Is this South-East Asia’s most beautiful eco-luxe resort?

Walking ashore, I immediately notice the same sustainable construction techniques employed at Bawah. The setting is made of fast-growing plantation bamboo, and restaurant walls and paths use Bawah-hewn stone. Handrails along stairs are made of driftwood.

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The two-story clubhouse restaurant and breezy sunset bar overlooks a saltwater infinity pool with a mini water slide and coral lagoon beyond. On the beach, the Boathouse Restaurant is a feet-in-the-sand affair, complete with daybeds and kayaks.

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The view from one of the lodges from the Elang Private Residence. Reto Guntil

There will be chefs and private butlers here, and if you want, you will be whisked away to Bawah.

Elang’s accommodation consists of five one-bedroom lodges and one two-bedroom “longhouse”, all with elevated ocean and treetop views and absolute privacy.

My choice is lodge number 3, with its coral-filled view and luxurious verandah flooring. Inside, all lodges have exposed bamboo “beams” and Javanese decorations and handmade games.

A guest room in an Elang Lodge. The private residence is on its own island, just across the Dermaga Reef and Lagoon from Bawa Reserve. Reto Guntil

Of course, there’s a spa here, with indoor or ocean treatments and yoga classes. There is a tennis and croquet lawn, and today the court is patrolled by a couple of long-legged egrets.

All the progressive sustainability features of Bawah apply here as well. Of course, flying in a seaplane does not scream “ecological”, but Bawah excels in other areas, as I was told by engineering director Hennig van Heerden.

By boat we go to a lagoon to find Van Heerden’s new baby, one of the largest hotel-based solar arrays in Indonesia. Although some buildings here already have solar panels, many roofs are made of thatch or canvas, making them unsuitable. Therefore, the new panels are floating, the site chosen for its calm waters and lack of corals.

With 55 batteries for energy storage, solar now supplies half of Bawah and Elang’s power needs. When the diesel generators take over, their exhaust is used to heat the staff’s hot water systems.

Van Heerden leads me through the back-of-house, past workers carefully dividing trash into 14 categories. When the supply ship unloads at Bawah, it reloads with these recyclables, and delivers them to Batam, an industrial hub on a small island among Indonesia’s Riau Islands.

A permaculture garden provides fresh vegetables and greenery for Bawa Reserve and Elang Private Residence.

Drinking water comes from rainwater and the resort’s own seawater reverse osmosis plant, and is supplied to guests in glass bottles.

To supplement the resort’s food needs, a permaculture garden currently produces water spinach, local basil and, on a trellis walk, passion fruit, tomatoes and giant cucumbers. There is also a nursery here, sprouting everything from chilli and papaya trees to native orchids and forest species.

I ask to see how the resort deals with sewage and gray water, the nutrient-filled enemies of coral reefs. Van Heeran raises an eyebrow but happily shows me the sewage treatment process; ultrafiltration, UV sterilization and a reed-filled settlement pond. Eventually, this cleaned water is reused to irrigate landscaped gardens and flush toilets.

Underwater, Bawah’s marine environment receives similar care. John Nolan, Marine Conservation and Dive Center Manager, explains that the resort is an accredited Signing Blue WWF Resort, committed to ocean conservation.

The jetty leads to Elang Private Residence. Reto Guntil

Following Nolan’s instructions, I grab my mask and snorkel, and dive into the turquoise. A strange form materialized, and then another; vertical PVC pipes sprouting side pipes; “Coral trees” with small pieces of coral hanging like Christmas decorations.

Moving on, I see the next phase of Nolan’s project. Here, fragments of the coral trees are transplanted onto frames called coral spiders and hexadomes. In places the coral has grown so strongly that I can hardly see the frame.

Scuba diving guests can join Nolan for a conservation dive, and in the last two years, almost 2000 individual fragments have been added to the Bawah ecosystem.

Along the beach we come to a wooden pen, and Nolan explains that sea turtles often nest on Bawah and nearby islands. The eggs are irresistible to monitor lizards, and apparently human poachers too. To prevent looting, turtle eggs are now moved to the safety of this pen, the babies are released as soon as they hatch, delighting the happy guests.

I am reminded how lucky I am to be a guest at Bawah, deciding between private picnics and remote treatments. Life is certainly not easy for all in these parts.

A diver discovers the coral, which Bawah takes measures to preserve and help grow.

Hidden in the lagoon, some fishermen take a rest from subsistence fishing. They are among the 47,000 inhabitants who live in the Anambas Islands, the nearest inhabited islands a two-hour boat trip from Bawah. These are some of the most remote and remote islands in Indonesia.

In building a resort here, Hartnoll felt it was vital to give back to the community.

“We asked them what they wanted,” explains Hartnoll. “And they said, ‘We do not want our children to do what our fathers did; Fishing is not a big career here. We would like you to set up an English language course.'”

Children learn English thanks to Bawah Anambas Foundation. Anambas Foundation Blog

This was the spark for the Bawah Anambas Foundation, helped by the Indonesian Jerry Winata and his team of islanders. Crucially, it is the community itself that leads the foundation’s projects.

The foundation works across several pillars, such as English classes and supporting alternative livelihoods for fishing. It has helped diversify into farming organic vegetables that the resort is committed to buying, along with value-added products like dried banana chips.

Preventing plastic waste from reaching the ocean is also a critical initiative of the foundation, which now operates four local “waste banks” that pay residents for plastic, glass, cardboard and other waste. The waste is crushed or shredded and then transported by boat to the district capital, where it is sold for recycling.

Between May and August this year, the waste banks received a surprising 9735 kilos of waste for recycling. Placing a value on waste means that the younger generation is also engaged.

“Now the children use the extra money to buy phone credit or snacks, and they are very excited,” says Winata.

Back at Bawah, plans for the future include offering resort guests a day trip to the islands to connect with communities and the foundation’s projects.

But for now, as guests luxuriate, they can be sure that they are helping to finance meaningful projects and the empowerment of Bawah’s closest neighbors.

Must know

  • Stay | Bawah Reserve – rates from $US1780 (about $2760) a couple, one night. Includes meals, activities, daily spa treatment, exercise classes and laundry. Excludes alcohol, scuba diving and premium experiences. Minimum three-night stay.
  • Elang Private Residence – $US25,000 (approx $38,800) a night for full island buy-out, based on 14 guests across seven bedrooms and six lodges. Inclusions as for Bawah. Minimum three-night stay.
  • Getting there | From Singapore, you will pay $US950 back a person. This includes car service to the ferry terminal, escort by ferry to the Indonesian island of Batam with expedited passport clearance and car service to the airport in Batam where you can arrive by seaplane. Or from Jakarta, fly to Batam. Transportation package from Batam is $US800 per person.

The writer traveled as a guest of the Bawah Reserve.

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