The lagoon is lapping at the shoreline like a thirsty puppy and the boat motor is a kitten purring at the setting sun.
Beneath the ocean, shy blacktip reef sharks scurry away, a school of giggling kids, while the comical giant bumphead parrotfish leads a carnival of colleagues through corridors of color. Nearby, a stingray somersaults in the shallows.
I’ve been deposited via seaplane over ribbons of aqua at Bawah Reserve, part of the ‘Coral Triangle’ – a tapestry of islands which sits between Sumatra and Borneo – and at six million square kilometers, houses more coral species than anywhere in the world.
The most southern of Indonesia’s 255 Anambas islands, Bawah Reserve is home to 13 beaches, three lagoons and six islands: the eponymous Bawah, as well as Batu Tokong, Meuerba, Sanggah, Lidi and Elang.
“The most southern of Indonesia’s 255 Anambas islands, Bawah Reserve is home to 13 beaches, three lagoons and six islands.”
Of those, only Bawah and Elang offer accommodation, with the 60-hectare Bawah having opened in 2018. At around one-tenth the size of Bawah, Elang Private Residence launched in early 2023 with its exclusive invitation to hire the entire island.
Think five one-bedroom villas, all named after trees that grow on the island, such as the delicious Lychee lodge; the two-bedroom Longhouse in idyllic Indonesian style; the upmarket Club House dining room and bar; the relaxed Beach House restaurant; Kayu Spa with two treatment rooms; a saltwater infinity pool with water slide; a full-sized tennis court; and private beaches and snorkeling trails.
Yes, Bawah Junior has arrived.
The Crux Of Lux
The owners of Bawah Island, Singapore shipping magnate Tim Hartnoll and his wife Suzanne, originally built Elang to use, as the name suggests, as their private residence when in the region.
But these generous conservationists – both Tim and Suzanne forbade the destruction of any trees on both islands, even if it afforded a better view of the ocean – have decided to share their patch of paradise.
With elite access to Elang starting from a cool US$25,000 per night (for up to 14 guests), a total of 19 guests can exclusively enjoy the Robinson Crusoe lifestyle – with lashings of luxury.
The princely price tag includes all meals created by your own private chef who will concoct the likes of smoked barracuda Benedict for breakfast, lamb sate for lunch and pan-roasted local red snapper for dinner.
“The princely price tag includes all meals created by your own private chef who will concoct the likes of smoked barracuda Benedict for breakfast, lamb sate for lunch and pan-roasted local red snapper for dinner.”
Be advised: wines curated by a specialist sommelier, as well as all other alcohol, come at an eye-watering cost. But what price paradise?
Each guest is also entitled to one free spa treatment per day from a mesmerizing menu which offers everything from hair cream baths to muscle-soothing massages in the traditional Indonesian joglo-style Kayu spa, or even better, in a beautiful bale (hut) looking out over the ocean, in which yoga classes and private dinners can also be staged.
So committed are the Hartnolls to preserving history, they have even maintained the open-air dapur, or kitchen, with six tungku stoves, which were used to feed the 200 workers who lived on the island during its construction. Fancy a barbecue or cooking class? Chef can arrange this too.
Specialist craftsmen from Java spent four years on Elang building furniture and lodges from scratch, and their stylish signature is carved everywhere, none more so than on the yawning, thick teak wood table with glorious gnarly edges which punctuates the main restaurant clubhouse.
You’ll appreciate the attention to detail as you sashay up a spiral staircase to the handmade bamboo and rattan bar, which is decorated with giant jellyfish lights created from tinkling seashells.
All Elang villas face south/south-west, affording guests that spectacular sunset over the South China Sea, while some, such as Lychee lodge, boast outdoor bathtubs and private staircases that simply disappear into the warm ocean.
“All Elang villas face south/south-west, affording guests that spectacular sunset over the South China Sea.”
All the better for snorkeling Elang’s two private trails. While Elang guests can utilize all Bawah’s facilities, Bawah guests are not permitted to step foot on the island, which is just a three-minute boat ride away.
My Indonesian guide Sali walks me around Elang, pointing out the Cyclad trees, which date back some 250 years, and around which scurries the biawak (giant monitor lizards) that inhabit these islands.
“This is an island away from everything. For someone wanting to be in a peaceful place, this is the best area,” Sali says, in something of an understatement.
Aside from its five neighbors, Elang is indeed remote, with the closest inhabited island an hour away via speedboat.
Cocktails and Dreams
In the highly unlikely event guests should tire of this island, there’s plenty of indulgence to be had nearby. On Lidi Island, trek up 100 steps to a small pavilion where you can imbibe sunset cocktails or snatch a picnic basket and snaffle a private beach.
Bawah also offers a sunset cruise around the six islands where the canapes are as spicy as the surrounds in which you find yourself.
Or take a guided snorkeling trip out with Bawah’s water sports team to the jellyfish blue sea surrounding the islands.
Swim with baby sharks and giant barracuda, weaving through cotton candy coral in shades of baby blues, musk pinks, lime greens and sunflower yellows.
It’s Easy Being Green
Overseen by the Anamabas Foundation, these six islands have been carefully protected amid a raft of programs aimed at conserving the region and providing employment to local communities.
No plastic is allowed on any of these islands and Bawah Island has its own permaculture gardens in which the likes of marigolds, tomatoes, chilies, hibiscus, lemongrass and basil are grown to support its kitchens and bars.
Natural pesticides, such as tobacco water, are deployed to eradicate any pests and Bawah has up to 14 different bins for specific rubbish recycling and disposal.
Even the omnipresent bamboo, as thick as anacondas in some parts and used to build both island’s villas, restaurants and bars, is treated to remove sugar which attracts insects, and is considered more eco-friendly than timber because of its rapid regrowth rate.
“Bawah will change you,” the in-room compendium promises. And indeed it has, in more ways than one.
Part of the appeal of Elang Private Residence is the fact it is so remote. The best way is via Singapore, from where you will be collected from your hotel and escorted to the ferry to Batam Island in Indonesia. Bawah Reserve staff will even handle the immigration process, collecting your passport while you simply walk into the country.
From here, you will be driven to Batam’s airport to catch an 80-minute seaplane ride to Bawah Reserve, where you will land in the luscious lagoon between Bawah and Elang islands. Depending on the tides, you will either take a three-minute boat road to Elang’s jetty, or straight around to the western beach where you will be deposited directly onto the golden sand.
Luxury never looked so good.