Best of the Maldives: Eco-Friendly – Soneva Fushi

Soneva Fushi Infrastructure

As I talked about in my last post, the drive from carbon reduction is no where more intense than in the Maldives. One of the better pieces that I’ve read about the issue was the Sunday Times article ‘Trouble in Paradise’.

While Alila Villas Hadahaa has set the bar for the villas that make up the resort, carbon footprint obviously extends to the whole infrastructure. Right now, one of the leaders in driving reductions is Soneva Fushi which has set its plan to become the first ‘carbon free’ resort. The blog on ‘Maldive Resort Workers’ reports

“The resort is already bragging about the achievements so far and points out to the cooling system for their guest rooms which uses chilled sea water drawn out from deep sea below 300m. The deep water cooling system (a 1st in Maldives) is expected once finished to replace all electrical Air conditioning units and reduce 20% of the total power demand of the island. They also claim this type of air conditioning on the island alone would save $200,000 and stop a 700k tons of carbon emission.”

The Soneva Fushi website outlines their Social and Environmental approach and initiatives in full detail.

Best of the Maldives: Eco-friendly Villas – Alila Villas Hadahaa

alila villa hadahaa design

With the country of the Maldives pledged to become the first carbon neutral sovereign state in the world, all of the resorts are ramping up their green credentials. Mind you, being a collection of tiny, remote islands has always meant that the country has had to be pretty careful about managing its limited and expensive resources.

There are lots of ways to cut the resort carbon footprint across the infrastructure and operations, but one prominent ways is the villas themselves. One of the earliest and most advanced in this area is Alila Villas Hadahaa

“Alila Villas Hadahaa is the first property in the Maldives to achieve the prestigious Green Globe ‘Building, Planning and Design’ benchmark and was designed to best adapt to the tropical climate and natural environment of the island. This includes rainwater harvesting, waste treatment, high roofed areas and open ceilings. To confirm their local social responsibility, the resort has just launched a “Gift-to-Share” programme.”

The eco-friendliness extended to the spa villa as Alila Villas Hadahaa also was called out for the top Eco-Spa’ in the Maldives in the 2009 Asia Spa Awards.

Best of the Maldives: House Reef Drop Off – Filitheyo

Filitheyo House Reef
One of the absolute joys of the Maldives is the snorkelling. There is plenty of debate in the diving community about the top dive spots in the world. The Maldives always ranks up in the elite top with the likes of the Great Barrier Reef, Cayman Islands and the Red Sea. There don’t seem to be as many ‘top’ lists or guides for ‘snorkeling’, but it would be hard to see how the Maldives could be bested for its clarity of water, comfort of water temperature, diversity and quantity of fish, and a range of other variables.

For a snorkelling neophyte, there is a sort of progression of steps one should take to build up to the main event…

  1. Sandy lagoon – Start in the white bottomed, impossibly shallow sandy lagoon. Look at the little sand gobies, garden eels, silvery goat fish ambling by, mini humbug damsels darting in and out of tiny crevasses, trigger fish munching on strewn bits of small coral croppings.
  2. House Reef – Proceed to the area of the island where the coral aggregates into an underwater sculpture garden teaming with ever more colourful and diverse fish from the classic surgeon fish, colourful wrasses, angel fish and parrot fish, perhaps a turtle or small reef shark will make an appearance.
  3. House Reef Drop-Off – But the big event to any snorkelling is the ‘drop off’. Where the depth goes from a few meters to virtual oblivion. As you swim along the precipice, it is the closest feeling to flying without being in the air that one can have. Out in this open water, the island reef is a massive canvas of aquatic colour. The bigger space affords room for schools of jacks, oriental sweet-lips and the occasional larger visitor like a Napoleon fish or a ray.

Once you visit the ‘drop off’, the rest of the snorkelling will seem rather tame though it will always have its comforts and charms.

The resort with the deepest drop off, according to Emu72 on TripAdvisor appears to be Filitheyo, “Filitheyo has the deepest drop off in the Maldives at 90m on the NE corner, and the reef remains in fairly good shape.”

I can personally attest to how great the Filitheyo house reef is and its drop off from personal experience with me pictured above here diving into its depths.

Best of the Maldives: Employer – W Resort

W Resort

A common refrain in the chorus of praises sung about the Maldives spotlight the wonderful warm people that welcome them and make the stay delightful. A great resort is a one which nurtures this natural resource of human warmth and hospitality by treating its resort employees as respectfully as the guests would hope to be treated. The resort which stands out in this regard according to the Maldives jobs website Jobs Maldives is the W Resort

“’Talents’ are what the W Hotels call their employees. This not only encompasses the skill set needed to work at a luxury hotel, but it also speaks of the individual personalities that portray the “Warmth of Cool”…Though the island is small there are several opportunities provided for the talent: W Lifestyle and Language training, Talent-of-the-Month award ceremonies, Trips to Male, Cultural excursions, fishing trips, BBQs, sport competitions with other islands, monthly birthday parties and a newly finished sport court for soccer, basketball, badminton and volleyball. Says guest Gina Johnson from Dubai, ‘You can just tell how happy, genuine and informed the staff are. You see that they take a lot of pride in their work.’”

Best of the Maldives: Most Bars – Kuramathi

Kuramathi Map

Kuramathi island just this past month combined the three ‘resorts’ there – Blue Lagoon, Cottage Club and Village – into a single, consolidate resort. It always was a bit confusing having them sold as ‘separate resorts’ though all on the same island and sharing the same infrastructure.

The consolidation means it is one of the largest resorts with the most extensive facilities. Its 290 rooms is amongst the largest, it has 9 room types. But perhaps most prominent is the sheer number of its watering holes. 7 in total including a wine and cigar bar.

We visited several years ago and were pleasantly surprised by the resort. It had been somewhat affected by the tsunami which led to some renovations and the new work was a 5-star standard (eg. the new spa), not the 3-4 star quality that the resort had been known for. The new renovations accompanying the consolidation seem to have upgraded the island even further. Also, we were apprehensive about going to such a big island because we loved the distinctive diminutive quality of the Maldives, but we were struck by how little the size put us off. We couldn’t walk the circumference between drinks and dinner, but it still had a quaint, remote and intimate feel. The picture below is the family enjoying a game of Pirateer (our traditional Maldive board game) chillaxing at the ‘Pool Bar’.

Kuramathi Pool Bar

Best of the Maldives: Seating – Kandooma

Kandooma - chair

Speaking of cool seating, Kandooma recently completed a revamp of its resort and its web page so you can get an good sense of the impressive overhaul. The first item to strike me was its ‘funky’ beach chairs. Actually, when I was in Kurumba last month, I remember thinking to myself how all these fancy resorts have all this distinctive design and yet when you look at the beaches you see the same old white, plastic beach loungers one sees all over the planet. They just seemed a bit pedestrian relative to how remarkable the locale is. Kandooma seems to have decided to make their beach seating as eye catching as the beaches themselves.

I also love how they have created a special ‘in water’ seating area at their new pool (see below). You often find ‘bar stool’ seating in Maldives pools, but this is the first time I have seen lounge seating right in the pool. It is like having a stationary lilo complete with side table.

In fact, funky seating seems to be a real focus for the new design will all sorts of quirky chairs sprinkled across the resort. Examples include the Kids Club ‘swing seats’ and ‘Pineapple Chair’ lounger shown below and the gallery on their website has plenty more.

Kandooma - pool chair   Kandooma - kids chair   Kandooma - bench

Best of the Maldives: Pool Seating – Holiday Inn Male

Holiday Inn Male - Pool Seating

I don’t usually do two ‘Best Of’ awards for the same place back to back, but this one so naturally followed last week’s that it made sense to put them together. Most resorts have the classic white plastic lounge chairs. The good resort will throw in a cushion to make it more comfortable. But no seating compares with the luxurious, giant comfort settees offered by the Holiday Inn Male at its rooftop pool deck. These lounges are like pool king-size beds with luxurious mattresses and headboard cushions. Really more like ‘pool beds’. The pool itself is a delightful infinity pool with a lovely wall fountain at one end. Poolside indolent luxury.

Holiday Inn Male - Pool Seating 2

Best of the Maldives: 2010 Annular Eclipse – Huvafen Fushi

Google Map - Maldives eclipse

On 15 January 2010, an annular eclipse will be visible from a 300-km-wide track that traverses central Africa, the Indian Ocean and eastern Asia.  Several resorts will be in the shadows path (follow the handy Google map plotting the course above), but Huvafen Fushi is the one resort where the centre passes directly over the island.

An annular solar eclipse does complete cover the sun with the moon, but it takes place where the moon is too far from the Earth to completely cover the sun’s disk.  That leaves a blazing “ring of fire” shining around the moon as it passes in front of the sun from Earth’s perspective. It is not quite as dramatic as a ‘total eclipse’, but quite a dramatic celestial event nonetheless.  The GIF (click on graphic to see animated version) above shows last year’s annular eclipse in the Maldives that was 93% annularity. This year, the instant of greatest eclipse occurs at 07:06:33 UT when the eclipse magnitude will reach 0.9190. At this instant, the duration of annularity is 11 minutes 8 seconds, the path width is 333 kilometers and the Sun is 66° above the flat horizon formed by the open ocean. On dramatic point is that such a long annular duration will not be exceeded for over 1000 years (3043 Dec 23).  The timing in January is one of the driest periods of the year which helps to ensure an unobstructed view. Lots of people go to Maldives for the sun, and here is a chance to go for a ‘sun event’.

Annular Eclipse

Best of the Maldives: Choice – Kurumba

Kurumba snorkel

Given my experience and investigation into Maldives resorts, people often ask me ‘which one is my favourite?’ It is a bit like asking which of your children are your favourites. They are all great in their own distinct way. But it is their ‘own distinct ways’, many of which are highlighted by MaldiveComplete’s ‘Best Of’ posts, that either turn on or turn off people. Some people like a big island, other like small. Some like lots of activities, others like peaceful tranquillity. Some like family catering, others like to avoid children for the stay. That is why it is important to know what is important to you and then select for those key features. This is why two off the key features of MaldivesComplete is a (a) database filter/search facility (‘Resort Search’), and (b) this very own ‘Best Of’ highlights.

But sometimes decisions are a tough thing. Especially if you your preferences vary or if you are in a diverse group. In that case, what you might want it lots of choices. Kind of like an American cake mix aisle. After having stayed there last week and cross referenced a few data points, I am convinced that if ‘choice’ is what you want, then Kurumba offers the widest, deepest set of resort ‘choice’ in the Maldives.

Two upcoming ‘Best Of’ awards for Kurumba are ‘Most Room Types’ (7…and that’s without having any water bungalows), and ‘Most Dining Choices’ (10…seafood, Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Arab/Lebanese, Indian, buffet, coffee hours and two bars). And if 10 isn’t enough for you, then you have easy access to Male where a whole host of further offering await you (I especially recommend the Holiday Inn Male rooftop Azure restaurant, but there are a range of ethnic eateries as well as a range of very good Maldivian restaraunts featuring local fare). Kurumba also has 3 pools, 3 tennis courts, 2 gyms when most resorts will typically have one. Finally, the water sports centre features everything imaginable (including ‘pedal surf’ and soon a ‘sup’).

As I said in my ‘Kurumba Wrap Up’ post, I think groups (extended families, corporate team/groups) would work well at Kurumba because there is such a range of offerings and choices that there is something satisfying for everyone. Some of the more boutique resorts in the Maldives are amazing in certain special ways, but sometimes those ‘ways’ are not everyone’s cup of tea.

Best of the Maldives: Mantas – The Haven

Manta YouTube

Possibly one of the most placidly dramatic aquatic encounters in the Maldives is the graceful and commanding creature Manta Ray. Quite prevalent across most of the Maldives, we have seen them a number of times from shore. In fact, Conrad Hilton Rangali had a regular manta visitor who came every evening like clockwork to feed on the small sea life attracted by the lights of the dock. The resort guests would go down to watch the balletic display of this spaceship-like fish doing loop-the-loops underwater scooping up big mouthfuls (see picture below we snapped).

The YouTube clip above is from a National Geographic piece on Mantas in the Maldives which has great pictures and commentary. It provides good tips on ‘when’ to see Mantas (and other large pelagics like Whale Sharks). Unfortunately, the ‘best’ time for pelagics is the ‘worst’ time for weather, ie. the monsoon season. The seasonal rains spur the growth of the microscopic food on which these filter feeds feast.

The top spot for Mantas is the eponymous ‘Manta Point’ (see dive chart below) near The Haven resort. Tim Godfrey’sDive Maldives’ book describes,

“Manta Point has a world-wide reputation as being one of the most consistent sites for attracting large numbers of manta ray…In eight metres of water on the south east corner of Lanaknfinolhu reef are several large coral rocks which mark the point where mantas converge during the south-west monsoon season. Mantas have been photographed here as early as April and as late as December. These rocks are one giant cleaner station for the mantas. Blue-streak cleaner wrasse, Labroides dimidiatus, often working in pairs, can be observed swimming out to the hovering mantas to remove old skin and parasites. The mantas circle the rocks awaiting their turn to be cleaned and when finished they swim gracefully up and down the reef feeding on zooplankton in the shallow water.”

If you can’t make it to Manta Point, but still want to regale in a spectacular show of these majestic creatures in the Maldives, MaldivesComplete has the scoop that BBC2 will broadcast ‘Andrea: Queen of Mantas’ on Wednesday 11 November 8 pm (if you do not live in the UK, check out the BBC iPlayer website to see if and when the programme will be broadcast over the Internet which many of their shows are now).

“Andrea: Queen of the Mantas tracks student Andrea Marshall over the course of a year as she dives the Indian Ocean unlocking secrets about the manta ray – a balletic cousin to the shark, with ‘wings’ which can span 7 metres (20 ft) wide…[R]evelations in the film include…the first tv footage of around 150 mantas massing near the Maldives…[in conjunction with the show] an online campaign seeking better safeguards for sharks and mantas is being run by The Save Our Seas Foundation, a main sponsor of manta ray research in Mozambique and around the Maldives.”

Rangali Manta    The Haven Dive Chart