Far off in the eastern expanses of the Indian Ocean, somewhere between the islands of Komodo and Sumbawa and among the Indonesian chain of islands, there exists an island so pure and wild that there are entire weeks when the only markings on the white sand beaches are from the hooves of wild stallions. It’s on the forgotten shores of Sumba where dawn is broken each day by bands of horses parading to the shores to cool off in the shallow waters while, just a few beaches away, barefoot fishermen begin to wade deeper into the sea with their handmade nets slung over their shoulders.
The island was once known only to traders, who sought out its rare and fragrant Sumbanese wood, and, only recently has Sumba begun getting slowly discovered by a new breed of ecologically responsible tourists. It’s roughly an hour flight from Bali to Sumba, but today, visitors arrive seeking unrivaled experiences that ever so gently blur the line between blissful luxuries and deep immersions among this culturally preserved landscape … which they find on the grounds of NIHI Sumba.
NIHI sits on one-and-a-half miles of pristine beach and is home to one of the world’s most coveted left-hand break waves, Occy’s Left. The wave itself is said to have inspired the resort, as it was on that very beach that Claude and Petra Graves first fell in love with Sumba in 1988 on their quest to find the perfect wave.
They discovered exactly that on Nihiwatu beach and opened an upscale surfing retreat of the same name to honor the legacy of the area as well as the culture that quickly grew into a passion for them to preserve. The dream was always to create a new model of sustainable tourism, and that dream has been fulfilled under the leadership of famed entrepreneur Christopher Burch (owner) and legendary hotelier James McBride (CEO and partner).
“The untouched natural beauty of the island of Sumba really struck a chord with me,” recalls McBride about his first time arriving on the island. “Christopher Burch first convinced me to travel with him to Sumba in 2012, as he wanted a hotelier’s take on a resort he had stayed at as a guest and knew was potentially for sale. We both felt as if we really had found ‘the edge of wildness.’ Judging by the number of people that discover NIHI and realize that it really is an unspoiled paradise offering unbridled freedom and a new kind of luxury, and return every year … I think we have succeeded.”
Under the new leadership — and a new name, “NIHI Sumba” — the resort went from surfer chic to luxury resort in a matter of $30 million and just a few short years. The resort’s remote location and unbridled sense of refinement has since caught the eye of many celebrities and dignitaries, including a honeymooning Jennifer Lawrence and the entire Beckham clan who relished their family holiday at the resort. Travel + Leisure magazine ranked NIHI two years in a row as the “Best Hotel in the World,” and it doesn’t take more than a single visit to understand why so many people love the property.
“There is nothing cookie cutter about NIHI,” McBride adds. “With a single owner with great vision, we were free to create something beyond any offerings at other high-end resorts. We think NIHI has laid-back luxury that immediately relaxes guests. It’s a bit off-grid, a bit wild, but with a natural beauty that rivals any resort in the world.
The majority of the staff at NIHI are Sumbese, and they are the heart and soul of NIHI — the smiles and the pride they have in what has been created on Sumba Island at NIHI is something most guests never forget.”
NIHI stays true to its low-key roots with just 27 private villas throughout the entire property, each outfitted with a conical, archetypal Sumbanese thatch roof made from Alang-alang grasses. Attentive guest kaptens (i.e., butlers) look after guests in each of the villas, which range from cozy one-bedroom cottages to multi-room mansions outfitted with fully staffed kitchens. Although no two are alike, a few key features can be found in every NIHI Sumba beachfront view villa, namely open-air bathrooms, charming gardens draped in vibrant bougainvillea, and private pools.
Details throughout the entire resort were chosen with intention and seek to pay respect and homage to the local landscape and culture. Handcrafted ikat fabrics made by local craftsmen adorn each room, and even the local timbers and Alang-alang grasses used in the construction of the villas honor the Sumbanese way of living. Outdoor living and indoor comfort weave together seamlessly, as the breeze moves freely through the corridors of each room by design before pouring out to breathtaking ocean views.
Outside of the villas themselves, guests can enjoy a long beachfront infinity pool, the Spa Safari Nihioka, Sandalwood riding stables, the Chris and Charley chocolate factory, an enhanced Boathouse and water sports center, and several dining options.
“All this was done sensitively and with locally Indonesian-sourced design elements to ensure the place felt authentic and had a strong sense of place of Sumba,” McBride explains. “This local timbers and craftsmanship, ikat fabrics, sand under feet restaurants, and vernacular architectural styles are all true to Sumba’s roots.”
Winding stone pathways flanked by frangipani and palm trees guide guests throughout the resort’s most treasured nooks and coves. Equestrians love the chance to watch the Sumbanese horses go from grazing on a grassy hill to parading down Nihiwatu beach to cool down from the heat in the waters. Witnessing these beautiful creatures alone would be an unforgettable experience, but guests of NIHI Sumba are able to take it one step further by riding them into the water — accompanied by the stable team leading the way — to swim with the horses.
McBride calls moments like these “pinch me” unforgettable times at NIHI Sumba, and admits there are many moments like this possible during a single stay. “While guests can pick and choose the activities they want to take part in, some ‘not to be missed’ experiences are the Spa Safari Nihioka with its half or full day of unlimited spa treatments in a private bale on a remote and spectacular part of the island, or perhaps a day out on our boat spearfishing with one of the water sport guides before finishing with lunch of freshly caught raw sashimi on a unspoiled and private nearby beach.”
Despite the opportunities for rare photos, the most spectacular experience at the resort is, and will always be, the chance to interact with the Sumbese people.
“We put the heritage, stories, culture and the people of Sumba at the forefront of everything we do,” McBride says. “Visits to local villages to support the artisans and craftspeople and ensuring the unique culture of Sumba is experienced are things that make lasting impressions on our guests.”
NIHI Sumba’s philanthropic arm, The Sumba Foundation, ensures resort profits go back into local endeavors, such as the schools, health clinics, and general support for the island and its people. The foundation is an important part of the DNA of NIHI Sumba and welcomes hotel guests to visit and even take part in some of its most vital efforts, like visiting a local water project, touring a Malaria combatting health clinic, or even volunteering over a morning with the school lunch program.
The untouched beauty of the island of Sumba is what initially inspired the resort, and it continues to be the overarching purpose of NIHI Sumba to preserve, celebrate and provide bespoke glimpses into the island’s beauty for years to come.
(910) 622-2657, nihi.com