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We went to Lombok in search of the perfect wave. The one that all travelling surfers dream of; the secret, empty wave that breaks right outside the hotel. But we weren't a hard-core surf crew, we were an inland family from Wanaka with one experienced but paddle unfit surfer, one chicken surfer (that's me) and two keen boys with limited experience.
In these days of global maps and cheap travel, it's a challenge to find an uncrowded, reliable wave. To find a wave that would suit all our family, with our wide range of surf experience and ability, was probably a pipe-dream. But if you don't look, you'll never find; and so we were headed for the enticingly named ``Heaven on the Planet''.
It was a one and a-half hour drive from Lombok's airport to our destination, Ekas Bay on the southeast coast, sheltered by a fish-hook of land. The vegetation didn't have the lushness of Bali, and tourism hadn't made the same impact. Away from the airport, the small towns we passed through were peopled by Indonesians instead of tourists. Garages were more prevalent than cafes, mosques more common than hotels.
Minutes later we had a cold drink in hand and were ordering lunch while watching a big left and right A-frame peak roll into the bay like a machine. A deep reef in the bay means that the wave breaks consistently and perfectly in the same spot. A whiteboard in the restaurant was updated daily with the swell forecast for the coming days. ``Insides'', was the more mellow wave we could see, and ``Outsides'', a bigger, heavier wave around the corner for gung-ho surfers.
The present 4 feet to 6 feet (1.2m to 1.8m) for Insides was going to get bigger in the middle of the week before dropping back to 4 feet to 6 feet. That size was perfect for my partner, Logan, but well out of my comfort zone. It was reassuring to know there was no pressure to get out in the surf, as the resort also specialised in yoga and relaxation, including free massages every second day.
Food was also included, and the boys couldn't believe their luck, following up roast chicken for lunch with hollowed out pineapples filled with ice cream. Delicious and cooling, it was an instant favourite. After lunch, we dropped our bags at the wooden villa that would be our home for the rest of the week. It was an airy, spacious building made from teak with a traditional alang alang (grass) roof and marble floors. The large deck looked out over the sea, with wooden rocking chairs and loungers from which to watch the panoramic sea view.
At dawn the next morning, Logan paddled out to Insides at low tide. He came back from the double-overhead wave with big eyes and a cleansed soul. Meanwhile, the boys and I took some longer boards from the surf shack and headed to a deserted sandy beach where a small wave was breaking. It was a very gentle wave, so we had to sit in exactly the right spot and paddle our hearts out to catch it. We had a fabulous morning catching waves that were all our own, hooting and shouting.
For the rest of our stay, the beach refused to break and resembled a very beautiful but flat lake. If we wanted more action, we would have to go and play in the big waves. Luckily, our timing was faultless, as Australian surfer Mark Haines had recently arrived to take up a new position as a surf coach. Kerry and partner Moira Healey had headhunted him after watching him spending most of his surf holiday teaching his friends.
Mark was keen to take me and my 14-year-old son Quinn out to Insides at high tide when the waves were a bit smaller. Sitting on the boat to get out to the wave, my stomach was churning with nerves. We sat in the boat watching the wave break next to us, while Mark talked us through how the wave worked and where we were going to sit to catch it.
``This one's yours Gina,'' he said.
``Are you sure it's mine?'' I queried, hoping for an escape .
``Yep, it's yours,'' he said.
I faced forward and paddled with all the commitment I could muster, knowing that if I looked back and saw the monster chasing me, I'd be sure to chicken out. Suddenly, I was picked up by the wall of green, and in pure reflex, I jumped to my feet and rode down the biggest drop I'd ever faced. It was fear and success and exhilaration all mixed together.
As I paddled back out after the wave, I could hear my family yelling for me, and watched Quinn drop into a beautiful wave with impressive teenage style. I would have been happy to sit on my laurels for the rest of the session, but our surf coach wasn't having that. With his encouragement, Quinn and I caught waves until our arms felt like cooked spaghetti and we were lying face down on the boards as limp as jellyfish.
Over dinner that night, we swapped stories about the best waves we caught and the times we got tumbled. It's inevitable that your kids eventually become better and braver at physical things than you, but it felt great to delay the moment when you get left behind for just a little longer.
We were invited to join the game so we wandered down one evening to the makeshift pitch. The home team had bare feet and wore jeans, and were much better at keeping the ball out of the bushes than us visitors. We didn't speak each others' language, but we all laughed and sweated and kicked until the heat overcame us and we had to be revived by cold drinks.
For our family, the combination of excitement and relaxation made it the perfect holiday and we'd go back in a flash. Relaxing beside the pool after a massage with a fresh juice, cocktail or Bintang, watching the monkey troop and enjoying a yoga session was just as much part of the holiday as the surfing.
If you're looking for a traditional five-star manicured resort, then Heaven on the Planet may not be for you. But if your idea of an epic holiday involves surf, relaxation and getting away from it all, then Heaven on the Planet will live up to its name.
Gina Dempster is a Wanaka-based writer.
If you go
•Transport: Garuda flies every day from Bali to Lombok for about $50 each way. Heaven on the Planet (www.heavenontheplanet.com) will pick you up free from the airport if you’re staying five days or more.
•Surfing: A good range of surfboards, kayaks, SUPs and snorkels is available for Platinum Package hotel guests to use at no extra charge. After enjoying a massage, shower before surfing as massage oil makes it really difficult to stay on your board (everyone gets caught out once).