It’s Kuta, but not as you know it.
There’s the Balinese beach you know and love (or maybe loathe): that throbbing tangle of hawkers and masseurs, drunken Aussies and sunburnt Europeans.
And across the waves lies the other Kuta.
As I emerge from my morning dip here on the southern shores of the island of Lombok, my hackles are up.
The young woman walking towards the waterline has sarongs draped over one arm, beads hanging from the other, and she’s heading straight for me.
“Hello,” she chirps. “Where are you from?”
“Australia,” I call back warily.
“But I already have plenty of sarongs, thanks.”
She doesn’t miss a beat. “Do you like Lombok so far?”
I look up at the rocky headlands jutting into the glassy waters, the bone-white coral that litters a mile-long stretch of yellow sand, and find myself nodding yes.
“Good. Good! Please enjoy your stay. Next time, bring your family,” she tells me, and turns on her heels.
And that’s it: no pushy sales tactics, just a sincere entreaty to come back.
Welcome to Lombok, the Indonesian holiday hotspot where the beaches are stunning, the surf’s up and you can walk 20 metres in any direction without hitting a tourist.
You’ll hear it sold as Bali, minus 20 years, but this island’s culture and landscapes are all its own.
Four years ago the only way in was via sea or plane from elsewhere in Indonesia, but the arrival of Lombok International Airport in 2011 has opened the island up to overseas travellers and investors alike.
When I visit Lombok’s Kuta the beachfront Novotel is the only major resort on the southern stretch of the island, but three hulking hotels are in the making nearby.
I’m told this beach comes alive each year for Bau Nyale, a festival with its origins in the indigenous Sasak culture.
Thousands flock to the shoreline where Princess Mandalika, so the legend goes, threw herself into the waves in an act of patriotic devotion and now reappears each year in the form of colourful sea worms ripe for the roasting.
For now, though, it’s blissfully easy to pretend I have the place to myself.
After a morning of lazing, I take refuge from the sun in one of the thatched huts scattered across the sand and extract a piece of coral from my big left toe (a word of advice: pack thongs) before setting out for Senggigi, the main tourist patch in Lombok.
The drive, like the general pace here, is slow.
For vast stretches my travelling companions and I share the potholed roads only with goats and the occasional buffalo, and even the larger kampungs have an off-the-beaten-track vibe.
The roadside stalls are stocked with tempting melons and elegant pearls, not tawdry souvenirs and bootleg DVDs.
I’ve deliberately left little room in my bags for keepsakes, but a stop-off at the weaving village Sukarara is enough to give me pause.
Women sit in the shade, fashioning intricate cloths with precise movements.
One offers me a turn before giggling and pulling the loom back towards her. Wise.
Senggigi proper offers a good taste of Lombok’s burgeoning tourist scene: the hawkers are bolder, spas abound and pizza features on the English-language menus of the restaurants that line the main street.
My luxe lodgings at the Santosa Villas are relaxing enough but for a shot of pure, photogenic indulgence, we head north to the mini-island of Gili Meno.
We are warned before setting out on our low-slung antique vessel that there might be “a few waves”, which to my mind isn’t an adequate heads-up for the nausea-inducing 40 minutes ahead.
By the time we reach Meno everything is wet, the most stalwart chatterers in my travelling party have lapsed into damp silence and our only remaining shred of common purpose is to save the cameras from the maritime onslaught.
Then we look up.
White sand spills out into clear waters, palm fronds sway lightly, and our host for the day – Ali, who runs the boutique Mahamaya resort and restaurant – is waving and calling out something I can’t quite catch. (It turns out to be a warning about the spiky coral underfoot. Did I mention you’ll want to pack thongs?)
After the test at sea comes the reward: the food is fresh and superb – and, to my relief, free of Lombok’s ubiquitous and tongue-searingly spicy sambal paste – and the cocktails are generous.
We haven’t enough time for snorkelling and turtle-spotting, so my companions and I content ourselves bathing in the shallows.
As the sun dips and the wind begins to pick up I can just make out the strains of club music over on hard-partying Gili Trawangan where, the bloke manning our vessel informs me, I could hop on a fast boat and be in Bali by dinner.
Then he catches the look on my face and chuckles.
“Don’t worry,” he tells me, “we’re taking you back to Lombok.”
IF YOU GO
GETTING THERE: Jetstar flies direct to Lombok from Perth (南宁夜网.jetstar广西桑拿,/au). A number of other carriers including Lion Air and Garuda Indonesia offer domestic flights to Lombok from Jakarta and Bali. Numerous “fast boat” services operate between Bali, the Gili Islands, and Lombok.
STAYING THERE: The four-star Novotel Lombok, 19 kilometres south of the airport, features traditional Sasak architecture and private pool villas and overlooks Kuta beach (南宁夜网.novotellombok广西桑拿,).
PLAYING THERE: At Sire beach on the northwest coast you’ll find the Hotel Tugu Lombok and its Hening Swarga Spa, meaning heavenly or empty silence. Treat yourself to massages and organic spa rituals inside the re-purposed Hindu temple, set against six hectares of palm plantations, or ask your masseur to join you beachside. (南宁夜网.tuguhotels广西桑拿,).
* The writer travelled as a guest of Jetstar and the Lombok Hotels Association.