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Separated by the Badung Strait some 15Km off the southeastern coast of Sanur on Bali are the enchanting trio islands of Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Ceningan, and Nusa Penida. Here, one will find the pristine beauty of unspoilt white sandy beaches, exhilarating waves, crystal clear waters, stunning natural rugged beauty, and picturesque sceneries away from the vibrant sounds and vivacious atmosphere of Bali’s southern coast.
Beneath the surface, the waters around these islands present their own jaw-dropping sensation and are the playground to some of the most fascinating creatures of the deep sea, the prima donna being the rare giant ocean sunfish: Mola Mola.
Being the nearest from the mainland and most developed island for tourism among the three, Nusa Lembongan is approximately 8 square km in size, and is truly an island paradise. Neither hawkers nor traffic mar the magnificent scenery; this is a fine place to just lay back and relax. Jungut Batu Beach, located in the northwest is a lovely arc of white sand and clear blue water with a superb view of Mount Agung on Bali. This is the area which traditionally attracted backpackers and surfers to the island. Mushroom Bay to the southwest of Jungut Batu is a quaint, attractive and sheltered bay. Further south, the lesser known beaches either side of the Devil's Tear outcrop (A rocky outcrop on the south western coast with spectacular crashing waves and water plumes), are known as Dream Beach and Sunset Beach (or Sandy Bay). The coastal landscape in this part of the island is mostly low-lying limestone cliffs, and there are some dramatic cave formations.
Nusa Lembongan was first opened up as a tourist destination by surfers, and it has long been an established part of the Bali surf circuit. There are three main breaks, all off the top half of the west coast, with another less well known just to the southwest off Nusa Ceningan. Playgrounds, Lacerations and Shipwrecks are all close offshore and reached via an energetic paddle from the beach, or in a more leisurely fashion, by a local boat (jukung) which can be chartered from the nearest beach. Whilst the breaks usually suit intermediate to experienced surfers given they all break over coral reefs, the aptly named Playgrounds is a little more forgiving and can be enjoyed by beginners and experts alike. There is a thriving surf scene in Jungut Batu. When compared to its tiny population, Nusa Lembongan has produced a remarkable number of international competition-quality surfers. Any keen surfer will certainly not be short of company here.
Nusa Ceningan is the tiny island between Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida, which is easily reached via the suspension bridge on foot or by bicycle/motorbike. There is a notable surf break off Nusa Ceningan which attracts some surfers away from the more crowded breaks on Nusa Lembongan. Otherwise the island offers some scenic roads and paths, and the westward views back over Nusa Lembongan to Bali are impressive. Viewing the sunset over Bali from the central Ceningan ridge is very much worth the effort. The estuarine channel between Lembongan and Ceningan is home to many seaweed farms.
Totalling some 200 square kilometres, Nusa Penida is the largest of the three islands. There are many quiet and secluded white sand beaches along the north and northwest coasts of Nusa Penida. Highlighting the geographical features of the island are limestone caves, spectacular high coastal cliffs with karst formations and offshore pinnacles in the south and east, and rugged hill tops in the high centre. As an addition to West Bali National Park, Nusa Penida has also become bird sanctuary for endangered Balinese and Indonesian bird species, including the critically endangered Bali white Starling (Leucopsar rothschildi).
Dive with Mola-Molas
Fusing the three islands into one fascination is the splendor that lies beyond the crystal clear blue waters that surround them. These waters are best known among some of the world class diving destinations. The rich waters around the three islands support no less than 247 species of coral, 562 species of fish and Green and Olive Ridley Turtles. With its adjacent deep water trenches, the main stars here are the spectacular and very rare gigantic Oceanic Sunfish or Mola- mola. Mola-mola is the heaviest known bony fish in the world and can grow to over 2 meters long. They have large, blunt heads, heavy bodies and stubbed tails, with elongated dorsal and ventral fins that can span up to 4 meters.
If elsewhere divers are lucky to meet one Mola, here they can dive with three or more of these strange fish, since these are the Mola’s “cleaning stations”. Here the warm currents of the Indian Ocean meet the cold currents from the South Pole and Australia, creating the favored streams and temperatures for the Mola, who frequent these seas to have their bodies picked clean by the multitude of cleaning fish that abound in these waters.
Sharing these seas with the Molas are white-tipped reef sharks, nurse sharks, hammerhead sharks, and large Manta Rays that can also be found here.
There are more than 20 identified dive sites around the islands, the most notable being Blue Corner, Ped, Crystal Bay, Manta Point, Toyapakeh, Suana Bay, Ceningan Point (Ceningan Wall) and Malibu Point. There are some challenging drift dives here, and dive operators will visit certain sites only when sea conditions are safe. There are also plenty of options for easier flat reef and wall dives as well. Non-divers should not feel left out, as good snorkeling is available close inshore at various spots around the islands.
Since currents are strong here, divers should stick to groups. Many good divers have been carried by the currents almost to the open ocean that leads to the South Pole before being rescued.
From the extraordinary encounters with the giants of the deep sea, exhilarating rides on the ocean tides; to gazing the spectacular sunset on the indulging white sands, the islands of Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Ceningan, and Nusa Penida are truly a pristine paradise just a boat ride away from the fabled island of Bali.
For more information on Diving with Molas check the following website: http://www.balisunfish.com/
To get between Nusa Lembogan and Nusa Penida, Public boats depart daily at 6AM close to the suspension bridge between Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan and run to Toyapakeh or Buyuk Harbour near Sampalan in northern Nusa Penida. There are also services from the Jungut Batu area of Nusa Lembongan to Nusa Penida. Charter boats are also available, departing from and arriving at the same area as the public boats. If you are staying on Nusa Lembongan, ask at your hotel. If not, go to the shoreline close to the suspension bridge or to the beach at Jungut Batu and ask around amongst the boatmen.
From Nusa Lembongan, you can cross by foot to the small neighbouring island of Nusa Ceningan via a scenic suspension bridge.
Although Bicycles and Motorbikes are also available for rent, Nusa Lembongan is a nice place to walk, with coastal paths linking nearly all the guest houses, hotels and restaurants. Most walks will take less than two hours. The less developed southwestern area of the island has some spectacular coast paths which provide easy walking, great views back to Bali, and spectacular sunsets.
In Nusa Penida, Renting a Bicycle and motorcycle is the most practical option, and this will cost you about Rp 80,000-120,000. Look for vendors in Toyopakeh and Sampalan (or more likely, they will find you). You may be able to find a rental vehicle but they are not common.
The only way to reach these islands from Bali is by boat with approximately crossing time of 30-40 minutes. There are several options according to budget and speed. It is straightforward to reach Nusa Lembongan, and visitors to Nusa Penida usually come via Nusa Lembongan, although direct services from Bali are available. Most of the scheduled services leave from Sanur Beach at the end of Jalan Hangtuah Street, Denpasar, and involve getting your feet wet as there are no jetties to speak of. The exact departure and arrival point on this beach depends on the tide. Other services run from Benoa Harbour, and there are local public boat services to and from Padang Bai and Kusamba in East Bali, but these may have some safety and comfort issues.
From Sanur Beach here are the alternatives:
Daily Fast Boat Transfer (include pick up and drop in around Bali and Lembongan). Tickets can be purchased at Jl Hangtuah 78, Sanur in front of Ayu Salon (Mushroom Beach Bungalow office, Phone: + 62 361 281974, Email: email@example.com). Departs daily from Sanur beach at 8AM, 9:30AM, 11.30AM, 2:30PM, 4:30PM. Departs daily from Lembongan at 8AM, 3:30PM, 4:30PM.
Perama, a local transfers-only operator for the budget traveller. Boat departures daily at 10:30AM. The ride across is approximately 90 min., and there is no same day return option. The Sanur office of Perama can be found at Warung Pojok in Jalan Hangtuah.
Public Boat (slow) , departs daily from Sanur beach at 8AM and 10:30AM in front of the Ananda Hotel or near the Grand Inna Bali Beach Hotel (depending on tide). These boats can be a bit sketchy at times, and are usually very crowded. No same day return facility. The ride across is approximately 90 min.
Public Speed Boat, Sanur Beach,Phone: +62 361 743 2344. Departs daily from Sanur beach to Jungutbatu Bay at 9AM, 12:30PM, 3:30PM and returning at 8AM, 10:30AM and 3PM. To Mushroom Bay leaves Sanur at 9:30AM, 11:30AM, 2:30PM and 4:30PM, and leaves Lembongan at 9AM, 1PM and 3:30PM. Book in advance as seats may be limited.
You can also find various cruises at Sanur Beach that offers transportation and package tour services to the islands. If you wanted to, you can charter speedboats to get into either Nusa Lembongan or Nusa Penida from Sanur or Padang Bai. Contact the speedboat operators or make enquiries in person at the relevant point of departure one day in advance.