What It’s Like to Go on a Spa Safari

At Nihiwatu, a little work to get to the spa is worth the huge payoff.

What It’s Like to Go on a Spa Safari

An aerial view of Nihiwatu resort

Photos courtesy Nihiwatu

A typical spa day doesn’t usually start at the break of dawn—7:30 a.m., to be exact. But then again, there is nothing average about the Spa Safari at Indonesia’s chic-yet-rustic, luxuriously laid-back Nihiwatu resort (known for its private access to an exquisite left-handed surf wave, Occy’s, out front). The enticing, one-of-a-kind excursion takes guests on the island through jungles and grassy fields to its open-air spa, Nihi Oka, for a full day of pampering interspersed with ocean dips and fresh, flavorful fare. The description was so alluring I daydreamed for months leading up to the trip. Spoiler alert: I wasn’t disappointed.

When the day finally came, I rose with the pink sun and gobbled up a juicy plate of tropical fruit, delivered by my butler Asna to my private deck overlooking the silvery sea. After, she walked my friend and me to meet our Sumbanese guide, Tiger. A spritz of mosquito spray and we set off at a quick pace: We would be hiking over three miles to Nihi Oka without much shade. The light was dreamy, misty with humidity.

At first, we trekked uphill. I felt sweat beading immediately, then freely flowing down my face. It seemed the hike was in lieu of a stint in a sauna—an effort to open the pores. At our backs, the coastline was framed in fuchsia bougainvillea and leafy trees. Along the way, Tiger asked, “Ibu, you like sunblock?” (Ibu means Miss in Indonesian.) I extended my hand for the SPF, but he slathered it directly onto my skin, unfazed by the slippery mess that ensued when the cream touched my sweaty arms.

We walked in open fields past farmers, fuzzy foals, and a parade of big-horned water buffalo that seemed particularly unhappy to see us strolling across their domain before entering the jungle. We hiked past barking dogs protecting local women bathing in a sparkling swimming hole. When the grove parted, signaling our arrival, Tiger asked, “Ibu, you like coconut?” At that moment, dripping like I’d stepped out of a bath, I could think of nothing sweeter.

Before I finished saying yes, Tiger began climbing a palm tree—easily, like he was on a ladder—that shot up some 50 feet. In 30 seconds he was at the top, using the parang at his waist to fell hefty green coconuts that tumbled with loud thumps into the bush. Just as quickly he’d descended and then opened them and produced straws made of hollow papaya stems. Nothing has ever been so thirst quenching.

Nihi Oka's pool area

Nihi Oka’s pool area

Simply being at Nihi Oka, breathing in my paradisiacal surroundings, was enough: the lush banana leaves, palm trees, and ocean proved to be a sensory overload. But I was instructed to read the list of treatments and choose as many as I wanted. (The all-inclusive, all-day Spa Safari adventure costs $595 for two—a deal considering a single 60-minute massage for one at a five-star American hotel can run $220.) Ultimately, I chose almost everything. When faced with unlimited spa therapies, why stop at a facial and massage?

I cooled off in the infinity pool, coconut in hand, and admired the giant, perfect wave curling and crashing on the beach beneath. This is the definition of bliss, I thought: zero Wi-Fi and the kind of pure natural beauty that makes you want to run through soft sand into the surf. Which, of course, is exactly what I did before retiring to the treetop platform for fire-toasted bread with homemade apricot-cinnamon preserves, eggs, bacon, and three types of juice, including the must-try turmeric-based jamu.

Hunger sated, we climbed high above the perfect beach and its ethereal aquamarine waves to a peaceful villa that would be our home base for the next six hours. Our therapists, Herlina and Youstin, taught us new Bahasa Indonesian phrases as they bathed our feet in hammered copper bowls with coconut water. With each treatment, tension oozed out of my body and I melted into a state of perfect peace.

There was a deeply soothing massage that eradicated my knots with long, therapeutic strokes and local coconut oil infused with lavender essential oil (relaxing, yes, but also an insect deterrent!) and sandalwood, used in Sumbanese ceremonies. My Mimpi Indah Facial featured indigenous ingredients, including seaweed, chilled mint, and green tea toner; an exfoliating scrub of rosella tea and red rice; and a softening, hydrating mask of mineral-rich dark gray clay collected on the property. I tried the Balinese Lulur ritual, an ancient rice farmer remedy in which a mixture of green tea, chamomile, and rice flour is rubbed into the body for ultimate detoxification and muscle relief. As I enjoyed the cooling cocoon of an aloe vera and chamomile body mask (also designed to extend the life of my tan), foot reflexology released any residual tension.

In between treatments, I splashed in seawater and swam in a second infinity pool with panoramic views, relaxed on a daybed suspended over the lush hillside, and savored a feast of banana leaf–wrapped fish with quinoa salad, rice noodles, and tomato gazpacho. I moved slowly, breathed the clean air deeply, and warmed my skin in the sun. When we climbed into the open-sided safari all-terrain vehicle, I still had in my hair a “smoothie” of rosemary, avocado, coconut, and cocoa butter, applied along with a glorious head and neck massage and topped with a white flower. I washed it out before the sky turned shades of dusky coral and lavender, but the euphoria from my incomparable day lingered.

>>Next: This Family Took the Coolest Road Trip

Kathryn Romeyn is a Bali-based journalist and devoted explorer of culture, nature and design, especially throughout Asia and Africa—always with her toddler in tow.
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