Wish You Were Here: Sumba Island, Indonesia

by Owen James Burke


Sumba Island is just a 55-minute charter flight from Bali, but a world away from its ‘surf slums.’

Claude Graves and his wife Petra landed on the shores of Sumba Island in 1988 while in search of the perfect wave. They found it, and spent the next four years camping on the beach, spearfishing for food and drinking creek water, despite several bouts of malaria. Slowly, they began to build a small hotel.


Today they’ve got nearly 600 acres, but nearly all of it’s protected.


The Sumbanese are no strangers to imperialism, though Claude and Petra are received with praise. Arab and Chinese traders visited Sumba seeking sandalwood and slaves for well over a thousand years, and in the 19th century, the Dutch got hold of the island. Not able to fend off their the spear-throwing horsemen (the horses having been brought and left by Arab and Chinese traders), they handed the island back to Indonesia in 1950, and Sumba was finally given (a degree of) independence in 1962.


(Photo: Enjoy Your Holiday)

The island boasts some of Indonesia’s lesser-known, less-surfed lefthand reef breaks, thanks largely to Mr. Graves, who limits the lineup by only accepting 10 guests at a time.

The couple has taken a refreshingly genuine interest in not just serving themselves, but the island’s ecology and its people. So far, with the help of investors, they’ve brought in millions of dollars in aid and cut down malaria cases by 87%. “Just don’t call it a f****** eco-hotel,” says Mr. Graves.


(All images via Conde Nast Traveller, and above graphic by Lee Woodgate)

Read more about Sumba Island and the Nihiwatu Villas on Conde Nast Traveller — OB

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