Between heaven and earth

Tunamaya Beach & Spa Resort in Tioman Island
With the soft drone from the Cessna plane in my ears, I’m winging my way to Tioman Island after a comfortable take-off from Sultan Ismail International Airport in Senai.  Strapped to my seat behind the pilot, I turn around to look at my friends in the 8-seater aircraft, who seem equally excited about being on the inaugural charter flight to Tunamaya Beach & Spa Resort.  Before we boarded, the resort staff seeing us off on the tarmac presented each of us with a pretty garland of orchids and we are happily wearing them like tourists off to a fantasy holiday.
Happy "tourists" wearing orchid garlands in the flight!
It is almost like a scene out of Fantasy Island, a ‘70s television series where people fly to a mysterious island to live out their fantasies but this is no fantasy because we are on our way to experience an All-Inclusive luxury package at Tunamaya.  I look out of the cabin window to see cotton puffs of clouds as we climb higher and my thoughts drift to a vision of Ricardo Montalban as Mr Roarke, dressed in his white suit and how he speaks with a distinct Spanish accent.  I remember at the beginning of every episode, his sidekick, Tattoo, will run up the bell tower to ring a bell to announce the arrival of guests and shout, “The plane! The plane!”
The shadow of our aircraft gliding swiftly along...
When the clouds part, I spot the South China Sea below and feel the aircraft’s gentle descent as we approach the cluster of islands in the Mersing Marine Park.  With the sun behind us, I’m following the shadow of our aircraft as it glides swiftly against the lush canopy of greenery on Tioman Island.  I’m reminded of the shadow of a similar moving aircraft in the opening scenes of the 1996 award-winning romantic drama, The English Patient, where Ralph Fiennes as Count Laszlo Almasy, is flying away with the body of his dead lover, Katharine Clifton, played by Kristin Scott Thomas.  The shadow soon disappears as our aircraft makes a gradual descent and we land smoothly at Kampung Tekek Airport after a 45-minute flight from Johor Baru. 

Warm Welcome

Arrival at Kampung Tekek Airport, Tioman
The wonder of arriving at an island resort continues as I disembark from the aircraft to see Tunamaya staff, wearing green shirts, helping to ferry our luggage to the nearby jetty.  Instead of a Mr Roarke, resort manager Paul Cheah, welcomes us and echoes the words of Tattoo, “The plane! The plane!” with a laugh and leads us on a short walk from the airport to the jetty.  He tells us that we are the privileged few to experience the Tunamaya Air chartered flight that will be officially launched from Dec 20 to offer up to four charter flights per day to Tioman Island from Senai in Johor and Subang Skypark Terminal, Kuala Lumpur.

From the sky we go to the sea and the tide is high as we board the resort’s boat for a 30-minute cruise to the southern tip of the island where Tunamaya is situated.  The overhead sun is creating myriads of water prisms that sparkle like shiny diamonds on the sea surface as balmy breezes whip around us.  Paul is regaling us with traditional folklore, pointing to how the profile of Tioman Island resembles the outline of a dormant dragon with its green scales jutting out as rainforests, its gray claws in granite boulders and its horns are the twin peaks that form a majestic backdrop for Tunamaya.  Intrigued by the romance of local legends, my eyes search for the first sight of the resort which is guarded by twin peaks and built on the site where some location scenes for the 1958  Rogers & Hammerstein musical, South Pacific, was filmed.

Boarding the resort's boat for our cruise to Tunamaya
As we climb onto the jetty, a strolling guitarist is serenading a welcome but my eyes are riveted on the spectacular sight of the mystical twin peaks that soar above the resort’s private beach.  I can see why the movie-makers borrowed this view for location filming of blockbuster movies like South Pacific.  I spot the swimming pool to the left of the jetty and a sandy beach to the right with rocky outcrops in the receding tide.  As I accept a fresh coconut from serving staff, I decide to ignore the silky sand that has slipped into my shoes, but just sit back to sip my coconut juice and soak in the calm ambience, glad to have arrived in such a hassle-free journey – and gained more time to relax!

Chilling Out

Luxurious therapy room at Sarang Spa
Eager to surrender myself to the therapeutic touch of trained therapists, I make my appointment with Sarang Spa at the check-in and ahead of time, I walk up the hillock to the spa so there’s time to spare for a look around.  While the therapist is getting my hot ginger tea, I peek into several therapy rooms to see single and double luxurious rooms with verandah doors wide open to welcome vistas of the tropical rainforest.  The spa’s rustic beauty, mesmerizing music and the healing touch of the therapist work well to release the knots in my tired body and I’m reluctant to leave even when my session is over!

Infinity pool that overlooks the South China Sea
I remember drawing the curtains to shut out the glare in my villa and feeling sheer bliss when I open my eyes again, refreshed and ready for a dip.  The tide is out so I head to the swimming pool to do a few laps.  I’m glad I slapped on generous layers of sun block because the setting sun seems to be throwing bright beams my way.  With thick towels to cushion the deck chair, I find the most comfortable spot under the open umbrella to read the next few chapters in my thriller novel.

The stream that divides the beautiful landscaped garden
at Tunamaya Beach & Spa Resort

It didn’t take me long to discover why the resort has the tagline, “…between heaven and earth…”   Rows of wooden Rainforest Villas and Beach Villas are divided by a landscaped linear garden with matured trees and a stream which is teeming with fish.  Bathed in bright sunshine, it looks picture-postcard pretty as butterflies flit and bees buzz around the greenery.  

I can feel myself unwinding with the taste of briny air and the panoramic view of the South China Sea, dotted by distant ships sailing on the horizon.  I close my eyes, listening to the symphony of insects singing lustily in harmony with the rhythmic waves against the shore and I slowly drift away to a place somewhere between heaven and earth!  

Playing Hard

Warming exercises led by our escort, Ben [turquoise t-shirt]
This is the life – lazing around and indulging in delightful desserts and fresh seafood – but my friends and I agree to get active and we arrange with the resort recreational team to explore the nearby site.  Before starting our nature walk through the rainforest, Ben our escort, leads us in a few stretching exercises to limber up.  Along the upward path, he is pointing out various flora and fauna and we pause long enough to catch our breath before we press on in the 1-hour trek through undulating terrain.  I must admit that the experience is quite challenging but it’s all worthwhile when we reach the summit and sign into a log book to record our achievement.

Going snorkeling from the resort's jetty
Soaking in sweat and with limbs aching, we are back at Ombak Bar for drinks and the well informed bartender, who is creating my mocktail is telling me the list of fruity ingredients that go into the tall refreshing drink called “Heaven and Earth.”  After this brief break, it’s time for a cool dip and we head back to change into swimming togs before picking up snorkeling equipment from the resort’s dive centre.  The tide is high as we plunge into crystal clear water from the jetty to see schools of colourful fish, pretty live corals and some sea cucumbers.  From the sea we head to the poolside shower for a quick rinse before jumping into the pool with a splash!

A guest singer [Right] belting out a pop song
for our entertainment!
Our meals are served at Pawana Restaurant which also has a private dining room and an open terrace by the beach.  With the verandah doors thrown wide open and whirring fans above, we are more than happy to dine indoors from a buffet spread for breakfast and dinner and order from an ala carte menu for all-day meals.  At dinner, we dig into a range of freshly grilled seafood, shamelessly using our fingers to enjoy every morsel and indulge to our fill until we tell the barbecue chef to please stop serving up.  With live music entertainment and the occasional volunteer belting out a popular song, we chat late into the night enjoying the pleasure of good food and great company, cocooned in the charming ambience that’s uniquely Tunamaya.


Tunamaya Beach & Spa Resort
Mukut, Tioman Island
Rompin, Pahang
Tel: 607 – 798 8108/798 8110
Fax: 607 – 798 8109

Getting There

Uninterrupted views of the South China Sea
A smooth and comfortable 45-minute flight from Sultan Ismail International Airport, Johor Baru or a 90-minute flight from Subang Skypark Terminal, Kuala Lumpur to Kg Tekek Airport, Tioman Island and a 30-minute cruise to the resort by the resort’s own boat

Tunamaya Air charter flights start from Dec 20 with daily flights on Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Sunday from Senai and Subang.  The All-Inclusive luxury 3-Day 2-Nights and 4-Day 3-Nights Packages includes return flights, accommodation Tunamaya Beach & Spa Resort, all meals at Pawana Restaurant, free-flow of non-alcoholic beverages at Ombak Bar and spa treatment at Sarang Spa. 


Cluster of 54 well-appointed Rainforest and Beachfront Villas with balconies

Main Attraction

Hassle-free direct trip to and from the resort in an all-inclusive package stay

First Impression

Laid-back charm

Overall Service

Friendly and attentive

F&B Outlets

Pawana Restaurant, Ombak Bar and poolside kiosk


Swimming pools, Sarang Spa, Dive Centre for diving and snorkeling activities, nature walks; Boat transfers, local tours, convenience shop, laundry, internet room and free Wifi in the lobby

Places Within Walking Distance

Private beach with panoramic views of the South China Sea

From Perhentian to Tioman

Twin peaks guards Tunamaya Beach & Spa Resort
Tunamaya Beach & Spa Resort has a sister property in Tuna Bay Island Resort on the south-west coast of Pulau Perhentian Besar.  When the owners were looking to invest in another property, they flew around Tioman Island and when they spotted the twin peaks, they found their site!  It looked so mystical in the moving clouds that they decided to use the word, “Maya” and coined the resort’s name, Tunamaya.

Applying their experience from Tuna Bay, they built Tunamaya two years ago at the site where some location scenes for the 1958 Rogers & Hammerstein musical, South Pacific, was filmed.  The resort is designed around the terrain to preserve the natural habitats in the rainforest and the nature walk was built by forest rangers.  The resort’s water supply is drawn from a natural spring and treated before it is ready to drink.  Aware that well-heeled visitors expect a level of comfort, the well-appointed air-conditioned villas are equipped with quality amenities like bathrobes, slippers, daily complimentary drinking water (from the natural spring!), electric safe, hair dryer, cable TV channels and umbrellas.  

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Life & Times on 20 November 2014


  1. Anonymous11/21/2014

    On a clear day, you can see forever . . . but please see that you bring many ringgit ok? hehehe how much does a typical 4-day-3-nighter cost Peggy?

  2. No need to bring much Ringgit because its an All-inclusive package and you only pay for any extras that you may incur at the resort. The best thing about packages to Tioman or other local island resorts, is we pay Ringgit and not USD like to Seychelles, Maldives, Bali, Fiji or Hawaii island holidays! No matter how many Ringgit, it will not be as pricey as a trip to tropical island holidays abroad. So go check it out directly with Tunamaya for trips that start from Dec 20. Its nearby and just the treat you deserve!

    1. Anonymous11/21/2014

      OK thanks but dec thru mar is monsoon time. I want to see giant brain corals and barracuda shoals in bright blue water lah!