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This Is Northern New South Wales

HIDDEN VALLEY: FROM THE SUBLIME TO THE LUXURIOUS

Back in 1971, Rusty Miller and Steve Cooney came to Uluwatu. Not a single surfer had seen the break before them and barely a westerner had gazed upon that majestic, if foreboding, stretch of craggy coastline.

Within a year, surfers across Australia were adding the long, barrelling left-hand point break, seen for the first time in Albe Falzon’s ‘Morning of the Earth’, to their bucket list. And so began the western population of Bali’s south-westernmost peninsula.

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A lot has happened since those halcyon days, and not all for the better. Surf resorts, schools and the commerce spawned from tourism have, in parts, blighted the secluded region of Bali, keen to munch on their share of the pie with little regard for sustainability or integrity. But fortunately, as with everything, there are exceptions.

Craig Allingham has lived and breathed tourism for most of his life, each breath shared equally with his love of surfing. Growing up in Australia, his connection to ‘Morning of the Earth’, and subsequent fascination with the mysterious Uluwatu, were inevitable. CEO of Sublime Resorts, Craig has a very different perspective of the Balinese tourism industry, a viewpoint derived from personal connection to the island and his years of industry experience.

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Hidden Valley Resort is Sublime’s inaugural retreat, nestled in the secluded hinterland of the Uluwatu peninsula. A stone’s throw from renowned breaks such as Pedang Pedang, Impossibles and, of course, Uluwatu itself, it is the first of an elite collection of boutique surf resorts.

“Before we took over the management of Hidden Valley we designed a retreat in Lombok,” says Craig, “nine two-storey villas with yoga, organic gardens, pools, standup paddleboarding, surfing and a day spa. Once we had designed that, we had a lot of people approach us to take over management of different properties. We found this one and saw the potential for what we wanted to offer and made this our flagship.”

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And what a flagship it is. Pathways weave through a collection of pools and garden areas that, while exceptionally well-kept, have that lived-in, accessible feel. No ‘keep off the grass’ signs are to be seen and you feel free to throw down a picnic rug on the soft lawns wherever you choose. Staff are new friends, not subservient minions, that shrink-wrapped sterility of hotels is gone and you feel far more a visitor at a mate’s place (albeit an incredibly pampered visitor). Apartments, particularly the collection of warungs, feel like home from home, the traditional style, timber and thatch structures so comfortable you’ll want to move in permanently.

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Everything evokes that laid back surfer feel, but with impeccable taste and class. Craig himself connects with guests on a personal level, strolling the grounds in boardies and a t-shirt, rather than stuffy suit and tie, always keen to blur the line between staff and guest while still ensuring that your every whim is fulfilled.

You can do everything or nothing, whichever you choose, and never once feel obliged or hassled or even smothered by service. Your time and your space are your own, with all the trimmings at your disposal upon request. Yesterday I was taken paddleboarding on the idyllic lagoon at Pendawa, chilled at my pristine warung, contemplated a luxurious spa treatment and served a world-class dinner, over which I was asked by one of the staff, “hey, me and a few of the guys are going to see a band tonight – wanna come?” That’s just the kind of place it is.

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Craig is no stranger to Bali, or indeed global surf travel. He has learned exactly what not to do first hand, intentionally shying away from the beer and testosterone-fuelled ‘gung-ho’ surf trips in favour of a more profound surf experience, one of luxurious yet humble accommodation, first class facilities and a family- inclusive experience. Access to some of the best surf breaks Bali has to offer is complemented by a spa, warung-style villas, a network of swimming pools and a host of activities outside of the surf. He has brought his organic garden from the original Lombok design to Uluwatu, employed superb chefs for a wide and varied menu that is as mouth-watering as it is nutritious and healthy and hosts daily yoga and standup paddling programs.

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Hidden Valley Resort is stunning and well-appointed, leaving little, if anything, to be desired. It isn’t an exclusive resort, only for the well-heeled surfer with money to burn, a range of accommodation providing an option to suit a wide range of budgets, and fulfils a rare niche in an over-saturated tourism market.

But there is a lot more to Hidden Valley and the Sublime Resorts ethos than fancy rooms and five-star treatment.

“We want to have a very earthy, back-to-nature feel to our resorts,” Craig explains. “Having worked in corporate hospitality for most of our lives and been surfers and living that surfing lifestyle ourselves, we always felt uncomfortable in that boxed-in hotel environment. So we got together to create a place that we would like to stay.

“We wanted a place where families and couples could come for surf adventures and holidays but not leave anyone left out. If, for example, the husband wants to go surfing but the wife doesn’t surf, she can stay here, go to the day spa, eat good food, listen to good music and feel relaxed, not be widowed on the beach for hours!”

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But this is only one dimension of Sublime’s consummate thinking. Surfers are changing, their perceptions, shifting from the rock-and-roll days of the ’90s and into a more holistic, conscientious existence, at home and on vacation.

“Because we took over Hidden Valley we are having to work to bring it up to our expectations and beliefs,” says Craig. “But already we have the organic garden, we send our food compost to local pig farmers and we’re building as we go.”

Craig has a deeper connection to Bali than simply as a visitor or resort manager. His aunt married a renowned and influential Indonesian activist in the fight for the country’s independence. Gun running for the freedom fighters, imprisoned in the notorious Long Bay jail, Craig’s uncle-by-marriage continues after his passing away a few years ago to have a place in the hearts of the Balinese. This has made him acutely aware of reducing his business’ footprint and giving back to the community that has provided him with so much.

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Although Craig came to Hidden Valley Resort after completion, he is continually looking for ways to improve the resort’s sustainability, as well as feeding back into the region. Planting over 30,000 seedlings around the resort and establishing the organic garden was, by Craig’s standards, a no-brainer. But he is always keen to do more, looking to introduce sustainable bamboo drinking straws, better water recycling and supporting local NGO, Tas Pasar.

Tas Pasar aims at raising awareness in locals and tourists alike of the massive problem Bali is facing in the overuse of plastic bags. The ‘bring-your-own-bag’ scheme provides local businesses with reusable bags and Craig encourages his guests to do the same, distributing bags from the resort, selling t-shirts to fund the cause and providing local warungs with the sustainable packaging.

He also actively supports Save Bali Sea Turtles, promoting the valuable cause, informing guests of releases and local hatchings and raising awareness of the marine creatures’ plight. Working with these organisations and the local people has been a learning experience for Craig and his team and one from which he has thrived.

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“What we’ve learned has humbled us a lot. We’ve done a lot of travelling, through the Mentawai Islands, Lombok and Sumbawa and around the country, and it has made us realise how happy people with nothing are. It makes you realise that you don’t need much to make you happy, you just need to be happy within yourself. It’s made us more generous too. We contribute a lot to schools in the local area and in Lombok, giving them soccer balls, clothes and so on.

“I’ve learned to appreciate everything I have, not to always want for more. If you do the right thing and be happy about it, good things will come your way.”

Luxurious, understated, simple – if Rusty Miller and Steve Cooney had stayed at Hidden Valley back in ’71 they never would have left.

Sublime’s Hidden Valley Resort Resort offers unique, boutique surf lifestyle accommodation year-round at Uluwatu. Visit their website at www.sublimeresorts.com for further information on Hidden Valley and their quiver of resorts.

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