Flashback: Gili Air

It’s been too long since I left, and since I’m cold today it’ll do me good to think about my time in the sun…

Gili Air, together with Gili Trawangan and Gili Meno, make up the trio of islands between the east coast of Bali and the west coast of Lombok in Indonesia. Surrounded by crystal-clear and temperate waters, drenched in sunshine and forested with lush palms and jungle undergrowth, with not a single motorised vehicle between them (taxis are horse drawn) they may be one of the last true island paradises. I spent several days (but not nearly enough) on Gili Air, diving and frolicking with the fine folk at Blue Marlin.

We all know that I’m a SCUBA junkie. We all remember about the day with the shark out at Chumpon Pinnacle on Koh Tao, right? Doesn’t even begin to compare. On our first day out, on my first dive in the Gilis, we went to a little site called Hahn’s Reef, just off Gili Air. After descending to about 18 meters, we headed over to examine a large rock – or, more precisely, to look under it, which is always where the good things hide. Hanging upside down, a few fingers on the rock to steady us, we looked and saw not one, not two, but three baby black-tip reef shark. On that first dive, I saw turtle and lionfish and mantis shrimp and every kind of wrasse and angelfish I’ve ever seen in a book. It was spectacular, and the remaining dives only got better.

In particular, there was the Wreck. Situated just off the Lombok coast in about 45 meters of water, it is a World War II Japanese patrol boat. We all reckon it must have been sunk intentionally, because it’s totally pristine and perfectly upright. It’s a dive you’ve pretty much got to do on Nitrox, because at that depth on air you’d have a looooooong time decompressing, and that’s nobody’s favourite way to spend their time underwater. Even at 28% Nitrox, maximum bottom time is only 20 minutes, so you’ve got to get down there as fast as possible too. This is one of the best things about diving this particular wreck: you don’t see it until you’re almost on top of it. Descending along the line, I kept an eye on my depth guage. Around 28 meters I started to squint ahead, trying to make out my destination. By 33 meters I still couldn’t see a thing. Suddenly, at about 39 meters, it appeared out of the murk like a ghost ship. Alena told me another diver had once compared it to an old (American) Wild West Ghost Town… after its ghostly appearance, upon closer examination the entire ship is covered in stone fish, lionfish and other poisons of the deep. It’s the outlaw center. You half expect a huge grouper to come out of the wheelhouse toting a six-shooter, wearing a ten-gallon hat. Lounging on top of the wheelhouse were five of the biggest lionfish I’ve ever seen, and on the forward deck Didier spotted a stonefish that must have been well over a meter long. Alena and I swam through an enormous, spiralling school of tiny glassfish off the port bow and the narcosis made it even more psychedelic than it already was. Twenty minutes didn’t seem nearly enough, although we did get in a few backflips and underwater kung fu, just because.

So right, the diving was astonishing. On my last dive, we saw 5 shark, 3 turtles, and more of everything else than I could be bothered to keep count of. But that’s not all there was. Alena and her family and the staff at Blue Marlin made the week so much more memorable than any fish could. On my last day, the entire family came out diving, kids and all, and everyone spent the night on Trawangan to see me off. I have only very rarely been made to feel so welcome by total strangers, and I cannot thank them enough. I can, however, share the love – just as dear Hein at Buddha View on Koh Tao did for me. So if you’re ever in Indonesia and feel like strapping a tank on your back, head for Blue Marlin and ask for Alena Conroy. Tell her Louisa (aka the Junkie) sent you. She’ll sort you out.


  1. mike E

    you’ve got to be kidding, freezing in the tropics? it’s 04-24-03 raining and cold, suck it up women!!! you’ve lost your edge, and your going soft on us.here in the midwest we like the change of seasons, we’re not from L.A.!!!enjoy your time there before the world ends.later M

  2. Emma Channon

    I spent six weeks on tropical Gili Air with my travel bud Laura Eddie. I bought Laura her Advanced PADI course at Blue Marlin for her birthday. We had an absolutely wicked time and also did the wreck dive – which was totally amazing 🙂 We wish Alena would email us.

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