If you seek spiritual relief and sense of peace in Bali – try mixing surfing with yoga at Balian.
Sitting under the radar of normal Bali destinations, Balian isn’t even on the map. Technically, it doesn’t exist. The name comes from the River Balian; so named because it is deemed sacred; a sacred healer. Lalang Linggah Beach sits on one side; Surabrata on the other. Easy perhaps, to understand why the name Balian was adopted for this magic bay.
To surfers it is a magnet. Not because the breaks rank in Bali’s top five or even top 10. They are, however, arguably the most consistent. If the swell isn’t running at Balian – it’s probably not running anywhere around the island. Which makes it a drawcard for Kiwis greedy for time out on the water. A best kept secret? Sadly, not anymore. Development is happening.
For now, Balian remains an elusive escape. About a three-hour drive from Bali’s hassle-bound haunts, this coconut coastline is about as far removed from the beach bustle and shopping frenzy as you could hope for. The drive is about the only chaotic aspect of the sojourn. One of two – what you could loosely call state highways – the road to Balian is the main drag between Denpasar and the ferry port of Gilimanuk. Buses, trucks and cars ply this winding highway daily – juggling space with the incessant barrage of scooters as traffic lugs supplies and people to and from Java. Driver beware.
From the exquisite vantage point of the retreats the dot the ridge above Lalang Linggah, the bay basks below. Across the river, a string of accommodation places dot the hillsides. Once, this landscape was covered in only rice fields and towering coconuts; many more than 100 years old. They are the postcard of tropical tranquillity. Today, punctuated by ‘bales’ (bah-lei) and rooftops, accommodation ranges from rustic and cheap to high-end villa luxury. Yoga lovers find their way here too; which is a strange fit in some ways – especially when hunger calls. The Pondok Pitaya Hotel has built its name on surf, yoga and resto! That’s local lingo for rest, in case you hadn’t guessed. Yoga buffs take precedence, it appears. Swanning in and out of the yoga room on their quest for inner awareness and muscular contortion, their stomachs are given priority. Don’t bother turning up to dine in their allotted time. The blackboard gently ushers incomers away!
In Lalang Linggah, there are a string of residences along the ridge – among them the luxury Villa Tao. Apparently
built by a couple of ‘lads’ a decade or so ago, its black and mirrored décor is the ultimate party central. Three-day minimum booking, naturally! A short slide down the hillside to the beach – and in total contrast – the Balian Surf Camp warung (Balinese for eating place) – epitomises what this place is truly about. It’s Kiwi East Coast nirvana – beachfront, basic, brilliant. All profits go to the village. And with those villagers starting to build simple beachfront accommodation alongside, this is surfer’s paradise in the truest sense. A bed, a shower, a Bintang beer after a session – what more do you need?
If you do hanker for a tad more luxury – Balian style – permanent residents Jamie and Wendy have carved a niche in this place they now call home. Jamie, an Aussie, was a chopper pilot; Canadian, Wendy is a lawyer. Both have travelled the world – New Zealand included. Now, their lives are integrated into Balian’s life, with all its vagaries. They run an exclusive beach house retreat at the bottom of their garden, along with a ridge-top haven near Villa Tao. Both are booked solidly throughout the year.
In this surfing and yoga mecca of Bali – progress is slowly bringing change. Hopefully its natural charm will be around for a long while yet. Better to leave the bustle and hustle to the main haunts back down the coast at Kuta.
Tradition meets kebabs in the delicacies at Pondok Pityaya
Where to stay:
The Beach House; Seabreeze, Villa Tao – www.airbnb.co.nz
Pondok Pitaya Hotel –www.pondokpitaya.com
Where to eat:
Balian Surf Camp Warung
The Garden Café