While Bali is associated more with sandy beaches, luxury villas and surfing, a driving holiday can show visitors the idyllic island in a whole new light.
I was invited to Bali, a popular holiday destination, to test-drive Minis, the funky compact cars now owned by BMW. Arriving at Bali’s new Ngurah Rai International Airport, there was a convoy of brightly coloured Minis waiting, including a Cooper S Clubman and a striking soft-topped Cabrio.
The traffic in Bali can get hectic, but thankfully we were escorted by three policemen on motorbikes on our two-day drive trip. A police escort can be hired for around IDR3 million (about $300) per rider a day. And, when you are driving the length of the country, from the airport in the south up to the northern coastline, a police escort is just what you need.
The 120km drive took us through some challenging terrain that is windy, has roads with pot holes and a tricky mountain climb. Despite the police escort, we still needed to be on our guard for motorbikes and scooters overtaking on either side, stray dogs and the odd monkey on the road.
The drive was beautiful nonetheless, as we made our way up the mountain range where the air was cooler and traffic less dense. As a motorist used to driving an SUV on Singapore’s smooth and straight streets,
handling a Mini on Bali’s bendy and uneven roads was not the bone-shaking experience I imagined. Thanks to BMW’s engineering, the Minis were more than equipped for the task as they climbed their way uphill with ease and took bumpy surfaces in their stride. I was in the Cooper S Clubman, the largest Mini ever built with five seats and which resembles a compact SUV from behind.
Once we hit the top of the island, it was time for a pit stop at Krisna Beach Street, a picturesque area where you can take in beautiful ocean views and watch fishermen at work, waist-deep in the crystal waters. After our rest, we were back in the trusted Clubman to head west, along scenic coastal roads until we hit the northwest tip of Bali and the Naya Gawana Resort.
The tranquil resort sits right on the coast and offers an amazing sunrise view. After a good night’s sleep, we were back on the road. This time, it was in the convertible Cabrio, the perfect holiday car for a tropical island. One the second day, we clocked up an impressive 144km as we headed south on a slightly longer route, taking us through the touristy town of Ubud.
The final destination was Seminyak, overlooking the Indian Ocean. The convoy of Minis continued to turn heads among the surfers and backpackers on the streets. During the long drive, we could try out the Minis’ different driving modes — Sport, Mid and Green.
Sport was perfect for the mountain climbs along with the eight-speed gearbox, while Green worked well cruising back down. After two days behind the wheel, it was time to check into the cool Katamama Hotel, which has a fully kitted-out bar and a collection of books in each room. The hotel is connected to the even cooler Potato Head bar and club on the edge of the beach. The hotel is perfectly aligned to the new image Mini wants to cultivate for its new breed of cars — one of upmarket chic and style.
Morning came and it was back in the Minis as we headed to the airport, ending our idyllic 48-hour test drive in one of Southeast Asia’s most alluring islands.
Justin Harper is a freelance journalist with a passion for all things fast.
This article appeared in the Options of Issue 754 (Nov 14) of The Edge Singapore.