Ondy Sweeting explores the brand behind powerhouse Bali outfit Mason Adventures.
Baby Arjuna is the newest addition to the Mason family – the powerhouse dynasty behind Mason Adventures. Born just two months ago, the healthy boisterous pachyderm has created a buzz at the elephant safari park in Taro and visitors watch the bub falling asleep in the grass or standing quietly next to his mother – a rescue elephant from Sumatra who is now thirty years old and a mother of two. The duo reflects the business in many ways. It started small, survived some dangerous times – Sumatran elephants enslaved in the logging industry have a life expectancy of between two and six years – but prevailed to grow and strengthen and live a long and happy life with off spring.
Nigel Mason, the founder of the company, has the mega drive and determination that has helped him to create Bali’s most success adventure company, which has world recognition for the quality of its diverse businesses that include helicopter tours, hotels and gourmet foods.
From starting out with his wife Yanie’s namesake restaurant in Legian and on to white water rafting – the group has flourished with its newest project – an exquisite bamboo building near its Taro elephant park where it has a restaurant, a chocolate making studio and a jungle buggy grand prix track.
“Mason Gourmet Foods is a fairly new business and we are aiming to create a unique chocolate brand for the island,” says director Shan Mason.
In fact, to keep production local the company provides local farmers with multiple varieties of cacao plants for them to grow and sell back to the business as the heavenly ingredient.
“At the moment we do buy in cacao from across Indonesia but in time it will be an organic product exclusive to Bali,” says Shan.
The family is well known and loved on the island with Nigel and Yanie at the helm and their boys Shan and Jian as directors. They employ about 800 local people within the group and nearly every member of the team that you speak with lives nearby and has worked for the group for many years. Husband and wife teams are a common theme.
Nigel takes his role as a business leader seriously and enjoys creating job opportunities for locals. He has been through many cycles during his decades in business. After the infamous Sari Club bombing he famously kept his entire team of Indonesian staff despite tourist numbers plunging. He sold a piece of land in Nusa Dua for AUD $1 million to keep the businesses operational.
“That land is worth $40 million now. I had to sell it to keep afloat. It still annoys me but it did help to get us where we are today,” he says.
The same sense of responsibility is held toward his elephants.
“After the bombing tourists to the park went from a hundred a day to one, so our other business fed money into the park to feed the elephants and keep them well cared for. Our other business still under writes the elephants to this day,” he says.
Nigel is a perfectionist – a trait that has delivered Mason Adventures many accolades from the Luxury Hotel Awards and animal welfare organisations that audit the elephant park. The dedication to quality can be seen at every point from the lush bowers of orchids that drape from trees in exceptional tropical gardens to the constant flow of improvements.
The top of the range jungle buggies have roll bars, side nets and every safety addition possible. It’s great fun ripping around the jungle in these beasts. But only if you hold a current drivers license, are over 18 years old and process through the safety procedures.
Mason Chocolate too is a high-end operation with exquisite produce that integrates unique fruit flavours lime, blood orange and pomegranate, which is divinity itself. The small production house in the beautiful bamboo building will soon quadruple in size as demand skyrockets.
These are in addition to the $15 million adventure centre in Ubud that has state of the art rafting gear and accoutrements such as a restaurant, and a spa. Art galleries with fine collections, (including a Salvador Dali) are a feature of Mason properties.
“We work toward quality all of the time. We don’t do cheap,” says Nigel.
The company has abandoned the elephant theatre to create a space to present documentary films to educate guests about the herd of Sumatran elephants and they have bought more land to create a relaxation space for the elephants.
“Don’t be mistaken that all elephants like each other. Sumatran elephants move in maternal groups without males. So we have to be very careful to keep them in small groups that get on well. Having said this, they clearly do get on because they keep having babies,” Nigel says.
A new overhead walkway has been built in the elephant park so diners can enjoy a birds-eye view of the park at night. The ideas are refined and feed demand from big spending tourists.
Mason Air has long been whizzing high profile guests around the island in their private helicopter to land them at Taro. Most recently the Kardashian crew and Kanye West stayed a while at the park – then turned up again for more. David Beckham, Alicia Keys, Sir Richard Branson and dozens more have enjoyed the elegant hospitality delivered by this Bali-born company and admired family.