January, 17, 2013 - 06:31AM

Indonesia is beautiful, diverse and sometimes daunting, as BINA GOVEAS discovered on a five-day whistle-stop tour that left her wanting more…

At less than three km long and two km wide, Gili Trawangan is one of three small islands off the northeast coast of Indonesia’s Lombok Island; while ‘gili’, if you are interested, simply means ‘small island’ in Sasak, the language spoken by most people in Lombok.

Blessed with spectacular white beaches, turquoise waters, coral reefs teeming with marine life, and picturesque silhouettes of Lombok’s Mount Rinjani mirrored on turquoise waters, Gili Trawangan is easily reached by speedboat from Lombok.

An exhilarating 15-minute ride aboard one of the fastboats gets your adrenalin pumping as you reach its shores and step back in time into an island that’s home to a mere 2,000 residents, with not a single car, bus or motorbike in sight. In fact, all you will see are horses and carriages, bicycles and boats, which are the sole means of transport within and to the island.

Once there, you can dive into azure blue waters, snorkel, go canoeing or banana boating, play beach volleyball, ride a horse, go fishing or cycling: the “party island” as it is known locally is a paradise for those who love nature and water sports.

But even if you don’t dip a single toe into its alluring waters, Gili Trawangan offers an exquisite respite from the daily grind of the Gulf. Coming to the island in the midst of a hectic four-stop tour of Indonesia, I was more than content to do a Shirley Valentine and relax at the Hotel Vila Ombak, which was playing host to our group of journalists from the Gulf.

After a refreshing welcome drink accompanied by a cold towel to dab away the sweltering heat, we were escorted to our rooms or “hideways” which open out into a private backyard where one can bathe under the sun or stars! And though Gili Trawangan does not have much fresh water, the hotel thoughtfully provides “sweet” water in a pitcher to rinse the salt away once you’ve showered.

The hotel Villa Ombak also has a spa which blends Indonesian and Western treatments while a diving academy and water sports hut are on hand for the more adventurous.

Eager to explore the island, I jumped onto a horse-drawn carriage called a cidomo for a bumpy tour which took all of 45 minutes, trundling though mostly virgin terrain before going on to look around the shops along the stretch near the hotel.

Gili Trawangan is also perfect for romance: the setting sun and a dappled sky streaked in pink and indigo created a magnificent backdrop for a wedding held under a canopy on the beach as fireworks lit up the night sky.

Re-posted with thanks from Travel and Tourism Middle East