Island life has a big appeal to us as family, white sandy beaches, palm trees, coconuts, a slower more considered way of life, where the stresses of the modern world seem a distant memory.
We had been rushing around Bali for the past six weeks and were ready for some rest and relaxation.
There are no motorized vehicles on Gili Air, the only way to get around is with the wonderful local horse-carts (Gili taxi), by bicycle or by foot. So this was big draw for us, as the chaotic roads of Bali had been a little stressful with two curious toddlers who didn’t always understand why they had to hold our hands all the time!
I (Felicity) was probably the most excited member of our family to visit Gili Air, having read and researched so many great things about the islands. Ultimately though it was the prospect of snorkelling with turtles. Gili Air is located in the coral triangle, which is an area in the tropical marine waters, where the biodiversity underwater is the most developed in the world, 50% more species are discovered here than in the Red Sea.
The Gili islands are composed of more than 30 island around Lombok but the most frequented are Gili Tarawangan, Gili Air and Gili Meno, they are located on the north west coast of Lombok and South of Bali. In Sasak Language Gili means “little” and in Indonesian “Air” means water!
We traveled from Bali using Patagonia Express ferry service, which is the largest high speed ferry travelling to the islands, they organized a shuttle from our hotel in Ubud to the port at Padangbai.
They were very organized, with lots of friendly staff on hand to help with the kids. Although the big boat doesn’t go all the way to Gili Air they organized a local boat from Gili Tarawangan to Gili Air. We choose a bigger a boat over the smaller ones mostly for the sake of the kids as we had heard that the crossing can be very rough and we didn’t want to risk being stuck on a small boat with no room to move.
The Gili air harbour is the hub of the island and the most busy part of the entire island with numerous little shacks either selling snorkelling trips or Warung’s serving Indonesian specialities of Nasi or Mie Goring.
There is also a great selection of restaurants serving homemade Italian and Mediterranean food. The most noticeable difference between the Gili Islands and Bali, is like the rest of Indonesia; Muslim is the dominant religion, so you will hear the mosque calls for prayer five times a day.
As there are no motorized vehicles on the island we took the local horse-cart to our accommodation. Having grown up with ponies and horses, I was a little reluctant to take the horse-cart,having heard stories of ponies being mistreated. Thankfully all the ponies we saw, were well fed and looked after.
After being allocated our horse by what looked like the horse-cart Mafia! we were off, precariously through the narrow lanes, we were staying at Slow Private Pool Villas part of Secret Retreats Collection.
The resort was set up by three Belgian friends, Christian Lechien, architect, Dominique Pissoort, advertising consultant, and Julie Thonnard, dive instructor, who fell in love with Gili Air and decided to create a small holiday village where each villa has his own swimming pool, a personal program of activities. The resort motto is “ a luxury place for happy people, a place to slow down and rejuvenate.” this motto aligned perfectly with our own objectives of taking a year to travel slowly and simplify life.
We were shown to our wonderful little villa which had a huge garden and private pool, obviously Isabella and Maya immediately fell in love with the place and didn’t want to leave. Each villa has one or two bedroom, with a terrace, swimming pool, kitchenette and office space, comfortable sun beds and lovely coconut garden.
The decor is simple and minimal in keeping with the island sensibilities. I was most looking forward to using the shower under the stars. Also what a wonderful treat to watch Isabella swimming in the pool from the comfort of our bed.
Just like in Bali, Gili Air is struggling a little with the influx of mass tourism, and as you can imagine dealing with waste and rubbish on a tropical island is a more complicated affair.
However it was refreshing to sea at Slow Villa’s they were leading the way and had implemented many practical measures to ensure their impact on the island was minimal. Firstly they had pledged to keep the resort plastic free, not only had they stated it. There were measures in place to ensure the resort was compliant. There was no plastic in the room, we were given refillable glass bottles for water, no plastic bags were used in the bins, and a composting toilet.
Not only were there the eco friendly touches in the villas, but also extra items left at our disposal in the villa: these included two head lamps for navigating the dark lanes in the evening, a mobile phone to call the resort if we needed picking up or had a problem. Plus locally made beach towels, straw hat and beach bag. We couldn’t have imagined how handy these little extra items were during our stay. Especially the headlamps and the beach towels.
To explore the island we rented Slow Villa’s bicycle, most of the lanes have no street lights, so we needed the headlamps just to find our way back.
There is something so calming about not having to get in a car or on a motorbike everyday. One of our favourite activities on the islands, was using the bicycles to cycle to explore with the girls sat in child seats. We would search for the beach were going to play or swim at and then search for a restaurant to eat at. The girls squealed in excitement every time they saw a horse-cart coming towards us, it was so exhilarating and so much fun for the whole family, it really is the simple pleasures in life that count.
Life on Gili air does move at a slower pace, whilst staying on the island our days were occupied with exploring the white sandy beaches, crystal clear blue water and pristine coral reefs. Ideal for snorkelling.
Our favourite beach was just in front Scallywags Beach Club. The water was shallow and calm for the girls to play in and just a few metres off shore was small coral reef teaming with a colourful array of fish and on a good day you can see turtles here. I unfortunately I didn’t, but Marco was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of one.
To guarantee a sighting of turtles, we would recommend taking one of the organized snorkelling trips which can be booked from the many dive shops or at Slow Villas.
Scuba diving off Gili air is must if you have qualification or even if you don’t there is diving for all levels and dozens of reputable dive shops to choose from. The Gili islands are known for their rich underwater world. Bali and Lombok are situated at the meeting point of the Indian Ocean and Java Sea, this is the reason for such a variety of aquatic life.
The sunsets are truly spectacular, I would go far as to say its worth a trip to Gili Air just to enjoy the sunsets! You need to head to north west side of the island, also the beach to the north of Slow villas’s a couple of minutes walk is a great spot to watch sunset. There are no bars or restaurants yet, so you can enjoy it the natural way sat on log as we did. Make sure you stay at least 30 minutes after the sun has gone down and watch the sky turning a stunning shade of pink!
Slow Villas has a rustic feel, in keeping with the island, most furniture is made from wood and bamboo. Having a big garden was so great, the girls loved having so much space and freedom to run around and play games. It’s an ideal place to hit the re-set button and spend some quality time together as family.
The staff are friendly and great with kids, one evening we enjoyed a private BBQ at the villa organized by the resort. It was such an experience, we ate fresh fish and local vegetable specialities, it was a true feast and the best meal we’d eaten on Gili Air. It was great with kids because we didn’t have to move from the Villa everything was set up and cleared for us.
Slow Villa’s had given us a taster of Island life and we did slow down and rejuvenate and it felt wonderful and we wanted more, so we have organised to go Gili Meno to see how it compares.
- Snorkel off the beach in front of Scallywags or take a day trip snorkling trip to Gili Meno.
- Hire bicycles, there is no better way explore the island.
- Watch the spectacular sunsets.
- Scallywags – Organic beach club, located on the south- east side of Gili Air. If you’re looking for an organic imported steak from New-Zealand: this is the place to be! Scallywags has the quickest internet connection on the island!
- If you are staying at Slow Villa’s have the BBQ in your Villa.
Pandan café, Warung Padang, Yahuuuuut, SHantidelic bar and Family Café!
Lucky’s Bar is great to enjoy a cool beer at sunset. Located on the South- west side of the island, just across Bali’s volcano, it offers breathtaking sunsets.
Slow Villas are an ideal place to hit the re-set button and spend some quality time together as family. The staff are friendly and great with kids. To relax in further they also have a Spa and yoga classes.
Look out for
Trigger fish whilst snorkelling, the male fish are protecting their eggs and consider their territory the water above the eggs all the way to surface. So if you swim over them, they might come swimming at you and give you a little bite. Thankfully we only spotted a few small ones, and it was actually quite amusing watching them swim at you.
And this is our vlog about the island. Enjoy