Sumba is an island easily accessed from Bali via daily flights, meaning it’s only an hour away. However, it’s still relatively quiet in terms of tourism due to the low number of places to stay and the relative lack of roads.
Having said that, the central roads from two main towns of Tambaloka and Waingapu through the central area to the southern coast are new and very good.
But for more of Sumba’s beautiful scenery and deserted beaches, make sure you embark on several off road adventures.
A journey from the south west coast to the south east coast of the island is a worthwhile experience to take in the vast vistas, endless coastlines and friendly small villages that are dotted throughout the interior.
After leaving the area around Tambling where the famous spearing battle Pasola is held, you can take the interior road to the other side of the coast.
There is no coast road running along the southern part of the island, so to really see Sumba it involves a lot of diversions down small roads, tracks and non existent pathways leading to much less touristy areas.
It is hard going at times but well worth it. Just make sure you have a good car and a really good driver.
Sumba is a dry island with a more savanna type landscape that is reminiscent of parts of southern and eastern Africa.
However, when you dip into the valleys and pass over them you can see that rice paddies are prevalent and the areas around the rivers and sources of water are definitely greener and more in keeping with tropical forest ecology.
Sumba also lies east of the Wallacea Line, meaning its biodiversity has more in common with that of Australasia. Islands such as Java have more of a tropical environment in keeping with the rest of Southeast Asia.
Sir Alfred Russell Wallace related this to evolution and penned his evolutionist theories before his more famous contemporary, Darwin, discovered this phenomenon.
Sumba is a mix of tropical landscapes and dryer vistas. It’s easy to pass from a lush looking tropical area to a very arid area in a short space of time.
Tropical monkeys mix with cockatoos in the trees with appearances usually associated with Australia.
Mangrove forests cover much of the central and southeastern coastline but are not evident in the west.
All the beaches encountered were pristine and exquisitely beautiful with sand and hues of aquamarine water that you only think exists in brochures.
It is the fact that this island is still relatively untouched by tourism that makes it such a joy to explore.
Driving through areas off the beaten track you will not see any other tourists for days.
Villages are dotted throughout the landscape, and despite the rather fearsome reputation of the tribes of the west, they are friendly and hospitable.
Most villages still live a subsistence life, in relative poverty, and rely on agriculture or fishing to eke out an existence. It is common to see a family living with their livestock and market garden on a small plot.
Various initiatives by charities and the governor have tried to help with photovoltaic tiles for electricity.
Apart from the relatively large town of Sumba Barat in the south, you can drive for miles without seeing any shops, petrol stations or anything else you may need, so be aware of when you need to stock up.
The distances may not seem so far on a map but the lack of paved or large roads mean that a lot of rough terrain must be covered before seeing some of the more remote inland and coastal areas.
A cushion may also be advisable.
Leaving the Lamboya area, you have to head inland to the main road to Waginapu. Here the dramatic coastline of cliffs gives way to rice subak and flat plains winding through dense forests.
As you head further east you will notice it starts to get drier, with the hills now rolling instead of being steep.
A turn off for an hour and a half brings you through traditional subsistence villages, with local residents going about their daily lives.
The majority of Sumbanese are Christian and you will notice that the largest and often only concrete structure in many villages is the church.
The villages give way to mangroves and suddenly you emerge on a vast beach where a turquoise river snakes into the indigo sea.
Another road through some smaller villages further towards the east quickly gives way to a track and no discernable road to speak of.
The going is vertical at times and with steep drops either side you know one false move could mean you are over the edge, never to be heard of again.
Finding a crest of yet another hill, you wonder if this dirt path is going anywhere and then suddenly over the rolling hills you catch a glimpse of glittering blue.
Reaching the peak, you are presented with some of the most magnificent coastline you will ever see.
Below is a beach that is rumored to be where the oldest turtle on the island was found, at around 800-years-old.
Whether this is a bit of Sumba folklore we are not sure, but what we are sure of is that this is one of most beautiful pristine beaches, with not a soul in sight.
Every year it also hosts one of the biggest turtle hatching occurrences in Indonesia.
Going one way up these tracks also means you have to go back again, so the days start early, leaving plenty of time to explore as it also takes a long time to reach each place to rest.
Although it takes more effort than other islands in Indonesia, a safari through Sumba is a great way to see the island and really feel the heart of this intriguing place.
When you see another stunning Sumba sunset, eat fresh fish and see the stars, it makes the hours away from conventional tours totally worth it.