West Bali National Park and the Menjangan Eco Retreat
Ever since the fable of Bambi and the legend of Christmas, the deer has been a creature of great adoration. With heavily lashed eyelids that blink softly over brown doe-eyes, a timid nature shown in every unstable step, and an apparent affection for ambling amongst flowers, it’s impossible not to love these gracious, forest-dwelling mammals.
On the fringes of the West Bali National Park that touch the still stretch of saltwater known as the Bali Strait, the fairytale of deer life is an accessible reality. The mysterious knot of well-preserved land, just 7 kilometres oversea from the island of Java, is home to herds of beach loving deer, thousands of monkeys and birds, and a breathtaking eco retreat that weaves through the parklands as naturally as a river.
With enough daylight activities to occupy even the most restless of traveller, and neighbouring Menjangan Island boasting an undisrupted playground of steep coral cliffs and marine life, it’s hard to comprehend why this mythical patch of Bali gets so little attention.
But as the crowds slowly sprawl out of South Bali, it’s surely just a matter of time before Bali’s West gets the attention it deserves. Meaning you should take a visit as soon as you possibly can.
Getting there: the coastal southern route
Even with the nauseating jolts and life threatening overtakes likely to be maneuvered by your minivan, the 4 and a half hour drive from Seminyak to West Bali is hugely enjoyable. Recline your seats, put the air-conditioning on full throttle and get the consumption of corn chips and Bintangs underway; you’ll be at the gold class cinema watching A Day in the Life of Bali.
Mosques tiled in dusty blue and mustard prove that Hinduism is not alone on the island; a parade of jazzed up, tinsel strewn bicycles and mopeds chase after a screaming police car; a man selling watermelons under a rainbow umbrella lifts up his tight white singlet, allowing his swollen belly some much needed ventilation. These are the sights that embellish the journey and remind you that you’ve left South Bali.
…grapevines crawl towards the coast, stopping just metres before the sand to allow free roaming cows to pass by uninterrupted.
Taking the coastal route to West Bali National Park from Seminyak offers an endless stream of ocean viewing, meaning opportunities to break the trip up with a salt water dip and some and sun. Medewi Beach in Jembrana Regency’s Pekutatan makes a very worthy stop over, particularly for surfers who may have heard whispers of its clean left offering the longest ride on the island.
To the left, grapevines crawl towards the coast, stopping just metres before the sand to allow free roaming cows to pass by uninterrupted. To the right, mountain peaks kiss the clouds in the very hazy distance.
At the final turn towards The Menjangan Retreat, wild monkeys sprint down the centre of the road towards oncoming traffic like angry felines, letting visitors know they are in entering their territory now; the territory of West Bali National Park.
Accommodation: The Menjangan Eco Retreat
West Bali National Park, or Balai Taman Nasional, stretches over 190 square kilometres of land and sea. Almost 4 of those square kilometres house an accommodation paradise known simply as The Menjangan.
The Menjangan offers all the hallmarks of your typical eco retreat, and then exceeds them in unimaginable ways. On arrival, you will be greeted by a 5-story tree house, a plate of food made according to the annoying list of dietary requirements they requested you send them before your arrival, and an exotic juice sprouting an eco friendly, reusable straw.
The structure of the tree house itself is utterly majestic, boasting views around the dry plateaus of the park and across the sea to the sparkling horizon of Java.
You can opt to stay in one of three levels of accommodation; The Residence: a 1,000 square metre private estate with two double bedrooms and one twin bedroom, all with en-suite bathrooms and private balconies overlooking the ocean; The Moonsoon Lodge: home to 12 modern Balinese style rooms and 2 double sized suites, both of equal beauty and all surrounding a tropical pool area and hot tub; or The Beach Villas: a collection of decadent beachside rooms jazzed up in traditional Joglo Javanese architecture.
Whatever your budget or bedding requirements, an intoxicating rush of satisfaction and serenity is headed your way.
Eating & drinking: the finest local ingredients
So surely the accommodation is where the story of fulfilment ends, you’ll think to yourself. So remote, so perfectly rugged – how could The Menjangan possibly cater to your discerning palette all the way out here? By creating culinary masterpieces that adhere to the seasons, sourcing the finest local ingredients, and hiring world-class chefs to ensure that every last edible flower is placed with the utmost perfection. That’s how.
The beach restaurant’s artfully detailed menu tells its diners their sea salt has been “collected, dried and sorted from the salt plains of Amed, East Bali“; cashew nuts have been “picked and processed by hand in the foothills of Karangasem“; fruits, vegetables and salads have been “supplied organically from Bedugal“; seafood has been “sourced from within the Indonesian Archipelago“; and so it goes on until it feels the origin of everything on the menu has been happily disclosed.
With these ingredients comes a grand parade of rustic homemade pizzas, curries boasting lemongrass broths or the sweet flavours of West Sumatra, and modern delicacies such as ceviche of mahi mahi. Thankfully, not even the drinks menu is exempt from the magic wand of thoughtfully selected and locally sourced produce; rosella margaritas blended with rosella fruits and flowers “farmed in the hills of Muntigung” march out from behind the bar, round after round, in equal parts heaven and bliss.
Thankfully, not even the drinks menu is exempt from the magic wand of thoughtfully selected and locally sourced produce
Breakfast at the Menjangan is a time for acknowledging all the swimming you did the previous day and all the walking you might do in the day ahead…if you can peel yourself off your beach cabana. These discussions will give you the green-light to order an outrageously oversized banquet of food to kickstart the day. Organic vegetable salads with edamame, vanilla and cinnamon french toast with berry compote, East Bali cashew granola, fresh juices, danish pastries – the entire menu is all-inclusive, all-you-can-eat, more-than-you-can-fathom. The result? Everything you love at a buffet without the need to line up like a pig at a trough.
Devouring the daylight hours
Once you’ve booked West Bali National Park, chances are you will have your eyes set narrowly on snorkelling off Menjangan Island. But before you lock in all of your days with the region’s main event, it’s worth exploring the endless activities available on the mainland.
Between the main tower and the Monsoon Lodge at The Menjangan, a stable of horses await a sunset trot along the ocean; from the pole-frame deck, hours of bird and monkey watching is on offer; and in land, pigs and deer beg for attention whilst lapping up water at a shared pond. For those who don’t do the animal thing, day beds await a few more rosella flower margaritas on Menjangan’s private beach and a huge library insists you enjoy the hours of silence and solitude.
When all that’s done, you’ll be completely not stressed. But nevertheless, it’s time for a bit of pampering. Enter Menjangan’s massage parlour and spa set by a mangrove fringed portion of the sea, where getting horizontal is made even better by the surrounding forest and the tickling of a cool breeze. Who needs the Sounds of Nature CD when you have the real deal all around you?
If you find yourself feeling antsy – which should really only happen if you’re booked in for 3 weeks plus – then you may want to consider an early Sunday morning trip to nearby Negara. This will see you witnessing locals training for “Mekepung”, the serious regional sport of buffalo racing. These Sunday practises are held for two annual competitions; The Jembrana Cup (or The Governor’s Cup) in November, and the Regents Cup, which is usually in August. Throw on some gumboots – things can get messy.
Snorkeling and diving: Menjangan Island
Bali is known for having some of the best diving spots in the world, which immediately leads one to believe that every portion of coral coastline will be swarming with snorkels and surrounded by boats. Luckily, Menjangan Island seems to have remained as undiscovered as the West Bali region itself.
The simple wooden boats drop snorkellers into the water at one point and pick them up at another, allowing them to drift off with the tide and see the changes that occur with every metre of coral.
Turtles, peach coloured rock formations that look remarkably like human brains, heliofungia coral with electric coloured tentacles that dance in unison; the vibrancy of the reefs and marine life seduce the handful of visitors to excited squeals followed by trance like calms.
This is ocean-life at its absolute best.
Getting back: the mountainous northern route
For the purpose of seeing as much of the glorious island of Bali as possible, it is worthwhile alternating your route back. If you can drag yourself away from The Menjangan early, a whole day could be allocated to exploring the spectacular diversity of the mountainous northern roads.
If you can drag yourself away from The Menjangan early, a whole day could be allocated to exploring the spectacular diversity of the mountainous northern roads.
Take time to enjoy the numerous strawberry farms, the fields of pale blue hydrangeas and the lakes of Tamblingan, Buyan and Beratan that are flourishing with birdlife.Without venturing off your path you will come across Moduk Waterfall in Golden Valley, which sits in the Munduk area of North Bali. It’s discreetly signed and a bit of a trek down a valley, but waiting at the bottom is a long and icy cascade with a constantly shimmering rainbow, making it worth every step and a thousand more.
If you feel like veering off the road home for even more adventures, Dolphin watching in Lovina is just a 20 kilometre side trip and the Kebun Raya Bogor Botanical Gardens are only a short detour.
These are the parts of Bali that sit in alluring contrast to the island’s tourist hubs. Whichever path you choose to follow, you are set to see nature at its finest and experience a rich does of Balinese culture.
West Bali National Park
Jl. Raya Gilimanuk, Singaraja Km. 17
Desa Pajarakan, Buleleng 81155
Bali – Indonesia