Imagine a deserted island; 42 acres of lush rainforest rising high above turquoise waters that engulf pristine sandy beaches inhabited only by silver-leaf monkeys and families of sea otters. This dream island really does exist, just nine kilometres off the east coast of Bintan, Indonesia. Cempedak, named after an evergreen fruit tree, is the latest luxury island resort from Andrew Dixon, the Australian banker-turned-hotelier behind successful sister property Nikoi, which opened a decade ago. Frustrated with the lack of unpretentious luxury accommodation options in and around Singapore, Dixon constructed Cempedak to fill a gap in the market, offering the perfect balance of “cultural sensitivity, vernacular design, good service and simple luxuries.” He has done just that with this idyllic resort that is leading the way in sustainable luxury retreats.

Barefoot Indulgence

With no other hotels, restaurants or shops on the island, Cempedak is the ultimate castaway experience. Twenty villas, each with their own large deck, garden and plunge pool, are secluded and spacious. A spiral staircase at the center of each bamboo lodge leads you to a bedroom with vaulted ceilings and a king-sized bed. Modern furnishings are showcased against recycled teak, natural lava stone and caramel-polished floors. Not one villa has more than one bedroom, making this adult-only property the ultimate destination for solo travelers or couples.

With beach access and sea-views, the villas sit at the edge of the rainforest, their crescent-curved, thatched roofs resembling the backs of enormous armadillos gently peering out of the tree-line. Similarly, the bamboo roof of the hotel bar mimics the spiral interior of a conch shell. Both in design and material choices, the architecture of Cempedak is inspired by the flora and fauna of the region, creating a real sense of belonging among the island.

Beyond providing a feast for the eyes, Cempedak also offers guests endless opportunities for relaxation, indulgence and adventure. Savor local and seasonal cuisine from a tree-covered dining pod overlooking the ocean. From the main restaurant, wander along an enchanting bamboo bridge to the towering black-bamboo bar situated on a terrace floating above the tree-line. Book a massage or have a relaxing customized picnic packed by the restaurant, on a nearby deserted island. With the surrounding crystal waters and coral reef inviting guests to swim, sail, snorkel, dive and kayak, there’s no shortage of options for those seeking a more active retreat. Land-dwellers need not to worry; Cempedak also offers nature discovery walks, rock-climbing, tennis, croquet and boule.

Authentic Ecological Design

What sets Cempedak apart from other island resorts is its dedication to environmental sustainability without sacrificing design aesthetics or the guest experience. The resort is truly redefining what an environmentally-friendly hotel can look like as they have used zero or low-waste materials and processes from the property’s very beginning. Tree-clearing for the resort has been kept to a minimum and indigenous trees have been planted to ensure the surrounding natural flora is maintained.  From the villas to the restaurant, the property has been built with natural and recycled materials such as bamboo, alang alang and rubber wood. There is no need for air conditioning thanks to overhead bamboo fans and the strategic placement of each villa to maximize ventilation from the cool, ocean breezes. By designing with natural materials and minimal disruption to the land, the hotel has simultaneously reduced its environmental impact visually, maintaining the island’s untouched paradise appeal.

Plunge pools are filled with salt water that has undergone the resort’s desalination process used to convert seawater to drinking water. Rainwater is recycled and hot water is provided by solar hot water systems. Cempedak even has its own wastewater garden filled with papyrus plants and poaceae grasses that act as a natural filtration system; toxins are extracted as the water passes through the plant roots, allowing it to be reused for irrigation. Rather than harsh pesticides to deter mosquitos, the island relies on small contraptions that flood and kill mosquito eggs. These ecological practices have assimilated into the design of the property so flawlessly that they enhance the resort’s luxury appeal by making the island an authentic nature retreat where guests can feel they are truly living off the land.

Luxury Gives Back    

Cempedak goes beyond traditional notions of responsible tourism with their genuine commitment to giving back to the local community. Not only was the property built with local materials and labor, but many of the staff were taught new skills beyond the construction phase and have since advanced to operational roles. Hotel supplies and food are purchased almost entirely from local markets and all of Cemepdak’s staff, including two of the property’s architects, are Indonesian.

Cempedak also created The Island Foundation in 2009 to help the local communities on Bintan, and nearby islands, improve their living conditions based on their own needs. Six learning centres have been established, with an emphasis on teaching English and Information Technology to allow communities to benefit from the tourism industry. To date, 500 children have been registered at these schools and they are currently expanding services to include health, nutrition, sports and arts. While luxury vacations on tropical islands can sometimes evoke worry over the social impact of your resort on locals; guests of Cempedak can feel assured in knowing that their business is helping rather than hindering nearby communities.

With sublime surroundings, ecological-meets-contemporary design, and authentic sustainability practices, Cempedak Island might just be a dream come true.