When Aleney de Winter revisted Bali with her young family, almost two decades had passed since her first trip to the island paradise.
On my first trip I experienced a taste of the island’s endless beaches, pretty terraced rice fields, tranquil temples and the colour and kindness of Balinese Hindu culture. But, being young and foolish, I also tasted a touch too much bourbon, and after a big night out in Kuta ended up so inebriated that I tried to buy a horse. Of the live, whinnying variety.
I bartered with a kart driver convinced that I’d be saving it from a life of servitude and, in my stupor, that I’d have no dramas whatsoever taking it back to our resort or getting it through customs the next day. It wasn’t one of my finer moments... nor was the resulting hangover.
That was then and this is now and my embarrassment has finally subsided enough that I’ve decided it’s time for a second taste of this island paradise. This time I’ve come armed with a little maturity and two small children so I’m fairly certain there’ll be no drunken equine acquisitions.
From the moment we arrive at Ayana Resort and Spa, we feel like rock stars. The expansive resort overlooking the Indian Ocean at Jimbaran is just 10-kilometres from the airport yet completely secluded and more than a little bit special. The villa lobby is surrounded by an exquisite lotus pool where we are greeted with fruity refreshments and floral leis before being buggied to our Cliff Villa, the scale of which is astounding.
Jaws drop as we take in the luxurious living area, bedroom with enormous canopied bed and bathroom that’s the size of our entire apartment at home. The bath is brimming with floating flower petals and a gift bag with a rubber ducky is presented to both our delighted children.
Meanwhile, I am presented with a cell phone, our mobile hotline to the personal butler that we, as villa guests (the resort also offers standard suites and rooms in its 290-room hotel) are privileged to enjoy. Wow! We don’t have the first clue what to do with a butler but are quite prepared to spend the next few days working it out.
Outside, there’s a private plunge pool, bale (Balinese pavilion) and enormous daybed overlooking the ocean where, blown away by the sheer scale of the 77-hectare cliff-top resort, we snuggle up together and ponder where to begin.
There’s an award-winning spa, 18-hole golf course, tennis pavilion, fitness centre, five swimming pools, a retail arcade and abundant kids activities but Rafferty and I decide we’ll begin at the resort’s L'Atelier Parfums where we learn about the process of making perfume. The mad scientist in him loves the test tubes and beakers in the hands-on workshop and he proves to have quite a nose, creating an original, and pretty, fragrance which he sweetly names “Marlo” for his sister.
After a morning of aromatic adventure we catch up with the rest of our clan to pool hop across the resort. Choosing only one from the five on offer - each boasting infinity edges and spurting fantasy creatures - proving quite impossible. While the kids could happily spend the rest of the day in the water, the lure of Ayana’s award-winning Thermes Marins Bali Spa proves impossible to resist. Leaving the kids to splash about with their dad on the twisting waterslides of the children’s pool, I sneak off to road test the signature ‘seven chakra dhara’ treatment. I melt.
Not wanting my husband to miss out, the following morning we take advantage of the resort’s babysitting service for Marlo while Rafferty happily heads of to the resorts kids club - which, along with a fabulous program of crafts and traditional games, boasts its own outdoor petting zoo with lambs, piglets, rabbits and ducks - to hit the spa’s Aquatonic seawater jet pool, for an hour of invigorating hydrotherapy.
As hard as it is to tear ourselves away from Ayana, we want our kids to experience a little Balinese culture so we nab a resort driver to take us the 11th Century temple at Uluwatu, about half an hour away. Perched high on a steep cliff that overlooks the ocean, the location is even more remarkable than the temple itself and the perfect spot to view one of Bali’s spectacular sunsets.
We’ve arrived on a Balinese holiday and the place is alive with worshippers. Marlo takes a fancy to one of the locals and quite literally throws herself at him. In a gesture that perfectly encapsulates the kind nature of the Balinese people, he scoops her into his arms and carries her into the temple courtyard, where tourists are not allowed, for the priest to bless her before returning her to me with a gentle smile. It is a profoundly touching moment.
We stop to watch a traditional kecak dance. About 50 loincloth-clad men form a circle around a fire and throw their hands in the air begin a percussive chant of “chat-chat-chat”. The kids are mesmerised.
But it’s not all sweetness and light at the temple. We’re advised by our driver to hide anything we don’t want stolen as the temple is also inhabited by a bunch of mischievous monkeys. Hats, sunglasses, and cameras are particularly popular among the pilfering primates and while you may have a little luck exchanging your stolen goods for fruit, it is better not to have to enter negotiations with the bolshie bandits in the first place. Especially when you’re with kids! The monkeys can bite and a rabies shot does not make for an ideal holiday memento. Still our kids love watching them scampering about and beg for more monkey magic the next evening.
Instead we head to the beach at Jimbaran Bay at sundown where the kids stalk a guy selling balloons and frolic happily with local kids on the beach, connected by a shared language of play. They fill their bellies with fresh fish from one of the seafood shacks that line the beach and freshly barbecued corn from a random cart, while mum and dad fast in preparation for a night out.
It’s a rare occasion where we get to eat out without having to tell someone to stop playing with their food, so dining by candlelight beside a pretty terraced lily pond at Ayana’s Dava Restaurant proves extra special. We enjoy a superb five-course surprise dinner, dotted with succulent bites of crayfish and freshly shaved truffle and finished with a baked chocolate fondant flourish. While the meal is superb the biggest surprise of the evening is returning to our villa to discover our little ratbags haven’t eaten their babysitter and are, in fact, fast asleep.
Food is an integral part of what makes Ayana so special. Besides fine diner Dava, the resort offers a huge choice of dining from fresh seafood on the beach and delicious kid-friendly trattoria-style Italian to a melting-pot of pan-asian cuisine and traditional Indonesian market fare.
My kids can’t get enough of the smoky satay sticks cooked on a traditional cart outside Damar Terrace, eating them by the dozen and still begging for more. And the resort’s Rock Bar is an absolute must. Accessed by inclinator, the split-level bar built almost organically into the cliff face gives new meaning to “on the rocks”. While we distract the kids with potato wedges, my husband and I toast another beautiful day in Bali as the waves break below us and traditional fishing boats sail past us into yet another postcard perfect sunset.
Perhaps the most special dining experience for us is one of delicious seafood nasi goreng (fried rice) and tum bebek (minced duck in banana leaf) that we enjoy on our last day at Ayana after an amazing tour of the local fish market. A meal that my beaming four-year-old son, chef’s hat in place, proudly presents to us after his first ever official cooking class.
As a reward for his hard work, I take my clever boy to Ayana’s gift shop for a little memento of our stay.
Ironically, Rafferty sets his heart on a carved timber horse! So once again I find myself in Bali purchasing a pony, only this time I’m as sober as a judge.
I agree with Rafferty that it’s an outstanding choice and something that will offer me a smiling reminder of two very different Bali breaks.
Beyond resort life and beautiful beaches, there’s plenty of fun to be found in Bali. Here are some family faves;
At the Bali Safari and Marine Park near Sanur, take the safari tram to get up close and personal with hundreds of animals.
Visit the Elephant Safari Park at Taro to interact, feed, ride, observe, learn, play and stay with 29 beautiful Sumatran elephants.
For active kids, the Bali Treetop Adventure Park in Bali Botanical Garden, Bedugul offers adventure circuits with flying foxes and suspended bridges and other fun challenges.
Waterbom Bali in the heart of Kuta offers 17 world class waterslides and a child-friendly spa where the kids can splash about all day.
On Sundays, Seminyak restaurant Ku De Ta hosts Family Dayze where a children’s menu is served up alongside arts and crafts, face-painting, jumping castles and balloons.
Award winning Garuda Indonesia Airlines offers regular direct flights from Sydney , Melbourne and Perth to Denpasar.
The currency is the Indonesian Rupiah (IDR). At the time of writing, AUD $1 buys you IDR $9787.55
Bali Tourism Board