Cocktail diving is a term we've invented for dives which are so chilled out you could fall asleep. This means lovely warm water, great visibility, no currents and lots of pretty fish. It's the kind of diving that we love! As it's been 2.5 years since our last dive we wanted to get our dive legs back with some serious cocktail diving and Gili Air looked like the ideal place to do it.
We'd purposefully chosen the Gili Islands as our starting point in Indonesia as we kind of knew what we were getting. We were cheating a little because we've been to the Gilis before, almost 12 years ago when our friends, Sharon and Scott got married. We stayed on Gili T back then, the largest of the three Gili Islands, but we'd heard things had inevitably changed and were keen to try a different island. Gili Air sounded like a good fit; the perfect mix of buzz and languor along with the best beaches of the three Gilis and a house reef to boot.
When we last came to the Gilis we had to fly from Denpasar in Bali to Lombok and then take a two hour
taxi followed by a short boat trip. As the popularity of the Gilis has increased the transport links have improved so this time we could jump on a speedboat from Bali. It was a relatively calm 2.5 hour journey and before we knew it we were pulling into Gili Airs beautiful turquoise waters.
Our budget couldn't stretch to beachside accommodation so we stayed inland a little, which should have had the bonus of being quieter. A unfortunate side effect of increased popularity is building work and our cluster of bungalows was right next to a building site. Although our place had a tiny pool we didn't spend any time in it - who would when you have beautiful beaches on your doorstep - so the noise didn't disturb us too much.
Our room was super cute; split level with the bedroom upstairs and a living space downstairs. Not quite what we'd booked but it was an upgrade so we weren't complaining. We had an upstairs balcony and a downstairs terrace - the upstairs balcony was our pre-drinks spot! There was one odd design flaw though. In the apex there was an area that was open to the outside
(covered by mosquito net), which meant the sound proofing was none existent at the back of the room - much like staying in a tent. At 4.30am you could hear the mosque so clearly you felt like it was actually in your room. Our ear plugs and white noise apps came in handy here!
We had an open air, outside bathroom which was lovely, although the bamboo shoot shower (no shower head) and the salt water was a little challenging. The bathroom came complete with pets; a cockroach family of three (Colin and family!) and an evil death spider as big as those you find in Australia. These were only an issue at night. During the morning the issue was trying to use the loo without getting sunburnt!
Thanks to stupid Tigerair we only had four days on the island, long enough to unpack for the first time in a while but not long enough to do everything we had planned. Our first day was spent finding our feet; searching for a good dive school, finding somewhere shady to sit on the beach and doing a spot of snorkelling. We spent most of the day sat on sunloungers
at a place called The Beach Club. We walked up the entire length of southern beach and liked this spot the best. It was quiet and offered the best shade under a massive tree. You get the loungers for free as long as you have ordered some food and drink, which is pretty easy when it's scorching hot and you need a constant supply of water and of course lunch!
That evening we discovered what would become our favourite place to hang out. A bar / restaurant called Chill Out. We were attracted to it because there were tables on the beach and the smell of their BBQ was too much to resist. But it also did 241 cocktails, had lovely raised tables overlooking the beach and sea (great for sunset drinks) and had awesome wifi. As we sat on the beach eating a fish BBQ I asked Paul why we'd bothered with snowboarding and China - surely we should have just spent six months here! What a welcome change of pace!
We wanted to do a couple of dives on Gili Air so on day two we took the plunge. Normally diving means a horribly early start,
and in the past we have been in the water as early as 6.30am, but not on Gili Air. Because the dive sites are so close to the island you have the option to do just one dive and can take your pick from 8.30 (ha!), 11.30 and 2.30. Our favourite was 11.30. We could set the alarm for 9am, have a long leisurely breakfast and then mosey on down to the dive shop for 11 to get our equipment together. By 2pm we would be back on the island drinking cocktails in our favourite bar. This was cocktail diving at its best!
The first dive we did was at Hans Reef just off the north of Gili Air. We were lucky enough to get a dive master (underwater guide) to ourselves which was perfect for our first dive! As we descended I checked my dive computer (willing it to work after 2.5 years of being sat in a cupboard) and was overjoyed to see the water temperature - a balmy 31 degrees - the warmest water we've ever dived in. Despite the name most of the dive had a sandy bottom and the bit of reef we saw
wasn't amazing but the marine life we saw made up for it. As we are cocktail divers we tend to only dive in tropical waters, which means the marine life can get a little samey. But on this dive we saw a few things we've never seen before. My favourite is the Mantis Shrimp, which looks like a fat, short caterpillar and has beautiful white and purple 'fans' off its tail end. I spotted one at the start of the dive just chilling out on the bottom of the ocean and was mesmerised.
The following day we did another dive at Turtle Heaven. I'd been dying to use my Go Pro underwater (which is what it was bought for two years ago) but never take anything with me on my first dive after a long break. Given yesterday had gone so smoothly I decided that Turtle Heaven would be my Go Pros first dive. We had the same dive master and again it was just the two of us, which was amazing. Turtle Heaven turned out to be a fantastic cocktail dive. We had 30 meter visibility, a first for us, and it was like swimming in an aquarium-
there were times when you couldn't see ahead because there were too many fish in front of you. We saw three turtles, which never fail to impressive, no matter how many you've seen diving before and I managed to get some great video footage. I now have another project - taking all the snippets of footage and turning it into a coherent video!
All too soon it was our final day on the island. We were tempted to sneak in another dive but decided it was time to check out the northern part of the island. The accommodation on the North East side of the island is more expensive than the South East where we were staying and there looked to be some lovely places to stay. However the beaches there were coral beaches, which don't look as pretty and make getting into the ocean a bit challenging on the feet. We walked right to the northern point and found a resort with super cute seats, very typical of the Gili Islands. Raised off the ground and completely covered they provided much needed shade with a beautiful view of the sea. We spent the day lazing around, reading, eating
and drinking. The most energetic thing we did was go for a snorkel.
Gili Air was the perfect start to our time in Indonesia and as tempting as it was to stay longer we have other places to discover. So back to Bali we went, for another night in Sanur before getting on the first of the many internal flights we've booked. Our next stop is Labuanbajo for more diving, some island hopping and hopefully the chance to see Komodo Dragons.
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