There are two types of holidaymakers – those who like to get amongst it and explore, and those who simply like to tune out poolside. If you fit into the first category, check out these soft adventure tours in Bali.
ON YOUR BIKE
Get deep into the heart of Ubud and you’ll find a tangled jungle, green terraced hillsides, traditional villages where sleepy backstreets are splayed with sheets of drying rice and smiling children who spill out onto the street to greet newcomers.
But to experience all of this, you can forget driving. By far the most magical way to get in touch with Bali’s spiritual utopia is on a pushbike.
Starting with breakfast atop Mount Batur (an active volcano in the island’s north-east), Sobek’s Adventure Cycling tour is an easy, 25-kilometre downhill glide from the cool climes of Pengotan village through the Sribatu Valley.
There were just four in our group, which was lead by Lucky, one of Sobek’s characteristically charismatic local guides. Lucky lead our conga line at a gentle pace along quiet tracks, free from the constant throng of Bali tourists. While the scenery alone is worth the early morning start, scheduled stops along the way make this experience truly memorable.
First call was at a tiny farmer’s hut surrounded by plantations of coffee and cocoa. Wobbling on down the road, we then dismounted at a traditional Balinese temple where, as is customary across the island, only locals wearing traditional dress may enter. Being unsuitably attired we were permitted a peep through the doorway into the courtyard. But the most voyeuristic stop was at a typical Balinese home where the local family offered a warm welcome and shared stories of local Balinese customs and rituals.
After two enjoyable hours, the ride came to an end. We cooled down with chilled flannels and transferred via air-conditioned four-wheel-drive to a local Ubud restaurant where we greedily tucked into a traditional Balinese lunch. By 3pm we back at our Seminyak villa, joining those less adventurous by the poolside.
Tours cost US$79 (around AU$74) per adult and US$52 (around AU$49) per child including lunch and transfers. The tours run for the majority of the day, are operated using brand new mountain bikes and safety gear, and can be as easy going as guests like making them. They are well-suited to the smaller members of the family and Sobek can even provide baby seats on request.
Pick-up times are between 7am and 8am in Seminyak, Legian and Kuta. balisobek.com
ROLLIN’ DOWN THE RIVER
“Right, now we raft down a four-metre waterfall,” said Lega, Sobek Adventure’s cheeky white water rafting guide. He’d given us just seconds to prepare ourselves and was delighted at our disbelief. Before we could object, we’d tipped the fall’s lip and cascaded into a shower of white water. At the bottom we sat, crumpled in our inflatable capsule, trying to recover from fits of laughter.
This was the pinnacle of a tour filled with thrills and breathtaking scenery. Setting off from the foothills of sacred Mount Agung, our experience began with a rush – with Lega captaining the ship, my three co-rafters and I literally dropped into our first rapid on the Telaga Waja River. Although rafting along Ubud’s Ayung River is better known, the Telaga Waja moves faster and is slightly more challenging.
With heart rates rising we were swept downstream in a torrent of white water spray, deeper into the jungle. The beauty of this place is mesmerising. Terraced rice fields rub shoulders with thick tropical scrub. Cool crystal water trickles down volcanic rock faces and the deep, jungle-covered gorge gets narrower the further you travel.
Ducking and leaning we deftly avoided overhanging obstacles, braced ourselves for collisions with the canyon walls and were invigorated as we rafted through cool cascades of natural spring water.
Two hours later we arrived at the rapids’ end, safe, satisfied and ready for our delicious Balinese lunch. Safety is paramount at Sobek, who pioneered white water rafting in the region more than 20 years ago. In fact, their safety record is 100 per cent, which was a constant comfort as Lega expertly guided us down one of Bali’s most spectacular and thrilling rivers.
Tours cost is US$79 (around AU$74) per adult and US$52 (around AU$49) per child (seven-15 years) including lunch and transfers. The tours run for the majority of the day and are operated using state-of-the-art rafts and safety gear. Water resistant protective bags for all your valuables are provided on the tours, as are clean showering facilities and towels.
Pick-up times are between 7.45am and 8.15am in Seminyak, Legian and Kuta, and 8.15am and 8.45am in Sanur and Ubud. balisobek.com
HOT TO TROT
“We’ve all ridden before,” our group chorused with confidence on arrival at Bali Horse Riding Adventure in Pererenan (next to Canggu). “Are you sure?” asked Carmen, one of the business owners, eyeing our boat shoes and cut-off shorts with suspicion. “Because the villa said that you’re all beginners.”
We assured her that we were experienced, but our bravado soon slipped away as the horses were lead into the arena. Mine, the largest of the trusty steeds, was an impressive chestnut mare named Manis with a muscular chest and a flowing black mane. Throwing my leg over the saddle, I hoped I looked more capable than I felt. I mustn’t have because Jimmy, my guide, held tight to his guide rope throughout our hour-long sunset trail ride along the area’s famous surf beaches.
And I’m glad he did. It had been half a lifetime since my last ride and getting back in the saddle wasn’t as familiar as I’d hoped. Yet as we gently walked down to the seaside, a cool breeze drifting in off the ocean, I began to relax as Manis’s rhythm and mine merged.
Pererenan is a perfect place to horse ride. A flat, low-lying part of the island, its streets are lined with luxury new villas interspersed with small rice fields and traditional warungs (small Indonesian restaurants, usually open air). The beach, much cleaner than those closer to Kuta, is made of striking black volcanic sand and is edged by black rocky outcrops and rows of laid back bars becoming trendier by the day to serve the growing numbers of wealthy western surfers.
Locals seem to love this place too. Balinese grommets, no older than eight, cut up the waves at Echo Beach while their families relaxed in groups on the shore. As we cantered past (by this stage Jimmy’s confidence in my ability had grown, however he still clung fast to the guide rope), they smiled and waved at our anxious band of humbled horsemen.
Heading north towards Tanah Lot, we clambered over rocks, galloped across the sand, climbed back up the dunes to walk through the village, and returned to the beach for one last hurrah, white knuckles wrapped around the reigns, as the sun began to sink on a perfect Balinese afternoon.
Walking back to the stables, Jimmy let go of my guide rope and I swelled with satisfaction. I’d earned the Bintang I planned to enjoy on the car ride home.
Horse riding tours cost from IDR350,000 (around AU$35) per person for one hour. The stables provide riding boots, helmets and chaps for free, and charge $1.50 for a pair of new socks. The company also offer cycling, trekking and tours in classic VW convertibles. Pick-up times for sunset rides are 4.30pm in Seminyak and 4pm in Kuta. balihorseadventure.com
OTHER ADVENTURE TOURS:
Rafting on the Ayung River
Join Bali Adventure Tours for a spectacular, action-packed raft down Ubud’s idyllic Ayung River. With Ubud’s famous terraced rice fields and dense, jungle-covered mountains as a backdrop, this two-hour adventure starts when you launch into a nine-and-a-half kilometre stretch of river, navigating through 33 class two and three rapids. Professionally trained and experienced guides pilot the rafts through the best river runs, dramatic drops and spectacular waterfalls, making this an unforgettable experience.
The company recently opened a new White Water Rafting Centre boasting engineered stainless steel handrails on the steep steps leading down to the river, first-class emergency facilities and modern toilets. baliadventuretours.com
Elephant Safari Park
Love to get hands on with elephants? At Ubud’s Elephant Safari Park, Bali’s only dedicated elephant rescue facility, you can hand feed them, watch them bathe, ride them, have your photo taken with them, learn more about them in the interpretive centre and simply spend a couple of enjoyable hours exploring more than two hectares of landscaped botanical gardens.
We had the pleasure of riding Kusuma, a loveable 39-year-old buck, who carried us through the forest and into the bathing lake. There are currently four baby elephants, sure to be a huge hit with kids.
Stay a little longer with the Sumatran elephants by booking a night or two at the Elephant Safari Park and Lodge, a luxury 25-room safari-style property set within three-and-a-half hectares of the park. Guests can choose to package their accommodation with rafting, kayaking, hiking or cycling adventures, run by Bali Adventure Tours. elephantsafaripark.com
Bali Hai Castaway Cruise
Starting with a two-hour sail aboard the Aristocat, a 64-foot luxury catamaran, Bali Hai Cruises’ Castaway adventure to Crystal Bay in Nusa Penida whisks guests away to their own private paradise.
On a remote tropical island, guests spend the day snorkelling over some of Indonesia’s best coral reefs, teeming with tropical marine life. After a barbecue lunch under the palm trees, visit a rustic village and watch traditional Balinese wood carvers and sarong weavers at work, or simply enjoy an ocean-side massage and relax in a hammock overlooking the crystal clear waters.
Tours cost around AU$110 and include all food, most drinks and snorkelling gear. and instruction at Crystal Bay. balihaicruises.com
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