The Kuta region in Southern Lombok, Indonesia is a hidden gem and the inspiration behind “Just Far Enough.” It is barely developed, with postcard perfect empty white sandy beaches flowing into turquoise clear waters. There are a dozen intermediate to expert surf breaks scattered along a 30 km coast. The region oozes a backpacker/surf bum vibe…dozens of motorcycles with surfboard side racks zip along on mostly paved roads, numerous mostly empty home-stays and bungalows dot the main beach roads, and low key wooden cabana restaurants and bars serve a mixture of mediocre local and “international” food (there’s no high dining here). With only one high-end resort (the Novotel) in the area, Kuta, Lombok is what Kuta, Bali was 20 years ago: A surfers and lovers paradise.
My typical perfect day: Buffet breakfast at the resort (inhaling large plates of Asian food, I supposedly have the appetite of a truck driver); drive to surf spot and hop on a long boat to get to the breaks; surf all morning at an outer point break; drink ice cold Bintang beers after getting dropped off from the boat; hop on a motorcycle or car to find deserted beaches; exhausted, stumble back to the brand new beach villa at the Novotel for a dip in the ‘private’ swimming pool on the beach; lounge in a large padded hammock to watch the sunset. Perfect days…
Only compliant was the poor food; hotel food was bland and the local joints in town were mediocre at best. Made me miss Thai food!
I thought about not writing about this gem of a place, because I would love to keep this area forever untrammeled and underdeveloped. But the reality is that a modern international airport is under construction 30mins away from Kuta. Kuta will undoubtedly get more and more developed. First it was Bali, then the Gili Island’s (I went to Gili Meno 3 yrs ago; today there’s twice as many hotels/bungalows and the islands are starting to feel like a resort town) , next will surely be Southern Lombok. In a couple of years, the surf breaks will get too crowded, high end resorts will abound, and Chinese tourists might invade. So get there now if you can!
1. Fly to Lombok: Major airport in Lombok is the Mataram Airport. Garuda Air, Metaram, Tirgana, and Indonesia Air all have numerous daily flights from Bali or Jakarta.
There’s also a fast ferry from Bali that takes 1hr, but only leaves in the morning.
2. Rent a car: It’s fairly easy to drive in Lombok, although not recommended for the faint of heart.
Car rentals average ~$22 per day
We rented from: http://www.lombokcarrentals.com/
They were very responsive to email, but the guy who met us at the airport turned out to be a not very nice jerk. You technically need an international driving license to drive in Lombok, but this guy not only didn’t ask to see a license, he didn’t take a deposit for the car either. That said, the car itself was great.
3. Get on the road!
Driving distances and times:
From Mataram airport to Senggigi (the resort area in the West): 20 minutes; ~15 kms
From Senggigi or Mataram to Kuta in south: About 60 kms. It’s 1.5 hr drive if you drive like a local (that means not be afraid to pass erratic locals into on coming motorcycles) or 2.5 hr drive if you drive conservatively. The road is pretty straightforward; just follow signs from Mataram to Paya to Kuta and stay on the only large paved road
Where to Stay:
1. High End: Novotel Hotel- The only high-end resort in Kuta with 2 private beaches. They have numerous rooms and lots of semi-private villas. There are only 3 beach villas at the resort, but totally worth the upgrade.
2. Surfers seeking Mid-End Modern: Stay at bungalows near the Grupuk surf break. 5 private ocean -view bungalows, run by a Japanese surfer dude. These bungalows are a great value and clean and modern. I don’t know if you have to be part of the surf camp to stay here, but the bungalows looked great!
3. There are numerous inexpensive home-stays and bungalows in Kuta
Where to Surf:
1. Kuta Beach: There is a realy long ocean break on Kuta beach, but no one surfs it.
2. Mawun Beach: You can paddle out to this break. Most people surf the right hand break. Theres’ also a left had break, but it’s more dangerous due to the coral. Mawun beach is usually far less crowded than Grupuk That’s because the road there from Kuta is terrible (crumbing and filled with large pot-holes) and the waves are also usually smaller than Grupuk . It’s a 20 min drive West from the center of Kuta; there is a 5 km strech where the road isn’t paved and filled with large potholes). The beach here is spectacular and often mostly deserted.
3. Grupuk Inner and Outer Break: There’s an inner break for beginners and intermediates and an outer break for intermediates to experts.
The only way to get to the breaks is a rent a boat for a 2-3 hrs (cost 120,000 rupies for 3 hrs). The inner break is a consistent, easy to catch break. Good for long boarders when it’s small. During low tide it can get crowded.
The outer break is awesome during incoming tide. A right-hand point break, it can easily get double-over head. There 3 sections where the waves break, which makes it suitable for both intermediate and expert surfers. Short boarders dominate.
Surf Board Rentals:
There’s at least half a dozen shops that rent surf boards.
We rented really awesome boards on the main road on Kuta Beach from “Lombok Surf Rentals.” It’s a small shop on the right side of the road (same side as the beach). This guy has more than 20 fiberglass long and short boards in really great conditions. We got two long boards (a 7 ft and a 7’6) and they were the highest quality boards that either of us had ever rented (and btw the 2 of us we’ve rented boards in over 8 countries). There is also one board rental shop in Grupuk. FYI: Buying wax and sunblock is expensive!
Investing in Land:
Lombok feels like a land grab. Everyone is buying and selling land in anticipation of the upcoming development. I didn’t delve into land prices but got propositioned a couple of times.
A word of caution: Foreigners can’t legally own land in Indonesia. Clearly this is one of the biggest stumbling blocks for foreign investment. No matter what the agents try to tell you, foreigners are not allowed to legally own land anywhere in Indonesia (or in Thailand). The only way to do buy land is to find a trustworthy local partner or lawyer to buy the land in their name for you. Use caution!
That said there’s definitely money to be made here!