Just 50 miles east of Singapore is Nikoi Island, a 37-acre private isle off the coast of Bintan fringed by powdery white-sand beaches. Its 15 Indonesian-inspired bungalows are constructed from driftwood and outfitted with built-in daybeds,stone-floored bathrooms, and thatch roofs.
This is a boutique resort with a laid back feel that is far more private island getaway than resort. There are no rules, no signs and no room keys. In fact, look hard for doors. With just 15 open-air beach houses dotting a spacious 5 hectare private island, Nikoi boasts graceful barefoot luxury. It feels light years away from the roar of Singapore.
Nikoi’s motto is “Relaxed by Nature” and this is an apt description. The clientele is a mix of couples seeking privacy, and parents wanting their children to connect with nature. It is unusual for a resort to cater to both couples and families so well, but Nikoi does it exceptionally. There are separate dining rooms for each, and children are looked after at the Kid’s Club. Despite no TVs or video games, kids will be kept busy on Nikoi. Kids aged five and up are well looked after, with babysitting services, treasure hunts, movie nights, a kids pool and specially prepared meals. Adults can linger on empty beaches, tennis courts and a pool set on the island’s mesmerizing, rocky northern coast. Cell phone reception is good and wifi is available, even in such a remote location.
Just fifteen, two-storey beach houses are handcrafted with driftwood and generously spread along Nikoi’s western shoreline allowing for perfect sunset views. Each beach house features an open-air living room downstairs complete with wooden-decked lounge area, outdoor shower, daybed, sun lounges and a thatched gazebo for beachside massages. In addition to oceanfront views from the balcony, upstairs you’ll find a king-sized bed romantically-draped with flowing mosquito netting and built in daybeds for reading or relaxing. The color scheme is light and airy and incorporates blues and greens that melt imperceptibly into the natural environment. Some beach houses offer two and three bedrooms or separate bunkhouses for families and all have vaulted ceilings and fans to keep them cool without the need for air conditioning. The open-door policy on Nikoi means you could go for days without closing one and shoes are rendered practically irrelevant anywhere but on the nature trails. Limited lighting around the island (so as not to affect wildlife) makes for a nightly blanket of stars in the sky that will keep you up til the wee hours in wonder.
NB: if air conditioning is essential, you may find the beach houses uncomfortable on the warmest of days.
The resort does have an excellent restaurant, three bars and two swimming pools if you don’t fancy dipping your toes in the sea.
During the day the boat house offers the usual variety of water sports like fishing, diving, kayaking, windsurfing, paddle boarding and snorkeling and around the island you’ll find rock climbing and abundant hiking trails.
There is no spa, although you can have treatments at your beach house.
Dining is a delight combining organic and locally-sourced fresh ingredients on a seasonal blackboard menu that changes daily. Nikoi’s no rules mentality means that the bars close when the last guest goes to bed.
When Nikoi Island was purchased in 2004 by a small group of expatriates residing in Singapore, it was completely uninhabited. Conservation and protection of the natural environment were of primary importance during development and they followed the recommendations of a highly-regarded naturalist to help preserve that secluded feel. The results left the coastal foreshore around the island intact to maintain healthy and regenerating reefs and keep the eastern portion of the island virtually untouched with the exception of a limited trail system.
The pro-conservation and environmental awareness seen in the original development filters through the island’s business model. The resort’s entire marketing budget is channeled into a charitable foundation set up by Nikoi. The work of the Island Foundation blends holistically with the conservation work. It supports the local Indonesian population by building libraries, teaching local farmers how to grow organically and educating about the benefits of marine conservation.
Construction is low impact making use of driftwood and alang alang (dried local grass) thatching. Glass, concrete, metal and plastic use is minimal in the construction.
The resort works with the local people to help persuade them of the benefits of ecotourism and sustainable fishing – this is important for the creation of a proposed no-take zone and turtle conservation (poaching of turtle eggs is a problem). The coastal foreshore around the island was left intact to maintain healthy and regenerating reefs.
The focus on staff training has seen a number of locals move up the career ladder, and over 95% of staff are local. They support their staff through crises; for example, they have funded significant medical costs for major operations to family members.
A number of rare and critically endangered species are found on the island and a structured conservation program is increasing species numbers.
Water treatment is one of the major remaining energy consumers – seeking to address this by implementing a grey water recycling system for flushing toilets. They recycle plastic, metals and paper/cardboard – these are gifted to the local community who earn a small income by selling to recyclers. The resort’s purchasing policies bans drinks in single use plastic bottles, and though they recycle as much as possible, due to a lack of recycling centers nearby, the resort endeavors to be plastic-free and requests that guest take any plastic they bring to the island back with them to Singapore for disposal.
Almost all food is purchased in local markets and the daily menu is dictated by what is fresh and in season. Most fruit and vegetables are grown locally on small-scale farms (including some from Nikoi itself). All seafood is locally caught and nothing is purchased unless it meets the WWF Indonesia requirements for sustainability. Coffee is from Gayo Mountain in Aceh and is grown using natural and shade grown farming practices and is certified Fairtrade and environmentally sustainable.
They have recently installed new technology in mosquito prevention. It’s an eco-friendly solution that utilizes just water and electricity. The system has reduced mosquitos by 85% on the island.
The resort is very focussed on reducing electricity use, so there are no TVs, DVD players, minibar, AC, hairdryers or kettles. Rooms have lighting (low voltage LED and CFL), an iPod sound system and ceiling fans only. Hot water is provided by solar thermal system with electric back up disabled. Though they have researched alternative energy sources extensively, Nikoi management has yet to come up with a source for alternative power generation and currently use diesel generators to power fridges and pumps.
The resort has had issues with trash washing up on the beach that is thrown overboard by vessels departing nearby Singapore in order to avoid the high fees for waste disposal.
The entire construction team was Indonesian and all were left with new skills. They have established five libraries for local school children with books and computers for the children to use.
Animals and nature
The owners of Nikoi were committed to developing the island along sustainable practices. Prior to construction, they engaged one of Asia’s foremost naturalists to survey the island and make recommendations for minimizing the impact on the island’s natural flora and fauna. He also held training sessions for the staff to familiarize them with the natural environment. Turtles nest on the beaches of Nikoi and staff monitor this activity regularly. When a nest is discovered they temporarily cover it with netting to protect it from fisherman and the island’s monitor lizards. Naturalist surveys continue bi-annually.
Bintan Island is part of Indonesia’s Riau Archipelago in the South China Sea. A short boat ride from Singapore, its northern Lagoi area is an upscale resort destination offering championship golf courses, private beaches and extensive water sports. The northeastern Trikora strip features less-developed beaches. To the south, the provincial capital, Tanjung Pinang, has Dutch colonial architecture and rich history as a trade port.