Tempting turquoise waters, exotic tropical fish and sweeping ocean views are all par for the course in the magical Maldives, says Sam Wylie-Harris.
As someone who loathes getting their hair wet and is not remotely sporty, stepping off a pier and into a rib to head out to the coral reef and snorkel was pushing at the boundaries of my comfort zone.
But outside my comfort zone is a beautiful place to be, it turns out – where you’re mesmerised by the aquamarine sea and lure of the underwater world that’s one of the main draws of the Maldives.
As I strap on a diving mask and fins, I know I’ll never be able to free-dive 25-30 metres like my guide. But when the only thing that separates you from this exotic aquarium is a glass plate and a rubber mouthpiece, you just have to jump in and give it a go.
When Adam indicated the currents were safe, I managed to slip off the rib without creating too much of a splash and within a stroke or two, I was face down and within arm’s reach of a giant school of blue fusiliers.
Hundreds of these dazzling blue fish with a shock of yellow swam past us as we floated across a thriving coral reef, while a roll call of brightly coloured fish darted in and out of the floating purple anemone.
Emperor angelfish, moorish idols, black-footed clownfish, oriental sweetlips and grey reef sharks were just some of the creatures sheltering near the sponges and coral in the warm, tropical waters of the Ari Atoll, one of the biggest atolls in the Maldives.
Determined to see one of the island’s family of hawksbill sea turtles that I’d heard are normally found near reefs rich in sponges (which they love to feed on), it wasn’t long before I was swimming above a large patterned heart-shaped shell with a pair of claws adorning each flipper and a little head nibbling on the coral.
I’d heard some guests excitedly recount their first encounter with this endangered species, and now it was my turn… and it wasn’t to be the last.
Kandolhu is a pretty new petite resort that’s celebrating its first birthday (it opened in February 2014) and already boasts a repeat guest list. Along with its pristine white beaches, the outstanding snorkelling and diving on its beautiful house reef and crystal clear waters are definitely part of the attraction.
Just 25 minutes by seaplane from Male, this is a little pocket of paradise where you can stay in a huge water villa over the ocean (one of only 30 villas on the entire island), with uninterrupted views and see a bottlenose dolphin corkscrewing in the far distance beyond the lagoon.
I only had to look down from the sun deck into the glassy still waters to see the thriving sea life and, one night under a full moon, we sat on the deck with a glass of champagne and our legs dangling over and were almost playing footsie with a turtle who was coming up for air as he passed on by.
Kandolhu may be small and private, but the diving courses on offer are more than a match to some of the larger, more flashy resorts. Holidaymakers with scuba diving certification can also upgrade to an Open Water Diver in just two days and become fully-qualified to 18 metres – or if you’re really serious about sharks, turtles and rays, speciality dives include a Divemaster Course, a first step on the dive professional ladder.
And then there’s the 25m, twin mast sailing yacht which can be chartered for a full day of diving; but took us out on a sunset cruise for sundowner cocktails against a sinking sun.
We sat on the sundeck and cruised across the ocean waves and tried to spy more dolphins spinning in the air, but had to settle with what we’d seen from our water villa earlier in the afternoon.
There’s more than enough wildlife on land to keep us happy though. At night, bats fly overhead and one even landed in a nearby coconut tree so close to me I was able to see its furry face and hear the movement of its wings as it slid down the branch. Dragonflies and butterflies flit among the lush vegetation that shades the sandy paths and ‘beach chickens’ (small birds) run around the silver coral sands.
In keeping with the natural beauty of the island and influence from the sea, the décor doesn’t try to compete and lovely touches include coral walls from an old Maldivian home in one of the restaurants (this five-star resort has the highest restaurant to room ratio in the Maldives with four dining options),
the roof of the spa is fashioned from an upside down dhongi fishing boat, the airy reception has a cathedral roof, chic white leather sofas dot the bar and the rooms are tastefully finished with European furnishings, along with piped chilled music for a laid-back vibe.
The Varu Spa has dreamy treatments such as the couples 90 minute deep tissue massage, or you can fully detox with the Voya Seaweed Hot Stone massage.
Plus with a choice of more than 30 wines in the room along with premium spirits on the ultimate inclusion package and four a la carte restaurants in the evening to casually dress for – and go barefoot if
you fancy it – there’s plenty of temptation at every turn.
All day eatery The Market is where we head for breakfast and lunch while The Sea Grill boasts at least four freshly caught fish right under your nose, displayed market style on ice. Their tandoor oven comes with delicious choices such as fresh water tandoori king prawns or tandoori lamb cutlets. Olive is their Italian restaurant on an upper level overlooking the beach with tables on the balcony to catch the breeze and where we dined under the moonlight. And Banzai is excellent for sushi, teppanyaki and a well-juggled knife show.
All in all, this is a resort where you can totally unwind and relax with no boat traffic, planes overhead or bright lights. In the evening, everything is complemented by candlelight and if you want the ultimate romantic dining experience on the beach, all you have to do is book a table for two close to the water’s edge and dig your toes into the sand while the stars twinkle up above.
Kuoni (01306 747008 or www.kuoni.co.uk) offers 7 nights on ultimate all inclusive at the 5-star Kandolhu Island, Maldives, in an Ocean Pool Villa, including flights with Emirates from Gatwick and group transfers in resort.
Lead-in prices for April 2015 are from £5,564 per person, based on two sharing. To book quote: AL0052 (Price based on 22 April 2015 departures).
Holidays to Kandolhu Island start from £2,269 per person in 2015.
Pictures:Universal Resorts Maldives/Wylie-Southcott
January 29, 2015 Travel and Lifestyle