by Peter J. Bates

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Luxury Travel Summer Report: Nihiwatu, Sumba, Indonesia

On The Edge of Wildness

I rarely write about a specific property or experience, trying to focus my thoughts on the business aspects of hospitality and tourism. From time to time, however, I come across an experience that I believe is worth bringing to your attention. Recently I have visited the Island of Sumba – which lies about 400 KM southeast of Bali.

For the past 26 years and perhaps longer, surfing aficionados from all over the world have been making the journey to the Indonesian Island of Sumba to experience the left hand wave at Nihiwatu, a magnificent surfing paradise. It was in 1988 that Claude and Petra Graves first arrived and painstakingly set about building a small resort with eleven keys. They continued to attract surfers limiting the number to ten per day giving the resort almost cult status and building a successful business that has garnered more than its fair share of awards from leading publications around the world.

Unspoiled Exotic Location

The secluded resort is nestled upon 567 acres of land, only 65 acres of which are developed -- and it is capped at that. Formerly a Dutch colony, Sumba is home to 650,000 residents and is categorized as a deciduous forest eco region due to its special flora and fauna. Nihiwatu features a spectacular 2.5 KM of pristine beachfront.

Authentic Culinary Excellence and Bespoke Luxury Service

Each suite at Nihiwatu has a dedicated butler – always at the ready with a smile to cater to guests’ every need in a charmingly unobtrusive way. They are part of the 300 terrific Sumbanese staff led by a handpicked group of expats who truly appreciate the culture and the island.

Nihiwatu’s main restaurant, the Wavefront, has unparalleled views and a renowned executive chef Bernard who has a lot of experience in Asia. Guests can also eat at the Nio Beach BBQ or gather at the iconic Boathouse Bar where the beach fire pit invites inspired nightly discussions of the day’s activities. Resort rates include breakfast, lunch and dinner and nonalcoholic beverages.

Active Leisure on Land and Sea

Nihiwatu features every form of water sport imaginable from surfing and snorkeling to scuba diving, deep sea fishing and stand up paddle boarding. Active pursuits on land range from trekking through the natural and unspoiled beauty of the landscape, to horse-riding on Sumbanese horses (smaller than western horses but sturdy and ready for a cantor on the beach), to yoga beside an enticing waterfall, or mountain biking on terrain that ranges from rugged to scenic trails. Cooking classes are offered in the beach kitchen, perfectly positioned between the forest and the sea. Your butler will take you to a local village and introduce you to the villagers and to the antique shops in the town which will ship home for you. If you buy from the hotel, they will also ship for you.

Sumptuous Spa

The Spa at Nihiwatu features treatment huts at the water’s edge, combining seclusion, inspiring views and the calming sounds of the waves. The skilled local therapists offer a full range of massage and body treatments, including scented foot baths, body scrubs and facials. There will be a purpose built spa in the next phase.

Giving Back to the Community

Perhaps the most significant aspect of this luxurious getaway is that in 2001 the Graves founded the Sumba Foundation with Sean Downs, a successful businessman who stayed at the resort to surf. The foundation is committed to helping “alleviate the burden of poverty” on the people of this extraordinary island of Sumba by improving health and education, creating economic opportunities, fighting malaria, and providing tanks of drinking water throughout the island. As the business became more successful, more money was directed to the Foundation so that, to date, 15 primary schools and 48 water wells have been built, five clinics opened and 172 villages are supplied with clean water. All this has resulted in reducing malaria in neighboring villages by 85%.

Plans to Grow Responsibly

The next phase of the journey is in process. Looking to take the resort to the next level in 2013, U.S. entrepreneur Chris Burch purchased the resort and, together with his Managing Partner James McBride -- best known for his time at the Ritz Carlton Hotel Company, Rosewood Hotels & Resorts, and most recently as President of Malaysian hotel conglomerate YTL Hotels -- set about transforming the property. Adding suites including a five bedroom master suite, four tree house apartments and additional rooms, the resort will grow to grow to 32 spacious villas and a tree-house Jungle Spa by Spring 2015. 

The deep-rooted commitment to give back will be maintained and all profits repatriated into the Sumba Foundation. The result: a unique collaboration between Nihiwatu and the local community that today co-exists with compelling interdependence: the resort has become the biggest employer on the island.

In keeping with a philosophy for environmental responsibility and the desire to reduce carbon emissions, the resort produces its own fuel through harvested coconut meat; hotel waste water is treated and recycled to the gardens; and the daily menu is influenced by the organic garden and local produce from fresh fish caught daily to Nihiwatu’s very own chicken farm.

Traveling to Sumba

Sumba is an hour and 20 minutes by air from Bali. Guests fly into the new international terminal in Denpasar, Bali and then take one of several daily turbo prop flights to Sumba. People combine a visit to Sumba with a few days in Bali as well.  Nihiwatu also organizes charter flights for guests that can be booked via their Bali office.  Please contact for information.
Looking ahead

A steady stream of international journalists from the most respected lifestyle, design and travel publications are coming to see what partners Chris and James have in mind as they complete this development and start on another project just up the coast.

While you no longer have to be a surfer to enjoy this resort, it certainly enhances the experience. More important is an appreciation of the Sumba Foundation that exists because of the generosity of hotel guests past and present who continue to support the vision -- proving that the hospitality industry as a responsible citizen can have a lasting effect when it puts its mind to it.

For more information and to make reservations please let me introduce you to Peter Neto, the General Manager at

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