Up Now

Nihiwatu: Sumba’s Jewel

Sophie Digby heads east to experience the acclaimed resort Nihiwatu. Photos: The Man in the Pink Suit.

“SUMBA, an exotic island shrouded in mystery. Modern ways of living are not apparent and people live very close to nature. Bearing witness to a variety of the incredible places and unique celebrations is the only way to truly experience Sumba” – Sumba Forgotten Island by Robert Ramone.

‘Forgotten island of mystery’ quite piques our curiosity and, having lived on Bali for over two decades it was about time to explore another island’s mystery and unique celebrations. So to the Pasola we have come.

Imagine two competing tribes on horseback, carrying blunt spears, “…furious galloping, awesome falls and grisly spearing are all part of a normal Pasola experience”. Well for those taking part it is, luckily we are behind our camera lenses and thankfully peripheral to the mad dashing and hurling. We are in the Wanukaka regency, it is the third week of March and we deserve a few days out of the office, so to Nihiwatu we have come.

Nihiwatu, a crescent shaped beach, once known only to brave, pioneering surfers because of a famous surf break that goes by the name of ‘Occy’s Left’, is also home to Nihiwatu, the now globally famous resort that was recently awarded #1 Hotel in the World by Travel&Leisure magazine and we know they know a thing or two about travel, luxury and lifestyle!

Initially built by one of Bali’s true pioneering couples, Claude and Petra Graves, Nihiwatu is now owned and operated by Nihi Resorts by Chris Burch. An outpost of luxury in nature’s revered surroundings, a sliding door of privilege in this ‘living megalith culture’. Ten types of villa (ranging from the two storey, one–bed, ocean view 80sqm, to the opulent Raja Mendaka, ocean view, two-bedroom villa measuring a mere 972 sqm) make up a total of 32 suites, so the experience is shared with the blessed few.

And for those blessed few, the resort and staff pull out all the stops. If we were to start at sunset (which is where The Yak undoubtedly starts any experience worthy of that name) then the obvious choice is to head down to the Boathouse for cocktails, and an introduction to one of the world’s most exclusive waves – there is an intended limit of 10 surfers at any one time so booking your slot on Occy’s Left is a must!

After a couple of the generously poured Boathouse cocktails, browse through their surfboards, marine maps and check out their fishing rods, the Water Crew will ably assist in all things marine. Rent a boat, choose a rod and head out the next morning for some deep sea fishing – some of the best in the world – enabling you to land marlin, wahoo, sail fish, yellow fin and big eye tuna, mahi mahi, monster rainbow runner, sharks and triple tail. Remember it’s best to catch and release folks, please.

Should the rest of your party not be fisherfolk then how about encouraging them to enjoy some SUP (Stand Up Paddle) along the Wanukaka River? A tour of Nihiwatu’s organic chocolate factory? Horse whispering at dawn, with a ride along the beach and into the back paths and hills to relish the Sumba countryside? Each to their own at this juncture.

Something for all guests, and this definitely needs to be booked well in advance, is the Nihi Oka Spa Safari. Off-property, and possibly following a unique village tour of Sumba’s traditional houses and megalithic tombs, arrive at an expanse of coconut groves, rushing springs and cliff-top views. (These last two experiences are definitely part of the reason that Nihiwatu garnered the top spot with the readers of Travel&Leisure this year.)

Crashing waves overlooked by cliff-edge balconies, breezy open-sided, split-level bamboo structures house treatment areas and dining terraces. Massage then lunch? Or lunch then massage? The choice is yours, both lunch and the treatments are out of this world, the location is subliminally unique – even for us Bali-philes who are, we realize, extremely hard to impress!

I suppose that the sum of all its parts is way greater than the whole, in Sumba and at Nihiwatu. One does not have to go in ‘Pasola season’ as year-round there are a number of amazing cultural adventures to be had.

Sumba, lying towards the eastern end of the Nusa Tenggara island chain, whilst relatively small in size (210km from east to west and 50km from north to south), is remarkably rich in culture. The people are mainly of the Marapu religion – animistic, spiritual who balance universal life.

Their traditional houses are set up on four pillars, representing points of a compass, and are a nod to the sexual aspects of life and fertility. The tall high-peaked roofs, where they store their valuables and precious heirlooms, are a nod to the harmonious relationship between humankind and the Marapu spirits.

This limestone island, where water buffalo still wander and wild horses still roam, is a land of totems, sacrifices, divinations, weaving, maize planting and stone pulling (or Tingu Watu which is akin to Stonehenge stone transportation). And its people look to live in harmony with the ecosystem by caring for their environment. Around the Marapu totems, when tribes gather together as one, they find reconciliation, friendship, harmony and communion.

So it was a unique privilege to look into the past, to visit this Land of Mystery, this Forgotten Island, and when combined with a Nihiwatu experience, we definitely found reconciliation, friendship, harmony and communion.

Many thanks Nihiwatu-ites – The Yak were mightily impressed!