Best of the Maldives: Basketball – Hulhule

Hulhule Basketball

 

The ‘Ides of March’ marks the opening jump ball to ‘March Madness’ in the sport of basketball. The world’s biggest university sports tournament kicked off yesterday with game one of the NCAA Div I Basketball Championship Clemson vs. UAB.

If you want to celebrate the spirit of March Madness and keep your foul shooting up to scratch or maybe run a bit of one-on-one on holiday, then several resorts claim to have a hoop – Paradise Island, Sun, Holiday Island, Royal, and Diva. But only Hulhule has a confirmed, bona fide court. I checked it out during my last visit and the basket is regulation height, the backboard in fine shape and the court itself level and even. The hotel has basketballs on hand for guests to use. Swish!

Photo Paradise

Sunrise Hug

 

 

The upcoming ‘Times Travel Photo Competition’ and the incorporation of the some of my favourite pictures of the Maldives by Sakis evoke own favourite pictures. The photo above is not just one of the my favourite photos we have taken in the Maldives (taken by my wife Lori), but one of my favourite photos of all time. It captures the peace of experiencing the embrace of loved ones and the sanctuary of a cherished place and moment.

The picture was taken on the very last day of our very first trip to the Maldives. We visited Laguna Beach (now revamped and relaunched as Velassaru). My wife Lori was up early with anticipation and too soak up the last little bit of paradise. Sitting at shore’s edge at sunrise, she glanced up to see two manta rays gliding slowing by in the lagoon. She rushed into the villa and roused me and our son Chase from our slumber to come see this magnificent treat. We missed the mantas, but we nonetheless treated to an array of other marine life scurrying about their dawn activities. I held Chase in my arms and we soaked up the moment that lives with me forever.

The picture is also an illustration of advice for family snappers that we now give with authority to young families in our veteran positions of empty nesters. When the kids are gone, we have piles of pictures of all sorts of special occasions – birthdays, holidays, performances. But what my wife and I reminisce about most are the simple, mundane, every day memories. “Do you remember how Chase always used to do…?” So the photographic advice is to ‘capture the everyday’. And the corollary to that rule is ‘capture affection’. Much as the special occasions were important at the time, what we miss most, and hence what images we savour and like to recall most, are those weekend morning cuddles, those welcome-home-Daddy wild abandon hugs, and holding joy in your arms on a quiet morning.

I’ve now started a Flickr stream for my favourite Maldives pix and have uploaded a few to start. The other one (shown below) is of a Blue Surgeon fish school. I love the colours and patterns of the Maldives. The Blue Surgeon fish is for many the aquatic mascot of the Maldives. The variegated blues offset by the streak of sunshine yellow seems to capture the Maldivian landscape in their little marine bodies. In fact, the Bleu Surgeonfish is the inspiration for the colour scheme to Maldives Complete.

 

Blue Surgeon fish school

Best of the Maldives: Diving – Nika

Gangehi region Ari diving - small

Question asked on Quora last week ‘Where are the best scuba diving sites in the Maldives?’

I turned to my two trusty Maldives diving resources…

Godfrey uses a 4-star rating system where only 4 dive sites out of the nearly 300 he reviewed got the top mark…

Harwood and Bryning are more liberal with their 5-star rating giving 14 dive sites the full marks out of a similar number reviewed.

To no surprise, one can start by looking at the Ari atoll. Three of Godfrey’s four tops are there as are 4 for Harwood and Bryning. The other atoll mentioned by Godfrey is Male and Harwood and Bryning cite 6 in Male atoll (North and South). But I’m weighting Godfrey more because he is being more selective with his top gradings. Furthermore, the Ari atoll has a generally distinctive reputation as being the top atoll for diving in the Maldives. It is the most renowned area for whale sharks in the plankton bloom seasons. Finally, the Male spots are quite spread out, but the two North Ari sites are both very close to each other which secures it.

Godfrey describes Miyaruga, “The landscape is stunning and divers can easily circle the reef in one dive if the current permits…Much of the thila is undercut with caves and the surface is coated in soft coral and colourful sponges.”

Actually, three resorts – Gangehi, Nika and Velidhu – lie close to both these resorts, but mathematically, Nika is the absolutely closest.

Disclaimer – Obviously, ‘the best’ diving is subjective at best. Do many variations of taste and interpretation. Also conditions will vary considerably season to season as well as day to day. A normally mundane area could come alive during certain periods and conditions. Furthermore, the grading system of stars is crude at best. Finally, a number of atoll where there are fewer resorts are not covered at all in these books. This post simply tries to distil some of the basic research and assessment that has been done on the Maldives to date.

Best of the Maldives: Left-Hand Break Surfing – Adaaran Hudhuranfushi

Hudhuranfushi Left Hand Break Surfing

 

Once you get going on your surf board and can stay up longer and longer, when you want to go longer still, then you need to head over to Adaraan Hudhuranfushi. Their ‘Lohis’ search break is renowned not just in the Maldives, but the world over. It is the best ‘Left Hand Break’ in the Maldives and the 8th best spot in the world. Enthusiasts report that you can get a 14 second run which is a relative eternity. In fact, you might get coaching tips from the resort General Manager Asim Mohamed himself as he is a regular on the waves there. He has even included some great action shots on his Flickr site. And even if ‘falling off’ is more your forte, you can still enjoy the long runs from the superbly positioned beach bar (where my wife snapped the pic at top).

Hudhuranfushi Lohis surfing

 

Hudhuranfushi Lohis beach bar

Best of the Maldives: Surf School – Four Seasons Kuda Huraa

Four Seasons Kuda Huraa surf school

 

In light of the ASP World Tour which started this week with the Quicksilver Pro event, I thought I would do a few surf pieces. I’ve already covered the Maldives hosting this very same event in June 2009. But you don’t have to be a pro to enjoy surfing in the Maldives. In fact, it would be an ideal place to start. It doesn’t feature the giant rip-curl waves of Hawaii. Instead, the Maldives are famous for long runs of gentle rolls as more modest waves hit the long breakers of extended reefs. If you have never even surfed at all, then the place to go is Four Seasons Kuda Huraa and their Tropic Surf surfing school.

They offer special beginner course for 2 days called the ‘Dream Programme’ where you learn safety, paddling, standing-up and falling-off (I thought that I might be able to skip that last bit seeming well proficient in fall off many things, but the instructor informed me that there is a ‘proper’ way to fall off). They then take beginners to surfing spots that are ideal for novices for guided and supervised outing.

Tropic Surf has a “100% success rate getting people to stand up on the first lesson.” They feature ‘soft boards’ and an instructor is always in the water with the student. I met with the manager Chris Prewitt (see picture above) who described the programme as a “shortcut to success”

For the more ambitious, Kuda Huraa also offer a 4 night ‘Surf’s Up’ package as well as surf cruises on various boats (including the Four Seasons Explorer yacht) to different locales around the Maldives. The Male atoll itself has 8 surf breaks for all levels of skill such as ‘Sultans’, ‘Jails’, and ‘Honkys’. For more information on Maldives surfing check out the Surf in Maldives website or the Maldivian Surfing Association Facebook page

 

Tropic Surf

Best of the Maldives: Reality TV – Handhufushi

Survivor South Africa 4 Intro

 

Talk about not wanting to get voted off an island!

For the first time ever, the global hit TV show, ‘Survivor’, comes to the Maldives. The whole format is based on being stranded on a tropical island Robinson Crusoe style. The fun and games come from producer driven challenges which earn the reality stars opportunities for ‘immunity’, useful tools and treats.

The series based there is the ‘Survivor South Africa’ series and is set on the presently idle Handhufushi resort island. Aside from the unprecedentedly spectacular setting, the show introduces some other twists like ‘The Curse of the Black Cowrie’ (oooooh!). I wonder if it as bad as the ‘Curse of the Watered Down Pina Colada’ or the ‘Scourge of Not Being Able to Eat on the Beach’ (and other Maldivian nightmares).

Lots of clips, photos, footage and info are posted up on the DSTV website for you Maldives buffs not in South Africa.

The tribe has spoken!

 

Survivor South Africa Maldives

Best of Maldives Online–Trip Advisor Destination Expert Recommendation: Athuruga

 

Spammie in Athuruga

The Reviewer’s favourite might be Cocoa Island, and the Forum’s favourite might be Vilamendhoo, but what is the Experts’ favourite?

The other thing I noted in my survey (looking at the past 6 months of Trip Advisor Maldives Forum posts) was responses by the Destination Experts (DE’s) to the question ‘Which Resort?’ (which is most typically followed by the response, “What is your budget?”). 

First, I must say that I was impressed with the range and balance of their recommendations.  After having visited 19 myself, I’m not sure I would be so balanced in my recommendations (we all have our favourites).

Despite the impressive balance of recommendations, there was a clear favourite…Athuruga.  It was both the top 2 DE’s top recommendation as they suggested it 13 and 7 times respectively. Their next most recommended resorts were Maayafushi (11) and Mirihi (10) collectively. Curiously, most of the Maayafushi suggestions came in the first 3 months and the Athuruga one’s more recently (a shift of sentiment?).  In total, 32 different resorts were proposed by the DE’s. Other favoured resorts include Dhiggiri (8 mentions), Vilamendhoo (6), Bandos (5), Kuramathi (5). The top DE recommended a total 24 resorts on 81 occasions (again, this is just counting those instances where a poster asked a very open ended ‘which resort’ question).

Also, a hats off to all the DE’s on Trip Advisor who do a pretty heroic job of answering the most repetitive and obscure questions with speed, expertise and often a bit of light-hearted fun.

Best of Maldives – Swag: Huvafenfushi

Oscar - snorkeling

And the Oscar for the ‘Best Swag Gift…Ever’ goes to…Huvafenfushi.

Four-night stay at the Huvafen Fushi luxury resort in the Indian Ocean from Premier Tours, featuring an underwater spa in the Maldives (for those tough weeks when a terrestrial spa just won’t do).”

Estimated retail value: $16,000. PS. It’s not even the most expensive item in the bag!

It all sounds very extravagant, but actually the windfall is probably more in the hands of the giver than the getter. If you think ‘too good to be true’ promotions are just the domain of low end punters, think again. This stunt is actually a no-brainer for Huvafenfushi/Premier.

In all likelihood, if the nominee does decide to take advantage of their coupon, chances are that Premier Tours will get plenty of money out of them. If you are an award winning Hollywood actor, are you really going to go all the way to the Maldives for just 4 days (the number that has been given away). You are probably going to be one of those fortnight guests which means Premier sells 10 paid days. Sort of like those offers of ‘free one night stay (with purchase of three qualifying nights)’. And for Premier Tours, high-end celebrity clientele don’t grow on trees and probably don’t respond to fliers shoved through the letterbox. But coupons shoved in an Oscar goodie-bag is another matter. Winning a celebrity customer to your business is worth its weight in gold statues.

So Huvafen and Premier probably makes a good a tidy chunk of change from its Oscar ‘give away’. But that’s just the beginning. In the meantime, Huvafen and Premier are getting reams of free publicity. Valuable publicity. Not cheap little banners on a backwater web pages, but stories in premiere publications speaking of their product in exotic, aspirational, and exclusive tones. And little dinky pieces like this one here.

 

Oscar - Pool side

Best of Maldives Online – TA Resort Popularity: Vilamendhoo

Trip Advisor References - small chart

 

 

 

Having been an active TA Maldives Forum participant (“Maldives Complete”) for a while now, I’ve noticed that one does see the same sort of things come around as regularly as sting rays at feeding time.  Discussions mosquitos, weather, snorkelling, children, snorkelling children, whale sharks. Many of these have been helpfully turned into FAQs by the Destination Experts (DEs). Obviously, one that comes around very regularly (about one out of every ten posts I discovered) is the question “Which resort?”.  With over a hundred resorts to choose from and a few dozen more in the works, we can all appreciate the dilemma.

But for all of the extensive choice, I found it curious that some resorts seemed to dominate the Forum while other great ones were virtually non-existent.  I wondered whether it was just my perception so I did a little test.  I pulled the Maldives Forum posts for the past six months (August through January) and simply logged any resorts mentioned in the post title.  Not extremely scientific as an indicator, but easy, effective and objective. 

Vilamendhoo came out the most popular resort enquired about. But just only as they pipped Reethi Beach 49 mentions to 48 over the last 6 months. Rounding out the top 5 were Kuramathi (40 mentions), Lily Beach (38), and Biyadhoo (37). The lions share are shown above which you can click on to see in a clearer, larger version.

I was also intrigued by the quite prominent resorts that have never come up on the forum at least as an explicit post. Many were Italian oriented resorts more like to go to an Italian language site – Alimatha, Dhiggiri, Gangehi, Kihaadhuffaru, Madoogali.  Other were pretty exclusive so that the butlers probably book the travel – Banyan Tree Madivaru, Dhoni Island, Nika, The Rania Experience. There was clearly an bias towards the lower priced resorts in terms of mentions.  Admittedly, while there are typically fewer rooms/guest on the more expensive/exclusive islands, the modest difference in bed number was not enough to explain the quite extreme difference in post numbers. 

 

Trip Advisor Maldives Forum

Best of the Maldives: Luxury (2011) – Cocoa Island

Trip Advisor Readers Choice Awards 2011

The Trip Advisor Traveller’s Choice Awards have been announced and the top Maldives resort was Cocoa Island, the only one featured in their 10 lists. It came in #5 in the ‘Top Luxury’ resorts worldwide (wresting the title from last year’s honoree Angasana).  A well deserved honour, it would seem, given the very recent report by Francis where he described it as bringing him to tears. Just to top it all off, Cocoa Island also tops Trip Advisor with the highest review ratings of any Maldives resort.