Turtle Island: The Island that Moves

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By David M. Brown

After landing at the airport on Busuanga Island in northernmost Palawan province, you can reach magical Dumunpalit Island in about an hour, depending on the trades, by a spider boat or smaller banca piloted by the local Filipinos. As if knowing you’re en route somewhere special, dolphins often frolic, arc and dive beside you in the turquoise waters.

The approximately 75-acre red marble and volcanic-rock island, surrounded by coral reefs, is in the Mindoro Strait connecting the South China Sea to the Sulu Sea, about a 40-minute flight southeast of Manila. Dumunpalit is a last frontier of the Philippines, a timeless land of awe, wonder, sea and stars.

In the Cuyonin language, it is, indeed, “the place which never changes,” but it’s also known as Turtle Island because 150-plus-foot-high volcanic towers rise on both ends, which are like fins flipping through the turquoise waters. Others say these formations appear as if God has literally imprinted his hands on the rocks and is lifting the island skyward. So the local name refers to its serenity, and the English name, paradoxically, its sense of movement.

On the reef-protected eastern shore, larger boats are anchored and draft boats pulled in. Here, about 2,000 feet of pristine absolute-white fine sand beach gives way to coconut palms and, farther, the verdant island’s high point, more than 300 feet, with extraordinary views to all points. Here, 10 to 50 miles out, is just water, with distant slivers of land.

The owner, an American doctor, calls it his retreat, an enclave in the ocean. “I’ve stayed on the island nine times now, and every time I have a sense of homecoming when I arrive. And every time I’m here I enjoy an experience that is spiritually centering yet uniquely grounding, making me appreciate what is really important in life.”

Once, he remembers waking just before dawn and hearing a voice repeating, “Ahoy, there.” He responded, then fell asleep, and awoke again, after the sun had risen, to hear the same haunting phrase, which seemed both immediate and distant. “Locals say they have heard it, too; ‘It’s just the wind,’ they told me,” he recalls.

Another time, he fell asleep, watching as the sky performed with shooting stars. Every time he visits, he sees at least 15 or 20. “A legend has it that there’s an energy portal here, and I understand why more and more.”

Just off the beach, a metal-roof, hardwood and bamboo caretaker cottage, with a porch, includes a septic toilet, kitchen and a shower; 200 yards inland, a larger more sturdily constructed guest cottage on a private lagoon, also with a porch, has a tiled kitchen, tiled shower, septic tank toilet, rain catchment system, a stainless holding tank and a beach bench.

A 100-by-75-foot site has been cleared for an owner’s residence by four full-time caretakers, who use the island’s boat for maintenance and to pick up supplies every week. Inadvertently, these men have created beautiful two-foot-tall coral and sea-shell walls during maintenance of the island’s 13 white-sand beaches.

Two concrete-lined water wells with Jetmatic manual hand pumps deliver year-round potable water for bathing, drinking and irrigating the garden. Many fruit trees have been planted, including bananas, tamarind, papaya, coconut, mango, citrus and rambutan, which provide excellent nourishment — and tropical drink mixings. The owner suggests that another 15 acres is plantable in the island’s loamy soil on the saddle of the island’s two highest points.

Pathways lead you into the island, which is vibrant with “toto yalo” birds, the rare Palawan eagle, butterflies, dragonflies, bumblebees, bats, monitor lizards, and rainforest amoghis, natuk, banyan and red-flowering coral trees. Enjoy the numerous natural paths, challenging 200-foot cliffs and landmark rocks cut with erosion holes in their centers.

Throughout the island, particularly on the southwest, are terrestrial and underwater caves for snorkeling or scuba-diving — one of best locations in the Philippines for this; the country has placed the area in a Marine Protection Zone because of the red, pink and blue coral reefs. “It’s an explorer’s paradise, a hiker’s fantasy, a diver’s dream and a swimmer’s delight,” the owner says.

Island hopping? Nearby are Club Paradise on Dimakya Island and Maricaban Resort in Maricaban Bay for excellent dining and other amenities.

“Turtle Island is both primordial and transcendental,” the owner says. “Nowhere else — and I’ve been fortunate to travel throughout the world during my career — have I enjoyed this sense, as the name suggests, of time stopping, of peacefulness, of gorgeous seclusion in paradise.”

From an exclusive boutique resort to a health/wellness retreat, a high-end dive resort or a luxury private enclave, Turtle Island offers endless possibilities. Priced at US$ 3.4 million. For more information on this outstanding lifestyle investment, see or

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