Falling for island life

Relaxing at Club Med Bali are (from left) wife Dianne, grandchildren Tamai (8), Billie (10), son-in-law Pete and daughter Pip. Photos by Roger Hall.
Relaxing at Club Med Bali are (from left) wife Dianne, grandchildren Tamai (8), Billie (10), son-in-law Pete and daughter Pip. Photos by Roger Hall.
On a recent family holiday to Bali, playwright Roger Hall fell for island life.

Bali had long been on my wish-list. The tipping point came last year when Air New Zealand announced direct flights there.

The plan was to take our grandchildren, Billie and Tamai (10 and 8) for a family holiday while they were still willing to be seen with grandparents.

Our daughter Pip and husband Pete came too, and Club Med was certainly the ideal place for a family holiday.

A great climate, lots to do, and many activities for children.

One of the big appeals of Club Med is that once you have written a fairly hefty cheque, all meals and drinks are paid for.

Thus there is never any worry about the amount you are charging to your room account.

You can have as many beers, scotches or cocktails (with or without alcohol) as you want, and there is no need to urge the children to hold back on the menu. No tipping either, another boon to those who worry about these things (all of us).

In short, it was to be a luxurious wallow, a cruise on land.

As on a cruise, food plays a big part in the daily routine. Here it was very good - a huge buffet for every meal with cuisine from many countries: Indonesian, Korean, Japanese, French, Italian, or Unhealthy (Western).

Delicate soups; smoked fish entrees, marinated fish and meats, choices of roasts, grills, pastas; desserts of fruit tarts, panna cotta and bavarois plus a chocolate fountain; a range of French and Italian cheeses, and a selection of breads including, yes, white chocolate. And lots and lots of ice cream.

In the dining area it's like a Barnes dance, people heading in all directions holding their plates, and weaving their way from buffet to buffet. But there is also a dining-room option in which you can receive table service with choices from a menu. (And it's much quieter.)There is a lot to do for those times when you are not actually eating or drinking. A six-hole par-three golf course, several tennis courts, two squash courts (Pip and Pete learned to play here); badminton, archery, volleyball, petanque, table tennis, soccer and a gym. In addition there is free coaching in snorkelling, golf, and tennis.

The social hub of the area is the large pool (where the daily fun session of aquafitness was held) and the large outdoor bar close by; an infants' pool and a delightful quiet pool (no-one under 18 allowed) where one was allowed to speak only in whispers, and charming attendants brought one soft drinks.

There was a spa, too, but their services were extra.

The staff was excellent. A team of GOs (Gentils Organisateurs) would say a cheerful "Hello" to almost anything that moved. They were charming, funny, and excellent with children. This is why so many people bring their families. And you should be warned that a big percentage of guests are family groups (so at meals occasionally you have to avoid the highchairs as you go to your table laden with food, and put up with the occasional piercing wail).

Considering it is a family resort, it's surprising that smoking is allowed in many areas of Club Med, particularly around the open-air bar, but generally it was easy to avoid it.

So, after a leisurely breakfast, time to find a lounger by the pool. (Despite the absence of Germans, competition for the best loungers is fierce, so a towel and bag placed at your favourite spot early in the day is a good idea.)Our grandchildren adapted to the lounger lifestyle as to the manner born, but after the first couple of days they went to the Club Med groups for children and enjoyed numerous activities including archery, and a bungy jump, and making friends.

But while there are numerous activities during the day, for adults, there is little to do at night. There is a show every evening, put on by the GOs and while these are pleasant enough, it is amateur stuff. What I had hoped for was a place where one could meet others to play cards (bridge especially).

Late in our stay, I suggested this to the manager and to do him credit, he did put up a notice (though not where many people would read it) but we got one name only (we needed two).

The grounds are lovely: bougainvilleas and palm trees everywhere, lawns down to the beach (which, be warned, is very tidal). Pools with water lilies, goldfish and frogs, and where large water monitors (like iguanas) sunbathed and fought each other. At dusk, bats swooped in the evening sky.

Within the grounds are a couple of small temples, which were still used for services.

Religious chanting plus gamelan music took place while many of the worshippers sat in cross-legged silence and checked their cellphones.

But once you leave the compound, you realise how sheltered life is within. Outside, there is rubbish and dirt everywhere.

I'm sure many people are happy never to leave the Club.

But 100m away, there is a tawdry art market, a money changer and (on the beach) places where you can get a massage. Pip and I had a one-hour massage, Billie got her hair braided, and Tamai got a temporary tattoo (becoming "The Boy with the Dragon Tattoo"). The whole lot cost about $NZ75.

Further afield there are numerous trips on offer. The others had a delightful morning going to the elephant rides, which they all enjoyed, but after an hour of being jolted around on the lumbering pachyderms, they were a bit sore and bruised.

Dianne and I negotiated with a driver and hired him for eight hours for 500,000 rupiah (down from 700,000) - about $NZ65.

(By the way, don't be tempted to hire a motorbike to drive yourself around. Our driver told us six people a day are killed on bikes in Bali, he himself was seriously injured along with his wife and child; and during our day with him we saw a woman on her bike hit by a car.) With more than two million motorbikes on Bali, you're in a shoal of them all the time.

Our driver took us to the excellent Bali Bird Park. It has 250 species of birds from Bali, Java, Borneo and Africa, plus an area of reptiles (komodo dragon, iguanas and snakes). Most of the birds were brilliantly coloured and some would eagerly perch on your arm. Every half-hour or so there is a live show. We saw the birds of prey swooping and pouncing on titbits thrown by the keepers. The park costs $US25 each and I highly recommend it.

From there, passing lots of villages with a few paddy fields in between, we went to Ubud, that slightly strange conurbation of 14 villages, each with its specialty product (wood products, stone carvings, silversmiths etc). We visited just one silversmith but nothing there appealed.

Dianne and Pip found the dealer who comes to Club Med on Fridays had a better range of goods and was flexible with his prices.

Pip got three items for less than his original asking price for one of them and was delighted with what she got. (Dianne, too.) Then to one of the temples and the Royal Palace (both rather similar). Most visitors rave about Ubud but to us it seemed jammed with tourists and it didn't appeal to us very much. We passed on the monkey forest, perhaps a mistake.

But I was feeling tired and sore.

Sore, dear reader, because I had fallen for Bali from the moment of arrival. At about 1am at Bali airport, despite being sober, I had fallen into an unmarked metre-deep concrete drain (dry). I was lucky not to have broken anything, but got bruises and cuts and ended up with an infected leg. Club Med's infirmary regularly changed the dressing and prescribed antibiotics. The worst thing was that I wasn't allowed to go swimming. I was supposed to keep my leg up, and for a few days no alcohol. (But I'd paid for it!)

But if you do have to spend time sulking on a lounger, there are worse places to do so, and I did rebel every now and then and sneak an early round of par-3 golf before the day warmed up. For the last three days, I joined in at aquafitness and loved it; oh how supple my body would have been had I done it every day.

The weather was just about perfect. This was the end of August/early September and we got no rain, temperatures in high 20s, and not much humidity, which I'm told occurs about a month later. Pollution shelters you from much of the sun's harmful effects. Across the bay is a mountain as dominant as Mount Taranaki; in 11 days there, we saw it only once.

But would we go again?

Definitely. (Though some bridge players would be nice.)

Playwright and writer Roger Hall lives in Auckland. His latest book for children is The Three Little Pigs, published by Scholastic, told both as a story and as a play for children to perform.

 


If you go

• Air New Zealand has announced a second season of Auckland to Bali services next year. Fares start from $599 one way for an economy class "seat" fare, or $1499 one way for business class. The 2013 season for Air New Zealand flights to Bali runs from June 1 to October 15.

• For more information on Club Med Bali go to www.clubmed.co.nz.