The Maldives may not be moving the heavens, but they are moving the earth to provide more opportunities to welcome visitors. For some environmental activists, “terraforming” is as dirty a word as the mounds of dirt it involves. But I am more supportive of the Maldives’ use of terraforming. For a country that is nearly 1000 kilometres long, to reclaim a few kilometres for living or economic purposes seems quite a reasonable trade-off. Especially, if the aquatic regions chosen are more barren sandy lagoon than vibrant reef (and even then, work done with as eco-friendly protocols as possible). The entire Crossroad complex which currently includes Hard Rock and SAii Lagoon were constructed in this manner and eventually 7 more resort “islands” will be developed in the general area. The environmental study that was performed to prepare for this dramatic transformation of the ocean was extensive but nonetheless controversial among sceptics. For those who are accepting of this strategy to building their economy, the engineering scale and sophistication is quite impressive. The YouTube video above provides a taste of what is involved, but actually the History Channel (Asia) did a fully documentary programme on the project (see trailer below) to look out for if you get a chance to watch it.
One of our favourite Maldives rituals is our pre-crepuscular circum-perambulation of the island (yes, I did enjoy writing this sentence). That’s a pre-sundowner island-rounder in layman’s terms. Typically, takes about 15-20 minutes for a small resort. Dhigali has brought the charm and adventure of an island walk to the interior with their “Jungle Walk”.
Dhigali has carved out an intimate footpath weaving through an extensive portion of their thick, tropical palm-canopied undergrowth. In addition, they have enhanced it with some signs feature fun factoids about this inner landscape you are exploring as well as with a few seats to just sit down and take in a part of the island that is all too rarely savoured. It is also lit so you can take a romantic midnight walk along it as well
Swinging on vines is one of those iconic things that characterise legendary exotic adventure from Tarzan to Indiana Jones. Shangri-La Villingili has more of these tropical tree-to-tree transports than any other island I have been to. When visiting, I couldn’t resist grabbing one from time to time for a bit of a fly through the air. Even if you don’t fancy such swashbuckling activity, just seeing them dangling from the dense jungle canopy of the island adds to the property’s equatorial vibe.
“Half the fun of the travel is the aesthetic of lostness.” ― RayBradbury (thanks Conrad Rangali)
A non-resort island, Fuvamulah, is one of the most intriguing islands of all in the Maldives It does feature a number of guest houses and hotels, but it is not the little plot of sand in the middle of the ocean, but rather the second largest island in the Maldives. It is also not a pearl on an atoll necklace, but more of a sparkling broach standing solitary on the breast of the Indian Ocean.
Among its many distinctive features is the ground itself which makes up the island. The sand and the pebbles are unique to the island as they are polished by the action of the waves crashing on to the beach. Some beaches have pebbles (see photo above). One part of the island also has a pile of polished black stones on the beach. Other areas on the island have smaller grains of proper sand. But the sand grains are themselves polished. I was told that the unique texture of the sand makes the sand “sing” as you walk on it.
If you want to get away from the resort island at OBLU Sangeli, just walk down the jetty. A few resorts join islands with jetties (Anantara Dhigu/Veli, Conrad Rangali), but Sangeli joins their two islands with the water villa jetty. If you are staying in one of the overwater bungalows, then you can choose which island you want to visit.
Sunniest time of the year. Well, the longest amount of sunshine in the day (depending on your time zone). Not that it matters that much at the Equator where daytime doesn’t vary all that much. Still an occasion to call out another quirky resort distinction. After visiting nearly 100 resorts, Dhigufaru did strike me as the “sunniest”. Essentially, the property was developed from an existing sand bank. As a result, the foliage is less dense, less tall and less mature. Walking around you feel the sky and sunshine everywhere. Conversely, many parts of many resort islands have dense canopies that can almost feel like tunnels of greenery.
Maldives resorts themselves are adorned with aesthetically enchanting white sand. One of the most distinctive are the long, narrow spits of sand jutting out into the ocean. The longest stretch of sand (as a opposed to a long beach on a long island) extends from Finolhu’s southern side for an entire 1.8 kilometres. Typically, such arenaceous promontories lead nowhere in particular except an expanse of blueness. But Finolhu’s takes you to a number of resort treats including the best parts of the house reef and the its first rate Crab and Fish Shack.
In many places, being “close to the airport” is seen as a negative. The new Mercure Maldives Kooddoo actually boast its aeronautical geography with its press releases announcing: “Mercure Maldives Kooddoo Resort is the first ever water villa resort built on an airport island in Maldives.”
Kooddoo is an airports like Heathrow with jumbo jets roaring in and rattling the rafters every 30 seconds. Instead it gets one or two flights a day from relatively small planes. The infrequency makes it more of an event than a disturbance (“De plane, de plane!” – Tatoo, Fantasy Island). On the positive side, it makes for an incredibly convenient outside-Kaafu transfer. For most distant resorts, you can either take a seaplane that will land at your resort but many consider very loud inside and too small and cramped for some people’s liking (not to mention expensive). Or you can take small jet planes to an increasing number of mini-airports around the country, but then you still have one more transfer by speedboat to finally get to your resort. At Kooddoo, you have the comfort and cost-savings of a conventional flight and when you touch down, you are just a short buggy ride to your villa.
I’ve lauded the Taj Exotica lagoon in my tour piece (“Turquoise Extremica”), but I do think it is worthy of a special “Best of the Maldives” commendation. Theirs is one of the biggest lagoons in the entire Maldives at over 200 acres. It is the biggest we have seen since Velassaru and LUX South Ari Atoll (bigger than Velassaru and more sheltered than LUX).
But Taj Exotica doesn’t just rest on its lagoon laurels, but instead has invested in it extensively to maximise the lagoon experience. As such, it is probably the most accessorised lagoon we have come across. I already highlighted their extensive coral frame initiative (see photo bottom). It includes not only the obligatory lagoon hammock, but also a lagoon swing (see photo above). The resort also has built special over water pavilions (see below) both attached (below) and detached (above) from the island. And it has even dressed up its beach preserving groynes (see below).
The horizon to horizon stretch of cyan scenery is not just something to gaze at, but also something to immerse yourself in, ever if you don’t want to get wet.
“The gardening team of LUX* South Ari Atoll worked on the Ironwood Trees of the island west point sandbank by shaping them into a Japanese Zen Garden ‘on the beach’. The idea is to have a space of silence where guests can relax and let the day go by, under the shades of the trees but without missing out on their time on the beach.“
For those less familiar with the Seuss oeuvre, I’ve featured one of the drawing from his classic “Cat in the Hat” below which not only shows the parallel inspiration, but also features Mr Cat delivering books suitable for today’s occasion. The illustration further down has some of LUX’s local residents modelling for the topiary tops.
Fah who for-aze!