Best of the Maldives: Fish Frenzy – Velassaru

Velassaru fish in lagoon

A perfectly tranquil lake-like ocean with shimmering shades of mottled blue…then suddenly it erupts with a hundred tiny splashes. What the…?

This is fish hunting. Big fish going after little fish. The little fish congregate in big schools for some sort of anonymity in numbers, but it only seems to concentrate the opportunity for the big fish like trevallys and jacks. These predators also work in teams casually circling, or should I say ‘encircling,’ their targets until…Wham…they dart through the schools trying to snap at any unfortunately glassfish or blenny they can get their teeth into. The prey shift gears from their near suspended animation to an immediate emergency retreat to any exit they can find including right out of the water into the sky if that means safety.

It is a delightful ‘Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom’ spectacle that you see across the Maldives. But, we were especially captivated by it during our very first trip to the Maldives visiting ‘Laguna Beach’, now redeveloped and renamed to Velassaru. My favourite picture ever taken in the Maldives came about because we were woken from our sleep all the way over in our bungalow early in the morning from the racket of one of these ‘feeding frenzies’. While we have seen many similar sights, we always felt that they were never quite as stunning as what we witnessed with predictable regularity and consistently large scale as what we saw at Velassaru.

We always chalked up the difference to ‘first-timer nostalgia’. But then we had the chance to re-visit the island on our last trip in July and what did we see the very minute we stepped off the boat…cinematic feeding frenzy. In the picture above, you can see the vast shoals of tiny, silvery fish in the lagoon. The light-shaded shapes in the midst of them are the wake of reef sharks who have joined the trevallys in their stalking. The fish wisely clear a path as the juvenile sharks wiggle through their masses. The picture below shows the dynamic more clearly and you can click on it to see even more close up.

I’m suspecting that the intensity of the feeding frenzy action at Velassaru has something to do with its massive shallow lagoon. In the direction of the water villas, the lagoon extends for 2 kilometres. While the long, sandy table means no house reef, I think it does attract more schools like this looking for the protection of the shallows.

Velassaru shark hunting

Maldives Tour 2011 – Day 11: Velassaru

Velassaru flowers

You never forget your first time.

Lori and I returned to the first ever island that we visited in the Maldives back in 1996. Back then it was the 3 and half star ‘Laguna Beach.’ Simple, but enchanting for us first-timers. It wasn’t the perfect resort, but it seemed perfect to us. One of our recommendations is to go to the most basic resort you think that you can tolerate on your first visit to the Maldives. The Maldives have so much beauty and delight to take in, if the resort piles even more on top, it is almost too much to take in at once.

On our transport over there, we felt like we were going home, but you know the adage, ‘you can’t go home again.’ Certainly not to Laguna Beach. Universal Resorts has since completely overhauled it into a dazzling 5-star gem renamed ‘Velassaru’.

If the W is over-engineered, over-priced or just OTT for you, the Velassaru offers a cut-rate version of a glossy, stylish, modern 5-star. Velassaru is less than half the price of the W Retreat. Kind of ‘V’ as half a ‘W’. The one area where Velassaru does best the W is with the glass floor in its top room. Velassaru’s Water Villa Suite boasts a 138 square foot glass floor beating the W’s top floor of 100 square feet (it also boasts one of the longest private water villa pools at 100 feet).

Another thing that Velassaru did better than the W was its desk location. Like Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru, they have placed the desk behind the bed, facing outside. I have only seen it in a few resorts, but thoroughly applaud it as someone who regularly has to be on the computer and do work during my stays. It’s bad enough if you have to be on the computer or even work in paradise, but most of the resorts add insult to injury by placing the desks in some back area facing a blank wall, making you feel even more like someone being punished.

One thing we remembered so fondly about ‘Laguna’ was its colourful landscape. We have not yet come across an island with such dense flowers as we remember from Laguna (Vadoo is close with its two gardens taking up the better part of the island). While not quite as concentrated, there are still lots of flowers lining the paths, especially a hyper-abundance of multi-coloured bougainvillea.

The colours don’t end with the greenery. Velassaru could make a case for a ‘Best for Turquoise’ award. It is surrounded by an extended, shallow, sandy lagoon which produces a dazzling azure blue everywhere you look. On the water villa side, the lagoon extends over a mile. We still remember snorkelling that part of the island with our small children. Even though the water was only waist deep, we were well over a half mile from shore and felt, ‘Hmmm…maybe it’s time to head back.’

While completely transformed, it was certainly a treat to head back to Laguna in its new guise as Velassaru.

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