Ah Gili Trawangan, where to start! When I first came here in September 2012, things were a little different. I was alone on my trip, and things were a lot less busy. This time I was with two non diving friends and the island must have been just about full to capacity, the issue being that I’m not sure the island knows what their tourism capacity is, the fast boats just keep bringing people. An accurate description of the island could be the Koh Tao of Indonesia, as it seems like many people come here for a holiday, buy a zero to hero pack (open water to instructor) and never leave.
Certainly not the best diving in Indonesia but amongst the mainly dead or broken coral there are some gems to be found. It’s not pretty diving, but from talking to a few people it never really has been. Unfortunately before the island became a tourist attraction the locals used many forms of unsustainable fishing that went a long way to destroying the corals here. Of course the many hundreds of thousands of newby divers that tests out their scuba skills here every year possibly doesn’t help.
In saying that, upon flicking through my log book and looking at the 12 dives that I have completed over the past week you would think otherwise. I found manta shrimp, black and white tip reef sharks, honeycomb, moray, ribbon, garden and napoleon eels, banded sea snakes, bumphead parrot fish, napoleon wrasse, giant cuttle fish, octopus, frog fish, leaf scorpion fish and about 50 turtles! And it also helps that the water is 30 degrees with the odd thermo cline dropping down to 26ish. It’s an impressive haul by any dive trip standard.
I was diving with Manta Dive, as I was last trip. They are fantastic for novice divers or anyone wanting to learn to dive with a great pool, courses happening constantly and instructors fluent in many languages. For fun divers they do their best to put you in a group with people of a similar ability but this can become difficult when they are so busy. On my last trip I pretty much had a DM to myself, this time I wasn’t as lucky and my dive times were restricted to an average time of 40ish minutes as your group can only dive for as long as the first person starts to run low. Very different from my Solomons trip where my average dive time was 75 minutes! But here I was only paying $35 a dive, so I still can’t help but think I still got my money’s worth.
I would recommend Simons Reef, Mirkos and Seahorse Bay (which is actually in Lombok) as the dive sites to look out for. Simons and Mirkos have the most alive and colorful corals and Seahorse Bay is a great muck dive, with, you guessed it, seahorses!! I also spotted a Pegasus Sea Moth here, which made me very happy as I had never seen one before, nor did I have any idea what it was until Google was consulted. Deep Turbo and Shark Point seem to be the most popular and frequented sites, it was hard for me to get past the abundance of people however to really enjoy them. On one dive Manta Dive alone dropped two full boats from Gili Trawangan and one full boat from Gili Air on Shark Point, so at a guess 90 divers, and then there are the other 20 dive shops doing the same thing, not cool at all.
Just in case you want to come to the Gili’s to see giant mantas, you may want to rethink. A rise in water temp and lack of summer rains have meant that last season there were no sightings of mantas in the Gili’s.
Top tip: Ask for the local DM Su’pa to guide your dives. He is a fantastic guide, a lovely man and hilariously funny. He always makes sure you get looked after.
So it’s not quite as hectic as Bali just yet, and even with the Easter / Anzac day combo of Australian public holidays Aussies were still by far the minority to European holiday makers. This is good news, because seeing drunken fools make a mess of themselves then becomes far less embarrassing. It is a party island, and for those who want to you can party party party until you can no party no more! For the oldies amongst us this place is great for afternoon bintangs, a massage, great restaurants and a comfortable and affordable place to lay your head.
We stayed at Manta Bungalows, conveniently located behind the dive shop and smack bang in the middle of the tourist strip. This avoids the need to hire a bicycle or catch a lift on a horse and cart, but can be a little noisy so take ear plugs. For only $60 per bungalow per night including breakfast and wifi it’s the best mid range accommodation on the island. The best part though would have to be the Manta staff. From housekeeping, to the cafe, bar and of course dive staff, after a few days everyone knows your name and is keen to catch up with a bintang at the end of the day to see how your day was. They do very well at creating a little sense of community, it’s really nice. The staff (both local and foreign) hadn’t changed much since my first trip which is rare amongst dive shops, it goes to show that they must get looked after well.
The food on the island is one thing I think has gotten better since my last visit. The salmon and sashimi at Ko-Ko-Mo was a definite highlight if you want to splash out on a fancy meal (about $30) and the Italian Pizza place and Thai restaurants down the lane by Gili Yoga were also a favorite. The swim up pool bar at Coral Beach resort also had our regular attendance.
My friends Sophie and Crystal were not diving but managed to entertain themselves by attending early morning Yoga every day, snorkeling and getting daily pampers at Exqisit Spa. Not a bad way to recharge your batteries 🙂