Originally built as a simple surf lodge in the 1990s, Nihiwatu was bought by American entrepreneur Chris Burch four years ago, who transformed it into a smart barefoot retreat. Sumba island, which Burch likens to Bali 40 years ago, has pristine beaches, quiet forests and traditional villages, where ikat weaving is still done by hand and cattle are used as dowry. The 33 bedrooms here are all seductive with elaborate, shell necklaces used as decoration and cushions covered in colourful batik; even the outdoor, egg-shaped bathtubs have been artfully gilded.
Only 10 guests at a time are permitted to ride the left-hand break that made Nihiwatu the stuff of surf legend; everyone else lounges by the infinity pool, hikes through the surrounding rice paddies to out-of-time villages or gal lops on horseback down the beach. No one wears shoes here, and everyone seems to don i board shorts in the restaurant, where Australian chef Ben McRae produces sensational green-papaya soup and Thai pomelo salad with prawns. Everyone is invited to visit one of the projects supported by The Sumba Foundation: a philanthropic vehicle for local medical clinics, clean-water projects, and a school-lunch programme that has increased attendance figures. And if that doesn’t pull your heart strings, says foundation director Steve Bierman, you just don’t have a heart.