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Pulau Joyo, Indonesia: A perfect desert island getaway, just a boat trip from Singapore

Pulau Joyo, a self-styled Robinson Crusoe desert island in the Indonesian Riau Islands Province, provided Amy Brook-Partridge with the fitting spot for a birthday weekend, and momentous first trip away without the children.

My husband James and I had often listened enviously to friends’ stories of trips away without their children – romantic meals, lazy days by the pool, explorations and relaxations. Don’t get me wrong, we love our children to death, but there was a yearning in both of us to get away and do the same thing, to wake up for just one morning and not have to chase a toddler around the kitchen trying to stop them from smearing peanut butter on the walls, or go to the swimming pool without feeling like an unqualified lifeguard charged with stopping a slippery eel (that can’t swim) from falling in the water.

Finally, the kids being of a certain age, we felt ready to leave them in the very capable hands of our helper Anayln, who was armed with a vast list of emergency numbers and an itinerary for the children that would rival Suri Cruise’s.

The journey

  • Ferry from Tanah Merah to Tanjung Pinang (90 minutes, $50 per person)
  • Bus transfer to Pulau Joyo’s private dock (45 minutes)
  • Speed boat to island (20 minutes)

If you book an individual “palace” (the resort’s term for the island rooms), the ferry arrival and departure times are set, and you will be informed of these by the island manager. We left on a Friday on the 9.20am Tanah Merah ferry, and came back on the Sunday at 6.30pm. The Tanjung Pinang ferry terminal is fairly rough and ready, and the 45-minute bus ride pretty bumpy, but made easier with complimentary drinks. Don’t forget US$10 for your Indonesian visa on arrival, and S$5 Indonesian departure tax.

Coming ashore

Spotting the island from the speedboat, it was instantly recognisable from the website pictures I’d been poring over. The four of us (we were joined by friends Ceilidh and Will) almost visibly relaxed as we jumped off the boat and were given ice-cold, fresh calamansi juice by the friendly staff.

The beautifully rustic rooms
The beautifully rustic rooms

 

Island manager Santo showed us to our two Driftwood Treehouses, which were adjoined by a shared entrance, a mere 15 metres from where we had just come ashore. The accommodation is fittingly rustic, with no air-conditioning but plenty of fans and a breeze flowing through the open blinds. As the name suggests, our two rooms had been constructed from salvaged driftwood; each had both a king-size bed and a Balinese day bed, so plenty of room for the kids. (If they’re invited!)

Not one for unpacking, James took one look at our room, nodded approval and went off exploring, while I started my standard ritual of taking everything out of the suitcase and piling it up somewhere, to be messed up within the next six hours.

We all met up by the swimming pool, and were ushered to our table for lunch. We discovered later that we would dine at a different table in a different area for each meal bar breakfast, meaning we would see the island from a variety of angles.

There’s no menu; guests are simply served what’s been cooked for them, but with plenty of choice there’s slim chance of anyone going hungry. Today it was chicken strips cooked with pepper and lime, a curried coconut sauce, pasta, avocado salad and deep fried breaded prawns, all washed down with a bottle of New Zealand Sugar Loaf Wines sauvignon blanc ($52), and finished off with a chocolate pot and coffees all round.

It only took Amy a few minutes to knock this up
It only took Amy a few minutes to knock this up

After lunch, Santo gave me the chance to have a nose around the rest of the island and other accommodation, my last chance before their weekend occupiers turned up later that evening. The island has six palaces in total: our two adjoining Driftwood Treehouses, two Driftwood Beach Houses, and two Java Houses, Rembang and Juwana, which, according to co-owner Antony Marden, were original Javanese joglos that had been reassembled on the island.

Javanese and Balinese influences remain throughout the accommodation, and all retain their own privacy. In fact, we realised at the end of the weekend that we had never felt “on top” of anyone else, even at the Pool House, which was home to the island’s bar.

Entertainment and birthday treats

The hub of the island (as far as we were concerned) was said Pool House, where all paths seemed to lead. It has a well-stocked and reasonably priced bar, a lounge area upstairs, table tennis, a range of board games and a pool table a stone’s throw away.

It didn’t take long for the boys to get restless, and they decided to spark up a table tennis tournament in the late afternoon. Once Ceilidh and I had relaxed into the fact that there were no children to keep an eye on, we were just happy to sit in the sun and have a good old-fashioned gossip.

Chilling out by the pool with a glass of wine
Chilling out by the pool with a glass of wine

 

Aperitifs on the beach followed, then dinner served in the lounge above the bar area. We had the whole place to ourselves and feasted on lamb chops, white fish, salads and prawns. The resident cat also came to say hello before we retired to bed.

Following one of the most peaceful wake-ups in a long time (still early, but minus the screaming kids), I initially forgot it was my 38th birthday, almost unheard of from a birthday monster like me. Luckily for James he did remember, and more importantly he remembered my present.

Breakfast on the island is buffet-style, with cereals, toast, jams and juices to help yourself to, and you can request eggs any which way. The favoured style with my group was an omelette with everything – onions, peppers and cheese.

Never one to turn down a massage (is there such a thing as too many massages?) I, and the rest of the group, signed up for an hour-long treatment. The massage hut faces the pool, but is far enough away to not be disturbed by noise, apart from perhaps your own snoring. The masseuse was so good, and a bargain at S$30 an hour, that I had another one the next day.

After lunch, the boys were restless again and opted to snorkel, while I kayaked alongside, jokingly telling them I would be their shark guard. We’d been lucky with the weather, the skies were clear and the sun was shining, so it was the perfect time to explore.

Following another table tennis tournament for the boys, and some delicious tea time treats (banana fritters, vegetable and cheese springs rolls) we relocated to the beach to watch the sunset, champagne in hand, before dining at a beautifully laid table in the sand. The setting was wonderful, despite a visitor in the shape of an enormous millipede, but that’s nature for you! A generous surprise came in the form of a delicious chocolate cake from the island, and I felt a little sad that my two girls weren’t around to help me blow out the candles and eat it.

Not quite ready to go to bed, and buoyed by champagne and wine, I challenged James to a game of pool, always a big mistake after a few drinks! Three games later, and three games lost (by me) I was done.

Waking up the next day, my fuzzy head was appreciative of the fact there were no children jumping on me and shouting in my ear to wake up. But I also felt the familiar and welcome ache of wanting to get back to see my girls. The rustic and laidback charm of Pulau Joyo had worked its magic, but it was time to get back to the city and reality again.

 

The deal

Individual palace booking for at least two adults for two nights: $350++ per adult per night. This includes all meals, non-alcoholic drinks, land transfer on Tanjung Pinang and private speedboat.

The island can be hired at $4,000++ per night, for a minimum of 10 adults for a two-night stay.

The history

Before Pulau Joyo, over a decade ago, Antony Marden and partner Hendra Suhadi purchased their “best place for a party ever” island, Pulau Pangkil. Pangkil is only available for all-out hire, and Pulau Joyo was purchased and developed later as the family’s personal island. The palaces are bigger, the furnishings are more luxurious, and the business model is different in that guests can rent individual palaces. “Running the show can be difficult,” says Antony, “but the place is a joy and a delight, and I always look forward to spending time on the island with my own family and friends.”

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