The world is short of secrets these days. Sometimes I wish I could travel not just to a different country, but to a simpler time, before the age of budget airlines, overcrowded beaches and camera phone waving tourists. And then, Nihiwatu happened.
A few weeks ago, on a well-connected friend’s advice, I flew to the deep, lush heart of one of the last Stone Age civilisations on Earth, to Sumba, Indonesia, an island twice the size of Bali, just south of Komodo island. More Africa than Asia, Sumba is a wild place that time has forgotten and nature has claimed as her own. Pure chromatic turquoise waters surround the island, itself a haven of emerald green terraced fields and unruly jungle.
This island has a pure, savage and elemental magic about it. The waves roar and dash eternally upon boulders on pristine sand. Villagers believe in the power of animal sacrifices of buffalo and celebrate festivals with outrageous displays of jousting with lances upon horseback.
Walking is the preferred mode of transport on the island, and you meet villagers carrying pots on their head, children on their waist, herding goats and cattle gently towards the pristine beach.
For years Sumba remained almost unknown to the developed world. Then in 1989, Claude Graves, a veteran surfer who built the first house on Kuta beach in Bali, decided to seek out fresher, less touristy waters and landed in Sumba. Immediately entranced with the land, Claude camped on the beach with his wife and newborn baby for nearly five years while laying out the plans for what would become Nihiwatu resort.
Over cold beer at sundown with the Nihiwatu team, I heard stories about how he survived warring tribal kings, assassination attempts through black magic and more than 30 bouts of Malaria.
Today, Nihiwatu, having changed hands to US billionaire Chris Burch, remains an enigmatic luxurious resort that redefines the concept of “eco-travel”, being totally off the grid, producing its food, electricity and diesel from coconut husks and enriching the lives of thousands of villagers through the anti-malarial efforts of it’s flagship charity – the Sumba Foundation.
Now it is perhaps the best place in the world to be in if you were to come down with Malaria, having a state of the art Malarial facility and reducing Malaria in the surrounding villages by 85%. It has also provided clean water to almost 20,000 villagers in nearly 200 villagers in the island.
I flew to Nihiwatu to scout it out as a venue for Legacy Retreat, the holistic holidays of self-discovery and rebalancing which we have pioneered in the Asia Pacific. It was a beautiful fit for us, timeless, a million miles away from the noise, and full of pure spiritual energy. All this, just a one hour flight from Bali.
In my all too short time at Nihiwatu, I met new owner Chris Burch, a irrepressible big-picture ideas man and his right-hand man, James McBride, the authoritative and detail-oriented ex-manager of the Carlyle hotel and they brought me through their vision for Nihiwatu, expanding it to 30 villas while maintaining the bohemian family vibe.
Luxury with a wabi-sabi attitude, the resort is understated, authentic and tasteful. Talitha Getty rebel chic. Villas have expansive views, patios are littered with daybeds, ikats, local artifacts, you bathe in the open air under a thatched roof, steps away from the beach.
Business aside, I learned to surf on one of the best breaks in the world with USA pro big wave surfer Mark Healey, a guy who is more famous for riding 12 metre waves and hitching lifts on bull sharks, and felt alive from an infusion of pure salt water and sun.
I walked through forests full of buffalo, goats and ponies and had breakfast of scrambled eggs, sambal and tropical fruit on a bamboo platform festooned with palm fronds, over looking a deserted stretch of beach.
I drank many many gallons of fresh coconut juice and buried my feet in the baking hot sand.
I had sundowners looking at the most dramatic, pigeons blood red sunsets which would make Photoshop weep. Dinners were either on the beach or in the stunning ocean front restaurant, eating unbelievably good home-cooking style dishes like Mexican Poblano mole or Ikan Bakar charcoal grilled fresh Mahi Mahi fish, which I had seen Mark & Chris, the resident pro-surfers, haul in on their fishing boat earlier on that afternoon.
Then afterwards, we talked late into the cool, ice-clear night, while others watched a movie at the best outdoor cinema ever.
It was utterly rejuvenating. A very different kind of luxury. A deep, rooted, spiritual calm. Just what I needed. Sometimes serendipity happens and being at Nihiwatu was being able to live a golden memory of a purer time.
It’s with a lot of excitement then that I announce our next Legacy Retreat, a profound journey of self-discovery, in the luxurious, one of a kind, Nihiwatu resort in Sumba 31 October – 4 November 2014. We will fly far away from the crowds and find our crisp, clean consciousness. We will learn about the secrets of happiness, motivation and unlock our fullest potential while rebalancing our bodies, minds, emotions and spirit. Hike through jade-green forests and meditate under a secret waterfall. All this and much more.