North Lombok combines a stunning coastline and beautiful terraced rice fields under the shadow of Mt. Rinjani, with plenty of wild spaces where you can get lost amongst nature.
The road heading north out of Senggigi town hugs the ocean and winds its way around the coastline, frequently offering spectacular cliff-top vistas. Dotted along the coast are idyllic white sand beaches and coves, perfect spots for breaking your journey. Very few tourists visit this area and you won’t find more than a few small warungs offering local fare. It’s truly wild and beautiful.
Senaru Waterfall Magic
Scenic villages and fishing towns are spread out at intervals along the cliff-edged coastal road. However, I chose to head straight inland to Senaru, and it proved to be an absolute highlight. At the foothills of the mighty Mount Rinjani, this delightful little town was alive with eager mountain climbers and backpackers. They were getting ready to take on the serious 5-day trek to the summit of Rinjani. This is the second-highest mountain in Indonesia, sitting 3,726 metres (12,222 feet) above sea level. You must be in good physical condition to attempt the challenging climb and prepare well in advance for the trek, organising porters, guides and camping gear.
For those not inclined or able to reach such lofty heights, Senaru offers beautiful nature walks. It’s worth taking one or two days to soak up the atmosphere and the cool temperatures, and to enjoy the forest trails in this stunning mountain region.
As you approach Senaru, you begin to wind your way up into the hills. As you get higher, the temperature drops noticeably. There are several bungalow-style lodges, some tempting you to come in for coffee and snacks in dining rooms which offer very dramatic vistas. As I sat sipping my coffee on a little wooden deck, the forest spread out before me. At eye level, there was one of the tallest waterfalls on the mountain. The thundering mass of water falling 40 metres into the jungle below. From my vantage point, the vista in the other direction was towards the ocean across a series of stunning rice terraces cascading down the valley. These rice fields are a real spectacle and some of the most beautiful I have seen in all of Indonesia. If you are up for a rice field walk, there are plenty of locals willing to guide you through this magnificent landscape.
The thing I most enjoyed about Senaru was discovering the well-maintained forest trails that lead to its two massive waterfalls. As I entered the forest, I heard crashing above me in the trees and looked up to see a group of monkeys swinging joyously from branch to branch. They looked like they were on a mission and I only got to see them in action momentarily before they took off at rapid speed.
Only 20 minutes into the forest I reached Air Terjun Sending Gila, the waterfall I had seen from the dining room. The trail brought me right underneath the spray of this cascading natural beauty. If this is all you can manage, it is well worth it. However, I recommend continuing along the trail for another hour to reach the next waterfall.
One way of approaching it is through an old tunnel. My guide handed me a flashlight and we ducked down low to avoid colliding with the odd bat dangling from above. We waded through knee-deep, swiftly flowing water. This all kept me alert and I was happy that we moved along at a keen pace. About 10 minutes later, we popped out into the sunlight and continued for another thirty minutes to our destination, Air Terjun Tiu Kelap.
I heard the thunderous roar of this massive waterfall well before I saw it. This waterfall was bigger and more dramatic than the first one. The sound it made was deafening and coming upon it was a real wow moment! After my tunnel experience, the perfect swimming hole spread out in a semi-circle at its base and beckoned me. I took the plunge and braved the ice-cold clear waters, immediately feeling some of the exhilarating power of this thunderous fall. A delightful experience.
Another beautiful area to discover in the north is the Sembalun Valley. Its fertile volcanic land spreads out from the eastern slopes of Mt. Rinjani. Agrotourism is developing in this area, and I stopped at a strawberry farm, Sembalun Agro Villa and Restaurant, where I sampled fresh strawberry juice for the first time. The owner encouraged me to go and pick some of his produce in the fields. What a delight! As I continued my drive, I could see that his vast patchwork of strawberry fields spread out to meet neatly planted rows of cabbages, potatoes and garlic all along the hillside. When I eventually arrived at the top of the pass above the town of Sembalun Lawang, the view was breathtaking.
Sembalun Lawang village is another access point to the trek to Mt. Rinjani, with several clean and affordable homestays and other low budget options on offer. The Rinjani Information Centre (RIC) is worth a stop, with its extensive array of information explaining the mountain’s trekking routes and short walks. The centre can also supply you with tents, local trekking guides and provisions. Climbing and walking options can easily be arranged and suit all levels of fitness, including walks of only an hour and half day treks.
Keeping the Gods Happy
Offerings are made to the gods at certain times of the year, when hundreds of worshippers climb Mt. Rinjani. The mountain is sacred to Hindus and the local Sasak people. The Sasak are the original people of Lombok and are closely related to the Balinese in language and ancestry, although the Sasak are predominantly Muslim, with the majority practicing their local Muslim faith and traditions. The Pakelem ceremony is an offering ceremony where hundreds of people climbs the summit. On the way, a stop is made at the lake, Danau Segara Anak, and offerings of gold and jewellery are made to the lake which sits 600 metres below the crater rim and stretches for six kilometres. The mountain now has an active ‘baby volcano’. This cone emerged only a couple of hundred years ago. The summit is 3,726 metres (12,222 feet), however it was over 4,000 metres (13,123 feet) before the eruption in 1257.
North Lombok offers walks and waterfalls, local Sasak culture and a world of beauty and natural wonder to discover, making it one of the best-kept secrets in the vast Indonesian archipelago.
You can climb Mount Rinjani from April to October. Check with the Rinjani Information Centre (RIC) for current conditions on the mountain. The trail is closed during the wet season from November to March.
Rinjani Information Centre, Sembalun Lawang
+62 878 6334 4119 (6am to 6pm)
The Summit Climb: Two Options
- Senaru to Sembalun Lawang – 5 days
The most popular route is the 5-day trek starting at Senaru and finishing at Sembulan Lawang.
- Sembalun – 2 days. This is a 2-day return trek but is very steep and quite gruelling. You must be extremely fit to attempt this climb.
It is mandatory to take a guide. Registration is at either RIC in Senaru or RIC in Sembalun. Guides will only carry a light daypack, so porters are also needed to bring your food and supplies.
Tour Guide & Licensed Mount Rinjani Trekking Guide
Stephanie Brookes is a travel writer and blogger with tales from Indonesia and beyond.
Author –“Indonesia’s Hidden Heritage; Cultural Journeys of Discovery”
David Metcalf is a photographer and runs cultural photography tours in Bali, Kalimantan, USA tribal lands, Toraja, Sumba, Japan and Vietnam
This article is originally from paper. Read NOW!Jakarta Magazine November 2019 issue “The Travel Issue”. Available at selected bookstores or SUBSCRIBE here.