; it is far too dry to grow rice here year-round. Our guide did say sticky rice can be grown for six months of the year. The soils and lack of fresh water are not conducive to rice cultivation as in Bali. Staples such as maize, cassava and beans are grown, however its main cash crop is seaweed.
We climbed Teletubbies Hill in September- the landscape was dry and arid with a palette of greys, browns and white. After the rains, it is said to be a lush blanket of green.
On another visit, we were taken to Kelingking- meaning ‘Pinkie’ -a term for the smallest finger on the hand- Beach. Located near the village of Bunga Mekar on the south western coast of Nusa Penida, is one of the islands most popular landmarks. This unique limestone rock formation, covered in foliage with waves crashing against it on either side, resembles the shape of a T-Rex’s head, so is often referred to as ‘T-Rex’. The beach itself is very secluded- it can only be accessed via a rugged 400 metre hike during low tide. It is very steep and requires a bit of scrambling and rock climbing, especially on the way back up. A couple of my friends refused to go down, sensibly evaluating that it was too dangerous given the rocky paths and bamboo fences used to mark the trail. It is possible to walk along the ‘spine’ of T-Rex to enjoy more views, however there is no railing there either. Swimming at the picturesque beach is possible, however exercise extreme caution- the undercurrents are strong and there are no life guards! Depending on the scope of your trip, it is not necessary to climb down to the beach- the view from the unfenced – so be careful- cliff is equally spectacular. Nearby is the quirky Pura Paluang Temple; many of its shrines are in the shape of cars!
There are many other day trips available on Nusa Penida, and many stories to tell of this unique island. There are many biological, geological and cultural wonders to explore and its quiet ambience is a refreshing change of pace for day-trippers and locals alike.