The sight can’t help but bring emotions of sadness. A strikingly ghostly, eery feel too hits prominently.

Not least because an abandoned resort of such magnitude is an unexpected sight, but perhaps also because one can’t help but wonder if this is a devastation resulting from the 2004 tsunami, where something rather terrifying could have taken place. Wandering through the grounds there are tell tale signs that once this was a place of luxury, class, sophistication and probably the result of some ones hard work and dedication.

Front of the abandoned resort in Sumatra

The remnants are of what used to be the Sorake Beach Resort, or “SBR” as the locals recall it. Positioned on a gargantuan section of land at the end of a dusty, dead end street the resort comprised of 73 luxury bungalows, in ground pools and a tennis court. The bungalows now dilapidated, dotted around the property between overgrown jungle and uneven concrete paths indicate the time passed since caretakers had been on the payroll. Each was once undoubtedly the luxurious temporary home of Westerners whose weekly salary probably exceeded the annual wage of an entire household in this part of the world.

Private balcony’s attach to the front of each bungalow with East facing views of the ocean. Intricate decorations flow along the wooden exterior of each hut in the trademark Indonesian style; visible but now showing signs of ageing from the elements. The thatched roofs faring worse with worn holes where rain seeps in during the wet season. Remarkably the glass windows of most bungalows are still in tact.

The haunting entrance is marked by steel blue gates left part way opened as if for some reason the final moments weren’t long enough to truly say goodbye. Overgrown grass pokes up through cracked concrete between the gates and what was once the security station where you’d imagine a uniformed Indonesian man checking the credentials of those passing through. Now though security isn’t necessary and all that’s left as a memory is an empty concrete box with faded blue letters on the side.

Journeying from the entrance gate up the sealed driveway, which is now strewn with patches of grass and weathered pot holes would have once taken travellers to a grand lobby. The elegance of the masterpiece every bit imaginable from the grand staircase leading upward to the open air lobby and the remarkably high ceilings. Expensive looking tiles still line the floor precisely where they were originally laid and an in tact marble reception desk identifies where once guests checked in on arrival. What looks to have once been a bar – also made of marble – stands eerily bereft of spirit bottles or champagne at the rear of the lobby in prized position overlooking the ocean. It’s easy to imagine a strapping chap suited in black and white uniform serving guests who have dressed for the occasion.

Sorake Beach Resort

The resort’s pool is spectacularly and strategically placed as a centrepiece between the grand lobby and ocean’s edge. No longer do sun loungers line the edges, nor are the striped blue and white umbrella’s shielding sun from poolside guests but the bar is unmistakably recognisable, as is the silver ladder where once swimmers will have entered and exited the pool. Now though water filling the pools depths is coloured moss green; a sure sign no swimmers have bathed here in some time.

Abandoned Sorake Beach Resort lobby

It’s hard to imagine how a resort of this size could have ever made smart economic sense in Nias. The town known only to the surfing community as having one of the best waves in Indonesia, but aside from that there’s very little to offer tourists. The beaches aren’t the idyllic paradise that travellers could experience in nearby Bali, Lombok or Lankawai, and the effort to reach Nias alone is a long flight from Medan, after a flight from Kuala Lumpur – and that’s even before the arduous 3 hours drive to Sorake. But at some point, some ones vision had spurred on building such an estate.

The curious Kiwi traveller in me begins to pry into what the Sorake Beach Resort once represented, how it ended up to be nothing but a rotting cluster of raw materials and how the local community was impacted.

In this part of Nias lives a handful of expat Aussies who have, for some reason or another, packed up permanently to reside next to the elusive ‘World’s best right hander’. Their insight proves valuable.

Debbie and her husband Mark own and operate a small hotel on the same street as the abandoned Sorake Beach Resort. In a weird twist of coincidence they were also the general managers of the resort over 10 years from 1991, and Debbie has plenty of stories. A Sumatran native, Debbie is the kind of woman you’d imagine to give guests her last meal in the fridge and her only blanket for the night. She’s a hospitality natural with a warmth and kindness radiating from her. She and Mark – a surf mad Aussie – worked frivolously at Sorake Beach Resort aiming to accommodate guests and maintain the high standard that was set as a precedence. Together with their staff they often went for long periods without pay and invested their own savings into the resort to purchase the essential goods that were needed to operate. One day in 2001 as Debbie recalls, she simply “gave up”. “I have only been back twice and never again because it’s too sad; it makes me cry”. Debbie’s words testament to the trying times of the past.

sorake beach resort
sorake beach resort
Debbie tells the story that the hotel was designed by Western architects, and later owned by a man who had loaned heavily from the bank. That in true Indonesian spirit, the bank had invested with trust, and without the foresight of due diligence hadn’t ensured security of the loan. Tales like this seem commonplace. Shane – another surf mad Aussie expat – tells us the government bought a stretch of land nearby to build a runway but when they began building discovered they had in fact paid someone who wasn’t the owner. The new airport never eventuated and neither did the scale of tourism that could have serviced the Sorake Beach Resort as a result. Shane describes Nias in the ’90s as being a time when just a “small 20 odd person plane would land at Gunung Sitoli (the closest airport) just twice a week”.

It doesn’t take comprehensive maths to calculate those are not the transport networks to adequately service a 73 room luxury resort. Shane tells us of Mark’s final day of work at at Sorake Beach Resort in 2001. Apparently having been without pay the previous 6 months he took the resorts cash flow, paid suppliers and staff their dues, squared the accounts and left. This was after hosting the last of 3 surf competitions at the resort which had managed to keep the place afloat at the time. While local versions of events are fuelled with emotion, the demise of the resort is clear.

The resort was built upon the hopes and promises of a more convenient airport to the region. It was the Accor group who had been the original commissioners of the resort but when the improved transport hub never came to fruition, they ceased management shortly after. Debbie and Mark were integral to the resorts success until 2001 and the resort continued to operate through until the 2004 earthquake and tsunami that ravaged much of Asia. Costing more than 30,000 lives the tsunami’s worse hit region was Banda Aceh in Sumatra’s North. While the tsunami didn’t directly affect Nias, it spelled a steady decline to already sparse tourism levels. It took time for travellers to regain trust in visiting far flung coastal destinations so NGO subsidised the resort for the years following the tsunami. In 2010 the resort finally filed for bankruptcy.
sorake beach resort
sorake beach resort

In hearing the stories of Debbie and Shane, the sadness associated with Sorake Beach Resort isn’t isolated to the wasted buildings rotting away at the end of a dead end street. But perhaps more at the sense of hope lost to a community who would have graciously thrived from tourism. During Sorake Beach Resort’s 19 years in operation, countless locals were employed, providing an opportunity to put food on the table and shelter for families. A resort in a tiny part of the world where “rich westerners come to holiday” as Debbie tells us, was a gateway to much more for Nias.

Now though, on that gargantuan section of land behind the blue steel gates, are 73 locked bungalows. Nailed boards are fastened across windows to prevent looting and in an outstanding display of greed. mattresses and furniture are left to rot, rather than be offered to those in need. Sorake Beach Resort would have once been a wonderful place. A resort where travellers escape their 9-5 in a remote part of the world. But now Nias remains just the place where surf mad travellers visit for the elusive right hander, and an abandoned resort awaits the mercy of nature.