Just a few years ago, Nihiwatu Beach, on the Indonesian island of Sumba was a secret spot known only to local villagers, seasoned surfers and the most intrepid of adventurers. Today it’s beloved by celebrities – the Beckhams have just holidayed there, Instagrammers, and has repeatedly graced the covers of glossy travel magazines. The transformation is thanks to the creation of Nihi Sumba, a resort that’s become synonymous with barefoot luxury, and has been repeatedly voted the best hotel in the world.
And yet despite its rise to stardom, Nihi retains a certain mystique that still tempts the wanderlusters as well as the wealthy. Partly, it’s the location: Nestled on the coast of an off-the-beaten track island, getting there is not exactly difficult, but it does take time and effort.
Sumba is just an hour’s flight from Bali but landing in Tambolaka it feels like another world, and the resort is still some two hours onward travel from there. But that is part of the joy of it. Leaving the crowds in Bali behind, you know few tourists have taken this path, and that is a rare feeling in modern travel.
Entry to the resort is marked by a cliffside sign, which frames expansive views of a broadly empty beach and the dramatic crashing waves of the Indian Ocean. It reads, simply, “On the edge of wildness”. Even veteran travellers could not fail to feel a flutter of anticipation.
Once inside Nihi, you’ll find a haven where eco-chic meets five star hotel meets surfers’ paradise. You can choose total privacy, the villas are designed to be little enclaves, your own personal retreat complete with infinity pool, cabana, gardens, individual sundecks with ocean views, not forgetting a dedicated butler.
Beautifully crafted in classic Sumbanese style, the residences have menara roofs thatched from grass, while the main hut structures are a combination of glass, wood, and metal that embrace both the local culture and the local environment. Full of light the villas and the furniture seem an extension of the vibrant elements all around outside.
Out in the main grounds, there is an ocean-side lap pool, a collection of stylish rustic chic restaurants offering a surprising range of Indonesian and Western fare. The resort also has a yoga pavilion and daily meditation classes, an airy game and reading room, a kids’ playground, stables, and much to the delight of children and adults – a chocolate factory. Beginners’ surf lessons are offered in a protected bay of the property. For the more experienced – the famous ‘Occy’s Left’ break is there for the riding, limited to 10 surfers at a time.
Leisurely breakfasts at the Ombak restaurant come with lovely views of pro-surfers taking on the ocean, while the Boathouse beach bar offers a wonderful nook to take in Sumba’s intoxicating sunsets.
So much is possible within the grounds, free from queues, crowds or even other guests, that you’d be forgiven for failing to explore the world outside.
The butler service, made up of men and women from the local tribes often wearing traditional dress, ensures that anything that is available to you, can be delivered to your room (which is already equipped with an extensive minibar).
They are discreet, so if seclusion and quiet are what you are looking for, that is what you’ll get, but you have to ask yourself – how often do you get the chance to converse with Indonesian tribespeople?
And that is another great joy of Nihi Sumba: As well as freedom from, it offers freedom to – the entire place, the entire philosophy even, is to provide a doorway to unfettered exploration of the island’s culture, landscape, food, and way of life. Whether you go through it, is up to you.
Want to ride horseback on the beach? You can. Want to sleep under the stars? You can. Want to learn how to spearfish? You can. There’s an unregulated freedom that is hard to find these days.
You can stand-up paddle board along the Wanukaka River, taking in villages and wild jungle as you float downstream, or take a hike through the lush rice paddies, jungles and cliffs on the specially curated Spa Safari, which ends at the magnificent NihiOka. There you can stop for breakfast, treatments, a leisurely afternoon on empty beaches, or even stay the night in a wonderland of nature, the only people to interrupt will be the ones there specifically to cater to your needs.
The owners too have thought a little about the responsibility of running a luxury resort on an island that is one of the poorest in the Indonesian archipelago, where the majority live below the poverty line. Nihi is one of Sumba’s biggest employers, hosts regular fundraisers, and a portion of its profits are given to The Sumba Foundation. Guests are encouraged to donate to the NGO, and are able to visit local schools and malaria clinics to see how the money is being used.
An Instagrammers dream, Nihi Sumba offers plenty for the modern visitor – from wellness programmes to resort-wide wifi, but it also offers a chance to slow down, explore, engage and experience travel at its vintage best.
Prices start from USD 795 per night for a one-bedroom villa in low season or around USD 1445 in high season and are inclusive of meals and some activities. A minimum three night stay is required. Find more details here https://nihi.com/