Nikoi Island, a 15-hectare private island off the coast of Bintan, Indonesia, partly sells itself on the fact that you can be on your own deserted beach within just two and a half hours of leaving the Tanah Merah ferry terminal in Singapore – an accessible travel hub.
The resort has the transportation down to an art – after getting the 5pm ferry, we were met off the boat by a Nikoi staff member and whisked through customs without having to queue, then into a spacious car for a surprisingly beautiful hour-long drive down the coast (who said Bintan was tacky?), where the palm-fringed coast road at sunset recalled a dream scene in a David Lynch film. It got more like James Bond when, just as night fell, two of us were met at Nikoi’s elegant private jetty by seven staff, who ushered us onto a speedboat and whisked us off into the dark. This felt rock-star enough, but they are planning to make it even better with seaplanes from Singapore’s Marina Bay.
Despite its proximity to civilisation the 15-hectare island feels remote, with rocky beach around a humming rainforest and wooden buildings poking out of the foliage. It’s a conservation zone, so you’ll sporadically spot sea turtles laying eggs on the beach. On our first morning, a giant monitor lizard ambled past our room. The resort feels nicely organic, which is largely down to the design – almost all the structures have been beautifully handcrafted from rough driftwood and bamboo (yes, it’s eco-friendly too) and melt into the island. One of the partners led the construction himself, and the place is clearly a personal labour of love. We met with another of the owners, who was also deeply passionate about the resort and who helps out with some community projects on Bintan.
Accommodation consists of 15 gorgeous beach houses on stilts, making them feel as much like tree-houses. All are within 15m of the beach, so you can doze off to the glorious sound of the sea. Beach houses come with one to three bedrooms – our three-bedroom hut could comfortably sleep seven, though bookings are limited to four adults.
The vibe is less couple-y than we’d initially expected, with more kids – one of the two restaurants is unofficially classified as the ‘family restaurant’, and staff put on regular kids’ activities including the odd treasure hunt and a bonfire most nights. It’s good clean fun rather than clowns and whistles – the website recommends that kids can swing from vines and play on boulders, and on our trip a couple of boys were fishing from the jetty. Kids or not, there are few enough people that the other guests are never intrusive, and the island works equally for a romantic mini-break or a quiet chill-out break with friends.
We paddled round the island by kayak in less than an hour, even allowing for lots of sunbathing; jumped off the jetty and snorkelled beneath it (it might not be world class, but there are cute Nemo fish); hung out around the pool and generally spent lots of time sitting and staring at the sea. Be careful if you swim in the sea – it’s rocky in most places, as we found out in the dark on the first night. Other activities you can take part in include catamaran sailing, proper diving, windsurfing and rock climbing.
The food is solid rather than spectacular, with set menus at set times throughout the day, which was perhaps our main reservation (we wanted to eat whenever we felt like it). At night the bar will stay open as long as guests are there to drink, which is usually not that late – people here tend to wake early and go to bed early, especially as the time difference means the sun sets at around 6.30pm.
Rooms at Nikoi Island start at Dhs980 per night. Etihad flies direct to Singapore, from where guests can take a transfer to Nikoi; return tickets start at Dhs3,600. www.etihadairways.com.
Three more to try
While you’re in the area, try your hand at diving, surfing or climbing.
Learn to surf in Seminyak, Bali
There are loads of surf schools in Bali, but we’d recommend learning in Seminyak, which is slightly quieter and more civilised than the frantic tourist trap of ever-popular Kuta Beach, and normally has smallish waves suitable for beginners. The Balinese-owned Double D surf school (www.surfschoolbali.com) has good instructors and is good value if you only want a few lessons, with single lessons from Dhs160.
Stay: The boutique Dyana Villas (www.balidyanavillas.com) is 800m from the beach and offers weekend package deals, starting from Dhs1,534 for three days and two nights.
Getting there: Air Asia flies to Bali from Singapore from Dhs879 return including taxes.
Climb Mount Bromo, Java
The Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park in East Java, Indonesia, is home to some of the country’s most otherworldly volcano treks. While the active 3,676m Mount Semeru is a tough climb that requires a permit, the more accessible Mount Bromo (2,329m) has had its top blown off and belches white sulphurous smoke. The National Park is not too hard to get to, but given the driving time (three to four hours from Surabaya), it’s perhaps best done over a long weekend.
Stay: The coolest place to stay nearby is the boutique Java Banana Bromo Lodge, with rooms from Dhs312.
Getting there: China Airlines flies to Surabaya from Singapore from Dhs700 return.
Dive wrecks from a live-aboard boat
For a brilliant weekend of diving without the hassle of getting yourself anywhere (except the Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal in the Anambas Islands), DiveRace (www.diverace.com) runs three-day trips to some of Indonesia’s top dive sites from just Dhs1,829. After rocking up at the terminal at 6.15pm on Friday night, you get on the unflashy but comfortable boat and by 8.15am the next morning you’re diving sites like the Igara wrecks and the reefs around the Anambas Islands. Treveli, jacks, angel fish and bat fish are regulars – and if you’re lucky you may spot whale sharks and mantas. DiveRace sails to Malaysia, Indonesia or Thailand depending on the season. With six to eight dives and no phone signal, it’s a true escape.