Every surfer has heard about the Mentawai Islands in Indonesia. How could you not? Iconic waves like Macaronis and Telescopes have featured in any number of surf videos and magazine articles ever since they were first discovered. But visiting the Mentawai Islands doesn't exactly look like the photos anymore. Empty lineups are fast becoming a thing of the past and, unless you're prepared for some serious searching, the chances of you finding surf to yourself is quickly drying up.
But what if I told you that not far away, there is a group of islands with as much (and possibly even more) wave potential as the Mentawais that are still virtually uncrowded? Somewhere where surfing empty, world-class lineups with only you and your buddies is still possible. Have I got your attention now?
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The south Telo Island
Sometimes it really is about who you know in life. When our friend, who is a surf guide at Monkeys Resort on the south Telo Island, suggested we come out to visit him at the start of the surf season we didn't need much convincing! Apart from the chance to reunite with a good friend, there was the allure of once-in-a-lifetime waves and the idea of getting to spend twelve days in a piece of tropical paradise.
Other than their location off the west coast of Sumatra in Indonesia, nestled between Nias and the Mentawai Islands, we knew practically nothing about the Telo Islands. All the information we had to plan our trip, we got from our friend. And what did he send us? Plenty of footage of perfect, empty waves, and the departure schedule of the ferry, so that we could time our flights. The rest we would discover as we went along.
And with that, and a bag stacked with surf gear, we set off to discover the south Telo Island for ourselves and see what all the fuss was about.
Arriving at Monkeys Resort
Like most trips to the islands off of Sumatra, our journey started in the small port town of Padang where we would have to overnight and await our ferry. These days the newer fast ferry makes getting to the islands a lot more convenient, and before long we were on our way.
As the ferry pulled into the "port" at Hibala on the south Telo Island (quite literally a crumbling quay that services way too many fishing boats) we got a taste of what we were in for. Blue tropical oceans and a coastline lined with coconut tress brimming with delicious island-style snacks.
From Hibala, it was onto the resort's charter boat to make the final transfer. Approaching the resort by boat, the only feature to catch your eye is a small village to the left and straight ahead, a cluster of wooden A-frame chalets tucked among the coconut trees. That, and Monkeys, a running, barreling point break at the top of the bay.
And so, we had arrived. Pulling up to the white-sand shoreline we finally had the chance to sink our toes into the sun-soaked shores of the Monkeys Resort and take the first eager steps into our new adventure.
Making dreams a reality
Years ago another traveler's footsteps along the beach marked the start of his epic new adventure, too. Walking this very same stretch of beach, Mark Byrne and his wife Lou dreamed of finding land close to Monkeys, his favorite wave. When the current plot of Monkeys Resort became available, they didn't hesitate to buy it!
But building a resort of its style and comfort on a remote island in the tropics was no easy feat. Mark built the resort with help from local staff who he trained himself. He laughingly recalls how none of his staff had ever used a power saw and nail gun before. "When I started them up for the first time, [the guys] ran for the hills".
At just over a year old, Monkeys Resort is already a place to truly relax and unwind, but Mark's not finished yet. His current plans include a swimming pool and outdoor dining area where guests can enjoy uninterrupted views of the sunset over the rainforest, as well as a kids' playground and even a six hole golf course. Mark's vision is for it to be a truly family-friendly holiday destination. It has the perfect location for this - being no further than a twenty minute boat ride away from close on twenty different surf breaks, surfing members of the group aren't away all day chasing waves.
These days, Mark splits his time between Australia and the south Telo Island. His favorite part about being back in Indonesia is surfing Monkeys. There are days when he gets the wave all to himself, but one of the things he enjoys most about the resort is seeing the guests get to share his dream. "I get so much enjoyment out of watching people's faces when they arrive at the resort and seeing them get barreled at Monkeys. It only takes a couple of days for our guests that have never surfed Monkeys to fall in love with it, it's such a fun wave. We also love the relaxed holiday faces and attitudes of our guests. They look completely different when they leave from when they first get here. It's great that people can truly relax here."
Gliding into the island groove
One day rolled into the next far too easily here. They all started in a similar manner - wake up to the sound of the ocean, enjoy a relaxed breakfast, get your favourite surf playlist going while you apply your dwindling stash of SPF 50 sunblock and then board a private boat waiting to take you to the best waves in the south Telos.
Before long we had traded our watches for tide charts and our movements were governed by the wind and swell direction. Every day we sped off in search of waves. Coasting past jungle-clad coastlines, steep sandstone precipices and deep ocean channels, we pulled into empty lineups day after day.
We swapped perfect waves with each other, coming back to the boat only to reapply sun cream or get some much needed water and snacks. And finally, when our arms would paddle us no more, we would head head back to the resort to take a warm shower and collapse onto any cushioned surface to read or relax.
On some days we would enlist the Monkeys staff into some epic table tennis showdowns. Be warned, this is a serious business at the resort, and one does not extend table tennis challenges lightly. Be prepared for many rematches.
In the evenings, the beach was most certainly the place to be. One particularly hairy member of staff, Monkey the Labrador, was always on hand to join in on the evening walks up the point to take in the sunset and enjoy the last glow of another perfect day in paradise.
Activities for everyone
Although surfing is a major draw card and has made islands like Nias and the Mentawai Islands famous, the south Telo Island has plenty to offer the non-surfer too. The southern extent of the island around Monkeys Resort remains undeveloped and jungle-clad. Eagles cruise the forested treeline, crabs comb the white sand beaches and the sound of birdcalls mingles with the wind through the coconut trees.
We gave our surf-weary bodies the chance to rest for a bit and explored some of the island's other treasures. As well as serene beach walks and swimming in the bay's calm waters, snorkeling was a great way to enjoy the ocean and get to see some of the life that happens below the waves. The reef at Monkeys in particular was productive, with patches of coral, fish cleaning stations manned by audacious Bluestreak cleaner wrasse, and even some small kingfish patrolling the reef.
A highlight for me however was a high tide cruise into the green depths of the jungle on a river boat. The rivers here cut their way through some of the most beautiful virgin forest that totally engulfs you as you navigate your way through the maze of tributaries and plant debris. A completely different world from the sandy coast we started at.
Our worst day at Monkeys was the day our ferry arrived. The twelve days we spent had relaxed and refreshed us in the best way possible. As sad as we were to say goodbye to the waves, we were equally sad to leave the friendly and homely resort and its staff. Thanks Moneys, we'll be back!
Planning your stay.
Forego the crowded Mentawai Islands and plan a stay at Monkeys Resort instead! Here's some information that will help you to plan your visit.
Getting to the Telo Islands is relatively simple. The best route is to connect either via Kuala Lumpur or Jakarta to Padang in West Sumatra. Air Asia and Garuda Indonesia are both good airline options, but preferably stay away from Lion Air with their notorious safety record.
Padang is a small coastal town with a range of hotel options and decent restaurants. Although there is a beach break for surfing and some natural attractions, there is little else to do here so its best to fly in the day before your ferry departs.
The air-conditioned and comfortable Mentawai Fast Ferry operates out of the small port in Padang and services Nias, the Telo Islands and the Mentawai Islands. Although tickets can be booked online, they are easily bought on the day of departure. The ferry departs Padang for Hibala on the south Telo Island on Fridays and makes the return trip every Wednesday. At the time of publication, a one-way ticket costs IDR 350 000 with a small surcharge for surfboards. Guests to Monkeys Resort are met at the Hibala port.
Susi Air Charter Service run charter planes that operate between Padang and the Telo Islands and are an alternative option for getting to the island. Return trips are in the region of US $ 5000 for the plane.
Map of the Telo Islands
Monkeys Resort is within a twenty minute boat ride of close to 20 different surf breaks, made up of a beach break, and left and right inner and outer reef breaks. With such close proximity, guests have a lot of flexibility in the day and can plan their surf sessions around the day's changing tide or wind conditions, so ensuring that surfers always get to surf the best peak for the current conditions.
Two of the most famous waves in the area are Bojos and Monkeys. Bojos is a left hand barreling reef break that works in anything from 2-12 ft. Monkeys, also a reef break, is a right hander that handles anything up to 7 ft well. Bigger than that, the outer reefs higher up the point start firing. Both are fun waves that are very user friendly, and depending on the swell size are suitable for any level from beginner to advanced. The resort has a direct view of Monkeys, and guests can keep an eye on it from the dining area, the beach, or their bed!
What to pack
Located practically on the equator, the Telo Islands are hot and the seasons vary only slightly. Think cool, comfortable clothing, and sun protection.
Inside the lodge, guests want for nothing. Delicious meals, plenty of snacks, plus the obligatory chilled coconut are freely available. There's also a well-stocked bar. The only thing to remember is your personal medication and sunblock. If you plan on surfing a lot, we’d especially recommend basic first aid to deal with cuts and scrapes from the reef, as well as tired or strained muscles.
When to go
Although winter as a season doesn’t really exist in Indonesia, the winter months of May to September offer the most consistent swell and are best for surfing. That said, there is potential for great waves pretty much year-round.