An Australian couple bought land on an Indonesian island and built a luxury hotel. Here’s how they did it. – DIGIWIZ CENTRAL

An Australian couple bought land on an Indonesian island and built a luxury hotel. Here’s how they did it.

Daniel and Jess Baldock.

Courtesy of Jess Baldock

Two Australians, Jess and Daniel Baldock, bought a plot on the Indonesian island of Sumba. At first, they were going to start a surf camp, but they built a six-room hotel and a farm. They now rent out the rooms and are mulling building a larger family home. 

In April 2018, Jess and Daniel Baldock flew from their native Australia to the Indonesian island of Sumba — and never left.

Daniel Baldock had traveled to the island on a surfing trip the previous fall. Investors viewed Sumba as an up-and-coming tourism hot spot, and its real-estate market was on the rise. He encouraged Jess Baldock to buy a plot of land, sight unseen, in the beachside village of Kerewe, which is surrounded by mangroves and waterfalls.

The 3,052-square-meter plot, which they bought from a local, took two months to buy. The plot stretched down to the sea and was covered in jungle and scrub amid lush countryside that looked out onto the rolling surf.

The only building on it was a bamboo hut that Sumbanese villagers had built for the couple so they had a temporary place to live.

The bamboo hut the couple lived in while construction was underway.

Jess Baldock

As avid surfers, the couple initially planned to build a surf camp. But once they arrived, the architectural designer and builder they were working with said they should challenge themselves to do more.

Jess Baldock, who usually designed homes, drew up the plans for Alamayah — a six-suite hotel with a rooftop yoga pavilion, restaurant, and spa, which was built around the trees there.

Daniel Baldock, a qualified builder who’d worked on high-rise buildings in Melbourne, would oversee construction.

They had competed in a 10,000-mile car race, the Mongol Rally, and Daniel Baldock had kayaked from England to France and from Melbourne to Tasmania. Building a hotel “was the hardest thing we’ve ever done, but at the same time, it was also very, very rewarding,” Jess Baldock said.

Jess Baldock continued to work with clients remotely from Sumba, while managing the design and sourcing and buying materials for construction. Daniel Baldock would work on the hotel full time. Jess Baldock’s design included a courtyard where a palm tree broke through a glass ceiling and engraved wooden poles in the suites that nodded to traditional Sumbanese homes.

The couple didn’t want to fly in external contractors and hired 120 Sumbanese villagers instead. While they were skilled woodworkers, Daniel Baldock needed to show them how to weld steel for the structure of the building and do plasterwork for the smooth walls that Jess Baldock had designed. And as they were new to this, he needed to supervise them closely.

The hotel being built.

Jess Baldock

The couple gave themselves 12 months to complete the build. The workers dug a well so they had water on-site. The bamboo hut “was our bedroom, the office, the tool room,” Jess Baldock said, adding: “We had a little generator that would go on during the day to run the power tools for the job site, and at the same time, I’d charge up my laptop and our phones.”

They chose to build with limestone blocks they could source from a quarry on the island, but the rest of the materials had to be shipped in from other islands in Indonesia, which could take up to a month.

The couple intended to split their time between Sumba and Melbourne, but they quickly realized that the construction would need all their attention because they needed to support the staffers who were still learning the ropes.

“The only time we left the site was on everyone’s lunch break or after work,” Jess Baldock said. Her brother looked after the couple’s home back in Australia.

Despite a 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. work schedule, the build took longer than the couple had predicted. They bought the land with their savings, but for the build, they needed to take out loans. Waiting for materials to be shipped to the island could cause delays. Some walls were built, knocked down, and rebuilt until workers reached the standard that Daniel Baldock knew they needed to achieve.

The generator, which was meant to be a short-term solution, operated for a year before they could join the island’s mains electricity.

“Each day was an emotional roller coaster. You’d be upset. You’d be proud. You’d be frustrated,” Jess Baldock said.

On days the team needed to pour concrete, everyone in the village would give a helping hand, and they paid them for their time.

Without trucks, “everything was mixed by hand and moved by small buckets,” Jess Baldock said, adding: “We had mums, aunties, and uncles help us. It literally took a village.”

The courtyard under construction.

Jess Baldock

It took two years to complete the sleek, white- and blond-wood villa, with a solar-powered pool, lawns, and a courtyard where guests can practice yoga on paving stones surrounded by water.

The finished courtyard.


Jess Baldock said her most memorable day was when she was able to install the furniture she designed.

“It transformed from a building site that we thought was never going to end, and it turned it into a hotel,” she said.

Another memorable day was when the couple finally left the bamboo hut and moved into a new one-bedroom bungalow nearby, complete with running water and its own bathroom.

The hotel’s lounge area.


They opened in April 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic meant they had a slow start, with international bookings having to cancel. Guests from other Indonesian islands such as Bali and Java could still visit.

A room in the hotel.


Once they completed their bungalow, they planted fruit and vegetables for the hotel on a 1.5-acre farm next to it. Their view is of rows of pineapples, bananas, and pumpkins.

“We still need to buy some food, but our goal is to one day be self-sufficient,” Jess Baldock said.

In May 2022, she gave birth to their daughter. They are now looking to build a family home on the land. Each morning, the family goes to the hotel for breakfast and spends the rest of the day overseeing the kitchen, bar staff, gardens, and house cleaning, as well as chatting with guests.

The couple take turns looking after their daughter, as they didn’t want to have a nanny. They may work until 10 p.m. but now, unlike back in Melbourne, they surf during their lunch hour.

Read the original article on Business Insider
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