There’s so much more to the Maldives than swanky resorts and all-inclusive indulgence. Whilst luxurious surroundings, continual sunshine, incredible food (so much fresh fish!) and cocktails on demand are predictably agreeable, that’s far from all the Maldives has to offer.
Widely known as one of the best diving locations in the world, the Maldives consists of 26 atolls made up of around 1,200 coral islands. Of these, approximately 200 are inhabited, with a further 100 or so islands developed as tourist resorts.
The highest point of the Maldives is just 2.4 metres above sea level, making it the flattest country in the world. The unique beauty of the Maldives belies its fragility. The effects of climate change are all too evident here, with coral bleaching events and even entire islands disappearing into the ocean.
We stayed at Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu, a small island in the Baa Atoll surrounded by a bright turquoise lagoon that shelters the house reef. Our beach villa was just a few steps from the sea and the nearest section of reef was only 3 metres away, providing us with effortless access to the captivating marine life of the lagoon.
Environmental information at Dhuni Kolhu
With our own private section of beach, plunge pool and stunning outdoor bathroom, we spent 7 days in the most idyllic setting we could have possibly hoped for, but quite aside from the excellent food, service and accommodation, it was the wildlife and marine life that made this such a special trip.
Our deserted stretch of pristine beach
Captive on a small island with no distractions (rooms in the Maldives rarely feature a TV) I’d planned to read, so I took 4 books with me, anticipating endless hours with nothing more to do than dip in and out of the sea and swan around drinking cocktails.
As it turns out, I read just 1 book whilst I was there and most of that was read on the journey. The reason being that every time I dropped my eyes and focused on the page in front of me, my sense of FOMO kicked in, and for good reason.
Why it’s impossible to read in the Maldives
I very quickly found that on the rare occasions when I wasn’t in the sea, remaining close and keeping my eyes on it was a highly rewarding pastime.
Book cast aside, eyes firmly on the sea
Picture the scene. We amble to the bar and take up a seat, after ordering drinks I gaze out at the sea watching it gently lap the shore. Within minutes I spot three dark shapes swimming languidly by, I focus on the shapes and make out two stingrays and spot one that looks suspiciously like an Eagle Ray to me.
3 Rays glide past a few metres from the shore
I decide that paying more attention to printed words on a page than to the myriad marine life all around me is not a wise use of my short time on the island.
They glide slowly by, circling back again and again giving me plenty of time to grab my camera and take a few shots. A few minutes later and much further out, we spot the telltale dorsal fins of dolphins and count four go by. We drink and we chat, watching an endless parade of hermit crabs trundle across the beach. My gaze wanders back out to the shore line, just as a juvenile Whitetip Reef Shark swims by in the shallows. I decide then that paying more attention to printed words on a page than to the myriad marine life all around me is not a wise use of my short time on the island.
Fruitbats roosting in the trees
Later that evening (and after several more cocktails) we watch the silhouettes of bats grow ever bigger as they fly straight towards us, intent on finding a roost for the night. They land in the trees immediately above us, and we are captivated as we watch them climb and move around above us, hanging still long enough to pose for photographs.
Sunset in the Maldives
As the sun goes down crabs start digging holes on the beach, scuttling into their burrows and flinging out sand, leaving an ever increasing pile beside the entrance. Tiny, almost translucent crabs dart and zigzag with tremendous speed and small flightless birds scratch around and call out to each other.
A tiny little hermit crab gently handled
As lovers of the natural world we were simply blown away by the rich biodiversity of the Maldives, and despite having visited a different island some years ago, I saw far more wildlife whilst on Dhuni Kolhu island.
The island is also home to the Olive Ridley MarineTurtle Rehabilitation centre, a charity set up to rescue injured turtles from ghost nets. Many of the marine Turtles we observe are missing one or more flippers and are suffering from Buoyancy Syndrome which affects their ability to dive, leaving them vulnerable to boat strikes. Learning more about the blight of ghost nets, chatting to the resident vet and observing the turtles in their tanks left me feeling sad yet thankful that initiatives like this are helping.
In search of the elusive Manta Ray
Whilst planning for the trip I eventually chose Dunki Kolhu because it has a Manta Ray cleaning station, commonly attracting Manatas. I simply adore Manta Rays and observing or swimming with one in their natural environment has long been high up on my bucket list.
As well as snorkeling for hours every day, I also love diving so I booked myself a dive and asked the dive school about the likelihood of spotting Mantas. I have to admit to being disappointed when I was told they’d not been spotted around the island for almost a month.
Due to Cyclone Frances kicking up a fuss some 200 miles north of Australia, conditions on dive day turn out to be less than perfect, with fairly strong currents and sand swirling up from the lagoon floor inhibiting visibility. Despite this my dive was still wonderful and I enjoyed every second of it, spotting a Lionfish, Titan Triggerfish, an enormous sea cucumber, adorable Pufferfish and inside a little coral cave a graceful and friendly Grey Moray Eel.
Daily snorkelling became my obsession, to the point that I couldn’t bear to be out of the sea for more than a couple of hours for fear of what I was missing (there’s that FOMO again). My last minute purchase of an O’Neill Reactor wetsuit and Two Bare Feet Snorkel set proved to be great buys, with the former helping to protect a rather sore back from the blistering sun.
Hermit crabs doing crabby stuff on the beach
Evenings saw us feasting night after night on fresh fish, salad, sushi and several helpings of inexplicably tiny desserts, we’d head back to our little stretch of beach for a spot of stargazing under the Cheshire cat smile of the moon.
Back inside the villa, welcoming the chill of the air conditioning, we flop onto the enormous 4 poster bed and go through the days GoPro footage, marine life identification books to close hand.
Outdoor bathroom with sunken bath Deluxe Beach Villa Dhuni Kolhu, Maldives
Going back outside at night to use the impressive outdoor bathroom, turns out to be a delight. As the outdoor light flickers on, there’s just enough time to spot half a dozen Geckos scurrying from the walls to hide. Though the humidity is immediately cloying, the echo of night-time wildlife is a wondrously exotic soundtrack to my ablutions.
Days pass in a happy dreamlike blur until we find ourselves out at sea on a Dhoni, sipping wine as the sun disappears below the horizon. With our island still in sight, we suddenly hear a cry of “Manta, Manta, Manta!” the engine is cut and I hold my breath in rapt anticipation.
On the Dhuni shortly before we see Manta Rays
A few metres away from where I stand on the deck, a stunning Manta Ray swoops into clear view, seemingly heading straight for me, and I’m mesmerised.
In general Manta Rays are rarely seen and classed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. With wing spans that can reach upwards of 5 metres, watching a Manta ‘fly’ felt like a true privilege and was incredibly moving for me – one of the most magical experiences of my life, and the perfect end to an amazing week.
Our trip to the Maldives
We flew to the Maldives at the end of April from Manchester via Abu Dhabi with Ethiad Airways and stayed at Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu in the Baa Atoll. Our week long trip was booked through Kenwood Travel at a cost of £1725pp, all-inclusive with sea plane transfer, staying in a Deluxe beach villa.
Full details are available from the link below:
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