It's late afternoon on Bawah Island, and from the timber deck of my overwater suite, I can just detect the evocative aroma of a clove cigarette, sashaying in on the tropical breeze. I am not a smoker, but the lingering scent of this spicy stick succinctly signals that I am in Indonesia.
To my left are perched a cluster of Indonesian construction workers, adding the final flourishes to this luxury eco-resort. To my right, the spa therapist I visit daily, jogs laps of the silicon sandbar, which splashes a seductive smear of white among the aqua ocean. And straight ahead, a secluded sandy beach is plonked provocatively.
But it is below me which most captures my imagination, as it is home to three rascally reef sharks, who circle my exotic enclave early in the morning when the tide is low and the rest of the island still slumbers. I'm halfway between Malaysia and Borneo in the Anambas group of Islands, but only three hours from Singapore. It's the new Maldives for Aussies, at half the travel time.
This 68ha dollop in the ocean and former fisherman's territory, was once part of the Sunda Land which linked up Peninsula Malaysia, Cambodia, java and Sumatra, during the last Ice Age. Newly opened this month, for four sublime nights I am the only guest on the island which boasts almost 100 staff and dates back 10,000 years. Robinson Crusoe, eat your heart out.
My week unfurls like a fishing line into delicious days of snorkelling, sharks and sea shells. Of coconut scrambled eggs for breakfast; spicy sambal, seafood and lemongrass rice for lunch; and pre-dinner cocktails.
Boasting 21 beach, 11 overwater, and three garden suites, plus 13 beaches, three lagoons, and five islands in total, there is at once nothing and plenty for me to do.
I am deposited at my own private beach where I sip frosty Bintangs in warm waters. I follow the tracks of giant monitor lizards, and witness a serene stingray swim past me in the shallows while out snorkelling. I consider kayaking to a nearby bat cave, but never quite make it. Nor do I take one of the three island treks. It's a never-mind kind of place.
Owned by Tim Hartnoll, head of a Singapore-based shipping group, Bawah Island is committed to leaving as little environmental and social footprint as possible. You'll find no plastic bottles on this idyll which takes its water stocks seriously and has plenty of still and sparkling water which has been treated and bottled in glass.
There's three sources of water here: rain water, well water and a reverse osmosis utilising sea water from a machine made in Australia. Waste water is treated to supply gardens which the island's permaculturalist uses on the gardens.
Bawah aims to grow 80 per cent of its own vegetables and 60 percent of its own fruit. Other food sources are either imported, or traded with neighbouring islands with which Bawah is actively working through its Bawah Anambas Foundation (BAF)– designed to assist local communities in becoming more sustainable and ethical.
The great Australian dream
Ever since the first surfers stumbled across Bali, Australians have flocked to Indonesia, and in more recent times, have been looking to venture beyond Kuta's beer and bargain culture. Bawah Island manages to capture Indonesia's irreverent style and laidback life which appeals to Aussies, and combine it with five-star service and style.
There are around 17,000 islands in Indonesia, of which about 10,000 are inhabited. Bawah is not only the latest in luxury but it has a huge heart. Make sure it's on your list.
How to get there
Start your journey with Singapore Airlines Business Class. On this award-winning carrier, you can experience its new Book the Cook service for its Business and Premium Economy Class customers on East Coast and Perth routes. Pre-order a meal from a selection of options, with creations inspired by the Airline's International Culinary Panel of chefs, including Australian celebrity chef Matt Moran.
You may need to stopover in Singapore either before or after your Bawah adventure. Royal Plaza on Scotts – a member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts – has just been awarded its 10th win as Asia Pacific's Best Independent Hotel.
Bawah will arrange for a limousine to collect you from your Singapore hotel and transfer you to Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal where you will board the Majestic Ferry to Batam Centre. You will be met by Bawah staff for VIP fast-track through Indonesian Immigration and Customs, and driven to the island's seaplane.
The writer travelled as a guest of Bawah Island; Singapore Airlines Business Class; and Royal Plaza on Scotts Singapore.