So if you are reading this you are probably on your way to, or thinking about going to Gili Air, one of the three Gili Islands. You probably already know the run down with which island is which but I will quickly go over for it incase you aren’t sure which island is for you.
The three desert islands sitting in-between Bali and Lombok are the popular Gili Islands. Known for their white sandy beaches, beautiful sunsets, and wonderful snorkelling. With easy access from Bali the islands are becoming more and more popular with both backpackers and holidayers. Trawangan is know as the ‘party island’ with mushrooms on the beach and sunset parties, its bar and party scene is vibrant. Gili Air has the strongest local character, but also a perfect mix of buzz and languor. Gili Meno is simply a desert-island getaway.
This year we decided to visit Gili Air whilst backpacking across Indonesia and snorkelling was as the top of my agenda. After just passing my PADI open water diving I was ready to chase some turtles through the turquoise water using my new full face snorkel.
When looking online there wasn’t a tonne of tips for beach snorkelling, it was mostly about snorkelling tours, and after my first attempt beach snorkelling, I decided I needed to seek out information from some locals to make the hunt for sea turtles as successful as possible.
When you first step into the sea at Gili Air you may notice it’s very shallow with a carpet of dead coral washing up through the sand, its very hard to walk on and you can’t imagine how you will find anything in the shallow waters. You can see other snorkelers hundreds of meters out, still not even up to their waist in water.
So here are some tips to make your snorkelling experience the best it can be.
1 – Location
Location is very very important here on the island and I found that there are three very good spots for snorkelling the coral in water up to 15m deep.
The first location I snorkelled was Hans Reef, and along the east coast of the island. I entered the water at Bambu Cottages, a little walk up from Ozzy’s shop and Ada Art shop.
The water got gradually deeper here and you slowly started to encounter life and a after around 100-120metres you reached a coral drop off. Here I saw Moorfish Idol, Butterfly fish and the odd Parrot Fish, amongst many others. It was around midday I swam out here and by the time I got around 100metres out I was amongst the boats of the snorkelling trips, which I figured would be a good sign.
It was here I unfortunately encountered a school of, what I know are called, Sea Lice. At first I though I was getting stung by jellyfish, but I couldn’t see any anywhere. The stings became regular and it became too painful to swim any longer, so I head back to sure worried I had just hit a load of jellyfish. I called in to Manta Dive, where I was informed it was just Sea Lice that sometimes float on the surface and drift along the currents, they are unavoidable and its complete luck if you swim into them. If you do feel a series of short stings, just swim back to sure, catch a little rest and move slightly up from the current and you shouldn’t encounter these again.
I believe the second location was probably better and more likely to find turtles at. This location is a little trickier to get to, and can be a little dangerous if you aren’t wearing shoes (more on that later).
The Second location was Frog Fish Point, at little trickier to access than the first. For this location head to the north east point on the island and just as it starts to bend westward you will come across Gili Air hotel. From here you may see waves breaking around 100m or so out, this is because there is a shallow coral dump before the drop off.
Slowly swim across the shallow sands and you will reach a garden of sea grass (good for finding those pesky turtles in) but be careful of sea urchins here. Once you pass over the grass you will notice it becomes shallow for another 100m or so. There is plenty of life here in the shallows including some wrasses, small puffa fish and trumpet fish.
Once you get around 200m from the shore you will encounter a word of coral reefs, with depths of up to 10m or so, lots of species in a range of sizes. There was a bed of coral here too with large sponges where the turtles apprently like to take rests. By the time I swam out here I was met by three boats of divers from manta dives all embarking on their dives, which once again, is probably a good sign. You can swim around the shallow dead coral bead if you head slightly southward, but just keep an eye on your position and use a landmark so you don’t stay too far.
The third location was actually where I saw my first sea turtle. This doesn’t necessarily mean its the best, but take is as you wish. I think an important factor here was the weather, it was later in the day, on what was a unusually cloudy day for the island.
Anyway this point is called Nemo City, it has a lot of vegetation here and it has easy access to the coral. I entered the water from Garden cafe, before you reach scallywags. It was a casual swim around 80m out and you enter a shallow coral garden. Sea urchins are hidden here so once again be careful. There is lots of life here including puffa fish, angel fish and a lot of smaller species too. The beach access is easy as there is an initial stretch of sandy beach for you to walk over, rather than the pesky coral!
2 – To tour or not to tour
If you want to experience Gili to it’s fullest you can visit one of the tour reps on the island and book a snorkelling tour. You are likely to see a whole range of species and it saves you the energy of swimming out across the range of landscapes.
The reason I didn’t book a tour was partly down to spending the previous three days diving, and I also wanted the reward of finding locations and hopefully a turtle myself and in my own time. You are never guaranteed to see a turtle, but I would like to think the tour increases your chances slightly if you decide to pay. I think they cost around 300K IDR but don’t quote me on that. I enjoyed my time alone with the sea turtle and finding it myself did add a little magic to the occasion, however if you are running out of time, this may be a good option.
3 – Shoes and Flippers
My first dip in the ocean was a tough one at, I mistakenly stepped in on the west coast and was greeted by a bed of dead coral, and a garden of sea grass. With a quick look under the water I noticed there was a bed of sea urchin in the sea grass, so I backed out and decided to find a sandy place to swim as I had no flippers.
On my second day, snorkelling at Frog Fish point I swam through around 50 metres of sea grass and must of saw 200-300 sea urchins. The last thing you want to do is step on one of these so make sure you wear sea shoes or flippers. Keep your eye on the floor when you are swimming and be careful if you are in the sea grass! Last thing you want to do is be in the clinic and ruin your trip with a painful foot.
4 – Time your snorkel
My first two days I was lazy after a long week previous climbing two volcanos and 3 days of diving, so I mistakenly ended up snorkelling 11am-1pm , the hottest parts of the day. The third day I decided to hit the water early around 7am I found that the water was a little calmer at this time and the life was a little more active. I also didn’t come away with a bright red back after 3 hours scorching in the summer sun. Be aware of the time when you are snorkelling if you do this midday maybe making hourly trips back to the beach to top up on that lotion!
On my third and final day I also hit the water a second time, around 4pm, and this is when I saw my turtle. It may of been due to the weather though as it was a cooler, cloudy day. However it is once again more enjoyable snorkelling at this time as the sun isn’t beating down your back.
5 – Enjoy yourself
When hunting for the sea turtle, don’t forget to enjoy yourself. It’s a beautiful island with lots of great food, music, beautiful beaches and island lifestyle. Make the most of your snorkelling trips but don’t let them drive you wild. The turtle is an illusive animal and you should consider yourself lucky if you see one.
Oh by the way; here’s my turtle! I’dd add my video soon as the footage is better, it’s hard to get a shot when it’s never really still
Things I wish I had brought :
The full face snorkel came in real handy, however I wish I had brought some anti fog as the hundreds of metres of swimming soon ads up and you tend to breathe a little heavier after this. It’s hard to clear your mask in deep water so anti-fog would of been a big help. I also didn’t use flippers my whole time on the island, these would of allowed me to cover more ground on my hunt and also as a safety precaution for those sea urchins