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  • Writer's pictureEmma Jude Jackson

On the Edge of Wildness

Discovering untouched Indonesia at NIHI Sumba.

It takes transiting through the crowded chaos of an over-developed Bali to really put the pureness of Sumba Island into perspective. That being said, it's not really fair to generalise as many parts of Bali do still carry the peaceful and powerful spirit of Indonesia but Bali is becoming yet another case study for over-tourism and what happens when more and more and more self-serving tourists are allowed to move in and take advantage.

Will that ever happen on Sumba Island? One can only hope that given its more remote location and size (double the size of Bali with only 1/6th of the population), that at the very least it won't be in our lifetime. Sorry kids!

I call NIHI the OG. The story goes back to the late 80s when a young couple decided they would build a hotel in what would have been such a wild place that their friends and family must surely have thought they were mad. And this was long before the "olden days" of only one flight coming in per week and visitors needing to be booked in for a week at a time.

Immersed in nature and cut off from the outside world? Take me. Take me now.

Things are a lot easier these days but the rawness of the location and laidback spirit of the resort remain, offering guests a chance to experience something very rare and quite priceless. When people ask me about NIHI, I describe it as like stumbling upon a low-key surf village and then discovering all the comforts of a luxury hotel. Two very different things perfectly woven into one.

One might have to ask James McBride and Chris Burch, the men now behind the nurturing and growth of NIHI why they don't just use their expertise in more easily accessible locations and save themselves a lot of the hassles that come with choosing the road less travelled but therein lies the real-and-fresh-from-the-earth fruit of labours of love. NIHI is called a resort but it's not a resort. They have a spa but it's definitely not a spa. They have a beach bar but the only thing that makes it the same as a typical hotel beach bar is that you can get a drink.

It offered me one of those travel experiences that instantly embedded itself deep in my psyche, a stimulation of all my senses in ways that will undoubtedly stay with me and constantly resurface in memory, creating a forever lingering longing to return. If I close my eyes, I can imagine myself standing in the bathroom at the back of my thatched treehouse, the sounds of exotic birds all around the sacred forest I am wrapped in, the sexy, soothing scent of humidity, waves crashing in the distance. Words fail here because they end up sounding flowery and forced in the face of an experience that is nothing but wild and extraordinary.

I often think back to my very first night, when it all started to sink in. I was walking down to the beach bar for what is now my most favourite smoky mezcal margarita on earth, but not before passing through Ombak (a main restaurant with a beach sand floor for bare feet) and watching the team set up for dinner, effortlessly. A DJ was warming up, surfers were still out at sea, local farmers were down on the beach with their herd of water buffalo just doing their thing in full view, not moved or hidden like so many resorts would. I stopped to take it all in, actually fighting back tears of bewilderment, trying to figure out which parts were rehearsed or if it was all just unfolding naturally.

Turns out it was all unfolding naturally. Something like a dream.

See more from my trip on Instagram. There is a LOT more I can write about NIHI, like how they have incredibly advanced support programs for the local communities of Sumba through The Sumba Foundation, including the Sumba Hospitality Foundation, and that they already employ over 400 locals for their 33 room resort. Then don't even get me started on the "spa" experience. Hiking over hills with wild horses, through rice fields that stretch on for miles, passing curious locals and palm forests, to arrive in a sort of parallel universe, with both special moments and treatments on tap. There is also the fact that hundreds of guests come from across the world to swim with Sumba's free-roaming horses. They have a wild organic garden, a food forest, and even choose banana leaves over any kind of plastic wrapping to transport food, to aid them in their ever-expanding sustainability efforts. Shall I keep going?


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