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Desert island adventures on Nikoi Private Island


Afternoon stroll along Nikoi's sandy paths


A few years ago I was corresponding with a ‘mum friend’ about her summer holiday plans. She had recently moved to Singapore with her toddler.


“Oh, we’re renting a private island with some of our playgroup friends,” she breezily told me. At the time, pre-Hong Kong days, my own playgroup get-togethers consisted of a dusty community hall, an urn of over-stewed tea and several vegemite-smeared children playing noisily on a plastic climbing frame.


And yet, several years later, here I am, settling back on the silky sands of said private desert island, while the kids disappear down a leafy jungle path to play, not an i-pad (or a vegemite sandwich) in sight.


Welcome to Nikoi Private Island, a modern day shangri-la for weary parents everywhere.

Nikoi Island lies in Indonesian territory approximately 80 kms south of Singapore, nestled serenely off Bintan Island close to where the South China and Java Seas meet.


And better still, this summer Nikoi is running a children's summer camp. The five-day camp runs in July and parents get to take a breath and relax as the kids are whisked away each morning for drama, dance, music and craft activities.


To reach Nikoi, we flew into Singapore and caught one of the regular high-speed ferries from Singapore’s Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal to Bandar Bentan Telani on Bintan Island (an easy journey of approximately one hour). From there, a car met us to whisk us across Bintan to a private launch (a 45-minute journey), and this powered us over to tiny Nikoi in under half-an-hour.


As we approached the island, the white sandy beaches, swaying palms, and wooden grass thatched beach huts felt a million miles away from our early breakfast in downtown Singapore.


Nikoi was ‘discovered’ by long-term Asia-based expats Andrew Dixon and Peter Timmer (who had been living on Bintan for the past eighteen years). Dixon, based in Singapore and disenchanted with what was on offer for holiday-makers in the region, had decided to explore the then undiscovered east coast of Bintan.


Nikoi Private Island

Nikoi Island is just a couple of hours by boat from Singapore


Fed up with either flea-ridden beach shacks or grandiose marble and chandelier be-decked resorts, Dixon was looking to create something of quality but genuinely in tune with the natural environment.


So, the pair hired a tiny fishing boat to take a look at a nearby island that was reputably up for sale. On landing, they were amazed to discover gorgeous beaches, pristine reefs, extraordinary rock formations and verdant rainforest. 


“It was hard to believe a piece of paradise like this could remain uninhabited and untouched a mere 50 miles from Singapore,” says Dixon.


Significantly, the pair do not describe Nikoi as an “eco-resort”, considering the term to be overused. They just wanted it to respect the natural environment – “as much as possible, we have left Nikoi as we found it – a desert island,” explains Dixon.


“Our plan was to develop a private island, not a resort,” he says. “We wanted guests to enjoy the best of local dishes and appreciate service that is relaxed and genuine – not bound by training manuals and fake smiles.” He likens the island to “luxury Survivor”.

It would appear they have achieved their aim. Entirely constructed of driftwood, with a grass roof and exciting tree-top walkways linking the bedrooms and two bathrooms, our beach hut is what dreams are made of for our seven-year-old boy. There are no doors, no windows, no air conditioning – just gentle sea breezes, ceiling fans, graceful mosquito nets draping the beds (although I have to admit we didn’t have a single problem with biting insects, a welcome change from our own New Territories backyard), simple bathrooms, extremely comfortable beds – and a handy torch for after-dark.


Almost paralysed with excitement, the seven and nine-year olds decided to move their mattresses and sleep in the huge wood-hewn window seats.


Kids' club fun down on the beach


And as you would expect of a quality resort, the gentle staff dropped in every morning to sweep our sandy floorboards and mop the bathrooms.


This is barefoot living at its best, and our days quickly relaxed into a stunning early morning kayak around the island (even the seven-year-old could manage it by the end of the week), followed by jetty-jumping and snorkelling for the kids while I caught up with my book on the beach, and finally an indulgent lunch.


The catering on the island is what impressed me most – the dining room consists of a long, polished table – perfect for our large group of friends from Singapore, Australia and Hong Kong – in an open-sided, sandy-floored, dining hut by the beach.


The daily ‘menu d’hote’ is chalked up on a board at breakfast-time, with sensible alternatives for the children (thank god, not a chicken nugget in sight), which mostly consisted of local dishes using fresh ingredients – fish and seafood featured regularly. Parents everywhere will appreciate the bliss of not having to navigate an a la carte menu plus fast food-laden kids menu every mealtime.


In the afternoon, the children disappeared to do their favourite thing on Nikkoi – Yogi’s kids club. Yogi is amazing, he spent hours with them, carving wooden objects for them, showing them how to mix mocktails behind the little bar, designing complicated adventure games covering the length and breadth of the island. This is about as close as you will get to an Enid Blyton childhood in the age of tech. Rather marvellously, they disappeared for hours on end, leaving us parents to retreat to the pool on the other side of the island with books, i-pads and cocktails.


Chilling out in the island's pool


On a couple of evenings e did manage to rouse ourselves for a tennis match with the kids (on the resort’s immaculate grass court – Wimbledon eat your heart out), as well as enjoy the odd massage (a team of masseurs are happy to stop by your beach hut).


Dinner is served early for the kids, so they can disappear off with Yogi for an evening by the beach bonfire or watching a movie on the huge outdoor screen at the kids club hut. Again, we adults were left alone to linger over our food and wine.


By the end of the week, none of us was ready to go home and the eleven-year-old virtually has us in a headlock promising to come back next year. “Seriously mum, it’s our best ever holiday!” she pleaded with us.


To be honest, I’ve never seen our well-travelled, been there, done that children quite so animated about a holiday. We will certainly be back some day…


This summer kids can join Nikoi's Evolve Summer Camp, with activities like drama, dance, art and music. The camp runs every morning between 9am and 12pm, with a live performance for family and friends at the end of the week. Families who book five nights with at least one child enrolled in the camp will receive one night free. Children must be aged three years and over. For more details see online.




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