Best of the Maldives: Dive Yoga – Constance Halaveli

Halaveli - dive yoga

Yoga enhances the whole person – mind and spirit. But some poses can be particularly effective at helping certain parts of the body. Each week, our yoga teacher asks us what is hurting and what we want to focus on. Sometimes a tender back will call for a few extra twists and Child Poses. She worked on our hips and arms to get us ready for the golf course in the spring.

One of the most apropos yoga specialisations have been offered by Constance Halaveli – dive yoga. Diving is about body control. Slow and deliberate movements are the focus for both yoga and diving.

But perhaps most of all is the breathing. Yoga turns this autonomic routine in a mindful practice. A scuba diving is all about the breathing. Breath control not only regulates how long you get to stay under water (making your oxygen last longer), but it actually controls your movement in the water. Take a deep breath filling your lungs with air and your increasingly buoyant body will slowly rise. Exhale, and your body will sink again.

The resort describes the programme…

“TGI Diving , DBI, Constance Halaveli Resort and Spa & Katy Appleton team up to offer you an unique adventure to the magical Maldives. Many people would say that the Maldives offers the best diving on the planet, so we are taking apple yoga to the North Ari Atoll for a remarkable combination of underwater discovery and yoga designed especially for diving. We have designed packages to suit all levels of ability and experience – for both diving and yoga. You will be able to join us for just one session or the entire week, it’s up to you! You will experience all that the Constance Halaveli Island has to offer while enjoying daily yoga practices and sublime diving in this piece of paradise.”

For a slightly less aesthetic portrayal of what the dive+yoga combo might be like and a bit of cheeky chakra, Dive Plus on Maafushi posted this pic of their own offering…

Maafushi - dive yoga

Best of the Maldives Online: Interactive Dive Map – Dive Board

Dive Board

Another site making use of Google’s array of online mapping tools is the Dive Board website. It calls itself the “the largest online logbook” providing a database of dive sites around the world. Users can register and log their own dives on the website. Each dive site has a short profile including such information as Dives logged, Longitude and Latitude, and pictures.

But the real power of the site is how is has integrated with Google Maps complete with drill down functionality. At a “high” level, you can scan an entire atoll and it will show you some markers for individual dive sites. But in areas with lots of diving, it will have a coloured circle and a number both indicated the number of dive sites in that sub-area. If you then zoom in, the map will display further discrete dive sites, or even more circles indicating where you need to drill down further in order to distinguish the sites’ specific location. I love the elegance of this solution. You get high level scan-ability as well as drill-down detail. This capability was one of the great benefits of the Microsoft Deep Zoom technology that I exploited for the British Admiralty Maps (unfortunately, the Deep Zoom control only works in Internet Explorer now that Chrome has dropped support for Silverlight technology).

I appreciate the importance of drilling down in making the Maldives Complete Dive Site database. That part of Maldives Complete also works with a basic amount of drill down. There is a top level overview of all the Maldives allowing a user to choose their atoll (most people stay within a certain atoll when visiting a diving. The Atoll view which shows all of the sites in an atoll. You can squeeze them into a PC screen-sized map half the time, but the other half, denser sections of the atoll require a sub-area drill-down map.

Okay emoji

1000+ Dive Sites

Dive site snap

This week I crossed the 1000 dive site mark – 1077 to be precise. Thanks so much to the many dive centres and marine biologists who have helpful shared their knowledge and material with over the past weeks me to allow me to consolidate it into the interactive platform.

I’ve not just added material, but I’ve also enhanced a number of aspects of the interface as well.  Especially if you are going to be packed with comprehensive information, you need to make it easy to navigate and access.

For example, the most common layout for dive site maps on the Internet is to number the dive sites, and then place the numbers on the map and then have a key off to the side saying which dive site is which number. If that wasn’t challenging enough to have to look up everything, the numbers aren’t laid out in any semblance of an order so you are having to hunt and peck to find the location of a specific dive site “Where’s Wally” style. The Maldives Complete maps have interactive labels, so a browser search will take you right to the dive site you are seeking amidst the constellation of choices in front of you on the atoll map.

Some of the V2 enhancements include…

  • Marine Protected Areas – I’ve added all the Protected Marine Areas highlighting both their areas and dive site labels/links found in the MPAs.
  • Profile Link – Version Link from Resort Profiles to Dive Site and to Dive Maps
  • Drill Downs – I’ve added a number of more drill down sections in atolls where concentration of dive sites in certain areas make it too hard to distinguish them at the default zoom. In particular, there are “region” maps for…

A few more fun stats about the dive site population. First of all, here are the most common dive site “types”…

  • Thila – 232
  • Faru – 104
  • Kandu – 92
  • Giri – 67
  • Reef 63
  • Corner – 56
  • Point – 32
  • Channel – 17
  • Rock – 17
  • Garden – 13
  • Wreck – 10
  • Wall – 5

And just as there are more than one “High Street” in England, there are more than one “Kuda Giris” in the Maldives ocean. Sometimes a popular site name is found in multiple atolls, but sometimes a single atoll will have the exact same dive site name in two places (eg. “Kuda Thila” in the North Male atoll). So make sure you know which one you are going to!). The top favourite dive sites names are…

  • Coral Garden – 9
  • Kuda Giri – 8
  • Kuda Thila – 7
  • Bodu Thila – 6
  • Shark Point – 5
  • Aquarium – 5
  • Bodu Giri – 5

My 6th Tour of the Maldives is coming up next week (stay tuned for details) and this trip should help me gather up even more material on dive sites across the Maldives, but especially in the two remote atolls I am visiting.

Best of the Maldives: Mobula – Robinson Club

Alexander von Mende Mobula

(picture courtesy of Alexander von Mende)

Maldives diving expert Alexander von Mende not only helped with the Huvadhoo dive sites, but he also offered some very insightful tips for my Best of the Maldives research. He ventured that the dive site Dheeva Giri is the best in the Maldives for Mobulas. Well, I certainly hadn’t encountered these creatures in my 20 years of visits and research.

In fact, I didn’t even know what they were. So I turned to Alexander’s book which also includes an extensive marine life guide. It turns out that Mobulas as sort of mini-Mantas, also referred to colloquially as “Pygmy Devil Rays” (great name).

Alexander says that the only place he has seen them has been at Dheeva Giri and Nilamdhoo Kandu which is near Robinson Club. He commented…

We had a place which was regularly frequented by them in larger numbers: Dhevva Giri’s southern sand flats – quite a sight these small Manta relatives

Best of the Maldives: Resort Dive Site – Werner Lau (Bathala, Filitheyo, Medhufushi, Kuda-Funafaru)

Werner Lau dive sites

When describing my motivations for adding a Dive Site database to Maldives Complete, I noted the lack of interactive guides. Most diving information is traditional hard-copy book form or magazine websites that provide articles and overviews, but not a structured, interactive resource.

The exception to this standard approach is the Werner Lau dive centre website. They have cleverly integrated a mapping of the dive sites near their centres with Google Maps to provide an interactive layout of all of the dives sites local to their 4 Maldives dive centres. You can scan the area for websites who have ToolTip annotations and then simply click on their names to take you to a full profile of the dive site complete with dive chart.

Best of the Maldives: Atoll Dive Book – “Huvadhoo”, Alexander von Mende

Hudavhoo dive book Alexander von Mende

 

 

Most dive books (Godfrey, Harwood & Bryning, Lonely Planet) try to cover a range of atolls. While this breadth approach is useful when trying to plan your next resort destination, it’s less useful when you’ve actually decided on your base where you are likely to stay mostly within your atoll. And increasingly, if you are a keen diver, that atoll is likely to be “Huvadhoo (Gaafu Alifu and Gaafu Dhallu).

Alexander von Mende’s book, “Diving in the Maldives – Huvadhoo, the forgotten atoll” is the ideal one for diver planning a trip to this unsung gem. He takes a different tack by focusing entirely on this one location in depth.

Huvadhoo is one of the furtherst atolls from the Male hub which may have served as a deterrent. But that unspoiled nature is now becoming one of its top allures. Von Mende also claims that it is one of the best locations for spotting large marine life like Silver Tip and Grey Reef Sharks, Dolphins, but especially Whale Sharks. South Ari has long been renowned as the pre-eminent diving atoll especially with its quite prominent whale shark marine protected area. But the more visitors get to know Huvadhoo, it could rival South Ari for that crown.

I know that when we dove and snorkelled Huvadhoo, it was some of the most impressive we had done in our years of Maldive visits. An open-water close encounter with a juvenile dolphin was one of the lifetime high points of diving for us. And we spotted dolphins every single time we got into a boat at Huvadhoo even for a simple, short transfer.

Von Mende’s book is also sort of an all purpose diving (and even snorkelling) book for anyone visiting the Huvadhoo atoll. It features in depth description 34 dive sites with dive chart illustrations for half. It also has 136 pages of “Identification Guide” provide pictures and other information on the fish, coral and other marine life found in that area.

Dive Sites Complete

Dive Sites Complete

Announcing the Dive Sites database and *Complete* interactive guide.

When I first started Maldives Complete, it seemed like the only information available on the Maldives was for divers and honeymooners. As a result, I veered away from those topics and focused on less catered for subjects like families as well as unusual activities and offerings. I am obsessed with snorkelling and this has brought be closer to the diving domain. Increasingly, however, I am receiving more and more diving enquiries and am finding it hard and harder to find comprehensive diving information in structured, interactive resources.

The primary source for dive site information has been the hard-copy books which are extremely well done. But they add a fair bit of weight to the baggage and aren’t the easiest to navigate. As with the proliferating resorts, one of the biggest problems is being spoiled for choice. There are 100+ active resorts, but there are 10 times that number of dive sites (at least).

The main sources of research have been the following in particular (and the featured dive charts are kindly used with permission and the source is linked to in the profiles)…

And after several months of research and coding (with big help from my ace assistants Emma Barnes and Grace Bolton), I have now scratched surface with a credible v.1 database with over 500 dive sites. Specifically, the new section includes…

  • Number of Atolls covered – 18
  • Number of Dive Sites – 552
  • Number of Dive Charts – 243

Here is the number of dive sites included by Atoll…

  • Baa 31
  • Dhaalu 5
  • Faafu 53
  • Gaafu Alifu – Dhaalu 34
  • Haa Alifu 33
  • Laamu 14
  • Lhaviyani 22
  • Meemu 54
  • Noonu 31
  • North Ari 55
  • North Male 89
  • Raa 3
  • Seenu 16
  • South Ari 44
  • South Male 45
  • Thaa 1
  • Vaavu 22

The exercise has also surfaced some other interested statistical tidbits about the Maldives dive sites (at least the sample set I have at hand)…

  • Resort with Most Dive Sites Nearest: Filitheyo – 53. This stat is primarily down to the (a) great information from Werner Lau who operates out of Filitheyo, and (b) the fact that Filitheyo is the only resort in the entire Faafu atoll so it pretty much has the atoll to itself.
  • Most Common Dive Site Name : “Kuda Giri” – 6. You will see that sometimes I parenthetically appended the atoll name to the dive site name. This was done to make the site name unique since multiple dive sites used the same name.
  • Most Common First name: “Bodu” – 13.
  • Common Type (eg. “Thila”, “Kandu”, “Corner”): “Thila” – 112.
  • Longest Name: “Kanandhou Kaleyge Galha” – 23 letters.

Right now the profiles are quite basic. They include…

  • Dive chart (where available)
  • Atoll
  • Nearest resort
  • Alternative name(s)
  • Features (eg. cave, wreck, creatures)

All of the material is far from perfect.

  • Polish – Not all of the graphics are perfectly aligned/sized/etc. Some people look down their noses at Maldives Complete’s rough hewn design. It stands in stark contrast to the slick (and all too often useless) websites of many resorts. I’ve resisted exhortations to “polish” the site with a glossy look and feel. I have neither the money nor the graphics ability to do so really. Furthermore, I have bit of aesthetic preference for the simpler layout and style. I prefer to think of it as “artisinal”. J
  • Precision – I toiled for a long time at the outset about the degree of granularity to have in the interactive map. Zoom in and you can’t get a sense of everything at an easy glance. Zoom out and you can’t get precision or a sense of the surrounding area. I think I got the balance right in the end, but if anything I ended up sacrificing precise placement of dive flags for ease of at-a-glance navigation. You can drill into very close-up looks at the dive areas and their topology using the British Admiralty map DeepZoom feature of the site.
  • Completeness – Help me! My aspiration is *complete* and I am aware that I have rippled the surface of dive sites and information about them. If you would like me to add a dive site or materials about one already included, please contact me.

I may extend the profiles to more information if (a) there is demand from website visitors, and (b) there is help from local resources to supply the information.

Which brings me to the final points. I have a number of principles that guided the development of Maldives Complete, and those have led me to not just adding dive site information, but *how* I added it…

UNIQUE – First principle of Maldives Complete is to only add data and functionality you can’t get elsewhere. I follow Seth Godin’s marketing precept, ‘Don’t be the best one, be the only one.’ If someone else has the information or material, then best just to point to that rather than add a “me too” capability (and the profiles point directly the top dive resources on the web to help people find more detail about those dive sites at the web sites that focus in on them).

The interface for the material is a uniquely interactive map of every atoll. The other dive maps (eg. MondoMaldive, Maldives.at, Werner Lau) don’t cover ALL the atolls. They cover about a half dozen atolls. Maldives COMPLETE has 18 of the 22 main atolls (and I will be doing research to get dive site locations for the other 4 over the next few months).

Also, the existing dive site maps use a numbering key which means that you have to reference the name at the bottom which is all a bit cumbersome.

I’ve also based the catalogue on the British Admiralty Maps which provide comprehensive topological information and a range of depth measurements. All of the other maps are a simplified atoll layout just showing the islands. The maps also have the added advantage of being consistent with the longstanding Maldives Complete feature of the “Deep Zoom” map which allows people to examine certain areas with great clarity and detail.

UTILITY – For everything I add to the website I ask, “Is it useful?” As a result, I didn’t add a number of pieces to the Dive Site information that I could have. For example, I have passed on…

  • Pictures – Some dive site guides have pictures taken from the sites. But frankly, they are all close-ups of various fish and features that could be anywhere.
  • Depths – Frankly, the vast majority of the Maldives dive sites are all between 5-10 meters going down to around 20 meters. It didn’t seem worth the effort to catalogue the minor variations and few exceptions. Star rating
  • Ratings – These vary but include overall quality of dive, sometimes a special rating for snorkeling, or sometimes a difficulty rating.
  • Visibility
  • Descriptions
  • Accessibility

USER-SUPPORTED – The best part about Maldives Complete is the extensive support I get from fans around the world you appreciate it and help plug gaps in data and information. A good chunk of my “Best of the Maldives” features are nominated by readers and most of the few percent of pictures I am missed are supplied by guest. I am hoping that dive centres, marine biologists and supportive guests will help me build the catalogue especially with the addition of dive charts.

(I guess one could say that it’s all about yoU !)

Best of the Maldives: Channel House Reef – Gangehi

Gangehi channel

For many Maldive aficionados, the holy grail of the ideal idyll is a spectacular house reef. Typically, the best house reefs are on the dot-shaped islands in the center of an atoll as the topology on the edges of the atoll lend themselves to long, broad shallow tables which make for great lagoons, but often hard to reach “drops off” (the defining feature of a great house reef).

The Gangehi resort has a very distinctive house reef because its drop off is in a “channel”. Channels exist all over the Maldives and are narrow water passages between the inside and the outside of the atoll. Gangehi’s is named “Gangehi Kandu” which is the Dhivehi word for these waterways.

Bigger fish tend to like the deeper channels, but being intra-atoll, they should be a bit calmer. Certain species tend to favour outside the atoll and other the inside. But this area would seem to have the best of both worlds (Gangehi also has a sheltered side (East) to its house reef to provide more conventional house reef snorkelling). The resort brochure describes…

“Gangehi Island lies on the north-western edge of Ari Atoll, on a oceanic pass, a natural channel crossing the atoll ring that keep in communication the atoll lagoon with the open ocean. The pass, named ‘Kandu’ in Divehi, has a very high ecological function for the Atoll marine life, as it makes possible the renewing lagoon waters. Kandu usually subject to strong currents, incoming or outgoing depending on the tide conditions, and creating a unique environment great for many pelagic species, and a few benthic species cling to the substrates. Gangehi Kandu is one of the longest channels in the Ari Atoll, with a drift of more than 2.5 km from the channel’s entrance to the end of the dive at the inside of the Atoll. The wall here is quite unremarkable really. There are interesting things to spot such as lionfish, moray eels and porcupine fish but the real action is out in the blue. With an incoming current the visibility can be excellent and the parade of pelagic and local residents, impressive. You might see vast schools of fish like fusiliers and blu trigger fish feed in colliding waters, a number of reef sharks as well as barracuda, jackfish and tuna. Large squadrons of eagle rays are frequently seen here seemingly flying in formation in an unforgettable display. The bottom of the entire channel at Gangehi Kandu is sandy, making it a perfect resting ground for Stingrays, White Tip Reef Sharks and the Leopard or Zebra Shark which is commonly spotted here when the conditions are right. At this impressive sites divers can find caves covered with excellent soft coral, a wide range of colourful invertebrates, gorgonians and sponges. The water inside the atoll is breeding ground for plankton and when the outgoing currents bring the plankton-rich water through the channel into the big blue large and beautiful species like manta come to feed.”

Lori and I had the immense pleasure of snorkelling the kandu during our stay there and Lori then went on a drift dive at the edge of the atoll where she saw black sting ray, octopus, eagle rays, a monstrous Napoleon fish (bigger than herself) and many, many sharks especially grey sharks.

That’s the Kandu Spirit!

 

Gangehi Kandu

Best of the Maldives: Deep Dive – Alimatha

Tim Godfrey Alimatha

April is the heart of cherry blossom season around the world from Japan to Washington DC. And in the Maldives, you can see “cherry blossoms” both all year round and underwater (like so many Maldivian marvels). Specifically, at the Fotteyo dive site near Alimatha resort. Maldives dive author Tim Godfrey reckons it is the best deep dive in the Maldives…

“For deepest dives in the book, I’d suggest Fotteyo for the steep walls and caves, Rakeedhoo for the deeper step terraces and Rasfari for the deeper outer reef and steep outside wall.”

In line with its snorkelling paradise fame, the Maldives is mostly distinguished by its shallow dives. This makes it a great place for beginners. In the Maldives, dives are typically 15-18 metres. By contrast, in North Carolina seaside (where we often vacation visiting Lori’s family), the wreck and megalodon dives go 30-40 metres. Fotteyo is more of a North Carolina scale dive as Tim describes in his book Dive Maldives…

“An excellent dive regarded by many divers as the best dive site in the Maldives. It is a photographers’ paradise and a mecca for marine biologists. This is a dive with many possibilities. The best diving is on the outside corner of Dhiggaru Falhu. Divers can start at a bend in the outside reef where there is a cave at about 30 meters with holes you can swim through. Around the bend near the entrance to the channel is a special place with many caves and overhangs. These caves have a thick covering of wavering soft coral in all colours. They look like blooming cherry blossoms in springtime. Most of the cherry caves are found between 25 and 40 metres.

 

Alimatha Fotteyo

Best of the Maldives: Free Diving – LUX* Maldives

LUX Maldives free diving

Free Diving!

No, not ‘free diving’ as in ‘free beer’. ‘Free’ as in unencumbered.

Despite all of the spectacular diving in the Maldives, it took me several years before I took up scuba diving myself. And that’s despite the fact that my wife started diving and loved it pretty quickly after we started visiting. My logic was that it seemed a lot of kafuffle and expense for not much extra benefit. I would be taking the kids snorkelling and set out the same time that my wife would head to the dive centre. We would be heading back in when Lori was just setting out for her dive having sorted out all of her equipment, etc. Then, when she returned and we united at lunchtime, she would recount her sightings of morays, sharks, turtles and so on. My response was that we saw all that same stuff snorkelling!

Eventually, I did get PADI certified and entered the undersea world more completely. The big bonus to diving versus snorkelling is that you could ‘be at their level’ (ie. the fishes’ level). With snorkelling, you are mostly looking down on things. Along these lines, diving allows you to peak under the many ledges and crevasses.

If you want to have your cake-and-eat-it-too combining unencumbered snorkelling with unlimited perspectives, then proper free diving is the key. Free diving teaches techniques in breath control, oxygen use and pressure equalisation.

LUX* Maldives is setting up a free diving facility. The Maldives has sponsored some Free Diving events, but this will be the first free diving as an on-going regular activity. Normally, I would hold off the post until such activity was live, but LUX* is already offering introductions to the discipline to guests. And the driver behind the initiative is none other than the resort’s own General Manager Dominik Ruhl. In fact, on our snorkel safari during our LUX* visit, Dominic joined in and demonstrated his free diving (see picture above). As noted, he was able to drop down quite deep to see things that the other snorkelers couldn’t. And with his breath-holding techniques, he was able to stay down a good amount of time enjoying the view before surfacing.