Worlds away from the swarming beaches of Bali, in Indonesia’s remote East Nusa Tenggara, lies the island of Sumba, fittingly dubbed the ‘forgotten island’.
World-class surf, a strong Austronesian and Melanesian cultural identity of intrepid seafaring people, and untouched foliage make Sumba one of the last frontiers of true South East Asian wilderness.
On the west of the island, presiding over a pristine bay, sits Ngalung Kalla. The eco-retreat was founded in 2014, when Christian Sea and his family set up camp on an off-grid piece of land. They retained the original name of the village that stood on the plot of land around 100 years ago, a name that means ‘big wave’ in the local Laboyan dialect. Regenerative Travel spoke with Christian about slow living, conservation, and getting back to nature in Sumba.
Being outside of the historical trade routes through the Indonesian archipelago, the island has remained largely untouched. The Sumbanese are pastoralists, and make use of a largely barter-based society, which strengthens the bond within communities, and they generally operate within castes. The ancient customs and traditions of the Sumbanese date back tens of thousands of years, and they are one of the few remaining megalithic and animist cultures on the planet, meaning they ascribe a soul to every living being, object, and phenomena, treating them with the same reverence and respect.
Slow Living, Vernacular Architecture and Raw Luxury
Modeled after a traditional Kampung, or village, Ngalung Kalla looks to the ancient vernacular techniques of the Sumbanese – using local materials, architectural styles, and synchronous living alongside nature. Christian tells us about how the buildings are spread out at such a distance that privacy is ensured; a dense blanket of natural foliage between each room means that guests can “retreat into their jungle bungalows and hear nothing but the trade winds through the Alang grass, the rhythm of the waves massaging the cobblestones on the beach below, and the calls of the huge birds of prey that abound in the area”. Having as little negative impact on the surrounding communities as possible is of utmost importance for the eco-retreat. The fusion between comfort and rich, historical architecture results in a unique blend of barefoot luxury, and bamboo floors and the tall peaked Rumah Menarah alang-alang grass roofs invoke the best of Indonesian hospitality.
Christian wanted guests to leave their bubble behind at Ngalung Kalla, and be immersed in the raw luxury, outdoor living, and simplicity of Sumba and its pristine environment. The road less traveled doesn’t have to be difficult and dusty, it can be a celebration of endemic flora and fauna, hammocks, smoothie bowls, and sunrise yoga. The eco-retreat epitomizes the philosophy of slow travel – gentle, immersive, and holistic. According to EHL, slow travel is achieved when the traveler’s main goals are “relaxation, self-reflection, escape, novelty seeking, engagement and discovery”. In keeping with their deep respect for mother nature, Ngalung Kalla has also adopted some of the most pioneering regenerative and sustainable practices around.
Permaculture Design, Conservation and Natural Building
Ngalung Kalla has, since its inception, made use of waterless dry-composting toilets in every guest room. Every drop of their graywater is recycled on their on-site permaculture garden and is used for landscaping. They have established a locally managed Marine Park area, in the bay adjacent to the Retreat. Mitigating all possible harm to the environment, fishing is only allowed by the traditional methods of throw-netting and hook-and-line. “We worked with the local fishermen and tribal leaders to help advise and organize the Marine Protected Zone”, Christian describes, and they are currently in the process of laying out a legal framework to solidify the protected status of the area.
In the monsoon season, Ngalung Kalla offers popular permaculture courses. This enables them to employ staff year-round and keep them trained – even in the low season. Guests can choose from Permaculture in Action, Natural Building, or Permaculture Design courses on the retreat grounds, hosted by their sister organization; Permaculture Sumba. “We practice biointensive, permanent no-till gardening in semi-permanent raised beds. We [also] raise animals and make composts with their manures to keep the nutrient levels in the soil topped up”. By their standards, each plant needs at least three uses. “Think food, green manure, beauty, flowers, and forage, for example”. Global experts are also regularly brought in to upkeep with current best practice techniques.
Sun, Surf, and Sumba Speed
Guests can indulge in a range of activities and wellness experiences during their stay, the most intrepid being to surf the world-renowned Sumba waves. A typical day could consist of an early morning private surfing lesson, followed by a yoga class, or a birdwatching nature hike in the retreat’s surroundings. Recharge with a full body massage, or take a tour around the permaculture gardens. Ngalung Kalla also offers paddleboarding, snorkeling, scuba diving, waterfall tours and mountain-biking. Those looking for untouched sandy beaches can take their speedboat for a picnic lunch on soft, remote sands. In the evening, guests can wind down with a romantic candle-lit or fireside dinner, while admiring velvety skies with dazzling constellations—particularly clear due to the low light pollution on the island.
On the rugged island of Sumba, Christian and his family have always prioritized eating as cleanly and nutritiously as they possibly can, and the local region is bountiful with fresh fish, endemic plants, and nourishing fruit and vegetables. Ngalung Kalla prides itself on its farm-to-fork gastronomy, with several meals on the menu that consist 100% of ingredients sourced from their own farm. Growing nutrient-dense, organic food from the farm fuels guests for as many activities as they can fit in, and fresh seafood caught by local fishermen is of the utmost quality.
Ngalung Kalla pioneers the slow living, adventurous, and sustainable lifestyle in Indonesia, offering family-run, authentic and regenerative experiences suited to every type of traveler. “We offer a great balance of stillness and quiet, time to reflect and of course lots of rejuvenative support as well as in daily yoga, meditation, breathwork, massages, and other spa offerings”, Christian says, in addition to their intrepid activities and surfing trips. This purposeful intention, paired with their systems-based approach to sustainability – minimizing waste, fossil fuel energy, and water use – make for a trailblazing oasis on one of Indonesia’s most charming and untouched islands. ‘Sumba Speed’ may take some acclimatizing to, but it is a lifestyle hard to leave behind.