After being assaulted and very nearly robbed in Dili, I desperately wanted Atauro to be the haven I imagined it to be. I was to stay on the island with no way of contacting the outside world for a few days and after the previous days incident, I was worried it would be another horrible experience – but this time one I couldn’t run away from.
Luckily for me, all those fears were unfounded and instead, what I found on Atauro was nothing short of paradise. Better yet – it was off-season paradise – which meant that for the majority of my stay, I did not have to share this unspoiled island with any other travellers.
Atauro Island is located 36km north of Dili and is accessible by numerous different private boat companies and also occasionally by the Nakroma ferry. Transfers go for around $40 USD and usually take about 1.5-2 hours.
Oddly enough, on the boat I caught to Atauro, I was joined by another passenger – an Aussie bloke named Barry who has lived in Timor-Leste for the past 15 years. He arrived in 2001 as a PALMS volunteer and volunteered for 6 years, during which time he began to build ‘Barry’s Place’ on the island.
Barry’s Place is open to anyone, but it is not exclusively designed as tourist lodgings. Thanks to Barry, this is the epicentre of a huge number of community projects on the island and also where volunteers and NGO workers are based out of when they come to work on Atauro. He assists in the creation and continuation of sustainable projects within the island communities and is the PALMS Australia in-country manager of volunteers in Timor-Leste.
With all this emphasis on creating sustainable projects and jobs for those on Atauro, it seems completely fitting that the place would also be completely environmentally friendly!
Camp showers, composting toilets, communal meals, a distinct absence of wifi, very few electrically powered appliances and solar power are the name of the game here, and while it may sound a bit like ‘roughing it’, it is more like eco-friendly glamping, but without the tents.
For the price of $45 USD per night, I had my own little cabin with the comfiest bed ever and all of my meals provided. Not only this, my cabin was right on the beach and surrounded by gorgeous gardens. Heavenly doesn’t even begin to describe it.
This next picture shows the communal dining area, where a Timorese feast is prepared for each lunch and dinner. The little library has the eclecticism that can only be acquired in dribs and drabs from many visitors and over a long period of time. There are stacks of magazines and board games free for the using and a collection of fridges that are powered by solar panels for a few hours of each day. The little fans on the roof are also powered by solar energy, as is everything else at Barry’s Place.
This next picture shows the view I had from the porch attached to my little cottage. Certainly not a half bad location!
These thriving gardens were the home to hundreds of beautiful butterflies. Every time I would walk through the place they would fly and flutter all around me.
These hand carved wooden entry points to the beach were a lovely touch.
On many tropical islands, travellers place emphasis on wanting to find pristine white sand beaches. While such beaches are certainly wonderful, there is something to be said for islands that are wild and unkempt. The Timorese wet season meant that all the vegetation was coming out in full force and growing completely unencumbered. Vines were branching out along the shore and seemed to be crawling ever closer to the waters edge.
Maybe these beaches aren’t the textbook definition of ‘pristine’, but in my eyes that made them all the more appealing! Occasionally the sun would peek out from behind the clouds, but it was amazing how quickly the weather could go from this…
… to this!
Out of nowhere (and on the regular) the skies would open up and the heavens would begin a steady downpour. My cottage was the perfect place to watch the wet season live up to its name.
No sooner than the rains would come, they would depart. I kid you not, several hours after the previous two pictures were taken, the rain stopped and almost immediately, the place went from wet and stormy to dry and sunny – pretty amazing changes for such a short space of time.
This was another little beach bungalow, totally eco friendly and nothing short of gorgeous – who wouldn’t want to spend a few nights here?!
Every now and then the clouds seemed to disappear into thin air and blue skies would appear. It happened so infrequently and lasted for such short periods of time that I never once had to apply sunscreen! Finally, an island getaway where the reigning champion for the ‘Palest Australian Ever’ didn’t get even a little bit sunburnt!
There are hand carved signs throughout the lodge directing you to places of note, like this next one pointing you in the direction of the Timorese meals…
… and this cheeky sign that does not in fact lead to a swimming pool!
My time at Barry’s Place was absolutely incredible, made even more amazing by the feeling that I had the island practically to myself! After a horrible time in Dili, it was the perfect place to visit to make sure that I would leave Timor-Leste with some exceptionally fond memories.
Atauro Island is still an unspoiled island paradise – but with ‘off the beaten track’ destinations getting ever more scarce, I wonder how long it will stay that way…
Stay tuned for more adventures on the beautiful Atauro – next week I will show you the healthiest and most colourful coral reef I have ever seen!
T H E L O W D O W N
Getting to Dili: Flights to the Timorese capital arrive from Bali and Darwin
Getting to Atauro: Access on most days is by speedboat, contact Compass Charters via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) to organise
Barry’s Place: One of two accommodation options on Atauro – Barry’s is the best! $45 USD per night will cover all of your meals and get you a beach bungalow for you to rest your head
Camera: Olympus OM-D E-M1 with M.Zuiko 12-40mm f2.8 lens
Weather: Rates stay the same regardless of the season, but occupancy varies massively – during the dry season it would be advisable to book at least a few days in advance
Remember: Pack a veritable tonne of mosquito repellent and thank me later!
Don’t forget to add me on Snapchat and Instagram – @wwellend – for more foolishness and travel adventures!