The Iconic Boats of Sanur

The island of Bali is known for many things, but many may not be aware that Bali also has a long history of traditional boat building. The vessel most often seen on Bali beaches is called a “jukung”, and like an outrigger canoe, they’re able to skim fast over coral reefs and also withstand the offshore conditions. Visit any beach in Bali, particularly here on the East Coast of the island, and you’ll see dozens of brightly coloured jukungs pulled up to shore. They are the traditional vessel for getting around, used by local fisherman and scuba diving tour groups alike. The colourful boats are so plentiful here in Sanur, they are arguably one of the most photographed icons on Sanur Beach.

Across the island, each coastal village has their own distinctive decorating style, and the Balinese fisherman can usually tell you where someone comes from based on their boat design. Most of the boats are decorated with the image of the mythical Gajah Mina, (elephant fish), with the bulging eyes to ward off evil and protect those on board.

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Going back in time, the boats were constructed from wood, with the chosen Camplung tree only to be cut down on an auspicious date in accordance to the Balinese calendar.
Originally, these jukungs were once used for transportation of tourists to fishing and snorkelling spots under sail, but these days the speed of an outboard motor seems to win out over relying on the weather. As time progressed, many are now built from fibreglass, making them light to manoeuvre over low tides and easy to use when transporting scuba divers and surfers to their desired locations.

In the late 1980’s there was a race held over 1000 miles in these open outrigger canoes with crews who travelled from Bali to Darwin across the Timor Sea. Featured by the National Geographic, it was known as “The Great Jukung Race”, stretching over 1000 nautical miles. The journey took three months and was treacherous and dangerous for all involved. It was actually documented in a film titled, Passage out of Paradise, thankfully all those involved made it to Darwin safely but imagine what a journey that would have been!

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You can still take a ride in a traditional jukung while visiting Sanur, just chat with any of the locals on the beach and they’ll be bound to know someone who owns one. The seaway off Sanur makes it a great spot to take a ride in a jukung, with the lagoon style waters keeping the ride pleasant, also making it a photographer’s favourite. Head out early morning towards the east and catch the sun rising over Mt Agung, or head out in the afternoon towards Nusa Dua and capture the setting sun instead.

It is said, if you happen to dream of a jukung or similar craft, this represents your capacity to withstand and navigate your way through difficult times and circumstances!

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