But where are the pterodactyls? That’s pure fantasy, of course, but approaching Bawah Island for the first time can feel like coming to Michael Crichton’s fictitious Isla Nublar, and I’m not the only one in our party who has John William’s famous movie theme playing in our heads as the verdant primary forest jewels rimmed by coral reefs and turquoise waters emerge into view.
What also feeds the Jurassic Park sentiment is the fact that Bawah Island is an unspoilt, previously uninhabited atoll in the middle of the Natuna Sea. A quick search for its coordinates, 2˚30’N 106˚03’E, turns up a few far-flung specks from Indonesia’s Anambas archipelago that don’t even appear on some maps. And here we are, the first media from Singapore to come visit.
The owners, led by CEO Tim Hartnoll, have developed Bawah Island with a passionate commitment to preserve it as an ecological paradise, offering nature at its most luxuriant, untouched by human civilisation in living memory, if at all. And we have been invited here, six weeks prior to the opening, to be impressed by their dream, and to hopefully congratulate them for creating something truly remarkable.
Labour of Love
Are we impressed? To city dwellers who are used to being dazzled by ultra-modern structures that vie for superlatives in terms of elevation and technology, Bawah Island might seem modestly rustic. But when you consider that humanity is veering precariously close to destroying its home planet, it is a brilliant ray of hope.
Don’t imagine for one moment that all it took was for the owners to drop a few villas and start selling tickets for people to see what is already there. The narrative of Bawah Island is nothing short of a love story: an island paradise at risk of destruction by illegal dynamite fishing is rescued by people who want to protect it and desire to see it to flourish.
This required a tremendous amount of ground work. The first task was getting the atoll designated as a marine conservation area, to make it illegal to fish in its waters. Then, to avoid destroying the island’s vegetation, it was decided that no heavy machinery would be used in the building of the resort. Instead, Singapore architect Sim Boon Yang was tasked to create a holistic design, using traditional methods and sustainable sources of bamboo and ironwood. He has delivered stunning structures that meld contemporary taste with indigenous craftsmanship. So that Bawah Island does not suffer tourist trampling, only 35 safari style villas are built (11 overwater bungalows, 21 beach suites and three garden villas), which limits the number of visitors to only 70 at any time.
Infrastructure is also put in place so it can recycle most of its water and waste. Bawah Island has a zero waste policy and is working to grow its own produce, along with developing green energy capabilities. The next task was setting up the logistics. How to bring people to paradise in less time than it takes to get to the Maldives, Fiji or even Bali? The answer is a private seaplane service, unprecedented in the region. The ultimate hideaway is now accessible via a short ferry ride to Batam and then a 75-minute private seaplane transfer. Bravo.
A New World Experience
Bawah Island is a marvel of nature with a unique topography that gives guests a chance to feel what it must be like to roam the Garden of Eden, except that it extends into the ocean where its brightest colours and glory can be found. You don’t even need scuba gear to experience this. With just fins and snorkel, I glide through the crystal clear water to see delicate torch corals, waving anemones, shy polyps, the frilled lips of giant clams, cautiously tightening as I pass, and schools and schools of iridescent reef fish. Where the continental shelf plunges into the deep, deep blue, I see a different type of architecture in innerspace. All the way down to where light is scant, I can still make out the silhouettes of fish, as they swim by in this aquatic metropolis.
Coming out of the sea, I trade the salty taste for a bespoke cocktail at Grouper Bar. Delicious coolers can also be enjoyed at Jules Verne Bar and Boat House Bar, each offering its own charms. The Tree Top restaurant is the best place to be when you are hungry. It serves top-notch Asian-fusion cuisine alongside a curated drinks menu. It’s also the best place to befriend other guests, who are otherwise spread out over Bawah’s five islands, 13 beaches and three crystal clear lagoons.
It’s not merely water activities. I also trek through primary forest to views that are certainly worth climbing for. A sixth island in the back beckons as a challenge to serious and able-bodied adventurers. Then there is the tranquil Aura wellness centre where I reconnect with my soul in a yoga session and feel all the stresses of urban life ebb from my body during an excellent massage.
So are we dazzled? We’d have to be jaded beyond redemption not to be impressed. If anything, I think I’ve fallen under the Bawah spell. I’m told whale sharks can be seen frolicking off the back of the island, and to go see them will be my excuse for coming back. Till next time… AM
Ready to walk on the wild side?
Take a break from the concrete jungle and be among the first to go back 10,000 years and experience a new world destination. The rate of USD1,960 a night (for two people) includes:
• Round trip transfers from Singapore via Batam (car, ferry and private seaplane)
• Eco-designed safari accommodation for two
• All meals and non-alcoholic beverages
• Unlimited Bawah mineral water (still or sparkling, as you prefer) in your villa’s mini bar
• All services/activities offered at Aura wellness centre (spa facials and massages, as well as yoga, pilates, meditation and reiki sessions)
• Non-motorised water sports (kayaking, sailing, paddle-boarding, snorkelling and boat trips)
• Daily laundry service (dry cleaning unavailable)
Other possible activities are bird-watching and open-air cinemas sessions, weather permitting. Additional charges apply for scuba diving.
More information at www.bawahisland.com