Best of the Maldives: Largest Coral Frame – Kurumba

Kurumba - frame

Kurumba is the unsung hero of Maldives house reefs. It has always been one of my favourite house reefs. We have snorkelled it many times and *every* time see so many critters especially of the infamous “Snorkel Safari Big 5”. We also spot many distinctive smaller creatures (like the baby Zebra Eel my wife watched for ages).

One of the primary reasons why it is underrated is its relatively weaker coral growth. But this past month, the resort embarked on a *big* Reefscaping project to help rejuvenate the coral to be as vibrant as the marine animals. In fact, they laid down the biggest coral frame in the country to date…

“A team of volunteers joined forces with Kurumba staff on Wednesday (December 17) to rescue corals from a land reclamation project and help create the largest coral frames in the Maldives. Thanks to the efforts of the team two massive 20ft coral frames packed with transplanted coral have been created on the house reef at Kurumba. The two adjacent frames are the largest of their kind in the Maldives and together form a new 40ft-long coral garden.”

Kurumba puts the “Big” into “Big 5”.

Kurumba - frame 2

Kurumba - frame 3

Best of the Maldives: Closest House Reef Entry – Lily Beach

Lily Beach - drop off

For those who want the ‘unda da sea’ experience, house reef proximity is a big consideration for many Maldive aficionados. Being opposite Vilamendoo, the current holder of the ‘Closest House Reef’ crown, Lily Beach literally mirrors Vila’s underwater spectacle. Vila is perhaps slightly closer to the water’s edge on average around the island, but Lily’s groynes provide an entry to the house reef where you can literally jump into the drop off. Maybe not the closest all around (literally…or should I say ‘litorally’), but for those who want the absolute quickest entry into the underwater world of delights, then look to Lily.

Last one in…

Best of the Maldives: Longest House Reef – Soneva Fushi

Soneva Fushi house reef

If instead of endless diving, you want to do endless house reef snorkelling, then Soneva Fushi is your best bet. It has the longest house reef in the Maldives and a fine one at that. Over a kilometre and a half (nearly a mile long) of aquatic scenery. And when you finish that you have the same on the other side.

Marathon snorkelling!

Best of the Maldives: Coral – Park Hyatt Hadahaa

Tim Godfrey Gaafu Alifu cave

If the underwater stars that dazzle you are star fish, starlets and feather stars, then Park Hyatt Hadahaa is the place to swim to and at.

Adrian Neville tweeted last week, “Park Hyatt house reef, the best corals of any resort bar none. But oddly the fish life is as quiet as life on the island.”

Not much better authority than Adrian Neville. And he’s just finished latest research for his upcoming edition of his must-have book on Maldives resorts ‘Resorts of the Maldives’. Check out his Twitter stream for 140-character advance tidbits.

Hadahaa is in the Gaafu Alifu atoll which Harwood and Bryning’s book “Complete Guide to Diving and Snorkeling the Maldives” describes as “The coral reefs inside the atoll are in great condition and a marvel to dive and snorkel” (see picture above).

Best of the Maldives: Aquatic Topiary – Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru

Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru coral garden Yin-Yang

While the ‘house reef’ is the ‘main event’ in snorkelling, lagoon snorkelling can be its own treat. During our first, uninitiated trip to the Maldives, we spent nearly the whole week there delightedly snorkelling among the modest coral and rock croppings in the shallow, sandy lagoon. We didn’t even know that there was such a thing as a ‘drop off’. We still enjoy the charms of lagoon snorkelling with some real highlights in our history – a playful octopus, a digging sting ray, a passing manta, and a whole host of turtles and fish.

If you can’t get the snorkelers to the reef, bring the reef to the snorkelers. Often the main problem with house reefs are their accessibility. Eventually, you can get to a drop off point, but you have swim over long expanses of relatively boring white sand. So as a part of its award winning reef regeneration efforts, Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru has taken a creative twist on reefs with what can best be described as ‘reef topiary’.

Its showcase piece is the Yin-Yang Coral Garden pictured above. From an aerial view, the coral forms a yin-and-yang symbol. The resort is now planning an encore with a ‘Crescent Moon’ in the works.

Best of the Maldives: Closest House Reef – Vilamendhoo

Vilamendhoo Reef

(Vilamendhoo Reef photo by Atoll Photography)

I have written on the ‘best’ house reef and the ‘deepest drop off’ house reef’, but one of the most prominent questions about house reefs is which is the ‘closest’. Given the Maldives atoll topology, often the land bit of the island can be surrounded by a quite considerable about of lagoon, which is very shallow waters, before the island structure itself drops off more precipitously into the deeper surrounding ocean. It is this drop off which is most dramatic as lots of marine life cluster and settle on this vertical structure and the larger expanse of water makes room for bigger fish and bigger schools of fish.

The problem can be that when you have a far away house reef, one can spend a good 15 minutes of boring swimming/snorkelling over an expanse of white sand shallow lagoon before reaching the house reef main event. The real snorkelling luxury is the close by drop off. In forums and reviews, people often talk about ‘close house reef’. That refers to the fact that the ‘drop off’ hits pretty close to the beach.

I asked the experts, the Forum contributors to TripAdvisor’s Maldives Forum, which resort had the closest. It’s a bit tricky because the reef can be very close at some parts of the island and then very far away in others. I had enjoyed Filitheyo’s close house reef about 50 meters away, but Forum folks came back with 20m, 10m, 5m and ultimately 3m from the beach. In fact, several resorts were noted that came within ‘3 metres’ of shore…

I have chosen Vilamendhoo because based on looking at all the resorts, Vilamendhoo appears to have the longest stretch of shore where the drop off is that close.

Best of the Maldives: House Reef Drop Off – Filitheyo

Filitheyo House Reef
One of the absolute joys of the Maldives is the snorkelling. There is plenty of debate in the diving community about the top dive spots in the world. The Maldives always ranks up in the elite top with the likes of the Great Barrier Reef, Cayman Islands and the Red Sea. There don’t seem to be as many ‘top’ lists or guides for ‘snorkeling’, but it would be hard to see how the Maldives could be bested for its clarity of water, comfort of water temperature, diversity and quantity of fish, and a range of other variables.

For a snorkelling neophyte, there is a sort of progression of steps one should take to build up to the main event…

  1. Sandy lagoon – Start in the white bottomed, impossibly shallow sandy lagoon. Look at the little sand gobies, garden eels, silvery goat fish ambling by, mini humbug damsels darting in and out of tiny crevasses, trigger fish munching on strewn bits of small coral croppings.
  2. House Reef – Proceed to the area of the island where the coral aggregates into an underwater sculpture garden teaming with ever more colourful and diverse fish from the classic surgeon fish, colourful wrasses, angel fish and parrot fish, perhaps a turtle or small reef shark will make an appearance.
  3. House Reef Drop-Off – But the big event to any snorkelling is the ‘drop off’. Where the depth goes from a few meters to virtual oblivion. As you swim along the precipice, it is the closest feeling to flying without being in the air that one can have. Out in this open water, the island reef is a massive canvas of aquatic colour. The bigger space affords room for schools of jacks, oriental sweet-lips and the occasional larger visitor like a Napoleon fish or a ray.

Once you visit the ‘drop off’, the rest of the snorkelling will seem rather tame though it will always have its comforts and charms.

The resort with the deepest drop off, according to Emu72 on TripAdvisor appears to be Filitheyo, “Filitheyo has the deepest drop off in the Maldives at 90m on the NE corner, and the reef remains in fairly good shape.”

I can personally attest to how great the Filitheyo house reef is and its drop off from personal experience with me pictured above here diving into its depths.

Best of the Maldives: House Reef – Kandolhu

 Kandoludhoo House ReefKandolhu House Reef

One of the very first and most common questions to ask of any ‘Maldives Best Of’ selection is what is the ‘Best House Reef’.

Maldives is easily one of the world’s top dive areas up there with the Red Sea, the Great Barrier Reef, the Caribbean. But it really stands out for snorkelling. It’s topology of eroded atolls (check out Atoll Terms and Atoll Formation) provide endless shallow and protected areas for leisurely snorkelling as well as steeper reef walls for a different perspective.

The subject was raised on the premier travel review site, TripAdvisorWhich are the Top 10 Best Resort Reefs?” – and the expert opinion for the top one is Kandoludhoo. The assessment comes from one of TripAdvisor’s top Maldive forum experts, ‘spammie’ with 1,946 posts on the Maldives to his credit. He writes…

  • “Kandoludhoo has been not been harmed in the ’98 el nino due to lucky currents. So while the other reefs have had to recover from severe coral bleaching, Kandoludhoo looks just like the Maldives used to. To my knowledge its the only actually intact reef in the Maldives. It’s generally considered the number 1 reef because of that. It’s full of huge table corals and just impressive. Also easily accessible. However, several of the other reefs are recovering nicely and are quickly catching up again.”