Climbing Gunung Catur in the highlands of Bali

The other day Chris, Ika and I went to Medewi in west Bali and rode around in the mountains west of Gunung Batukaru.

I wanted to show him some of the places in the central highlands and doing a bit of exploring myself.

Thursday around 2pm we rented a car for 2 days (160,000rp) from a place on Jl. Dhyana Pura in Seminyak. Renting the car took 10 minutes and after loading a daypack we were off in the direction of Tabanan. Often times I find that taking a smaller road give a much more enjoyable experience and cuts down on traffic and pollution. We rode north from Tabanan in the direction of Penebal, on the way stopping to allow this Balinese procession to pass. There were hundreds of villagers parading and I just managed to snap a photo of the leaders before the traffic moved on. From the market town of Penebel we drove through Apuan and back to the main road at Pacung which is 6kms south of Bedugal.

Chris and I aren’t culture experts even though I do like visiting a cool looking temple or 2. The main reason for coming to the Bedugal area was to climb Mt. (Gunung) Catur. In 1993 I had climbed Mt. Batur which is located near Kintamani further east. Our Rough Guide to Bali, which by the way blows away Lonely Planet, advized us that there was accommodation in Candikuning just before the lakeside temple at Pura Ulun Danau Bratan. The place we checked into was called Ashram Guesthouse and overlooked the lake. The place looks as if is 15+ years old and never sees much business. The first room we looked at was located in a block of rooms. No view, cold water, bathroom down the hall for 60,000rp. The second was located on higher ground with a view, hot water and attached bathroom for 125,000rp. I was going for the cheaper one but Chris preferred the second. By the time we checked in it was almost dark so the view was zero combined with the fact a heavy fog had descended. If you are staying for more than a day maybe the view would make staying here okay but the noise from the road down below rattles across the lake like its close by.

Ashram’s restaurant closed at 8pm so we walked 50 meters up the hill to another warung that was open. I had ayam bakar (baked chicken ) and rice and Chris a nasi goreng. Chris has liquid guts right now and after 2 bites of his nasty goreng decided to leave the rest.

The only 2 other guests were a married couple from Europe who seemed to prefer privacy over describing the holiday to a couple of ‘lager-louts’ from London.

Temperatures at night up at Lake Bratan were cool. I brought a pair of jeans and a sweater. That did the job and it wasn’t super cold.

Normally when people climb volcanoes out here they start way before dawn so they can watch the sunrise. Part of me thinks it’s a marketing ploy by the ‘guides’ to get you to hire them. This time around it was so foggy that we said ‘no way’. We paid for breakfast so might as well wait for it at 8am.

At breakfast I noticed another shy couple from Europe decked out in matching ‘factory wear’. Their mud brown jackets and pants made them look ready for the morning shift at the tire plant. Perhaps they had their own adventure planned out.

Chris and got ready for the hike by amassing a total of 7.5 liters of water. In my previous volcano hikes I have been dehydrated and that wasn’t going to happen again. I also had a sun-hat, boots, long cotton pants and a long sleeve Dry-Fit shirt. At the last minute I picked up 4 little sweet-cakes.




To get to the trail that leads to Mt. Catur some of the locals will tell you the best thing to do is take a canoe. Our guide book said we could drive to a place called Taman Rekreasi and walk from there. Basically if you are approaching Lake Bratan on the main road from the south you come to a tight left hand curve. On the left side of the road is the Strawberry Hill Hotel and on the other side is a rutted road that leads to a small market are with plenty of space for parking. We simply parked and asked locals where Gunung Catur was. The trail snakes along the side of the lake and its an obvious route that you will have no trouble finding. I really loved the fact there were no other tourists around and no touts.

Lake Bratan looked tranquil and serene once the fog had lifted and we were enjoying the hike right away. Unlike some other volcanoes Gunung Catur is heavily forested and I felt like I was hiking somewhere in Oregon.

Gunung Catur is 2096 meters and starts off with a gentle incline that gains in steepness as you reach higher elevations. The dry season means the footing is good and there is little chance of getting rained on. The guide book says 2-3 hours will get you to the top and in my opinion I’d agree. It’s funny because I work out regularly but for short periods, never 2-3 hours of continuous exertion. As the incline increased both Chris and I were sucking wind and sucking down water. I was pondering how I would categorize this hike. For people who are in shape the exertion is a good one and 2-3 hours will mean you won’t be spent for the rest of the day. People who do sporadic exercise will feel tired but will feel a sense of accomplishment and people who are out of shape will feel discomfort. For those handful of people reading this who know where Spencer’s Butte in Eugene Oregon feels like it’s a 2-3 version of that. We caught the occasional glimpse of Lake Bratan through the trees to give us an idea of how high we’d climbed.

Reaching the top we noticed a small bale structure and further in a temple. Chatting with a French couple who had made the hike we agreed it was wonderful to enjoy a pleasant experience and be free from touts and tourist buses. Looking down at Lake Bratan from the summit the view was very pleasant and my brother spotted Ashram guest house.

After a 30 minute rest we hiked down. This of course was way easier on the heart but harder on the knees. I experienced some pain in my right knee but nothing to severe. Back in Bedugal we stopped at roadside warung for some food. Again I went for ayam bakar which this time looked like a chicken foetus and Chris nasi goreng. I ate all mine and he left his nasty goreng. I must say a hot coffee definitely did the trick after finishing this hike and I was running on empty.

Hitting the road again we followed the main road north past Candikuning and around around Lake Bayan and Lake Tamblingan. This ride is great as you get some ridge crest parts that offer views both sides. Many villages are actually built along routes that follow ridge-lines.

The ride through Munduk and Tunduk is very pleasant passing small villages that drop in elevation though twisty county lanes. I saw a few guest houses up there too so staying overnight is easy to arrange.

Hitting the coast about an hour after leaving Bedugal we turned eastwards towards Lovina and found a place to stay right in the heart of tourist central, Kalibukbuk. The Nirwana Seaside cottages are next to the beach across from the Dolphin statue on the restaurant-lined street that leads to the beach.

I could tell this hotel has been around for a while, first as bamboo shack then adding a nicer more modern section with pool.

We got an AC room with twin beds for 175,000rp. The place was nice and had an operating pool bar, restaurant and breakfast was included. Letting the joints relax in the pool after taking a shower to get rid of the grime was lovely. We chatted to an American couple who usually go to Thailand. The husband Chris said they had a good time exploring Bali and they’ll be back. I think that’s the deal right there…go off exploring with an open agenda and you’ll enjoy it. Sit around a Kuta bar and you’ll think Bali is all tourist crap.

The great thing about staying in Kalibukbuk is that you don’t have to go anywhere for entertainment. Chris and I strolled around the corner and had dinner at a place called Bombay. They had mixed drinks on happy hour special for 10,000rp. I ordered a margarita and the waitress asked me if it was strong enough. “No” I said, “make it very strong.” She did.

My fish dinner was 25,000rp and I got to pick the fish beforehand. I think Chris managed at least a few bites of his.

Lovina seems quiet but at least there were tourists around and our hotel must have had at least 20 guests which is better than the last time I came up here and had 0 other guests.

If you are thinking of renting a car and going for it I’d say no worries. I always going exploring and lose my way. On many occasion the map will indicate a straight through road whereas in reality I will come to a T-junction without sign posts. Don’t worry, this is just another chance for you to interact with locals and ask directions. A simple ‘demana …….?’ will get a response and you on your way again. I often see the more photogenic scenes when I am totally lost and the great thing is Bali is so small that a 20 minutes detours can be only a few miles.

Be adventurous and have fun in Bali.

Check out the hotels available in Lovina, it makes a quieter place to relax.