Best of the Maldives: Map Theme Decor – Hurawalhi

Hurawalhi - map theme decor

Something about a map that has detailed artistry and exotic allure. It tells an aerial pictorial story of some part of the planet. Ocean maps are often the most enchanting with their sinuous coastlines and patterns of inlets and isles.

Naturally, maps of the Maldives are bursting with this adventurous charm. Huawalhi has a employed one of the more antiquarian depictions of the “Laquedives” as a design highlight in its villas. Blotter, cases, lampshades, etc. use segments of these ancient charts. Very reminiscent of one of our favourite designers, Alviero Martini’s “1ª Classe’ line of fashion and accessories.

Hurawalhi - map theme decor 2

Best of the Maldives Online: Interactive Weather Map – Dark Sky

Interactive Weather Map – Dark Sky

National Geologic Map day is just the time to share one of my new favourite sites. – Dark Sky. I’m a lover of visual representation of data (bit of an Edward Tufte groupie). Dark Sky brings together two of my favourite tools – maps and interactivity. To help share updates on everyone’s favourite topic (and often top reason for going to the Maldives) – the weather. In fact, all of my interactive graphical features on Maldives Complete are map based – Snorkel Spotter, British Admiralty Maps DeepZoom (needs IE unfortunately), and Dive Maps. The Dark Sky site is very high quality and aesthetically well done with lots of weather data.

In honour of Geologic Map Day, I have added the “Maps” tag to the blog.

Happy exploring!

Best of the Maldives: Links Golf – Shanrgi-La Villingili

Shangri-La Villingili - golf course start

Golf is a good walk spoiled” – Mark Twain

And if you are going to “spoil” your walk, you might as well make it a great one along the coastal beauty of Maldivian paradise. According to Shangri-La Villingili (and I haven’t been able to find any examples to contradict them), their 9-hole golf course is the *only* course in the world where *every* hole is on the ocean. Of course, Scottish links are the world showcases for links play, but even the legendary St. Andrews only has its front nine on the ocean (the back nine returns inland).

I love it when Maldives resorts push their activities out to the ocean. For years, the “activities” (eg. spas, fitness centres, sports areas) were sequestered in the middle of the island. I guess this made use of this interior and they figured that people would be so busy doing their thing that they wouldn’t need breath-taking views. But the whole point of doing these activities on holiday in the Maldives is to enjoy them *with* the bonus of the enchanting ambiance. Now, the top properties put their spas and gyms and other activities right on the water which lured people to the destination in the first place.

During our Tour visit to Villingili this summer, Lori and I actually got to play a proper round of golf on this distinctive course. As I noted in my tour report, it might be just a par 3 course, but it is still a serious course – seriously laid out, seriously challenging, seriously beautiful surroundings and seriously fun. Not our best round of playing (see Twain quote above), but certainly one of the most spectacular rounds we’ve ever played.

The course does require a very precise approach game as the fairways are narrow (limited real estate) and unforgiving (eg, the big, blue ocean looming to the right of every shot). Elite golf these days is all about the approach. Everyone on Tour can drive plenty far enough with accuracy, but the birdies are made on heroic approach shots landing close to the pin or heroic putts from further away from the pin (and the former are a bit easier to achieve for a pro).

Also during our stay, I had a chance to meet one of the course designers and architect, Kai Smit, and ask him a few questions about this Olympic calibre course. As the Rio Games finish up today (including the first ever Olympic Golf Tournament), here is an in depth look at Maldives’ own tropical golf course…

• What was the inspiration to build a golf course on such limited space?

The southern tip of Villingili Island was undeveloped and the location where the Project Contractor Dormitory was located. This parcel of land was also the logistics centre for materials and equipment that had to be imported to construct the Hotel. It also served as a centre for project waste collection before shipped off the island. The Challenge was twofold, namely 1) to restore the natural habitat and environment to be consistent with the rest of the Island and 2.) try to introduce a value added recreational activity for Resort Guests without harming the environment. The orientation and scale of the peninsula lent itself to be a superb 9 hole – Par 3 Golf Course. Providing a pleasant walk at Dawn and Dusk. All Golf Holes could be routed alongside the ocean, creating 9 greens next to water and ensuring that when playing at dawn or dusk – the players did not look into the sun on the first five outward holes and the last three inward holes. The only hole that the player may look into the sun at Dawn is the signature 6th Hole that faces eastward – and what a sight that can be!

• What was the biggest challenge to building the course?

The limited supply of sand and elevation of the land . Neap tide also presented some challenges as the course is low lying and the eastern shoreline on the peninsula can experience some rough sea conditions.

• What is your favourite hole?

The signature 6th Hole with the ocean backdrop of breaking waves.

• Any tips for playing for course?

Ensure that you have enough golf balls and stay out of the ocean. Generally, the course favours the player hitting a draw as opposed to those players who like to shape the shot from left to right. Below is a photo tour of the course with the overall layout map directly below, with the individual hole layouts below that. Then following is each of the (a) tee shot views, and (b) green views.

Clubbing at its best!

Shangri-La Villingili - golf course layout

Shangri-La Villingili - golf course card

(click on picture for a zoom in)

1st HOLE
Shangri-La Villingili - golf course - hole 1 - tee view  Shangri-La Villingili - golf course - hole 1 - green

2nd HOLE
Shangri-La Villingili - golf course - hole 2 - tee view  Shangri-La Villingili - golf course - hole 2 - green

3rd HOLE
Shangri-La Villingili - golf course - hole 3 - tee view  Shangri-La Villingili - golf course - hole 3 - green

4th HOLE
Shangri-La Villingili - golf course - hole 4 - tee view  Shangri-La Villingili - golf course - hole 4 - green

5th HOLE
Shangri-La Villingili - golf course - hole 5 - tee view  Shangri-La Villingili - golf course - hole 5 - green

6th HOLE
Shangri-La Villingili - golf course - hole 6 - tee view  Shangri-La Villingili - golf course - hole 6 - green

7th HOLE
Shangri-La Villingili - golf course - hole 7 - tee view  Shangri-La Villingili - golf course - hole 7 - green

8th HOLE
Shangri-La Villingili - golf course - hole 8 - tee view  Shangri-La Villingili - golf course - hole 8 - green

9th HOLE
Shangri-La Villingili - golf course - hole 9 - tee view  Shangri-La Villingili - golf course - hole 9 - green

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

Snorkel Spotter v2.0

Snorkel Spotter 2

Santa left Maldives Complete a big present under the code tree this Christmas – a completely re-platformed “Snorkel Spotter”.

An added bonus is that now you can log your Snorkel Spottings with your iPhone or iPad as these are now supported with the Safari browser.

As I mentioned recently, while I started out on an almost ‘completely’ Microsoft platform (due to where I was working at the time), the Microsoft strategy and execution in the Internet arena has been unfortunately pretty dire. Technologies it heralded as the next big thing were often discarded. The latest casualty of their myopia has been Silverlight.

I built the Snorkel Spotter dynamic control on this platform as it was hailed to be the latest thing for web interactivity. Unfortunately, neither I (still subscribed to too many Microsoft kool-aid newsletters) nor Microsoft saw HTML5 coming down the pike.

From the outset, Silverlight was an aggravation for users who increasingly were using non-Internet Explorer (IE) browsers which required a fairly complex installation of a special plug-in to get the Spotter to work. And last year, Google’s Chrome, the most popular browser of all, stopped support for Silverlight all together (even a plug-in wouldn’t work). So, prospective “Spotters” had to find a machine with IE or try to install it themselves (and often companies like resorts look down their computers and don’t let staff install whatever programmes they fancy, especially those downloaded from the Internet).

Enough was enough and I decided to move to the new de facto standard for interactivity – HTML5. Unfortunately, I had a few other projects in the queue (eg. WordPress Migration, Beauty Base launch). And once spec’ed, it took a while to code and implement. Hats off to .Net developer Tapesh M. from Ahmedabad, India who did the actually code migration for me. Microsoft has been woefully remiss in providing any migration tools or even guidance on moving from Silverlight for HTML5 (I spent a month researching it). Anyone faced with this problem should get in touch with Tapesh. He does brilliant work.

The migration has also given me a chance to clean up a few glitches and update some of the data and maps in the Spotter. I hope that the work makes the tool all the more fun and useful for everyone.

Happy Spotting!

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: Equatorial – Ayada

equator

What gives the Maldives its distinctive sunny disposition is its equatorial location.

I remember a story from my junior high geography class where the captain of a cruise liner was being harassed by an obnoxious passenger who insisted on being shown the Equator when they crossed it. So when the ship was approaching the 0 degrees mark, the captain called the passenger up the bridge. The passenger was upset because “on the maps, it is clearly a line across the ocean”. So the quick thinking captain, pulled a long hair from his head, stretched it across the lens of his looking glass and said, “Here have a look…” The passenger saw the thin line of the hair superimposed on the vast expanse of blue and was duly satisfied that he had now seen the Equator.

And if you want the most equatorial adventure that the Maldives has to offer, then you need to go to Ayada. As the southernmost resort in the Gaafu Dhaalu atoll (the resort atoll closest to the Equator) it is your closest opportunity to crossing hemispheres.

This equator-centric location also bodes well for the Maldives weather. While “tropical” storms tend to start near the equator (with its sunny warm heating the ocean and the air), they rarely end up there. Once they gather a bit of power, then they veer north or south away from the Equator (as the picture below describes) – and away from the Maldives!

 

Tropical storm formation

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.

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: Snorkelling Guide – Jumeirah Dhevanafushi

Jumeirah Dhevanafushi - reef plan

On Groundhog Day today, I hope you spot more than your shadow in the Maldives. My whole Snorkel Spotter development stemmed from wanting more help for guests to know where to focus their hunting. Before I came up with it, I always suggested that the resorts post a white board with maps of the house reef so people could mark where they had seen different things (old school “Share”).

Jumeirah Dhevanafushi has come the closest to the digital sophistication of such a house reef guide. Their in-room IPTV offers a channel with an “Aquatic Life in the House Reef” guide (see above). It provides helpful tips about current as well as the creature most regularly spotted and where.

Who says there’s not point to watching TV in the Maldives?