Borneo Eagle spread its five-star wings on a secluded idyll off the north-east coast of the Malaysian state of Sabah on Borneo, the world's third biggest island, for the first time just last year. It was launched by the enterprising conservation-minded Malaysian Echo Resorts group, which, a few hours to the north, also own and operate two other eco-minded properties on Gaya Island, just off the coast of Kota Kinabalu, the flourishing state capital. This latest resort, with just 13 huge, lavishly-outfitted one-bedroom villas each facing the South China Sea, is distinguished by its geometrical-cum-traditional architecture with main buildings, jetty and accommodation subtly referencing the physical features of an eagle such as impressive wingspan and pronounced beak. As for the resort's name, it's said to have been inspired by an eponymous raptor that the Malaysian owners say they spotted above them on the first time they set foot on the island.
Borneo Eagle is reached following an easy two-hour or so drive south from Kota Kinabalu followed by a short transfer by launch to the island, known in Malay as Pulau Tiga. This tiny, barely-inhabited volcanic idyll is where, notably, the first series of the US reality television series Survivor: Borneo was shot in 2000. As for the richly bio-diverse but environmentally-threatened Borneo, it's home to unique wildlife such as orangutans, proboscis monkeys and pygmy elephants as well as the 4095-metre-high Mount Kinabalu, Malaysia's highest mountain.
Pure luxury, if faintly sterile with a slight excess of glass and tiled flooring. The huge, residence-like villas, starting at 171 square metres in size, all face the beach and ocean with Bornean mainland mountain views visible on clear days. Some of the immensely comfortable villas, for which little or no expense has been spared in their outfitting, feature an eco-friendly, 45-square-metre, salt-water, rock-lined swimming pool overlooking the secluded beach and sea as well as in-room spa amenities.
When this reviewer visited last year, the resort was in its so-called soft-opening mode and I opted during my single night to stay for dinner, featuring appetising local Bornean specialities and other south-east Asian cuisine, served with aplomb on the expansive verandah of my villa. Now the beachfront Eagles Nest restaurant, featuring Asian and Western dishes is operational in the main building along with the Landing Bar and the poolside Sandbar with much of the produce and ingredients for meals at Borneo Eagle sourced from the resort's own kitchen garden and farms.
Party animal? Then this remote island resort, albeit full of every conceivable creature comfort, is not for you as the activities are focused on the likes of swimming, snorkelling and snoozing (all of which to this reviewer are a perfectly sufficient range of pastimes). One signature activity on Pulau Tiga is a walk to a gurgling natural volcanic mud-pool, about 500 metres from the resort, which starred in Survivor and which is hidden from sight within the dense surrounding rainforest. For the more energetic, longer guided hikes are available including one to a second island mud-pool.
Sabah, as well as it's other neighbouring Bornean Malaysian state of Sarawak, is still evolving as a destination, especially in respect to upscale accommodation, with Borneo Eagle one of its first genuine five-star-plus island resorts. Combined with the abundant adventure and nature-based attractions of underrated Borneo proper, a chilled stay at this luxurious establishment, if your budget allows, at beginning or end of a action-packed week or two makes perfect sense.
Borneo Eagle Resort Pulau Tiga, Sabah, Malaysia Rates start MYR2972 per night (minimum three-night stay required with further conditions applying). Ph: +60 88 380 390. See echoresorts.com
Anthony Dennis stayed as a guest of Echo Resorts.
The private salt-water swimming pool in the villa is the next best thing to a dip in the sea.
The remoteness may not appeal to some travellers who prefer bali-like bright lights.