Sustainable ideas from the past resurface in Sumba

- Bradley Cocks, our SVP of Business Development for the Asia and Pacific region, has been part of the Kiwi Collection team for over seven years. Originally from Canada, he relocated to Sydney, Australia in 2004 and still resides there today.

The Indonesian island of Sumba hopes to reap the rewards of some innovative ideas…. but these “new” ideas are, in fact, almost a century old.

Discovering ways that a modern-day challenge like sustainability is being improved upon by using some of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century’s ideas is – to say the least – an interesting experience.

If I told you that modern day science – and its implementation – could be carried out in a remote area of the world, where tribes still enjoy a “hunter-gatherer” lifestyle, would you believe me?

Located southeast of the more popular island of Bali (the two are roughly a one hour flight away from each other), the island of Sumba was once part of the Dutch West Indies. Sumba’s unique culture is historically known for its sandalwood exports, as well as  – and perhaps more intriguingly – for its continued use of megalithic burials and a brutal game called pasola. In pasola, local tribes fiercely compete on horseback with spears.

Claude Graves

It is here, in Sumba, that past inventions, sustainability, and Sumba itself are being merged beautifully, thanks to a trailblazer from New Jersey named Claude Graves. Claude was originally introduced to this remote area when he worked for a major US construction company. Back then, he –ironically – used to supervise the company’s offshore oil production rigs.  Perhaps the Gulf of Mexico would be better off at the moment if BP had someone like Claude Graves working for it?

Claude spent years traveling and working throughout Indonesia, and he and his wife, Petra, eventually found themselves exploring the profoundly undiscovered island of Sumba. Trekking and camping their way along the rugged coast line, they fought off malaria, learned the language, embraced sensitivities of the local cultures, and fell in love with their soon to be new home.


Fast forward to 2001, when Claude and Petra opened what is now the famed surf, dive, and fishing eco-resort of Nihiwatu.  This magnificent place represents the Graves’ realized vision of how a world-class hotel could be run, focusing on offsetting the negative effects of tourism and man-made activities.

Claude and Petra’s commitment to all they hold dear in life has led to a 14-room property, which operates entirely on four bio-diesel generators fuelled from coconuts. Those generators produce 75 percent less carbon emissions then petrol-diesel.

The problem – if you can call it that – is the fact that business is booming and expansion is inevitable for Nihiwatu. Plans being considered include two additional separate ‘villages’ for new guest rooms, pools, spa and fitness rooms, as well as bar and lounge areas. This would push the current setup and energy supply to its limit, due to the growing distance of the resort from some of its suppliers, which means that substantial financial upgrades will be necessary.

Creative and forward thinking

In an amazing twist, it looks like the solution to Nihiwatu’s future challenges can be found in great inventions created in the roaring twenties.

A creative and forward thinking American company (recently supported with a substantial investment from a former co-founder of a popular sporting eyewear company) has had the insight to look back into history, and discover opportunities in expired patents.

These expired patents include some by famous inventors and scientists like Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein.

Former NASA scientists have been hired to tackle the challenge of converting these patents – which to date are only available in vast, impractical dimensions – into more workable models, which are proportionate, efficient, and economical. So it looks like Sumba will be entering the 21st century after all… as sustainably as possible, of course.

To be continued…

  1. Wow, these places look amazing. Good to know that “new” (or old!) ways of creating sustainable travel are still being explore. Great article!

  2. Michael Cole says:

    What an experience! Since my first visit a month ago, Sumba and Nihiwatu have become the object of my dreams. I want nothing more than to go back and relive the experience. Where to start. Well, unlike almost any other place in the world, the proud Sumbanese people are living their almost exactly as their ancient ancestors would have. Meeting them and observing their culture is something that profoundly effects all who are fortunate enough to have the opportunity. With the help of the Sumba Foundation and its many contributors, the hardships of such a life are in large part being alleviated. Great praise is due to those people who are responsible for bringing some measure of comfort to these majestic people, but also acknowledging the importance of preventing the infectious malaise of modernity in Sumba.

    Nihiwatu is the true surf paradise. The fishing, as my 50 pound Spanish Mackerel (caught in 5 minutes, just off from the resort) indicated, is great. The resort is fantastic and its staff are truly lovely. Its location on Nihiwatu beach couldn’t be more ideal. See you next year, and every year after that.

  3. pools says:

    It’s amazing that distant places of such unique beauty still exist on earth. What’s even more amazing is that this beauty as well as cultural background of the people who live there get preserved. Being able to visit this place of paradise must feel like a blessing.