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Geography

Only 37km (23 miles) separates Bali from Lombok, but there is some 1,300m (4,265 ft.) of vertical drop in the Lombok Strait. This almost trivial distance belies an evolutionary lifetime in the development of flora, fauna, plants, and animals. The deep ridge forms part of the fabled Wallace Line, the imaginary boundary drawn in 1859 by Alfred Russel Wallace, which runs between the far west coast of Australasia through to Southeast Asia and separates our natural world in two parts. On one side you will find only those animals and fauna similar to Australia, such as marsupials or cockatoos, and on the other, Bali side, are monkeys and woodpeckers. Wallace's observations provided Darwin with information that accelerated his thesis on the Origin of the Species. Quite bizarrely, even birds observe this line.

Bali's place at the edge of the Indo-Australian and northern Eurasian tectonic plates is indeed explosive, and little wonder that the island is dominated by volcanoes. A volcanic mountain range stretches all the way across the island; a northern and southern plain surround this mountain range, with the northern being narrower and hillier, making rice growing more difficult, while the southern plain is rich and intensively cultivated, with terraced rice fields dominating the landscape.

Gunung Batur remains a very active volcano and erupted three times in the 20th century, in 1905, 1926, and 1963 and continued spouting until 1974. The highest mountain, Gunung Agung, was quiet for almost 150 years, but erupted quite spectacularly with little warning in 1963, killing some 2,000 and destroying much of the local vegetation and surrounding villages. It also lowered itself by some 200m (656 ft.).

While Bali was made famous by its surf, the images of a golden sand playground are often wide of the mark, as the majority of the popular coastline of the west is dominated by rocks or black volcanic sand. Golden beaches and coral reefs are rarer than the pervading tourism image of Bali suggests, and are the exception rather than the rule. The north coast has much coarser sand and the east has mainly stones and pebbles, although there are some hidden gems.

Flora & Fauna

Huge banyan trees grow majestically in the grounds of temples or other holy places. Tamarind trees are typically found on the north coast, and in the highlands acres of clove trees planted by Suharto to make cigarettes, still smoked today, grow in abundance.

Some 15 varieties of bamboo grow on Bali alone, which are used in anything from baskets, satay sticks, and furniture to great 3,000-sq.-m (32,291-sq.-ft.) buildings. Mangrove trees hug the shores near Sanur and further south towards Tanjung Benoa. While on the Bukit, where the land is arid, flame and acacia trees create a shrubland.

The most important of all crops on Bali is rice. Rice has shaped the culture and the landscape, and it is no coincidence that the word for rice, nasi, also means meal. It is the main crop of the island and is grown in such abundance that even as the cornerstone of the staple diet for all, there is sufficient left over for export. In the last part of the 20th century, attempts were made to increase the number of crops per year from two to three using artificial nutrients and fertilizers. What was overlooked however was the complex system of irrigation, subak, developed over hundreds of years, and the interdependence of each sawah, or rice field. The disturbance of this shared irrigation between farmers, who themselves may not have been fully aware of just how developed and interdependent they were, has had in some cases, crippling results.

The west has coconut plantations. Most of the original taller coconut varieties are now being replaced with the dwarf hybrids that have higher yields. Coconut trees are extremely valuable to the community, not only for the coconuts, but also for their many byproducts. Other crops include fruit and vegetables around Bedugul. With heights of around 1,200m (3,937 ft.), the cool temperatures together with the nutrient-rich soil are ideal conditions for most vegetable growing. These cool temperatures are also ideal for coffee and Indonesia is the fourth largest producer of coffee globally. Although most of the coffee grown is in Java and Sumatra, Bali does also play a small part in the export. Coffee plantations are in the central mountains around Munduk, Batukaru, and even Kintamani.

On the western side of the Wallace Line, Bali is the natural home to mammals associated with the Indo-Asian continent although the last tiger seen here was apparently shot dead in 1937. However, Bali is still rich with the likes of deer, civets, wild buffalo, and more monkeys than you would care to shake a stick at -- not least because they would likely take it from you and shake it right back. Furthermore, Bali has over 300 species of birds such as swallows, starlings, and sea eagles. The underwater world, especially around Nusas Lembongan and Penida, contains some of the greatest varieties of fish and shellfish in the world such as the Mola-Mola, sea horses, manta rays, dolphins, and sharks.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.