Bali was originally famous for its spice trade, but over the years has developed into a major holiday destination. Its ancient culture, magnificent scenery and beautiful dancing girls were the main attractions. Tourists today are also lured to the island to experience the exotic tastes of tropical fruits.

Not only are exotic tropical fruit an important part of the Balinese way of life, but they are now also a very important aspect of Bali's expanding tourist trade.

Recently Jacky and I took advantage of Garuda Indonesia's newly-scheduled flights from Cairns to Bali. Although we went there specifically to look at the fruit industry, we found the island enchantingly beautiful and the people warm and friendly.

In years gone by, hotels served only papayas, pineapples and bananas. Today, guests on the island are treated to a wide range of exotic fruit, including the tantalising tastes of rambutan, mangosteen, salak, mango, carambola and tropical lychee. Because of their strong aroma, durians are not served in hotels but are generally eaten in the market place.

Durian is undoubtedly the 'King' of fruit. For those members who have never tasted durian, they weigh around 2 to 3 kg and contain a soft creamy flesh that is considered to have the most sensuous flavour of all the fruits. Countries such as Thailand and Malaysia have capitalised on its popularity, and each year welcome thousands of durian lovers from all over the world. The durian season in these countries lasts only a few months, but on Bali, because of the unique climate, durians are available throughout the year.

The 'Queen' of fruit is the title bestowed on the purple mangosteen. Because there are no wild purple mangosteen trees to be found, and the fact that the species cannot reproduce itself naturally, the origin of the tree is shrouded in mystery. It is a slow-growing tree. The dark purple fruit is about the size of an apple. Some fruit are brown in colour at maturity, and this is thought to be a pigment deficiency. The white translucent flesh is deliciously mouth-watering and the taste is said to be the perfect balance between sweet and acid.

Another delicious fruit, common in Bali is the rambutan. This sweet, juicy fruit is a favourite with locals and tourists alike. Rambutan trees heavily laden with bunches of red fruit can be seen in Bali gardens from November to April. The main varieties grown are Rapiah and Aceh. Rambutan is used extensively by hotels to decorate buffets and fruit bowls.

Bali is one of the very few places in the world where the native 'Bali' salak plam is farmed commercially. The shiny brown skin of the salak has a distinctive, attractive, snake-skin pattern. This crunchy fruit, with its pineapple-like flavour, is grown to perfection in the rich volcanic soil in the centre of the island. The 'Bali' salak is recognised as the best in the world, and the many commercial plantations add to the uniqueness of the Balinese landscape.

Another famous palm fruit, the coconut, is a traditional ingredient in many Indonesian dishes and gives the cuisine a distinct tropical flavour. Coconut plantations along the tourist beaches of Sanur, Kuta and Musa Dua have been very sensibly integrated into the landscaping of the many large tourist resorts along this beautiful coast. The cocopalms are interplanted with colourful foliage and create a superb tropical atmosphere around the hotels.

Surrounded by sparkling blue seas and situated just 800 km south of the Equator, Bali enjoys a very pleasant climate, averaging just 27°C on the coast and a cool 21°C on the elevated farming lands north of the capital, Denpasar. Spectacular volcanic mountains, reaching 3000 metres up into the clouds influence the local climate and bring rain and cool breezes to the island.

Farming lands extend up the rich volcanic slopes to an elevation of around 900 metres, and the accompanying variations in climate allow the growing of a wide range of local and exotic fruit which are harvested throughout the year.

The vista of terraced farm land is astonishingly beautiful. Green and gold rice paddies, lush vegetable gardens, bamboo-fringed streams, myriad coconut palms, and rows of fruit and spice trees, all surrounded by jungle-clad mountains, create a panorama of unparalleled beauty.

The variety of fruit cultivated on Bali is truly remarkable. As well as growing the native fruits, the Balinese also grow: mango and jak fruit from India, star apple and sapodilla from the Amazon, and lychee and longan from China.

Giant mangosteen, durian and lychee trees, some standing over 20 metres high, dominate the landscape around the country villages. They grow large and lush in the chocolate-brown soil and provide the villagers with shade and bountiful food. Shy village girls sell freshly harvested fruit and vegetables from tiny thatched stalls along the picturesque country roads.

Historically, Bali was famous for its spices: clove, cinnamon, nutmeg etc. Traders, adventurers and explorers, as far back as the sixteenth century, were also lured by the natural beauty of the island, the friendliness of the people and the local cuisine. Among the unusual foods they discovered were tropical fruits which were so different to those of the 'Old World'. Over the years, traders introduced more exotic varieties from other countries. For centuries now, both the original and the introduced fruits have become inextricably woven into the Balinese culture.

Today the abundance and variety of fruit now produced commercially on Bali is a major asset to an accelerating economy.

Bali has so much to offer: a smorgasbord of tropical fruit, magnificent scenery, rich ancient culture, unique local crafts, a pleasant climate, beautiful beaches and exciting markets. We left Bali wishing we had booked a longer holiday.

John Marshall

DATE: May 1992

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