In my growing-up years, group outings – whether organised by school or family were usually excursions to Lido Beach or Kota Tinggi Waterfalls, to be closer to Nature.
In the 1980’s, a holiday destination with 22km of pristine beaches, washed by the waters of the South China Sea, was developed on Johor’s East coast.
Situated about a two-hour drive from Johor Bahru via Kota Tinggi, the scenic route that cuts through FELDA schemes was bordered by oil palm plantations and village settlements.
This destination was aptly named Desaru, a word coined from two Malay words; desa which means countryside or rural area and an abundance of Pokok Ru or Casuarina trees along its coast.
This ambitious plan by Lembaga Kemajuan Johor Tenggara (KEJORA) or Southeast Johor Development Authority for visitors to enjoy day trips and beachfront holidays included the development of hotels and a golf course as well as the nearby Penawar town.
Over the next two decades, Desaru became the destination of choice for holidaymakers and golfers who came mainly for weekend escapades, not only by road but also by ferry from Singapore via the Tanjung Belungkor Ferry Terminal.
My family and I have fond memories of our frequent visits to Desaru, not only as day-trippers but also for staycations at hotels and corporate-owned private apartments here.
One of our most memorable stays must be that year when we were marooned by the monsoon because a bridge – on the route that linked Desaru to Johor Bahru – was washed away by heavy downpours!
We had to buy provisions from Penawar town and experienced the adventure of an unplanned and unforgettable extended stay at the apartment, just days ahead of Christmas.
After a temporary Bailey bridge was built to facilitate traffic, we left Desaru on time for our family’s Christmas Eve reunion.
When the Senai-Desaru Expressway opened in 2011, drive time to Desaru was dramatically reduced with just 45 minutes of smooth drive between the Ulu Tiram Interchange to the Penawar toll gates.
Since 2016, interest in Desaru was revived with the development of an integrated holiday destination further North on the same coastline that covers over 3,900 acres of land with 17km of beachfront.
Branded as Desaru Coast, its master developer is Desaru Development Holdings One Sdn Bhd, a subsidiary of Desaru Development Corporation Sdn Bhd, within the Themed Attractions Resorts & Hotels Sdn Bhd group of companies.
Curated as a new destination resort in Malaysia, Desaru Coast is designed with a portfolio of globally renowned hotels, resorts, golf courses and conference centre for an indulgent getaway for both leisure and business travellers.
In September 2016 when the Els Club Desaru Coast opened, golfers could enjoy the rolling fairways and signature holes in the Ocean Course to a backdrop of the South China Sea.
Designed by Ernie Els, this 27-hole championship course includes a Clubhouse that commands a panoramic view of the green. I had the privilege to enjoy this impressive view and sample their banquet facilities in their annual Ramadan food review.
Opened in March 2017, the 18-hole Valley Course is the product of the world’s first collaboration with Els’ long-standing friend, fellow Major Champion and World Golf Hall of Fame, Vijay Singh.
Equipped with a short game practice area for chipping, bunker shots and putting, it also has an Els Performance Golf Academy that offers a 9-Hole Par 3 Academy Course.
Around June 2018 I learnt about Desaru Coast Riverside, a waterfront landscaped retail and lifestyle village, from my friends at Desaru Fruit Farm who had opened an outlet there.
Designed around a water feature, the Riverside is a central hub for Desaru Coast that offers exciting retail, restaurants, cafés and entertainment outlets with convenient access to the Desaru Coast Adventure Waterpark, the Hard Rock Hotel Desaru Coast, The Westin Desaru Coast Resort and Desaru Coast Conference Centre.
While Desaru Coast Adventure Waterpark was opened in July 2018, I did not have the opportunity to visit until the park’s first Splash Fest in April 2019, an event which coincided with the traditional Songkran Festival.
It was simply thrilling to see one of the world’s biggest waterparks that boasts a three-acre wide wave pool – one of the biggest in the world, and the first-ever water coaster in the region, for a wet and wonderful water festival experience!
The Hard Rock Hotel Desaru Coast welcomed their first guests in September 2018 and a month later, I was among the Media Rock-Stars who had a sneak peek into the hotel.
Located adjacent to the Desaru Coast Adventure Waterpark, guests at this 365-room hotel will enjoy their signature Hard Rock Rock-Star treatment complete with a selection of music in various genres for in-room entertainment plus an exclusive audio treat with the Sound-of-your-Stay experience.
Hard Rock International is renowned for its more than 80,000 pieces of memorabilia contributed by local and international stars and it’s a thrill to see more than 30 pieces of exhibits displayed at various locations including in the Sessions restaurant within the Hard Rock Hotel Desaru Coast.
Nearby, the 275-room five-star Westin Desaru Coast Resort, operated by Marriot International, was opened in April 2019 and is linked to the Desaru Coast Conference Centre.
On 5th July, Desaru Coast was officially launched by His Majesty Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar, the Sultan of Johor, witnessed by VIPs and other guests (including me!) in a colourful event held in the Desaru Coast Conference Centre.
With better infrastructure, travel connectivity by road, air and sea, it’s now a breeze to get to Desaru. Since my first visit in October 2018, I’ve had the privilege to visit again and again to attend exciting events hosted by the hotels here.
By end 2020, Desaru Coast will become more accessible through the Desaru Coast Ferry Terminal which will provide ferry access from Singapore’s Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal directly to Desaru Coast.
Having experienced the all-new Desaru Coast, I eagerly anticipate the opening of the 123-room family-oriented Anantara Desaru Coast Resort & Villas and the ultimate bespoke lifestyle experience resort in the luxurious One&Only Desaru Coast, scheduled to open by end 2019.