Secluded but charming

I keep an eye on the clock as I drive from Johor Baru to join the Senai-Desaru Expressway just before Ulu Tiram. Because traffic is light, I arrive at the toll gates in about 20 minutes. It’s a smooth and scenic drive on the expressway and across the Johor River Bridge to reach Penawar Toll in only 45 minutes.

View of the Sebana Cove Resort clubhouse from marina
I follow the queue of vehicles emerging from the toll plaza and easily spot the sign pointing to Sebana Cove.  I’m familiar with Sebana Cove which established itself more than 20 years ago as a popular destination for golfers and was among the first in Johor to welcome yachts and catamarans to berth at its marina.

Road works are in progress for upgrading the route to Pengerang into a dual carriageway and after a 30-minute drive, I pass through the guard post into the resort. Here, lush greenery and oil palms border the wide road that runs through the property recently refurbished and rebranded as Sebana Cove Resort.

Road sign en route into the resort
I slow down to read road signs and can’t help smiling when I see twin signs with illustrations of a monkey and a wild boar with captions below that read: ‘Do Not Feed’ and ‘Wild Boar Crossing.’ Amused, I drive on keeping my eyes peeled for possible sightings of wild boars and made a mental note not to feed those mischievous long-tailed friends!

Ancient Mariners

The road to the hotel and marina takes me through two roundabouts, pass the 18-hole golf course designed by course architect, Ted Parslow, and the sales gallery for Fairway residential properties and its show units, before I go past another guard post.

I spot the clubhouse ahead with several double-storey blocks of buildings to my left and am struck by the architecture that features stone walls, timber framed windows and balcony railings with clay tiled roofs.

View of the accommodation from poolside
I step into the airy lobby of the clubhouse with its soaring ceilings and I’m enveloped in a distinct sense of tranquility. It’s a warm day and I gratefully accept a welcome drink to quench my parched throat. As I walk to the seaside end of the lobby, I have a panoramic view of the marina with its neatly berthed boats.

Two corridors lead off to the left and right from the lobby and my eyes are riveted to the signs with directions to the restaurant or pub.  As I read the names, a picture of the theme that runs consistently throughout the resort, forms in my mind.

The café and restaurant, Boathouse Tavern, overlook the marina while the Oyster Pond is a casual lounge on a level, just below the lobby. There are no oysters to harvest but a menu of snacks and drinks. On the opposite end of the corridor lies the Pirate’s Creek, a pub with live music entertainment while the Captain’s Cabin upstairs, is a karaoke lounge.

View of the resort and marina at Sebana Cove Resort
Designed in wood, the décor in the pub is reminiscent of a boat’s deck featuring marine steering wheels and rope net curtains while the bar resembles a ship’s prow where its port and starboard sides are long counters flanked by bar stools. Thanks to my vivid imagination, I’m suddenly transported into a pirates’ hideout!

To satisfy my curiosity about the resort’s name, I make a quick check which turns up an interesting reference to the earliest mention of Sebana by Greco-Roman astronomer, Claudius Ptolemy, whose second century world map marked Sabana as a trading port that linked South East Asia to India and Europe! 

Reception at the Sebana Cove Resort clubhouse
I’m totally charmed by this discovery which connects the resort’s sea-going theme with ancient mariners and the scourge of pirates in a bygone era.

Seafood and Singing

Its low-density accommodation allows the resort to meet guests’ needs in a more personal manner, particularly with groups and long-staying guests.

When I arrive at the Boathouse Tavern for dinner, I see groups of people wearing similar tunics, leaving the restaurant and later when I’m almost done with my meal, some corporate types come in to dine.

A section o the Boathouse Tavern
I learn that long-staying guests include employees of corporations with investments in nearby sites.

The versatile kitchen team is ready to meet guests’ meal requirements in choices that range from outdoor barbecues, hotplate shell-out platters to local delicacies and kueh for afternoon tea.

For golfers, the Stay and Play package includes one round of golf with the use of a buggy, breakfast buffet and set lunch with one night’s accommodation on a twin-sharing basis. 

Heaping a range of seafood on the
hotplate for a shell-out dinner
My dinner is one of their popular choices for group dinners – the hotplate shell-out platter, piled high with a variety of seafood and shellfish, and topped with a spicy chilli sauce.

This seafood main course of squids and a variety of shellfish like crabs, prawns, scallops and mussels, is complemented by sides of pasta aglio olio and fried-rice. The platter of seafood, best savoured at leisure and in convivial company, is kept warm on a hotplate.

One after-dinner pastime is to enjoy live music entertainment at the Pirate’s Creek or belt out a few songs at the Captain’s Cabin. It’s both fun and entertaining to see the bartender, who also doubles up as a karaoke deejay, encouraging guests to show off any latent talent!

Bicycles and Bird-watching

The next morning, after a hearty buffet breakfast in the Boathouse Tavern, I join a group of guests at the lobby to gear up for a close encounter with Nature.

A route map for the bicycle ride is distributed and a quick scan shows a route on private roads that takes us out of the hotel compound but stays safely within the resort.

From the map, I have an overview of the resort, designed around a private marina and nestled within natural greenery which is the habitat of a host of beautiful wild birds, including the hornbill and kingfisher.

While the bird-watchers rent field-glasses or binoculars and the bikers rent bicycles from the reception at RM10 each, you can also opt for the resort’s sightseeing tours on their buggies, upon request.

Chef Mohamad Yan [Right] and Chef Hassan present
menu highlights of Ramadan Selera Iftar
Armed with cameras and mobile-phones, everyone is ready to capture some amazing sights in the morning’s two-hour ride.

The scent of salt in the fresh air is both exciting and invigorating as we discover a private helipad at the end of the route that takes us pass private villas.

Heading in the opposite direction, we pass the Fairway residential developments and its sales gallery before turning off at the round-about into the golf club.

On the route, bordered by jungle greenery, I go slow and pause ever so often in the hope of meeting a few foraging wild boars but instead, I see troops of long-tail macaques!

Break Fast with Local and Arabian fare

Sebana Cove Resort presents Ramadan Selera Iftar from May 28 to June 24 at the Boathouse Tavern from 6.30pm to 10pm. 

Don't miss the fusion creation of yellow rice sushi-like items!
Chef Mohamad Yan Muharram and Chef Hassan Mohd Yusof have created a range of 50 local and Arabian specialties including favourites like Sup Kawah Gearbox (beef), Kambing Moorabi (lamb) and Satay Celup, skewers of food savoured with a dip sauce.

Diners can break their fast by feasting from appetizers, main course dishes to desserts, as well as Chef’s recommendations like Pucuk Paku Lemak, Tiger Prawn Sambal and Venison Rendang Kerisik.

One must-try dish is their fusion creation of yellow rice sushi-like items topped with various ingredients like chunks of beef rendang, whole prawns, smoked salmon and quail’s egg halves.

Prices are at RM78 nett (adult) and RM38 nett (child) with Early Bird Deal of three free with every purchase of 12 (adult) when meal vouchers are purchased before May 27.

Fast Facts:

Sebana Cove Resort
Lot PTD 2940/2941 Mukim Pengerang
81600 Pengerang, Johor

Tel: 607 – 826 6688
Fax: 607 – 826 6677

Two-storey walk-up buildings with 40 executive deluxe rooms and 20 studio suites. Situated in a resort township and nearby attractions are accessible by bicycle or buggy.

Boathouse Tavern [Local cuisine in a live, interactive kitchen], Oyster Pond [Casual Lounge], Pirate’s Creek and Captain’s Cabin [Pub and Karaoke lounge]

Golf, boat cruise, swimming, sauna and gym.

Nature walks, cycling, bird-watching and 100 berths for vessel docking.

Low-density resort, matured landscaped gardens, marina views, in-room dining, wireless internet access and in-room safe.

Executive Deluxe Room RM348 [Marina View] and RM300 [Garden View], Studio Suite RM468 [Marina View] and RM425 [Garden View], each packaged with breakfast for two.

A version of this was published in The New Straits Times, Life & Times on 18 May 2017

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