The popular tourist island of Lombok has been rattled by 6.4-magnitude earthquake that killed 17 people and stranded nearly 700 hikers on a volcano.
Rescuers were working on Monday to help the trekkers down from Mount Rinjani after the earthquake caused landslides that cut off key trails off the peak. Authorities are attempting to assess the damage to buildings and infrastructure on the Indonesian island.
The epicenter of the quake was in north-east Lombok, some 35 miles north-east of the city of Mataram, and was caused by movements of the Flores plate, according to Indonesia’s meteorological, climatological and geophysics agency.
Where is Lombok?
Lombok, in West Nusa Tenggara, is Bali’s next-door neighbour, to the east. Bali has become increasingly popular with British tourists over the last decade or so, with most travellers to Indonesia visiting the island. Bali’s airport Denpasar hustles and bustles with international airlines.
But Lombok, a dozen miles across the Bali Sea, is quieter and a little less-travelled. It is perhaps best known for the trio of Gili Islands off its north coast, but is otherwise seen as Bali’s quieter sister.
The opening of a new airport in 2012, five times larger than its previous one, helped kick-start its growth, and the island has been targeted by the Indonesian tourism ministry as one of 10 locations to be turned into a “new Bali”.
Writing after a visit in 2012, Michelle Jana Chan said: “About 30 miles east of Bali is low-profile Lombok. There is excellent surfing in the south, and a 30-minute boat ride off the north coast are the Gili Islands ringed by fine sand and coral reefs with villa resorts and spa retreats. Local transport is by bicycle and horse-drawn carts called cidomos. Mount Rinjani, one of Indonesia’s highest peaks, offers a spectacular two-night climb to the summit with views of its crater lake.”
Indonesia’s tourist board said Lombok has “rapidly surged as a favourite tourist destination”.
I’m visiting soon - will my trip be affected?
The Indonesian tourist board has moved to reassure travellers that the island is still open for visitors.
“Although the quake was also felt in Bali and Sumbawa, life on both islands has continued its normal pace and all airports have remained open while air-traffic has operated as scheduled,” the tourist board said in a statement. “Only Mount Rinjani on the island of Lombok – favorite hiking trek for mountain climbers – has been temporarily closed due to landslides.”
“Our crisis center keeps monitoring the updates on the situation in Lombok, and is in close contact and coordination with the regional government, related authorities and ground operators to ensure that all tourists who may be impacted by the quake will be well taken care of,” said director for public communication of the ministry of tourism, Guntur Sakti.
What does the Foreign Office say?
The UK Foreign Office (FCO) has updated its advice to warn British visitors to monitor local media, exercise caution in the area and follow the advice of the local authorities.
Is Lombok getting more popular?
Yes, visitor numbers have soared in recent years, with hotel occupancy figures from last year showing a 34 per cent rise in the number of guests in the month of August compared to 2016.
The Indonesian government is attempting to increase international arrivals to 20 million from just nine million in 2014. In 2017, the country welcomed 14 million, a new record high and up 21.9 per cent year on year, but said it would have been higher were it not for the eruption of Mount Agung on Bali.
The government has identified 10 emerging tourist destinations across the country and is using Australian and World Bank investment to help create “10 new Balis”. Lombok is one of the places cited.
Luxury travel operator Abercrombie and Kent says of Lombok: “It’s just a 20-minute flight from Bali to Lombok, but they are worlds apart. Different from the colour and energy of Bali, the laid-back vibe in Lombok is all about serenity and unspoilt beauty”
It highlights its “white beaches, jungle interior, volcanic mountains, crater lakes and hot springs”.