Donna Sue Robson is a freelance writer and essayist specialising in the arts, Latin dance; & natural & alternative therapies for people and pets. Check out her own energy-healing consultancy and boutique natural products at www.jamienatural.com
Published October 26th 2016
Make a date with nature, North Bali
To see all that the Bali Botanic Garden has on-offer takes about 4 hours of non-stop walking. Instead, put aside a day and take your time to explore, eat, learn, relax - or even glide through the tree-tops on a flying fox.
Bedugul, a small mountainous town in northern Bali, is a favourite destination for Javanese holiday-makers. Her cool, clouded mountains and crystal blue lake resound with mosque-prayers throughout the day. Bedugul offers a very different Balinese adventure: she is not known for the usual Hindu rituals, vibrant colours and beach-coastal energy that has made Bali famous. Make a day trip to the Bali Botanic Garden, and you begin to see the best of Bedugul.
The Bali Botanic Garden was first established in 1959 and now covers an impressive 157,500 hectares. Balinese sculptures Rahwana Jatayu and Kumbakarna Laga and other characters from the legendary Indian-Hindu Ramayana, are a timely reminder that this park is not just about botany- it is also referenced by cultural icons, stories, art and sacred ceremony. There are many statues and art throughout the gardens, all made locally from metal and stone.
You need to allow a full day to see all that is on offer and take your time to really take it all in: there are parklands in which to wander, state-of-the-art, modern floral pavilions at which you can marvel and take home photographic souvenirs, as well as relaxed-vibe eateries and adventure-style flying foxes that are sure to challenge the super-active.
The Bali Botanic Garden is impeccably presented and makes an important contribution to international botanical conservation.
There is no motorised transportation so if you are travelling with the elderly, disabled people or young children, be prepared to take rests. The altitude is between 1.250-1.450 metres which means that your head is literally in the clouds: the gardens can get cold and the area is prone to mist and rain. Take at least one warm layer, an umbrella and a light, waterproof jacket. Make sure that you have enough water to drink because the walking distances through some special gardens can be time-consuming and there are a few steep climbs for the more adventurous.
Bali Botanic Garden boasts Balinese design flair and high-detailed maintenance, in terms of overall park design, single collections and their accompanying editorial signposts. Take the time to read these signs to really gain insight into the research and conservation commitment that these botanical gardens are making to international environmentalism.
Entry to the Treetop Adventure Park includes preliminary instruction and professional support.
It is impossible to miss the Treetop Adventure Park which is next to the main café. Here, explore the vast and complex layout of flying foxes and 'jungle-climbing' ropes. Before you begin, there is instruction to guide you in basic technique and in the use of climbing-swinging equipment. Professionals staff the area and help-out when assistance is required. There are levels of difficulty so that children are catered for and the course gets progressively harder for those who are looking for a challenge. The cost of the adventure park is around $30 per person and the course takes about 1.5-2 hours to fully complete.
The Cyathea Garden plays out like a wander through 'Gondwana' with ancient ferns and lycophytes species earthed in a cool rainforest. There is a moss collection housed within a large metallic dinosaur. You could spend hours in this area alone but as you follow the stone-chiselled paths, you arrive at the very modern bamboo gardens. This right side of the park is a world away from the manicured lawns, contained pavilions and floral displays. Clear pathways lead you back to the more exposed garden settings.
The Cyathea Garden has a diversity of ferns and lycophytes. Some of them are used as ornamental plants, or even food, medicine and handicrafts.
Obviously, the full glory of the floral gardens is seasonal. The Rose Garden, Rhododendron Collection and Orchid Collections were not in bloom on my visit, but the beauty of their landscaping is obvious year-long. Strike it lucky and these three garden settings would be utterly spectacular- geometrically, visually and aromatically.
The Cactus House is not seasonally dependent and pays homage to South America. The multi-layered and multi-levelled displays in this pavilion are tonally subtle and yet structurally powerful - it is no wonder that this collection is a favourite with photographers. I can only imagine the dramatic impact of full cacti-bloom! Again, take note of the botanical story-telling through meticulous companion-planting and well-researched signage: both explain the unique biology of this cacti-succulent group and are bound to inspire the home gardener.
To the right of the Cacti House is the Aquatic Plant Collection which is landscaped in curves and circles that you walk through, around and can even circumnavigate. This is a marked contrast to the stark masculinity of the cacti pavilion and is a viewing experience that is almost interactive. The feeling is soft and spacious, the fragrance is sensual and the energy is feminine. There is also outdoor seating if you want to absorb it in a more meditative or restful state.
The Cacti House showcases Balinese design flair and tips to cacti-succulent companion gardening.
For lunch or a yummy snack, try the well-resourced and under-cover café beside the flying fox whose menu includes both Indonesian and international food, light snacks, fruit, fresh juices and hot drinks. There is also a very small warung which is open until 2pm and serves nasi campur (mixed rice) and other commercial snack items and cold drinks. You can also take a picnic lunch and relax on one of the many lawns. There are about nine toilet blocks which are well-signposted.
There is a shaded café beside the Treetop Adventure Park. The menu offers Indonesian, Western or light-snack selections.
For those with specific tastes or specialised knowledge, the 'Usada' Garden (Medicinal Plant Collection that is currently under construction), the Panca Yadnya Garden (Ceremonial Plant Collection) and the Plant Propagation Area are worthy of further exploration. The medicinal garden is a paradise for healers and herbalists and is shaping up as a real 'library' of knowledge and creativity. Well-angled editorial prose relate the healing properties of Balinese plants to sacred ceremonial life, food and cooking; and link plant history and folk knowledge with Western herbalism and Balinese healing. Along with the Herbarium, Usada explains the health benefits of Indonesian cuisine and how eating is fundamentally connected to the land and its spiritual nature. The Ceremonial Plant Collection, which is near the Batu Meringgit Temple, also emphasises the importance of nature and sacred rituals in Balinese daily life.
The Plant Propagation Area is perhaps one of the Garden's most important education and conservation collections and will help you to appreciate their commitment to sustaining and re-introducing endemic species. This area shows the co-operation between botanists on an international scale. The conservation work of the Bali Botanic Garden seems to be focussed on ferns and lycophyte species.
The path that runs through the Tropical Rainforest Walk is well-marked. This walk is an intimate conversation with nature.
The Bali Botanic Garden fuses human history with that of the natural world. The Pura Terate Bang Temple is still in active use. It is fairly typical of most Balinese Hindu temples but the hike to the temple and its entrance that is layered with large stone steps, provides calf-stretch challenges if exercise is high on your day-tour agenda.
There are two temples in the Bali Botanic Garden which link the natural world to spiritual life and human history.
For private and reflective time, take the Tropical Rain Forest Walk which runs behind the Treetop Adventure Park. It has a similar energy to the fernery, in that it transports you back in time and gives you the opportunity to acquaint yourself with intimate forest-green hues and simple earth-based living. The clear stone paths are very narrow and have stretches that are windy and steep. It is lush, damp, low-in-light and yes, is home to many mosquitos! For me, the Tropical Rainforest Walk evokes the real, natural Bali.
The Batu Meringgit Temple tells the story of Buddha and Hinduism in Bali.
As you ascend from the lower depths of the rainforest you are close to the rear of Batu Meringgit Temple which has water gardens, stone carvings and sacred plants. The temple ceiling has been painted with colourful pictorials of the life of Buddha and artistically documents the meeting of Buddhism and Hinduism in Bali. Batu Meringgit has classic stone-sculptured characters from Balinese folklore and sacred mythology which protect Balinese temples and its people from good and evil.
Batu Meringgit Temple is a 5-minute walk from the main entrance. Contemplate your day with another rest stop at the main café, park yourself on the lawn for time-out, or if you are still high-charged and energetic, check-out the market stalls on the left of the entrance after your departure.
You know you are in a great place when Indonesians from all-over come to visit. The gardens can get cold and with your head in the clouds, be prepared for rain: if you get caught out you can purchase umbrellas at the market stalls near the main gate.