In search of tropical luxury with heart and soul, KIRSTIE CLEMENTS follows the hushed buzz of the eco jet-set to the pristine island resort of Bawah Reserve, Indonesia
Kirstie Clements discovers eco-heaven in Indonesia.
The discovery of remote and unspoilt island destinations is a great motivator for the curious traveller, but, ironically, we often don’t want them to be too difficult to get to.a trip to a far-flung location such as the Seychelles can require up to three planes and a boat ride, which is daunting for a short-stay vacation. Bawah Reserve, a handful of tiny islands in Indonesia’s Anambas archipelago, may just be the answer, being largely unknown and very definitely a new benchmark in tropical getaways.
Situated between Malaysia and Borneo, these pristine isles are straight out of a Hollywood script, almost unreal in their perfection. They are just three hours from Singapore (by ferry and seaplane), and yet you feel you may have made your very picturesque landing in uncharted waters.
The first thing you see when you alight on the jetty is nothing. Nothing but a clear turquoise lagoon, bright parrotfish and a thriving reef. Bawah Reserve has been cleverly designed to be completely empathic to the lush natural surrounds, just a glimpse of thatched roofs hidden in the trees hinting at the main wining and dining areas. Bawah has 21 beach, three garden and 11 overwater villas, so superbly thought-out and discreet that you believe you are the only person on the island and you may eventually need a flare gun when the unfortunate time comes to be rescued. The gorgeous overwater villas have steps from the sun deck into the pristine waters so you can snorkel your way to lunch at The Boat House and back, which is really the next level in holiday chic. There is as little or as much to do on Bawah as you wish: guided hikes to the top of the peak for an incredible view, kayaking in clear canoes, boat trips, diving, snorkelling, paddleboarding, sailing, yoga, Pilates, picnics and, of course, swimming — possibly the best swimming, in the most beautiful pale opal blue water, you will ever do in your life. This is a 24-hour swimsuit destination, and while there are blacktip (and apparently shy) sharks in the lagoon, the upside is the water is so crystalline you can definitely see them coming.there are also rather large and thrilling monitor lizards, one, which lives near the spa, so big she is almost regarded as a
“The lack of plastic is remarkable and a reminder that walking as lightly upon the earth as possible is the only way for us to ensure idyllic islands and reefs such as these will continue to exist.”
member of staff.there is also a trip to a nearby bat cave, accessed by kayak.that is, a dark cave full of tiny horseshoe bats which will fly into a terrifying frenzy when you venture in, Indiana Jones style, and remind you that visiting a remote Indonesian bat cave is a journey that really needs to be thought through.
With its reverse-osmosis water recycling system and solar-powered water heaters, Bawah is extremely eco-sensitive, which is such an important factor in this new age of travel, when mindful, low-impact tourism is far more luxurious than fluffy towels and spa baths.an obvious eco mentality pervades the accommodation, and more sustainable options are provided: light Turkish towels instead of thick, hard-to-wash cotton; sunblock that is safe for the delicate reef; woven hats and beach bags that can be used and then left for the next guests; a tea and coffee selection in the rooms in glass jars, with wooden spoons and ceramic pots; reusable water bottles for hikes. The lack of plastic is remarkable and a reminder that walking as lightly upon the earth as possible is the only way for us to ensure idyllic islands and reefs such as these will continue to exist. A reminder of this was the presence in the lagoon of romantic-sounding “sea gypsies”, the nomadic Bajau Laut fishermen and their colourful painted longboats.the Bajau have lived in boats or stilt villages on the seas of Sulawesi for at least 400 years, relying on an increasingly overfished ocean for subsistence.the Bajau are renowned freedivers, plunging to as deep as 20 metres with no fins and remaining underwater for as long as five minutes on a single breath.
The food at Bawah naturally has its base in Indonesian cuisine, so something as simple as a satay stick on the sand is perfect and delicious.the fresh fish, waygu beef and grilled seafood options are superb, especially when one is perched in the fabulous Treetops restaurant, looking out over the ridiculously perfect lagoon. Singapore-based architect Sim Boonyang was responsible for the outstanding interiors, featuring intricately woven bleached woods and giant rattan lamps like floating octopi.
Bawah Reserve blends the highly luxurious with the unobtrusive; its shimmering magic gets under your skin. Don’t tell anyone.
Bawah offers limousine transfers from your Singapore hotel to Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal, where you board the Majestic Ferry to Batam Centre. Bawah staff will then fast-track you through Indonesian immigration and customs, and you are driven to the island’s amphibious plane. bawahisland.com
From top: an aerial view of the villas on Bawah Island; a Beach Suite; the island at sunset.
An Overwater Bungalow’s canopied bed, which has a sea view. Below: the jetty at dusk.
Treetops restaurant. Left: sunrise and sunset can both be enjoyed from the decks of the Overwater Bungalows.