Archipelago Journal Mentawai

Located 160km west of Padang, the Mentawai Islands of Sumatra are the ultimate family getaway. Tommy Schultz joins the MacKenzie and Tamai families for a 10-day digital detox – surfing, diving, beach combing, and island-hopping around the stunningly beautiful Togat Nusa Retreat.

Words by Tommy Schultz

The wave appears as a dark line on the Sumatran horizon, building in size as it approaches our small boat. The Indian Ocean surrounding us is a deep shade of turquoise, mirror-calm, and without a puff of wind. Dwarfed by the wave towering above him, 10-year-old Flynn MacKenzie launches himself down the glassy slope.

“Yeeeeew!” yells Jake, Flynn’s dad. The boat is erupting with calls of shock and encouragement as the tiny figure kicks out of the wave and into the calm water of the channel.

“That wave was three times over his head,” marvels Jake, beaming with fatherly pride. The MacKenzies have made the trip to Sumatra’s Mentawai Islands their annual family getaway for eight years.

“This place is magical,” adds Jake, who has had a lifelong love of surfing and the ocean through his connection with Bali’s legendary Drifter Surf Shop. It seems the apple doesn’t fall very far
from the tree.

“The kids are so busy just being kids when they’re here in the Mentawais. They don’t have time to stare at phones or be distracted by digital technology – we love it here for so many simple reasons.”

The Mentawais offer that rarest of things in today’s world – quality family time without the constant interruption of emails and beeping smartphones. In search of the ultimate ‘digital detox’, more families like the MacKenzies are coming to the islands to unplug their devices and reconnect with their kids.

Paddling back to the boat with a smile as wide as the Indian Ocean, Flynn high-fives Temma Tamai, his longtime surfing and snowboarding buddy. The MacKenzie and Tamai families just flew into Padang via Bali and Tokyo respectively. The globe-trotting parents have been teaming up for adventurous holidays with their kids for years, but this is the first time they’ve all been to the Togat Nusa Retreat.

Built entirely from driftwood and other salvaged items from the sea, the Togat Nusa Retreat is the creation of Johnny and Ainsley Ocean. Situated on the 12ha island of Pitojat and catering for just eight guests at a time, Togat Nusa is an island lover’s dream, encircled with a wreath of ivory-white sand and shaded by tall palm trees. The leafy interior of Pitojat is a dense jungle, dotted with fruit trees and teeming with local wildlife. A perfect surfing wave can be found literally off the front steps of the restaurant, while the surrounding coral reef is an underwater paradise for snorkellers.

The days here are busy – kicking off with a light breakfast at 6am, followed by a morning activity, usually a boat trip to a surfing wave or hidden beach.

This morning, we’re getting the gear ready for a day of island-hopping guided by Johnny, one of the foremost experts on the hidden hotspots of the Mentawai Islands.

Flynn and Temma have heard there’s a nice surfing wave at the beach we’ll be visiting. They’re waxing their surfboards and dousing themselves with sunscreen, hurriedly grabbing a few bites for breakfast. Bare feet blur as the two of them race down the winding jungle trail to the spot where Johnny’s custom-built boat lies at anchor.

Nearly an hour later, we arrive at a beautiful bay – a curving stretch of white sand contrasted with the deep green of uninterrupted palm trees. There isn’t another boat in sight as Johnny anchors just offshore.

At the beach, everyone scatters to find their perfect activity for the day. Jake’s wife, Vanessa, and Temma’s mother, Makiyo, accompany the MacKenzie twins Ziggy and Hanalei to look for seashells, while dads Jake and Taro join the boys in the water for a surf with Johnny and Ainsley.

It’s like using a time machine – going back to a time before smartphones, when families went to the beach for hours of unstructured time, totally offline and not worried about missing a phone call or email.

Jake and Flynn paddle back to the beach together for a lunch of homemade quesadillas courtesy of the Togat Nusa kitchen.

Stretching out on the sand after the surf, Jake observes: “We just love it here. It’s a place where you don’t worry about time, where you can recharge and revitalise, connect with nature and your family.”

Watching everyone enjoying themselves under the Mentawai sun, Ainsley adds “We’ve learnt to be thankful and appreciate what we have. It’s a simple life here; we wanted to go back in time…and we have.”

35 times a week to Padang


Jakarta is 1 hour 20 minutes.

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From Colours September 2019

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5 Senses – Sight
The Milky Way

More than 100km away from the bright lights of the nearest big city, Sumatra’s Mentawai Islands are one of the best places in Indonesia to get a panoramic view of the Milky Way galaxy.