Little-known island in eastern Indonesia is a haven for newly weds
Once home to sandalwood trees and tribal headhunters, Sumba Island in Indonesia makes for a spell-binding romantic getaway.
The little-known island, with its forested hills still host to dramatic horseback Pasola battles, offers only a handful of accommodation options. But that’s part of the appeal.
When American husband and wife Claude and Petra Graves first reached Sumba in 1988, it took more than two days of travel to get there from Bali. These days, it’s just an hour-long flight.
The couple, arriving on foot as the sun went down, fell in love with one particular spot, mesmerized by world class waves and a fine-sand beach stretching two-and-a-half kilometers toward the cliffs. Setting up home in a rustic hut, they set about realizing their heartfelt vision.
Working only with the approval of the Sumbanese and taking care to ensure a positive impact on the environment and the community, the pair created Nihiwatu ― an intimate resort with a conscience.
A couple practices yoga on a stretch of Nihiwatu’s two and a half kilometer beach. (Nihiwatu)
More than 20 years on, work continues as Claude, who his staff describe as a perfectionist, and his wife strive to provide the best ― and hard to achieve ― combination of luxury and responsible tourism. Although they don’t easily go hand-in-hand, Nihiwatu seems to have succeeded, as its numerous accolades attest. In 2010 it was the overall winner of the Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards.
Guests clearly appreciate the thoughtful approach. Many are repeat visitors and some also find inspiration here for marriage proposals and wedding blessings. The breath-taking cliff-top views and sumptuous accommodation are perfect for couples, and set the scene for a honeymoon to remember.
The antithesis of a sprawling resort, Nihiwatu consists of seven luxury bungalows and three two-bedroom villas with their own swimming pools. Built by Indonesian craftsmen, all have straw roofs in the local style and tastefully blend into the natural environment. Inside is plush with contemporary, understated comforts.
With expansive four-poster beds, his and hers sinks complete with naturally-scented toiletries and complimentary handmade biscuits and paint sets, every want is attended to. Attention to detail is exquisite, from the vibrantly-colored ikat wall hangings to the banana leaf-lined waste bins.
The rooms are likely to inspire romance in even the most cynical of couples, but plenty more twosome treats await lovebirds.•Beach bonding
For the adventurous pair, there are outdoor activities ranging from a ride on a Sumba Cross horse to surfing some of the awe-inspiring 10 foot waves that grace this idyllic shore.
Surf lessons can be booked at the Boat House ― a great place to sit back, enjoy a drink and watch the action from afar if you’d rather spectate. Even non-surfers will be hard-pushed not to be captivated as boards are skillfully ridden along the hypnotic, rolling waves.
Jet skis and boat trips for fishing, diving and snorkeling can also be arranged. Staff are accommodating to guest requests and welcome suggestions for excursions.
On dry land, there’s riding of a different kind. As the sun sets take a horse ride along the immaculate golden beach. Tales abound among guests and staff of errant wild horses racing out of control. But don’t fret, guides now lead your horse along at a gentle trot. As the sun lights the clouds pink, watch out for water buffalo taking their evening bath in the ocean.
Local staff ― Nihiwatu has a policy of always hiring 95 percent from the island ― can help you explore. Mountain biking, waterfall treks, hikes and bird watching can all be arranged. As the island does not yet have tourist infrastructure, this is likely to be the most stress-free option.
For a special day trip, couples can book a picnic on secluded Secret Beach. In a white sand bay, enclosed by cliffs and jungle, you can swim and enjoy the privacy whilst a personal chef prepares lunch, including a seafood barbeque. Once your table is set you are left alone together to feast on this slice of untouched paradise.•Rejuvenating rest
A walk on the near desolate and pristine beaches of Sumba or breathing in the fresh, unpolluted sea air is soothing in itself. But for all-out pampering, try one of Nihiwatu’s two spas.
Both the Jungle Spa and Clifftop Spa offer couple massages and other treatments using products often made on site. Although Sumba does not have a massage tradition of its own, therapists there have been taught a fusion of styles extremely well ― expect an award-winning rub.
Embracing the calm of the place, there’s an open-air yoga studio overlooking the sea for yoga and meditation classes.
Much relaxation and socializing is centered on the sand-floored restaurant. The three meals a day there are fresh, healthy and locally sourced and organic where possible.
Guests choose options from a daily menu presented at the breakfast buffet each day, and special requests are catered to if feasible. If too much hammock time leaves you a little lethargic, try the French-pressed Sumba coffee ― the smoky taste conjures images of the island’s earthy existence.
A board in the restaurant/bar area will indicate special activities going on. Engage your mind in a little creativity with local women and create your own purse or mat in a traditional basket weaving class. Using dried Pandanus tree leaves, this is a therapeutic activity to indulge in while taking in the sea view. Cooking lessons on the beach and other activities are also arranged. •Animist adventures
Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of a trip to Sumba is a village visit, where the present is governed by ancestral rites and animist rituals are still practiced. The resort staff can take you to their own village and fill you in on local etiquette. It’s recommended that you purchase clove cigarettes to offer elders upon entry.
Walking into a traditional Sumbanese village feels like stepping into a different era. Greeted by the smell of burning wood and the sight of giant thatched roofs protruding into the sky, the experience is mesmerizing.
You will likely be invited inside a bamboo home to taste the bitter betel nut ― the daily high for both men and women. The distinctive red color makes for a vivacious lipstick.
To further assist the people of one of Indonesia’s poorest islands, the Graves also set up not-for-profit Sumba Foundation. Its mission: “To be the vehicle of positive opportunities for a better life for our neighbors.”
The foundation engages in projects such as digging wells which provide water to areas where women and children would have walked miles to fetch it, malaria treatment and prevention, and education.
Visit one of their projects while you’re there, offer a donation, some second-hand clothes or buy a Sumba history book, and top off your holiday with a feel-good dose of compassion.
For more information visit www.nihiwatu.com.
By Hannah Stuart-Leach (firstname.lastname@example.org