Sometimes the “no shoes” ethos isn’t all a walk in the park. It is meant to embody the relaxed and casual atmosphere of the Maldives combined with its pervading sensual nature right down to the powdery soft sand across the island. This element is so prominent that during this last tour, I started collecting data for a “Walkway Rating” by resort (stay tuned). But, when I got to Gangehi, their walkways defied Maldivian categorisation. They are unlike anything else you will tread on in the Maldives. Instead of sandy, hardened or paved walkways, Gangehi features wooden walkways snaking through the island interior.
When I first saw these, I was quite intrigued. I wondered if they would be a real detraction, but over the stay I grew to appreciate them more and more. For starters, they are a ‘natural’ solution to folks who need hard walkways. The sandy by-ways seem romantic, but for people who have difficulty getting around – wheelchair users, otherwise unsteady individuals, and ladies who want to enjoy their high heeled fashion on their holiday – they are actually quite an inconvenience. Also, some people have sensitive feet and the aboriginal avenues can be a bit uncomfortable at times if there are stray stones and coral pieces that you can step on.
Some islands have paved paths, but somehow that often seems to take away from the natural feel. Gangehi’s wooden paths preserve a very natural aesthetic. They even impart a bit of stylistic distinction to the place. Because they are slightly elevated, it almost seemed as if I was traversing something out of Swiss Family Robinson’s lush tropical settlement.
Of course, if you hanker for the sand between your toes, you can always circumambulate the island beaches (quite easily as Gangehi is so tiny).
Life’s a beach. And in the Maldives, it’s all beach.
Most Maldive islands are little more than a plot of sand and a few palm trees. In short, they are all beach. But, some of the more substantial ones actually have a few discrete beach areas with their own character (eg. east facing for sunsets, west facing for sunrises). One & Only Reethi Rah are a pinnacle of beach choice with a dozen separate (and named…see picture above) beaches to choose from. My favourite is “Frangipani Beach”…a great name for a lovely flower (the white petalled one with soft yellow touches in the centre).
From flyboarding to free birding.
This post is also a contendor for “Most Nostalgic for My High School Years”. First, “Freebird” was the Ipswich High School Class of 1979 “Class Song”. Second, me and my buddies were big Monty Python fans (perhaps shades of my eventual UK life) and one of my favourite skits was “Albatross.
While I had parroted the “Albatross” sketch endlessly to pubescent tittering, I had never actually seen one. Until I visted Nika. Lori and was even more mesmerised by him, and his goofy wing-flapping walk, than I was I think. We dubbed him “Albert Ross” (my adolescent sense of humour has matured that much since high school).
Nika has its own bird sanctuary. But not in a cage nor in a segregated section of the island, but right in one of the main thoroughfares are the two main pathways converge in front of the dining area. All of the birds roam freely around the island, but they tend to congregate in this area where they are fed and they have some shelters.
A truly diverse bunch too. Bandito the peacock (see above), exotic dove, hens, parrots (see bottom) and ducks.
The sense of being in the Maldives in the middle of the Indian Ocean is outstanding. And a Gangehi you can literally (or should I say “littorally”) be out standing in the middle of the ocean.
One of the absolute distinctions of the Maldives destination are its pervasive shallow lagoons. Lots of places in the world have atolls and coral reefs, but the Maldives has an elevation that just hits sea level. A few inches above sea level and a few inches below. This topology means you can snorkel in waist deep water a kilometre off shore, and walk or wade to the neighbouring island.
Or you can, on some resorts, just amble out into the middle of nowhere. One of our favourites is Kuramathi’s which points nearly due west making it an ideal sunset “point”. Other prominent powdery promontories are at Ranveli, Cocoa Island, Palm Beach and Kuredu (thanks Adrian), but the longest is Gangehi’s which juts out a full 800m from shore. The picture above provides some perspective and we weren’t even all the way to the end because the tide wasn’t fully out.
It is a truly romantic sensation to be standing in the middle of the ocean in the middle of nowhere just you and your loved one.
Colourful creatures floating all around you. Some inquisitive about your presence, while others more skittish and shy. Large and small, or all shapes and colours. Not the marine life in the water, but the bird life in the air on Chaaya Reef Ellaidhoo. Elaidhoo features an expansive aviary filled with fowl of all description – parrots, exotic hens, cockatoos [OTHERS]. As colourful as any collection of tropical fish you will find in the water.
We took as many pictures visiting the aviary as we did on any house reef. But my wife Lori’s favourite (so much so that she changed her Facebook profile picture to it) was of the baby chicks who hid in their mother’s wings and poked their heads out (see bottom).
100th Chelsea Flower Show, one of the bellwethers of sunshine and blossoms in climate-challenged England, opens today. To mark the occasion we have our own online exhibit of botanical curiosity. Mirihi not only has it’s very own blossom, but it is its namesake. GM Martin Vossen describes, “Mirihi is named after the flower! 🙂 I think it can be found on other Islands as well, but I have never seen it anywhere else and I would not be aware of where else it can be found, so it is really quite unique.”
Not a person in sight.
What most of the prospective visitors on Forums ask about is the lowest population density. Perhaps burnt by crowded beaches and resorts elsewhere in the world, they are drawn to the Maldives by the tranquil seclusion. Relative to these other sardine seasides, even the highest density Maldive islands we have visited always seem sparse by comparison. Seeing fellow guests on the beach and around the island is always a bit of a rare event. I often ask ‘where is everybody’.
But if you want the ultimate in Robinson Crusoe human isolation, then Soneva Fushi is the expanse for you. Unlike most resort profile pictures, the pervasive natural landscape is evident from its aerial shot (see above). Mathematically, Soneva has 65 rooms on a 688,500 square meter island which is an agoraphilic 10,592 square metres per room. Perhaps not surprisingly, the ‘Population Density’ filter was suggested by a friend (Mark Richardson) who happens to be a Soneva Fushi devotee.
In my ‘best of’ filtering, I’ve excluded resorts that are not on their own island (eg. Equator Village on Gan, Traders Hotel on Male) because even though the ‘rooms per hectarage’ is small, there is lots of other infrastructure and ‘residents’.
To be low in density, the trick is to (a) be rather large in size (the numerator in the equation), (b) not have water villas (which add rooms beyond the land area). So for some who prefer the smaller more intimate islands and the luxury of a water villa, a low density is not a big appeal.
And if that density is still too crowded for you, Soneva has their distinctive picnic island (see below) where the density drops right down to nada.
One trick to SEO is ‘keyword density’, ie. packing each page with the words ‘Maldives Resort’ every where. I didn’t think you folks would appreciate such gratuitous, self-serving clutter so I’ve avoided such contrived measures.
One trick to ‘Population Density’ (ie. rooms per square metre of island) on a Maldives Resort is lots of water villas. And the new leader is the new kid on the block. Safari Island now wins hands down in the ‘Population Density’ stakes. Maldives Complete has all the population densities of all the resorts. The previous king of cozy was Jumeirah Vittaveli with 91 rooms on 14,000 sqm for 154 sqm per room. Safari has 84 rooms on 8,000 sqm for 95 (!) sqm of island per room. Another relative newcomer has also opted for the jam them in approach, Centara Ras Fushi (140 rooms on 29,000 sqm for 215 sqm per room).
But on the horizon is a resort that Dutch Docklands is building whole resorts in lagoons with no island at all. Mathematically, a population density of infinity (that’s what you get when you divide by zero). Actually, the other Maldivian Jumeirah, Dhevanafushi, already sort of has an ‘all water villa’ feature with its complete detatched ‘Ocean Pearls’ villas set out in the middle of the ocean (see below), and Gili Lankanfushi pioneered the boat-only water villas with its collection of residences.
Another sanctuary for the airbourne is Sun Island’s Kovelivaa park, the biggest bird sanctuary among the Maldives resorts.
As it happens, today is Audubon Day established on the birthdate of the world’s leading ornithological illustrator, John James Audubon. Sometimes, Audubon Day (celebrating wild fowl) and Arbor Day (celebrating wild foliage) are celebrated together by planting trees in bird sanctuaries like Sun’s.
There is more to the Maldives fowl than herons (it seems as it every resort has its resident heron who combines stalking the lagoon shallows for fish with posing like a fethered statue for hours on end to charm the guests). Two lesser seen examples of Maldive bird life found on Sun Island are described below by the resort…
White Breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus) – “These white breasted waterhens are very calm and like to go along doing their work silently, unnoticed. As the name suggests, these birds are the water counterparts of normal hens and can be seen mostly near edges of water bodies. In [Sun Island’s] IIT, the best places to see them are the lake behind SAC and IITG lake. When no one is around, they are bold enough to venture on the roads, so watch out for them! Local names: Assamese”
Asian Koel (Eudynamys scolopacea) – “Asian Koel is a large cuckoo which feeds mainly on fruits and berries in trees, feasting on the ripe fruits. It also consumes insects and caterpillars. Adults often frequent orchards.”
When I need to describe the Maldives to people unfamiliar with them, I say “You know those pictures of a deserted tropical island of a plot of sand in the ocean with a palm tree in the middle?…that’s the Maldives.” But, the even more secluded, minimalist isolation comes from such plots…sans palm trees. The sandbanks.
The ultimate on open space bounty comes courtesy of Francisco Negrin, one of most helpful correspondents, who recently returned from Six Senses Laamu…
“A real, and beautiful sand bank with maafushivaru type sand as per your description and a stunning reef around it. And you can swim or kayak to it from the main island in just a few minutes. No need of a boat , no sea planes landing next to it etc etc.. And you can book it to have it to yourself too.”
Discovery of a treasured isle…in Laamu’s aquatic backyard.