A brilliant point break is only one of the sublime attractions of luxurious Indonesian resort Nihiwatu.
Indonesia’s Nihiwatu is a surfer’s – and sybarite’s – nirvana.
Ancient lore refers to the pristine Indonesian island of Sumba as the ‘Cowboy Island of the South East’, a place where fierce warriors believe in the spirits and live by the law of the land. Guided by the cycles of the moon, not much has changed since the dawn of time. Perched on the edge of wilderness, Nihiwatu was founded in the 1980s by Claude and Petra Graves as shacks surrounding ‘God’s Left,’ the world’s only private left-hand break. It was nirvana for surfers then, and even though the resort is five star now, cashed-up eco-purists and pros have come along for the ride (the exclusive wave is limited to 10 people at any one time). A spear-carrying butler staffs each villa (forget pastiche, this is the real thing), and I am paired with Johan who greets me with a mega-watt smile and conjures coconuts directly to my deckchair in the jaw-dropping Mendaka estate.
Since its acquisition by entrepreneur Chris Burch and South African-born hotelier James Mcbride in 2012, Nihiwatu has expanded to include 11 new villas and a whimsical tree house complete with thatched bales and a Robinson Crusoe-style bamboo bridge. Architect Walter Wagner of Habitat 5 and interior designer Susan Colley upped the resort’s luxe factor but its integrity has remained intact – “no glitz, no pretention – understated in its simplicity, beauty and spirit and, most importantly, its soul,” says Susan of the authentic decor that honours the indigenous way of life. “Practically everything has meaning, reflecting the rich culture and traditions of Sumba. Ceremonies, symbolic rules and rituals are reflected throughout the villas in decorative textiles, wood and stone carvings – typically they represent wealth, prosperity and fertility. Sumba is a wealth of inspiration.”
The island’s seclusion and lack of infrastructure proved challenging (deliveries that should have taken 10 days could quickly turn into a month), but Susan was always “mindful of a sense of
place. We wanted perfectly imperfect – cosy and relaxed. The goal was for our guests to disconnect with an urban environment [and] re-connect with nature ... bringing a sense of calm and serenity inside the villas while the feeling of adventure outside the door is always present.”
Accommodations are secluded and there’s a sense of peace and quiet. A 90 minute trek through palm and papaya trees, rice paddies and grazing buffalo leads to Nihi Oka, the hotel’s new spa nestled between two perfectly preserved beaches.
It may be mind-blowingly beautiful, but Sumba is not just a pretty face. The hotel’s eco and social consciousness is intertwined with the Sumba Foundation, a not-for-profit dedicated to empowering local communities. The foundation’s impact resonates throughout the island, not least with the resort’s staff, most of whom are Sumbanese. You wouldn’t know it, but many hotel guests are young, repeat visitors with philanthropic ties to the organisation. Low-key donors mix anonymously, but word gets out about a half a million-dollar fundraiser by a couple in our midst.
Nihiwatu used to take three days to reach and, while still remote, it’s now more accessible. Flight schedules require an overnight stay in Bali and the Alila Seminyak makes for the best stopover (just in time for a spa and sunset drinks). All it takes is a short flight to the island, two-hour drive along a rocky road in an open-air, safari-style Jeep and you’ve reached paradise.
For more go to nihiwatu.com; sumbafoundation.org.