Bali by way of Noosa

Richard Bran­son’s new re­sort brings a touch of ex­ot­ica to the Sun­shine Coast

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - PHIL JAR­RATT

HAN­NAH Make­peace would have been rolling in her grave. But the hordes of hippie squat­ters who moved in af­ter her demise would no doubt have de­rived amuse­ment from the idea of a charis­matic bil­lion­aire busi­ness­man evok­ing his hal­lu­cino­genic his­tory at the open­ing of a new re­sort on Make­peace’s old patch.

But then, Richard Bran­son has never been a stranger to con­tro­versy, and in 40 years at the helm of Vir­gin he has cer­tainly taken on tougher ad­ver­saries than the mem­ory of a long-dead spir­i­tu­al­ist spin­ster. Nev­er­the­less, as I quaff the coiffed one’s bub­bly at Make­peace Is­land, a short, muddy wade from Te­wantin on the mid­dle reaches of the Noosa River, I can’t help but con­jure the past as Bran­son ex­plains his Ba­li­nese folly.

‘‘I’ve al­ways loved Bali, since the days when as a young man I would try to get stoned on magic mush­rooms. I also have a pas­sion for is­lands, so when­ever I’ve had an op­por­tu­nity to pur­chase an is­land, I’ve tended to cre­ate a lit­tle taste of Bali on it,’’ he says.

As you do. The young Bran­son would prob­a­bly have loved the derelict Make­peace Is­land of 30 years ago — with sarong-clad hip­pies and yachties smok­ing j oints un­der the eu­ca­lypts — al­most as much as the mogul ap­pears to love the $7 mil­lion re­treat he opened this month. For the Vir­gin boss and his part­ner in the de­vel­op­ment, for­mer Vir­gin Aus­tralia CEO Brett God­frey, it’s been a long, hard road since they pur­chased the is­land from artist Brian Spencer and his wife Bev­er­ley back in 2003, with var­i­ous as­pects of the orig­i­nal plan (in­clud­ing the oblig­a­tory he­li­pad) knocked back by the then mem­bers of Noosa Coun­cil.

In­deed, it seemed the whole de­vel­op­ment might be shelved, un­til Bran­son shoul­dered up to green-tinged coun­cil­lor Rus­sell Green in the uri­nal of a Noosa restau­rant and a com­pro­mise deal was hatched. But the pain didn’t end there, with God­frey and his pro­ject man­agers locked in battle with lo­cal con­trac­tors over al­leged non-pay­ment through most of 2009.

When fi­nally the prob­lems were re­solved, con­tainer af­ter con­tainer of the finest Ba­li­nese crafts­man­ship was barged up the nar­row Noosa River and the painstak­ing re­con­struc­tion of a dozen clas­sic build­ings be­gan.

Pig Is­land, as it was orig­i­nally gazetted, was first taken up by one Charles Ni­cholas and his wife; in 1911 they built a ram­bling high­set Queens­lan­der over­look­ing the man­groves of the is­land’s 9ha.

In 1924, as they aged, they hired Te­wantin spin­ster Han­nah Make­peace as their house­keeper, and on their deaths, hav­ing no chil­dren, they left the is­land to her.

Han­nah re­named it Ter­ra­nova and filled the house with the bizarre ac­cou­trements of her spir­i­tu­al­ist life­style.

By the time she died in 1973, lo­cals were call­ing it the Old Mu­seum. In the va­cant years that fol­lowed, hippie squat­ters came to love the rel­a­tive iso­la­tion and the heady whiff of the oc­cult that seemed to per­vade the place, even as they ripped up floor­boards to fuel their win­ter fires.

In 1986, Brian Spencer snapped it up for a rel­a­tive song, not even re­al­is­ing it was an is­land at first.

He and Bev changed the name to Make­peace in hon­our of the old girl, lov­ingly re­stored the old house, added a new wing, and Brian turned the boathouse into his stu­dio.

As a long-time lo­cal who has en­joyed the hos­pi­tal­ity of the Spencers on the wide ve­randa on more than one lan­guid sum­mer af­ter­noon, I was ini­tially ap­palled when I heard Bran­son in­tended to move the her­itage-listed house out of sight and cut down 17 ma­ture eu­ca­lypts to make way for his Ba­li­nese clus­ter.

Over the past year or so, how- ever, word fil­tered back from tradies and keen-eyed fish­er­men that the con­struc­tion on the is­land looked amaz­ing. Of­fered a pre­view and a lunch with Bran­son, I de­cide I’d bet­ter leave my prej­u­dices at the wharf and ap­proach the Ba­li­nese Make­peace with an open and in­quir­ing mind.

The tradies and the fishos had it right. Make­peace is amaz­ing.

For a start, you just don’t ex­pect to round a bend in the Noosa River and see thatched roofs, coloured flags and Hindu stat­u­ary. It seems in­con­gru­ous, but also quite en­chant­ing. This is not the first time Bran­son has car­ried his cul­tural bag­gage of choice with him, pre­fer­ring a Bali mo­tif to a Caribbean one at his Necker Is­land re­treat in the Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands. So pre­sum­ably he’s worked out what works, what blends and what doesn’t. What’s per­haps more im­por­tant for a man who has built a life­style and ca­reer out of the bold, in-your-face state­ment, Bran­son’s Make­peace is beau­ti­fully un­der­stated.

As we tour through the com­mon space of the Long House wan­ti­lan — which houses a well­stocked bar, games room, home theatre and breezy loung­ing ar­eas — I am re­minded not of the dropdead chic joints that have popped up all over Bali’s Jim­baran, the Bukit Penin­sula, Seminyak and, more re­cently, Canggu, but of places such as the orig­i­nal Lo­tus Restau­rant in Ubud back in the 1980s, or Kevin Wel­don’s time­worn and much-loved bun­ga­low on the Sayan Ridge.

It just feels, well, com­fort­able. I also rather like the use of the term wan­ti­lan. I know there’s a restau­rant of that name in Mel­bourne, and it’s prob­a­bly a term that’s now ap­plied to many open-sided build­ings, but in my mind a wan­ti­lan will al­ways be the cock­fight­ing shed, a slab of chipped con­crete with a thatched roof. Bran­son’s wan­ti­lan is a lit­tle grander than that, but not too grand.

Make­peace’s ac­com­mo­da­tion units (cu­ri­ously dubbed bures, as if we are in Fiji) are spread around the main build­ing, j oined by wooden walk­ways.

River­front Bali House is Bran­son’s per­sonal villa, with four bed­rooms, each with pri­vate bath­room and deck. My more mod­est digs, with fil­tered river views, is up the back past the ten­nis court, but it’s very well ap­pointed, with two bed­rooms shar­ing a spacious bath­room with rock spa bath, and a lovely sitting room with a Ja­vanese day bed.

Thought­fully, our host has sup­plied a man­ual of ac­ro­batic sex­ual po­si­tions be­side each bed. He’s such a wag.

There is a to­tal of 11 bed­rooms in var­i­ous con­fig­u­ra­tions and the re­treat can take up to 22 guests, mak­ing it ideal for ex­ec­u­tive re­treats, house par­ties and smaller wed­dings (say, the third or fourth, where you don’t want to go over the top). With a price tag of al­most $17,000 a night for a full house in high sea­son, it’s prob­a­bly not go­ing to be pop­u­lar with fish­ing groups or schoolies.

Make­peace’s man­ager and ex­ec­u­tive chef, Nick Jones, is an af­fa­ble Aussie who was run­ning an is­land re­sort next to Necker when Bran­son of­fered him a ticket home and a good job.

It was a great call. Jones is not only an efficient man­ager but an ex­cel­lent chef, and his wife is a doc­tor, which is handy if you get silly and dive in at the shal­low end of the enor­mous pool.

Al­though it would have been much more im­pres­sive to ar­rive by chop­per (and I’m sure the Bran­son team will be keep­ing up the pres­sure on that one), the owner clam­bers off an open boat just like a mere mor­tal, quickly fresh­ens up, then spends a long and re­laxed lunch gen­tly sell­ing his lit­tle dream to the as­sem­bled me­dia. And it’s a pretty easy sell.

‘ ‘ When I come here, I don’t want to leave,’’ he says. ‘‘It has a very spe­cial am­bi­ence. I find it a very ro­man­tic place. In fact I’m all for re­nam­ing it Make Love Is­land.’’

That’s when I know the sex man­u­als in the bed­rooms are his idea. Phil Jar­ratt was a guest of Make­peace Is­land.

make­pea­ceis­land.com

The im­pres­sive Make­peace Is­land re­sort on Noosa River, owned by Richard Bran­son

‘When I come here, I don’t want to leave,’ Bran­son says

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