Water attraction: Riders on The Superbowl in Bali meet a very wet ending.
Water attraction: Riders on The Superbowl in Bali meet a very wet ending.

Bali has long been a family favourite for West Australians — more than 200,000 of us head there each year.

And with about 60 flights a week, many of them low-cost, and a journey time of just 3 hours and 40 minutes, it’s become a bit like getting on a bus.

There’s no jet lag, just a range of accommodation and experiences.

Travel agents have some amazing packages.

There are tours and activities from cycling and snorkelling to safaris and cooking lessons.

As the Balinese share their Hindu culture, visitors can experience legong dance dramas — enactments of traditional stories which are performed daily in the towns of Gianyar and Ubud.

And with the strong Australian dollar worth about the same as a US dollar and more than 9000 rupiah, families can pack more into a Bali holiday than ever before.

A street vendor in the capital Denpasar. Picture: Niall McIlroy

ADVENTURE ISLAND

You can play in the hotel pool one day, and enjoy sightseeing and thrills the next.

Bali Hai Cruises' high speed ocean raft rips across the Badung Strait off the southern coast of Bali at up to 85km/h. At those speeds, travellers get an adrenaline rush and enough time to visit the small islands of Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Ceningan and Nusa Penida.

Surrounded by mangroves and coral-rich waters, the islands have quiet bays and high sea cliffs. There is little tourist infrastructure - instead travellers will find seaweed-farming villages where the people speak an older form of Balinese than on the "mainland".

A 3 Island Ocean Rafting Cruise, including hotel transfers, lunch, snorkelling and a visit to the Lembongan Bay marine park, costs $120 for adults and $90 for children aged 10-14. Bali Hai also offers Sunset Dinner Cruises ($60/$30) and cruises to its private beach club on Nusa Lembongan aboard a 35m catamaran.

Cloaked in jungle and sprinkled with small villages, the Balinese highlands are much cooler than on the coast and are good for cycling.

A popular route winds down the side of the 1717m volcano Mt Batur and heads through farms and villages. For $79 and $52 for children, Sobek offers air-conditioned transfers to the top of the mountain, a guide and mountain bike, and lunch at the end.

Travel About Bali has an eight-hour Downhill Cycling Tour that meanders through villages in the hills above Ubud. The tour, including transfers and lunch, costs $55.

Very early risers can try a guided trek to the top of Mt Batur, just in time for sunrise, breakfast and great views of Lake Batur. The trek with Bali Success Tours costs $55 including return hotel transfers (pick-up between 1am and 2.45am), guide and breakfast.

For those looking for more action, there's a guided all-terrain quad-bike tour in the countryside near Ubud. Bali Quad Discovery Tours use a network of tracks through the rainforest and rice paddies in the hills around Payangan.

The two-hour tours include a village coffee stop, hot lunch and transfers for $88.

Travellers can get a different view of the forest at the Bali Treetop Adventure Park at Bedugul Botanical Gardens, where the canopy is linked by suspension bridges and flying foxes up to 160m high. The park, open from 8.30am-6pm, costs $20 for adults and $13 for children.

Most people head to Legian Beach to relax but others might prefer to ride a motorbike off the 45m-high AJ Hackett Bungy Tower.

As extreme as it seems, the Moto Bungy is on AJ Hackett's menu alongside the Fireball Bungy where the jumper is set alight before being doused in the pool below. Fireball Bungy includes two flame-free jumps and costs about $130. Jumpers reach the top of the tower by elevator.

DETAILS

Bali Hai Cruises: www.balihaicruises.com

Sobek: www.balisobek.com.

Bali Quad Discovery Tours: www.baliquad.com.

Bali Treetop Adventure Park: www.balitreetop.com.

Bungy jumping: bali.ajhackett.com.

Bali Success Tours and Travel About Bali are both reputable tour companies with a full range of itineraries. Prices are charged in Australian dollars.

See www.balisuccesstours.com.au and www.travelaboutbali.com.

GETTING WET

There are all sorts of ways to get wet in Bali - a good thing given the island's humidity.

Waterbom Park in Tuban, just south of Kuta, is an old favourite with exciting waterslides. Their names are descriptive - on one hand the 70km/h, six-storey Smashdown, and on the other Lazy River.

There's also a kids' park with smaller slides and water jets, food court, tattoo bar and 9m bungy jump. On entry, swimmers load credit on to a wristband, which is then used to buy food and drink without having to carry money.

Waterbom Park is open from 9am-6pm and entry costs $26 for adults and $16 for children aged 2-12.

There's whitewater rafting on the Ayung River at all times of year but it is best during the wet season, from November to March.

For 75km, Bali's longest river cuts through tropical rainforest, passing villages and old Hindu shrines. Some stretches are straight and leisurely, others contorted and pitted with rapids.

Many companies offer whitewater rafting, including Sobek, which has been operating in the area since 1989. Two-hour rafting sessions including lunch and hotel transfers cost $79 for adults and $52 for children.

The diverse marine life and coral found in the warm waters of Nusa Penida have made the island popular with snorkellers. Blue Season Bali has a full-day snorkelling trip to Nusa Penida including hotel transfers, equipment and lunch for $80 each.

The USAT Liberty is Bali's most popular dive wreck and came to its current resting place, just off the coast at Tulamben on Bali's east, in a most unusual way.

During World War II, the transport ship was carrying railway parts from Australia to the Philippines when it was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. It ran aground at Tulamben, where it lay for 21 years until the eruption of Mt Agung caused tremors that rolled it off the beach and into shallow water.

A snorkelling trip to the wreck at Tulamben including transfers, equipment and lunch is $50 per person.

Further south, Amed is a much quieter spot but has equally impressive underwater life.

DETAILS

Waterbom Park: www.waterbom.com

Sobek: www.balisobek.com.

Blue Season Bali: www.baliocean.com.

BEACHING IT

Whether it's to watch the sunset, play volleyball or soccer, cool off, or just to read a book while catching some rays, most will visit the beach at least once during their Bali holiday.

Kuta is the most famous strip but it's often crowded, especially at sunset. Many of the hotels have frontages allowing guests to walk straight from their room to the water and it's a popular spot to get a massage or try paragliding or wakeboarding.

Surfers head to the north towards Legian and Seminyak for consistent waves and where the beaches are quieter.

On the other side of the peninsula, Sanur beach is cleaner and quieter and perfect for watching the sun rise as the fishing fleet returns.

Luxury hotels line up along the golden sands of Nusa Dua beach, where the water is warm thanks to an offshore reef. Like Sanur, it faces east, so enjoy coffee and nasi goreng at a beachfront warung (restaurant) while watching day break.

Clear waters makes it a good snorkelling and diving site and there's a surf break.

South of the airport, Jimbaran has twin beaches on the thin neck of the Bukit Peninsula. The east-facing shore is a great swimming beach because it's sheltered by the harbour at Benoa.

Beaches such as Balangan, Bingin, and Suluban near Uluwatu on the Bukit Peninsula are rated the best on the island, both for their beauty and the quality of the surf. Most are isolated by the high limestone cliffs visitors might see as they come in to land at the airport.

They take a bit more effort to get to but promise more seclusion. Grab a drink or a bite to eat at a cliff-top warung before making the long climb down.

On the north coast, Lovina's pretty black sand beaches are slowly coming to the attention of more foreign travellers.

Fishing villages rather than hotels and restaurants hem the coast where the tranquil waters of the Bali Sea attract dolphins.

ANIMAL MAGIC

Apart from the bats that skimmed the hotel swimming pool, my first experience of Balinese wildlife was the bag-snatching macaques in the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary just outside Ubud.

The forest is part of a bigger Hindu complex which includes cremation and bathing temples and a deer sanctuary owned by the villagers of Padangtegal.

Monkeys play an important role in Balinese Hinduism and can be good or evil but because the growing troop near Ubud live at a temple, they can do little wrong in the eyes of the locals. Besides being mischievous, the macaques have sharp teeth and claws. Visitors need to be wary of mothers who are protective of babies, and avoid making prolonged eye contact which macaques find threatening.

Just keep a firm grip on cameras and wallets, avoid eating in front of the macaques and be respectful around the temples.

A white tiger at Bali Safari and Marine Park. Picture: Niall McIlroy


At Sangeh, near the Balinese capital Denpasar, another group of sacred monkeys inhabit a nutmeg forest which surrounds the 17th century Pura Bukit Sari temple.

Spanning 40ha of forest in Gianyar, the Bali Safari and Marine Park has more than 400 animals, including endangered white and Sumatran tigers, cheetahs and elephants which have their own village.

Visitors can take a safari bus trip through Indonesian, African and Indian habitats to get views of white rhinos, zebras and lions but the park also has packages which combine accommodation at the four-star safari lodge with jungle cruises, dolphin rides, animal shows and entry to the fun zone, including a water park. A shuttle service operates from Kuta, Ubud, Sanur and Nusa Dua.

At the Elephant Safari Park Lodge boutique resort north of Ubud, guests can be chauffeured by a pachyderm. There is a nursery full of big-eared babies and daily elephant bathing sessions as well as shows and safaris. Rooms start from about $260 a night.

At Bali Zoo, a short drive from Ubud, visitors can feed wallabies, deer, gibbons, a sun bear and camels. There are regular feeding sessions for the crocodiles, tigers and lions but these are wisely conducted by a keeper.

Peacocks and cassowaries roam the grounds and there are also cockatoos and exotic Asian birds. Animal education shows are run daily and there are twice-weekly night animal shows and fire dancing. Groups of 10 or more can pre-book for a free guided tour at the zoo, which maintains a strong relationship with Peel Zoo, south of Perth.

Admission is $24 for adults and $12 for children and there's a range of packages which include zoo entry, meals at Starbhoga restaurant, shows, tree walk adventures and hotel transfers.

The 3500sqm Bali Butterfly Park near Tabanan, an hour north of Kuta, is said to be the biggest in South-East Asia and costs about $5 to enter and the Bali Bird Park near Gianyar has bred rare Pesquet's parrots as part of a program aimed at increasing the numbers of threatened Indonesian species including one of the rarest, the Balinese starling. Areas of the park replicate jungle and rainforest habitats. There are species from across Indonesia, Africa and South America.

Open from 9am to 5.30pm, entry is $21.50 for adults and $10 for children plus service tax.

The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary is at Jalan Monkey Forest, Padangtegal, Ubud, and is open every day from 8am-6pm.

DETAILS

See www.monkeyforestubud.com

A full list of Bali Safari and Marine Park packages is at www.balisafarimarinepark.com.

For more on Bali Zoo, see www.bali-zoo.com.

Bali Bird Park is at www.bali-bird-park.com.

Full rates and inclusions for the Elephant Safari Park Lodge is at '''www.elephantsafaripark
lodge.com.'''

CULTURE VULTURES

You don't have to wait until ceremony time to enjoy colourful legong dances performed to the tinkle of gamelan music.

Performed by young girls (15 is considered retirement age), legong dances were used to appease the gods. Some tell the stories of kings, maidens and battles while others depict traditional Balinese life. The intricate hand gestures of the three costumed dancers take years to perfect and combine with the staccato rhythm of the gamelan orchestra to weave a tale of drama and emotion.

Balinese culture is thriving as evidenced by this ceremony at Kuta Beach. Picture: Niall McIlroy


The kecak is performed by troupes of up to 100 men and although devised for the entertainment of tourists, is based on a story in the ancient Sanskrit text, the Ramayana, in which a king is aided in battle by an army of monkey-like beings. There's no gamelan backing - instead, the performers chant rhythmically as they perform.

There are daily performances of legong, kecak, barong, shadow puppet and other dances at venues around the foothills town of Ubud, including on the open stage at the Agung Rai Museum of Art where tickets cost about $4. Many of the bigger hotels also host performances in their grounds.

The newly built Bali Theatre at the Bali Safari and Marine Park in Gianyar is the only venue of its kind on the island.

The 1200-seat theatre is equipped with multimedia technology and state-of-the-art sound and lighting. Some 150 dancers and actors perform with animals such as elephants and birds in Bali Agung, which draws from legend and history to bring the past to life. Shows are performed every day and tickets, including entry to the park, cost around $40.

For those who really want to get into the swing of Bali, Yayasan Polos Seni, the Foundation for Pure Art in Ubud, teaches dance and music classes.

One-hour rindik (bamboo playing) classes are also offered in the Kuta area and cost about $34 including transport and a meal.

Ubud Bali Villas has three-hour wood-carving classes from $45 per person. The price includes tools and timber - best of all, you get to keep your wooden creation. Just don't forget to declare it at customs on arrival in Perth.

DETAILS

See www.armamuseum.com and gianyartourism.blogspot.com for a list of performances held in the Ubud area.

Bali Theatre schedules and latest prices are at www.balitheatre.com.

For the Foundation for Pure Art, email: polos@goarchi.com.

For rindik classes, email: rindiklesson@indo.com.

Ubud Bali Villas is at www.ubudbaliprivatevillas.com.

HOMES AWAY FROM HOME

Among the thousands of hotels and villas in Bali, there's accommodation to suit just about every family size and budget, with a four-star room averaging about $100-$150 a night.

The standard of hotels is good, with many including airport transfers and shuttles to the main shopping areas.

Villas are a more expensive but increasingly popular option. They offer space and privacy, allowing travellers to enjoy a home away from home.

Most of the resorts are in the coastal tourist centres of Sanur, Nusa Dua and Kuta with a strip of hotels, restaurants and bars stretching along the beach through Legian and the more up-market Seminyak.

Further north, hotels and villas are taking the place of rice paddies in Canggu but it is still quiet and largely rural.

Ubud has grown from not much more than a village into a big tourist town with five-star resorts. On the north coast, where accommodation was once at a premium, there is a wide selection of budget to mid-range rooms in Lovina, a good place from which to explore the old Dutch colonial town of Singaraja.

The West Australian

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