Island In The Sun

Camping out on Moyo Island with Amanwana

The seaplane glided smoothly in, the whirring propellers the only man-made noise to punctuate the stillness of the jungle. Making a perfect stop at the wooden pier, it carried a famous face. Assisted by the resort’s attendants in white, out came Maria Sharapova and (presumably) three of her best friends.

Just another day at the Amanwana resort on Moyo Island, Indonesia.

“You know, this is why I love coming here,” a fellow guest (who will go unnamed) confided to me later at dinner. “Celebrities, politicians, the rich and the powerful… all the people you’ll recognise from the newspaper…. We all come here because no one bats an eyelid. There’s no paparazzi here, or curious stares. It’s a place where we are just guests, not our name. I was here when Princess Diana was here. She came here after the divorce. It was the only place she felt at peace at.”

I admit, that made me feel a little guilty for staring earlier. But I knew what she meant. After the initial surprise and star-struckness wore off, I felt no more curiosity. This is my own private Eden, as it is everyone else that comes here.

The island of Moyo is roughly 180km east of Bali, 15km off the coast of Sumbawa, in the Flores Sea. A protected nature and marine reserve, Amanwana is the only resort on the 350 sqm isle, the only other residents being the smiling natives of the local villages. The island is vast (about a third larger than the entire territory of Kuala Lumpur) housing terrain ranging from dry savannah to tropical jungle. On the western shore of Moyo, where the chirping cicadas of the jungle meet the lapping waves of a turquoise sea, is Amanwana.

Each Aman resort is anchored by a unique concept; Amanwana’s is ‘camping by the beach.’ Twenty luxurious tented suites (ocean- or jungle-facing) form the resort proper, each containing a 58sqm living space under a soaring canvas ceiling, insulated with a waterproof exterior. Each is air-conditioned, centred around a king-sized bed and decorated with sterling examples of Indonesian art. A periphery of windows look out to a view of the sea or the leafy jungle, with each tent discretely positioned such that someone else’s is never in view.

There are no boundaries, no limits here. No walls or hedges separate the tents, and no fences separate the resort from the rest of the island. We are not alone here. We are in the company of the island’s original residents: the shy Rusa deer, wild boars and troops of macaque monkeys.  You will hear them, at the edges of your consciousness during a treatment at the Jungle Cove Spa or lounge at the Boardwalk. You will see them, nonchalantly browsing on the lawn and in the branches, as you read in the library or repose at the Music Pavilion. I saw a Rusa pair, deerly in love (at least, it looked that way) taking a long walk on the beach, grazing gently in intervals, as I tucked into the best Indonesian fried rice (with hearty chunks of lobster and the textured crunch of roe) I have ever had at the open-air pavilion that forms The Dining Room and Bar.

With surroundings like this, it would be criminal not to go off and explore. A short walk away from the resort is Crocodile Head, a rocky viewpoint jutting out to sea as a stage for viewing spectacular sunsets; almost like Oia in Thira, Greece, but quietly personal, without being sandwiched like a sardine between coach tour tourists.

Further afield, numerous island trails take one across the coast or right into the interior, in search of postcard moments. Amanwana will gladly recommended and arrange for such excursions, with the house trip being a comfortable trek to a series of spring-fed waterfalls feeding cool, freshwater pools.

Then there is the sea. For those preferring to stay above water, Amanwana obliges with a fleet of boats for cruising, fishing and diving. Go dolphin watching, and try not to squeal as a pod leaps all around you. Explore nearby coves and beaches. Explore other islands, like Medang and Satonda, with their stunning flooded caldera lakes. Or simply drift on the waters of Amanwana Bay for a sunset cruise or a starlit dinner.

Of course, going below sea level is highly recommended. Moyo Island is part of the Coral Triangle, the richest marine biodiversity area in the world. Snorkelling and diving here is amazing, to say the least. In a single dive, I checked off several species on my to-see list: a blue-spotted stingray curiously tracking my underwater shadow, a pearlescent anemone shrimp, a fluorescent Nembrotha purpureolineata nudibranch, a somnolent octopus doing its best to hide under a coral outcrop and a beautiful blue ribbon eel, mouth agape in its characteristic position to appear absolutely stunned to see me.

Venture further and other spectacular sights await. Graceful manta rays dancing in the water, twisted ribbons of banded sea kraits and, if supreme luck is on your side, a whale shark or a mola-mola. Such excursions require dedication and time; with the Amanikan, the resort’s liveaboard, one has both. In spring and summer months, the Amanikan hosts the Aman Komodo Expedition, sailing lazily east for 150km to the islands of Komodo and Rinca in search of dragons – the largest living reptile species, the Komodo Dragon. Over winter, the Amanikan heads north towards Banda and its seven volcanic islands, in search of spectacular views in the fabled Spice Islands.

Peace is a fitting expression to describe this place. Aman in the Indonesian language means ‘peace’, Amanwana being ‘the peaceful forest’. Has any other name ever summed up a resort so accurately? Probably not.

There is a tranquillity here that seeps under the skin. Little else matters. Outside, in the world beyond, storms both meteorological and metaphorical may be raging as businesses wax and wane, political chess games play out and the gossip mill grinds. And here? Well, here, in this little corner of the world, there is nothing but a blessed serenity; calm, quiet and utterly peaceful.

Aman Resorts

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