Singapore private islands: Telunas, Batu Batu and Nikoi
The city-state is better known for its 50-year sprint to become an economic powerhouse of steel buildings and high finance than for lazing around on beaches (not surprising as they’re almost non-existent and almost all made from trucked-in sand). For a quick getaway, expats and well-heeled locals head to a trio of private islands, so next time you head to the Lion City, consider swapping the shopover for an island hopover.
Telunas Private Island has a wooden arm of 15 spacious over-water sea villas decorated in a disarming and original Cape Cod-weekender style but with an all-indigenous Indonesian flair. It makes sense when you discover Telunas was founded by American college friends Mike, Eric and Brad and their wives who came to the Riau islands in 2000 and just drifted along in a small boat until they found their perfect beach base. They set up Telunas Beach Resort as a social-impact project 10 years ago – that’s it opposite your new private -island stay – and later expanded with this more upmarket property.
The best thing to do is just hang out and explore. The island’s jetty ends in a seven-metre plunge that makes it perfect for jetty jumps with a gentle tide that carries you back to the steps so you can go again. A small scoop of beach runs from the jetty to the villas for sandcastles and burying small children up to their neck – or you can try to find the “secret beach” an even more private sandy hideaway along a jungle trail past the accommodation.
Access involves a 50-minute ferry ride to Sekupang (Batam Island, Indonesia) then a small boat transfer to Telunas; a $75 round-trip. Villas start at $200 a night with dining an extra $75 for adults. See telunasresorts.com.
The posh neighbour of Malaysian islands such as Rawa and Tioman, Batu Batu (real name Tengah Island) has 22 well thought-out villas that hug the coast of this mile-wide stretch of tropical perfection.
The island itself contains ideal conditions for snorkellers – schools of tropical fish flit away in front of us as we float over bone-white brain coral – sand for the less active, and an infinity pool for those in between.
The food at Batu Batu is a highlight; the changing kids menu appealing but secretly healthy – a chicken stir-fry, freshly made pizzas – the adult menu comes from three different chefs, Western, Indian and Malay; all of whom know their local cuisine. Dessert is usually a selection of house-made sorbets and ice-creams followed by a stroll back to the bungalow along a tiki-torch lit track.
It was not always this way, those staying on the island from 1975 to 1981 were housed in a refugee camp for Vietnamese boat people. You can see remnants of their time here by traversing the “Island Track”, a trail that pushes through the dense foliage and takes in a couple of far-flung beaches.
Getting to Batu Batu involves a three-hour road trip to Mersing, Malaysia, then a 20-minute boat transfer to Batu Batu. Villas start at $260 a night for a one-bedroom jungle villa and $520 for a two-bedroom poolside villa. Add $70 for meals ($35 children). See batubatu.com.my.
On Nikoi Island, by far the most au naturale of these private island escapes, you are rarely alone.
At the driftwood-hut reception you are joined by Johnny the monitor lizard, at the pool bar suspended above the rocky foreshore you have Lily the Golden Orb Spider for company, in the evening at the bar it’s a brave bat weaving around the bartenders to make a grab for some fresh bananas. And, while sunning yourself on the coral-strewn beach, staff are likely to arrive in kayaks with all manner of sea creatures from the day’s catch – giant clams, rock fish, crabs, and a rockpool dweller they use for bait that looks like an extra from Alien.
Nikoi actively ducks the overused “eco” term, but this is an island that is naturally friendly to its surroundings. This starts with the abode you wake up in which is made from driftwood recovered from surrounding beaches and raised on stilts so our air-conditioning is just the sea breeze blowing through the native sea-almond trees and continues with the sputtering engines of local fishing boats that will likely be providing our lunchtime meal at the communal hut where we dine with our feet in the sand. If the food is not caught it is often sourced from local markets or small-scale farms that avoid chemicals.
Getting to Nikoi involves a one-hour ferry to Bintan, Indonesia, then a two-hour road trip across Bintan and a 20-minute transfer by boat to the island. Rates for a one-bedroom beach house start at $335 a night with an extra $80 for adults and $40 for children for meals. See nikoi.com.
The story Singapore private islands: Telunas, Batu Batu and Nikoi first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.