The other side of paradise: West Bali National Park
SITTING at a romantic table under a hand-blown glass lantern waiting for my dinner to arrive I suddenly caught my breath. Picking their way through the shallow, mangrove-root-punctuated sea were a pale beige Menjangan deer and her fawn.
Under a starry sky and a crescent moon I was finding it difficult to believe it was only five hours since I left the traffic-clogged fleshpots of south Bali. Kuta and Seminyak seemed a world away.
Taman Nasional Bali Barat, or West Bali National Park, is on the Prapat Agung Peninsular in (as the name suggests) the far western part of Bali. The park itself is just 190 square kilometres in area but a further 580 square kilometres of protected reserve surrounds this.
My taxi driver kept telling me: “Your hotel – in jungle!” as if he wasn’t quite sure I knew where I was going. This is no fly-and-flop beach holiday destination.
You can count the hotels in this part of Bali on the fingers of one hand but the only one with a licence to operate within the boundaries of the park itself is The Menjangan.
This eco-resort is named for the island offshore famed for harbouring the best diving in Bali, and for the deer that are commonly seen grazing in the park. Menjangan means deer in Bahasa Indonesian.
Nestled discretely into the park setting, the two restaurants and accommodation are spread across the 382 hectare site. Transport between these is by safari vehicle and it was a rare journey that did not provide some wildlife spotting excitement.
I saw tiny dark brown ‘Barking’ deer and Javanese Macaques, which can sometimes be seen gathering shellfish at low tide.
The birdlife is equally thrilling. I didn’t catch a glimpse of the rare and endangered Bali Starling but I saw brilliant acqua blue kingfishers. One afternoon the cry of a goshawk had me looking up to the treetops from the safari vehicle. It was sitting comfortably on a branch surveying its domain.
There is a bird watching tower in the centre of the national park and bird-watching tours walk a couple of hours there and spend about 30 minutes in the tower.
Another way to see the park and the wildlife is on horseback. There are stables offering guided rides at the Menjangan.
For many who do travel to this part of Bali the biggest drawcard is the diving. On a snorkelling trip with Blue Illusion dive centre to Menjangan Island the clear water was thick with fish and the coral beds undamaged.
This is some of the most pristine reef in south-east Asia thanks to the local fishermen banding together a decade ago to stop fishing and concentrate on offering boat transport services to tourists.
When I left West Bali National Park I felt like I’d been in another time and place. And I may as well have been on a different planet from over-developed south Bali.