A spa session usually starts with you slipping your shoes off. Instead, as I get ready for Nihi's Spa Safari, I'm lacing up my walking shoes. That's because this particular spa experience starts with a 90-minute hike.
In most resorts, the spa is only a short walk away from the rooms. Not at Nihi. This isolated resort – the only luxury resort on the island of Sumba, an hour's flight from Bali – is known for doing things differently, and has a swag of awards to prove it.
Among its left-field choices is the decision to locate its NihiOka spa on the coast, on the far side of the island. While guests can arrange a car transfer to the spa, the recommended option is to rise shortly after dawn and start with the cross-country hike.
I pack a small backpack with a few essentials to take with me but our guide frowns when he sees it. He suggests I keep my phone with me to take photographs. Everything else, he assures me, will be sent ahead and will be waiting when we arrive at the spa. He carries the drinking water; our job is just to walk.
The hike is easygoing. We stride over gentle rises, skirting rice fields and villages. Usually we would stop at one of the villages to meet locals. As we're in the middle of a holy period, however, the villagers aren't welcoming visitors. Instead, our guides entertain us with insights into the local culture and the area's plants and wildlife. By the time we reach the far side of the island and head down the slope to the clifftop spa, the tropical heat is making itself felt.
It is therefore a delight to be greeted with a cold towel, a coconut and the choice between a shower and a dip in the swimming pool. Our backpacks, as promised, are already here, so I slip into my swimsuit and head straight for the pool, which overlooks a deserted beach. Plunging into the cool water is an instant pick-me-up.
Next up is breakfast served in a pavilion cantilevered into the cliff. After tucking into fresh fruits, eggs and bacon, we take a short stroll along the beach and only after that do we start our treatments.
The Spa Safari includes three treatments of your choice. I opt for a massage, a facial and a reflexology treatment, and follow my therapist to a treatment pavilion.
Clifftop spa pavilions are nothing new, but these are the most spectacular that I have ever encountered. The sprawling al fresco pavilions include not just two massage tables and an open-air bathroom but also an expansive relaxation area complete with oversized daybeds. The gentle wash of the waves on the beach below and the gentle breeze playing over my body complete the scene.
As I lie face down on my massage table, I expect to see the customary flower-filled bowl beneath me. Instead, a mirror has been carefully placed to reflect the view out over the coastline. Whenever my eyes drift open, I'm treated to the mesmerising sight of the waves' ebb and flow.
The treatments are simply stellar and several hours later I float back down to the reception area, muscles kneaded and skin rejuvenated. And the best news of all is that a car is waiting to whisk us back to the resort. It's the perfect end to a one-of-a-kind session.
Ute Junker was a guest of Nihi.
Nam Air operates daily one-hour flights from Bali to Sumba. The resort can book these for you as well as organising transfers to the resort. See flynamair.com/
Rates from $US1200 a person a night twin share, including all meals and non-alcoholic drinks, Wi-Fi, laundry and activities including yoga, meditation and snorkelling. See nihi.com
The half-day Spa Safari costs $US595 a person.