BAWAH RESERVE, INDONESIA
Singaporean-based financier Tim Hartnoll chanced upon this collection of six uninhabited islands, three lagoons and 13 white beaches while sailing in Indonesia’s Riau archipelago five years ago. And he’s a quick mover. Opened in July 2017, Bawah is one of the world’s most exciting new hideaways: remote, beautiful and with bar-raising environmental policies. Days can be spent hiking through butterfly-filled primary rainforest, gliding over pink, purple and electric-blue corals in see-through kayaks, snorkelling with clownfish, triggerfish, parrotfish and, if you’re lucky, green turtles. Later retreat to the spa, where daily Indonesian-inspired treatments are included in the rate.
The 36 villas, 11 of which are stilted above the water, are made from recycled teak and local bamboo and fit effortlessly into the scheme of things, with their rustic-smart interiors, balconies, crisp white canopied beds and hammered-copper bathrooms. The big design statements have been saved for the main building, where a swarm of jellyfish chandeliers are strung across the dining room and a wispy octopus made from discarded fishing line dangles above the bar. The food is sunny and seriously good: luminous yellow seafood laksa, lemony scallop risotto and zingy salads plucked from the 800 square metres of organic gardens. After dark, the stars will stop you in your barefooted tracks, the silvery bay lit not by moonlight but by the glow of the Milky Way.
Already known for running one of the loveliest hotels in the Maldives (Landaa Giraavaru), Four Seasons has taken things up a notch with the opening of Voavah. With seven bedrooms set across the five acres, it’s an extraordinary all-singing, all-dancing playground of a place. The vibe is surprisingly boho, but with that heel-clicking Four Seasons edge. Inside both the main house and the over-water villa, textures such as copper, leather and rattan are mixed with rosewood and mahogany. Woven fishing baskets from Malaysia and Vietnam have been repurposed as lamps and side tables, and there are Rajasthani mirrors and Java teak benches. A sleek bunk room for children sits up on the mezzanine. This is in the Baa Atoll, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, so the best-in-the-world snorkelling is taken as read.
But there are surprises too. A motor yacht will take guests out to the ocean proper, where local populations of turtle and manta rays can be spotted. And there’s Baathala, the private island’s own private island for picnic lunches, sandcastle-building and treasure hunts. Water toys include X-Jetblades, jet skis, Seabobs and Bubblemakers. Back on Voavah, staff appear to whip up basil and lime smoothies and plates of fresh sashimi, and pizzas for the younger members of the gang. And all ages are welcome at the spa, where there’s a kids’ ritual as well as a crystal-singing-bowl experience worth the 12-hour flight in itself.
Hornbills crash into fruit trees, rare Irrawaddy dolphins swim through the water and sea otters squeak in the surf. Cempedak is where the wild things truly are. Its 20 villas, peppered across rugged beach and through a jungly interior packed with soaring fig and pandan trees, are the brainchild of hotelier Andrew Dixon, who opened eco-trailblazer Nikoi Island in the same archipelago a decade ago. Regulars clamoured for an adults-only escape, and here is his answer. Dixon’s commitment to environmentalism means solar panels and waste-water gardens, zero plastic waste and no air-con. Indonesian bamboo (fast-growing and with a tensile strength stronger than steel) has been used to build the villas, breathtaking raised walkways and a restaurant that stretches oceanwards in frond-like tendrils.
Curved thatched roofs shaped like melted boomerangs add a surreal touch. Reclaimed teak furniture sits alongside earthy-toned Pierre Frey fabrics, balconies have bamboo-offcut railings with skeletal patterns, and lava stone steps lead to teardrop plunge pools. Meals are set, but spoiling. Medanese chef Dika’s repertoire ranges from fish curries to pineapple and ginger pancake stacks. Bamboo Benders (cachaça with green tea and soda) are best sipped at sunset at Dodo Bar, its spiral shape inspired by a shell that washed up on shore. A replica dodo holds court and on obsidian-skied nights, a telescope affords glimpses of Saturn’s rings.
TURTLE ISLAND, FIJI
Forty years ago, American cable-TV exec Richard Evanson was sitting in a bar in the Fijian city of Nadi when a stranger asked him ‘Do you want to buy an island?’ Burnt out and looking for change, Evanson did. He hired workers from the nearby villages to build the 14 bures and carve pathways through the jungly interior, and planted trees in their thousands. The first guests visited in the early 1980s, but this year has seen a sharp fix-up of the interiors. Bedrooms have been redecorated with traditional carvings, and tribal-print fabrics by French-Fijian designer Alexandra Poenaru-Philp. A commitment to sustainability runs throughout. Hardwood bed frames, coffee tables and nightstands are hand-hewn from tree limbs gathered in the island’s forests; woven cushions and floor mats use palm and coconut husk, lights are fashioned from driftwood and curtains have been recycled to cover the day beds. But it will still look familiar – The Blue Lagoon was shot on one of the seven seashell-strewn beaches.
The island is big enough for on-land adventure – mountain biking, horse riding – and out on the water there’s stand-up paddle boarding, scuba diving and deep-sea fishing. Supper is served at a communal table and chef Beni Nasaumalumu cooks seasonally from his organic gardens and whatever guests catch that day. Afterwards you can take part in a kava ceremony: the mildly narcotic drink makes a cracking nightcap. It’s a clever refresher for a classic hotel.
Few places in Fiji combine culture with a barefoot vibe like Kokomo. It sits on the edge of the Kadavu archipelago, encircled by the Great Astrolabe Reef, one of the largest and most immaculate reefs in the world, far away from the mainland crowds. The 21 beachside bures and five hilltop villas are filled with authentic Fijian touches – shell mobiles, rush matting and traditional sculptures – and have walled gardens heady with the scent of frangipani. The brainchild of Australian property kingpin Lang Walker, Kokomo opened only eight months ago but is already making waves.
The kitchen is headed by Aussie chef Anthony Healy (fresh from three years ‘next door’ at Laucala Island) and is playing a major role in Fiji’s food renaissance, driven by his support of local producers. Healy manages six farmers and fishermen, 180 chickens and 10 beehives as well as an organic two-hectare garden with a vanilla plantation and every type of vegetable and fruit imaginable. His signature dish is a modern take on kokoda (raw fish salad), using coral-reef trout and fresh passion fruit. Pearl meat from Savusavu is new to the menu and you can finish with a soursop dessert, a prickly fruit with a hint of citrus. Kokomo is a feast of a place, putting this speck in the South Pacific on the epicurean map.
THANDA ISLAND, TANZANIA
Thirty kilometres off mainland Tanzania, Thanda was an uninhabited blip in the ocean when the Olofsson family took it over on a long lease a decade ago. They had scoured the Indian Ocean looking for an island playground for their children and grandchildren, and also somewhere to complement their South African safari lodge, Thanda Safari. The sprawling, solar-powered villa the family built has been designed in plantation-house style, with deep, wraparound verandas and five beautiful air-conditioned bedrooms, each with a four-poster bed.
The two open-sided beach bandas make great hangouts for teenagers and the boat house is crammed with SUP boards, kayaks, banana boats, wake boards, snorkelling gear and even a pair of shiny new jet skis. Diving trips off nearby Mafia Island are easy to arrange, kite-surfing or yoga instructors can be flown in on request, and there’s also a floodlit tennis court. The seafood is spectacular, too, with fresh lobster, grilled tiger prawns as big as langoustines, red-snapper ceviche and seared tuna on the menu.
The chefs are happy to prepare a Swahili feast of samosas, prawn and coconut curry, and mini doughnuts drenched in a spicy syrup served with milky chai tea. Getting to Thanda involves a 30-minute flight from Dar es Salaam to Mafia Island, then a 45-minute boat trip. You could charter a helicopter, but that would mean forfeiting that classic beach landing of everyone’s dreams.