It’s been named the world’s best hotel for a very good reason

NIHIWATU resort has to be one of the most sought-after stays on the planet.

Even before it was named the number one hotel in the world by Travel + Leisure last year, the luxe resort on Indonesia’s remote Sumba Island had caught the eye of A-listers, including Mick Jagger.

The price matches its number one status — rooms range from $1800 to $13,000 a night during peak season — and while rates are all-inclusive there’s a three-night minimum stay.

The former surf lodge stands guard over Occy’s Left, a perfectly formed barrel on the west coast of the island, tipped as one of the globe’s best, and now somewhat controversially, its most exclusive waves. Limited to 10 hotel guests a day, the surf break could very well be the eighth wonder of the world.

Less than an hour’s flight from Denpasar, the island of Sumba couldn’t be more different from its exuberant neighbour: a Jurassic Park-like paradise of undulating mountains and pristine shores, iconic for its pointed-roof villages, animist beliefs (that all things have a spirit or soul, including animals, plants and rivers) textiles, roaming horses and of course surf breaks.

We arrive at the resort before noon on a sunny day amid the island’s little-known Pasola Festival. A bloody ancient war and harvest ritual, it takes place upon the sighting of the nyale seaworm every year and is marked by a Braveheart-like battle of spear-throwing on horseback.

This year, like the one before it, a riot truck is deployed to subdue frenzied spectators and festivities are promptly shut down after an hour.

Soaking up those luscious surroundings. Picture: Jenny HewettSource:Supplied

Now, basking on the patio of our luxe two-storey pool villa overlooking the Indian Ocean, the contrast could not be more stark. On the doorstep, a welcome note has been stamped in sand. I spy a bunch of fruiting bananas dangling from a tree above the plunge pool, not quite ripe. Decadent without the bravado, Nihiwatu seamlessly melts into its jungle location and it’s not hard to see why it’s been voted the world’s best hotel.

But those expecting floors laden with marble and gold will be disappointed. Featuring thatched-roofing, lots of glass, beach-chic furnishings and not one, but three outdoor showers, our villa exudes a quiet luxury that’s felt rather than seen. It’s the subtle details, honed service and breathtaking setting that makes Nihiwatu stand out.

Here are the highlights.


Bang on the glistening sands of the hotel’s private beach, this swimming spot puts all others to shame. Between the uninterrupted views of Occy’s Left and the dazzling aqua of the Indian Ocean, it’s hard to spot where the pool stops and the sea begins. As well as shaded daybeds and a bar, there are coconuts on tap and you can just about reach out and touch the waves.


There are amazing sunsets and then there are those you wish you could bottle up and take home. Every evening a spectacle unfolds at the resort as the sun dips into the sea and our villa has front-row seats. A kaleidoscope of colours illuminate the sky; one evening it’s rose gold, the next neon purple; no two are ever the same.

Unbeatable. Picture: Jenny HewettSource:Supplied


Barrelling waves, exclusive access, a 10-person maximum per day; Nihiwatu’s world-famous and now-fiercely protected Occy’s Left surf break is every boardrider’s dream. And you’ll need to pay to ride this wave, starting at USD 100 ($A134) per person, plus taxes. But whether you hang ten or not, the scene makes for captivating viewing over eggs benedict each morning.


Earth to Nihiwatu. If you owned a walkie-talkie during the 80s, you’ll immediately warm to this detail. Each guest is assigned a Sumbanese butler during their stay, in our case it’s the delightful Ruben, and we reach him via our own portable radio receiver. Butlers are locally hired from the nearby village and dress in traditional attire, with swordlike parang knifes tucked into textiles tied around their waists.

The pool is a definite highlight. Picture: Jenny HewettSource:Supplied


Even rinsing off takes on a new significance at Nihiwatu. Offering views of the horizon (and the sunset if you time it right), the outdoor jungle rainshower located on the second level of our villa is surrounded by wooden palisades, just high enough to protect your modesty, without obstructing the view. Showers will never be the same again.


Getting to and from a destination is rarely the highlight. Unless it’s somewhat of a novelty. Nihiwatu’s airport transfer vehicle is not a van, nor a limousine, but an open-air safari vehicle, complete with elevated seats from which to enjoy the landscape on the one and half-hour drive to the hotel.


If the horseriding stable, snorkelling, stand-up paddleboarding and surfing don’t take your fancy, Nihiwatu’s ultra-indulgent all-day spa offering ($670 per person) might. The “spa safari” begins with an hour-long trek from the hotel to Nihi Oka spa, a pampering sanctuary tucked away on a small headland between two private beaches. As well as unlimited spa treatments and a cliffside pavilion within which to enjoy them, the experience includes light meals in a tree-house overlooking the ocean.

Jenny Hewett is a freelance travel writer and lifestyle journalist. She stayed as a guest of Nihiwatu. Follow her on Instagram @jenjusttravels.

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