Whale sharks, waterfalls and white sand beaches : Bali to Sumbawa overland.
Updated: Jun 15
1100 kilometres, 1 scooter, 2 kids, 3 islands and a breathtaking trip to Sumbawa and back .
Indonesia is made up of 17 000 islands and a lot of goods/people travel overland and by boat from one another. If you're traveling on a small budget and are comfortable driving a scooter, overland+ ferry is the way to go.
# Getting to Sumbawa
To get to Sumbawa from Bali , you first have to cross Lombok. The big ferries to Lombok go from Padangbai. We drove up there early enough to get there at 9 so we could get the next ferry and not get to Lombok too late, since the crossing takes 5 hours ( but only costs 150 000 IDR for the bike and all its riders). The boat left reasonably soon after we got on and arrived in Lembar in plenty of time to drive to where we'd planned to stay the night (Tetebatu, a pituresque village in the middle of paddies). You can cross the island and get strait on the ferry to Sumbawa but it'll mean driving at night in Sumbawa (and there is nowhere to stay near the port in Poto Tano). We got the ferry early the next day in Keyangan harbour over to Sumbawa and were in Sumbawa Besar ( the capital) by late afternoon after a few touristy stops at a waterfall and the nearest beach to town( Kencana).
# Teluk Saleh's whale sharks.
In Saleh Bay, the fisherman have small mesh nets and scoop up a lot of krill (tiny shrimp) with their usual catch. When they wash the decks after cleaning off the fish, whale sharks crowd the boat to cash in on the free meal. A few years ago, Conservation International started a project which included monitoring the sharks but also getting the locals involved in an eco tourism venture to ensure the protection of the sharks. Now run by the local town ( Labuan Jambu), the trips leave at 2 in the morning and take you out to the fishing boats (3 hour ride) to meet the fisherman and snorkel around the boat as they clean their decks. The fishermen get money for it and if they have to ruin a net to free a shark , the eco tourism venture pays for it (that happened when we were there). The trip costs 1 million IDR per adult and is probably one of the most incredible experiences of my life. Five whale sharks were swimming around the boat, getting in quite close and personnal. Despite getting whacked by their tails a couple of times, I was in a complete trance, a transfixed awe of these magnificient and harmless creatures. Definitely up there in my top 10 of coolest things I have ever done.
# Magical Moyo island.
Pulau Moyo used to only have a 5 star hotel where Lady Diana stayed (claim to fame) but in the last few years a handful of smaller and cheaper accommodation options have popped up. It's still not that easy to get there unless you pay loads for a a private boat but with the help of a local friend, we piled onto a small goods and passenger boat (piled being the correct choice of word here). It took close to 4 hours to get there but our return boat was a little more spacious and faster. The gem of Moyo is its many-tiered waterfall Mata Jitu, a stunning spring water swimming spot with several pools nestled in lush jungle. The diving and snorkeling around the island is also exceptional with crystal clear waters , stunning reefs and turquoise bays. There are no motorised vehicules on the island and no electricity except in the evenings. A great place to get away from it all.
# Pristine beaches of Sekongkang.
Along the west coast, especially south, the beaches are phenomenal (except in Kertasari where the beach is average and there is nowhere decent to stay). We stopped at Jengela beach, then Maluk beach then finaly stayed at Sekongkang beach, the most incredible of all. A perfect white sand crescent surrounded by rocky hills. A postcard picture of the dreamed beach in paradise. A big spot for surfers, the village is pleasant with a few nice accommodation options. And beer. (It's not always that easy or affordable to find beer in Sumbawa).
# Heading home.
We headed up to Poto Tano fairly early ( hard to find a place to stay closer than 30 km away and they didn't look very nice) and did the 2 hour crossing (55 000 IDR) over to East Lombok where we stayed the night. The diving around there is apparently worth a stop too according to the hotel owner.... We headed over to West Lombok the next day. From there there you can easily park your bikes ( secured garage for 10 000 a day) and take a quick trip to the Gilis (15 000 IDR per person for the crossing on the local boat) and you can also stop in Sengigi which has exceptional beaches. Turtles to be found snorkeling in both places. With heads full of incredible natural beauty, we finaly made our way back on the 5 hour ferry trip to Bali.
Transport overall would have cost around 800 000 IDR for ferries and petrol ; Transfers to Moyo and to Gili T knocked it up another 550 000 for the three of us (150 000 return to Moyo, 30 000 return to Gili T).
There are many places we didn't have the time to stop at this time, but we will definitely be doing more overland trips across Indonesia in future. Everywhere we went , locals were welcoming and went out of their way to help us out. If you don't mind a bit of dust, bucket showers and eating rice at every meal, it is an affordable , easy and fun way to travel.