Billionaire's Getaway
    Category: Forbes Life By : Laurie Werner and Yessar Rosendar Read : 1410 Date : Wednesday, December 03, 2014 - 23:04:05

    Courtesy of Nihiwatu

    “It’s like Bali 30 years ago, maybe 100,” said my seatmate on the Garuda ATR as we circled Sumba, a green, hilly island twice the size and 250 miles southeast of its more famous neighbor. For years surfers were the only ones journeying here to test themselves on its famous left-breaking, 20-foot waves at the island’s one resort, Nihiwatu, on the southwest coast. But ever since fashion billionaire Chris Burch bought the property in 2012 and began a major upgrade—a $30 million investment whose first results were unveiled this spring—it’s been attracting upscale travelers from all over the world, even those with no dreams of becoming a big kahuna.

    Burch, 61, that according to Forbes currently has a net worth of $1.2 billion, explains that he had heard about the island during his frequent visits to Bali over the years but was drawn in three years ago when he learned that Claude and Petra Graves, the surfers who founded the resort in the 1980s, were looking for outside investors. He sent a friend, hotelier James McBride, to take a look—the report that came back from the South African-born McBride was positive but perplexed. “I felt an immediate affinity with it,” he says. “It felt like Africa”—no doubt from the tribal cultures and simple villages that exist as they have for centuries. (Thankfully, headhunting did stop about 50 years ago.) The main mile-and-a-half-long, pristine beach, the lush vegetation and the privacy all impressed McBride. “But I didn’t know what you would do with it,” he says. “It’s in the middle of nowhere, 28 hours from New York.” A few weeks later he returned with Burch. This time it was Burch who was similarly impressed but confused. “I really didn’t get it at first,” he says. “The island is one of the most backward places in the world. But it is just so beautiful.” After going a second time and taking his three sons, all surfers, he decided to buy the resort.

    To bring it up to an elite level, Burch brought in McBride as a partner; the two met when McBride was general manager of New York’s Carlyle hotel, Burch’s residence during his divorce from designer Tory Burch. They aim to move the resort away from its surf-centrism (they still limit to ten surfers per day) and make it a more all-around resort. They started buying land—holdings now total 700 acres, with more acquisitions occurring every month. And they began building: 21 spacious villas (starting at $900 per night, all inclusive, early next year) with 12 more to come, including Burch’s five bedroom house, to be completed in spring and available to rent when he isn’t there.

    The minimum stay is three nights, except in high demand periods where a week of minimum stay is required. While for the most exclusive unit, the Nihiwatu Estate, a one week of minimum stay is required, regardless of the season. There will also be duplex tree houses, all composed of Sumbanese teak and Javanese black volcanic rock with private pools and terraces overlooking the ocean. A new restaurant and boathouse were built, and a hilltop yoga pavilion, and other buildings soon followed. “Every time he comes here, Chris wants to build something else,” says McBride.