While you might be forgiven for thinking that once you've had kids, your travelling days are numbered, the reality is it isn't. Sure, the days of staying out to 4 in the morning knocking back snake wine shooters in Vietnam might be gone, but that's not to say family holidays need to consist of a week at the Gold Coast Amusement parks or getting maximum usage of the kids club on Fiji's Denarau Island.
Wanting to prove to ourselves that we could have a family holiday with a bit of real travel thrown in, we ventured to Bali, which we thought should be an extremely easy place to visit with kids and to "initiate" them into travelling. To spice things up a bit, we also decided to throw in a side trip to Java to look at some of the amazing temples on offer and were surprised with just how easy this was as well. This post is a bit old as the trip took place last year (2016) but our eldest, Annabelle, was keen to put this up in the travel section of the Best Travel Books website and who am I to deny her!
So, without any further ado, a run down of some things that we did with our kids, aged 7 and 5, that we would recommend, along with some advice on how to make the most of your time in this beautiful part of the world.
Getting There is Supposed to be Half the Fun
We consider our kids to be reasonably well traveled, but there's a huge difference between a 3 hour trip to the Pacific Islands and a 9 hour journey from Auckland to Bali.
We made sure our carry on bag contained pencils and colouring in books, kindles, headphones, lollies and other assorted snacks and obligatory favourite stuffed animals. Coupled with the in-flight entertainment, this did a reasonable job of keeping the kids engaged enabling us to sneak in some shameless movie watching, so that time for us as well passed a little bit more quickly.
To be completely honest, we did have one melt down en route, but it was easy enough to get through the worst of this knowing that their were exciting times in front of us.
Conquering Jet Lag
Given New Zealand's distance from a lot of places, it is inevitable that we have to contend with a reasonable dose of jet lag for the first couple of days in most places we visit. It’s easy enough to google the best ways to avoid jet lag, but with kids in tow adhering to them is another thing. Avoid alcohol on a nine hour flight? That ain't gonna happen. Likewise, controlling exposure to and avoidance of bright light might be something that is achievable when travelling on your own, but when kids are up, the reality is, so are you.
My go to remedy for jet lag has always been to stay up as long as possible once I’ve arrived in order to align my body clock to the new time zone. This used to be achieved by hitting the bars as quickly after finding my accommodation as possible and striking up conversations with anyone who looked like they might be up for a few drinks and stumbling home in various states of disrepair to sleep through to what hopefully was something like the morning. Even if I slept too long, chances are I’d be pretty shattered, making the adjustment to the correct time zone a whole heap easier.
These days, I’ve had to resort to a different coping strategy with jet lag. Our first morning in Nusa Dua, Bali saw me donning my headlamp, strapping on the runners and heading out the door before the kids woke. Shambling past the guards at the gate and their amused looks, it wasn’t long before I managed to hit the beaches after a couple of wrong turns.
Located a short jog from our accommodation is the Waterblow (located about 400 metres or so from the Grand Hyatt Bali), which is a great place to see the sunrise.
The amazing thing is, at this time of day you're likely to have the place nearly to yourself, which very much is a rare thing in Bali. Make sure you hang around for the daylight to see the waves rolling in from the Indian Ocean and smashing into the cliff sending large spumes of water skyward, hence giving it its name.
After the early morning connection back to nature, there's plenty of beautiful deserted beaches back on the way home.
Yes, it is all looks a bit manicured - this is Nusa Dua after all - but it still makes an excellent way to ease yourself into a foreign country.
We All Go Chasing Roundabouts
Who would think that Bali had such cool roundabouts? It seems every time we approached a new roundabout there was some outrageously awesome statue in the middle of it that leaps straight out of the Hindu epic Mahabharata.
Directly outside the gates of the Novotel Bali Nusa Dua there is this Bhima statue by the south gate.
And further down the road in the Nusa Dua complex is this little gem.
Even the sides of the roads have any number of different carved statues to keep you entertained as you travel from one place to another.
It’s little experiences like this, that makes Bali such a great entry level place to visit by providing the whole family with plenty of discussion points. At the very least, it certainly makes the roundabouts back home extraordinarily tame and mundane!
I can’t profess to being an expert on the history of Bali, but I have a sneaking suspicion that in the dim dark past there must’ve been piracy galore. How else does it explain the frequent sightings of pirate paraphernalia that seems to adorn the beaches?
If you're keen for some more pirate stuff, then head off to Pirates Bay Bali which has it’s own pirate ship and tree houses where your own little pirates can be fed and watered. This is located a couple of hundred of metres north of the Waterblow and within easy walking distance of Bali Collection (albeit we somehow managed to get ourselves a bit lost but easily enough sorted by asking directions).
Whilst the food wasn’t anything to write home about, the kids loved the pirate ship and there was plenty of shade and swings which kept the whole family happy.
Anyway, the place is worth a couple of hours if you’re in the vicinity and you can check it out on the web here.
A Fishy Tale
Nestled amongst the wonderful backdrop of Jimbaran Bay is the very well known Jimbaran Bay fish market (pasar ikan). Some 30 odd minutes from Nusa Dua, it's best to arrive sometime around 7am when it is supposed to be in full swing with loads to see.
We arrived a bit later and the first thing that greets us, or more importantly what greats our kids, is the extremely pungent smell of thousands of fish. Not surprising, given it is a fish market, but for first world noses that obviously are used to only ever seeing fish when accompanied by fried chips in paper wrapping, it was literally an assault on the senses and ensured most of the trip was spent with fingers pinching delicate noses to stave off the worst of the smell.
The actual fish arranged alluringly on slabs of ice were of great interest, and the array of different species created great conversational pieces.
There was a covered area where even more exotic and much larger fish species were on display but unfortunately, we weren’t able to explore this area in much detail as Emily had decided she was all fished out.
So instead we wandered up the pier, past the extremely ripe fish laid out to dry in the sun and caught great views of the fisherman’s baskets and fishing vessels, including the traditional Jukung (double outrigger Balinese canoe).
The trip is definitely worth it solely for the views and what really did seem genuine authenticity and while we didn’t do it, I imagine picking out your our own seafood choices and getting them cooked at one of the many nearby warung BBQ’s, would make it even better. If only they could wrap it up in some newspaper, we would so have been there!
Situated not that far from the Jimbaran fish market is one of Bali’s most visited temples, Uluwatu temple (‘Ulu’ meaning the ‘top’ or the ‘tip’ and ‘watu’ meaning ‘stone’ or ‘rock’ in Balinese).
Here you'll need to procure a sarong and make a short 5 minute walk down the hill before viewing the temple which, in line with its name, sits at the top of a 70 metre cliff that juts out into the sea.
Looping round the walkway takes you to another view point where the bamboo safety barrier keep you from falling into the crashing surf below. I'm sure this isn't OSH-approved!
Completing the full 15 minute loop, will take you to the foot of a short walk up to the temple itself. Unfortunately, when we were there, due to one of the many ceremonies that was occurring we weren’t able to go up and see the temple . It was, however, great to see that the temple is still being used and there were a couple of pretty cool statues that provide an insight of some of the temple environs residents that we were to see shortly.
Following a short path off to the right takes you to a position for different vistas of the temple.
And if you continue down the path you'll likely run across some rather intimidating monkeys. Whilst they didn’t approach me as I passed, I was very much aware that I was on their turf and made sure I didn’t make eye contact and hid my camera to ensure that they didn’t think I had anything that might pique their interest.
Of course arriving back and telling Emily and Annabelle about the monkeys that I’d seen on my own while they were resting from the midday heat, only meant I had to repeat the trip with them. For some reason by the time we got back to the troupe they seemed to have disappeared, though, so we'd have to save the monkey viewing for later.
Without doubt this temple would be breathtaking at sunset. Unfortunately for us, we were done for the day and with hot and hungry kids it was time for the 45 minute drive back to the beckoning swimming pool.