Beach bliss in the Maldives at Anantara Dhigu
By Carolynne Dear..
Face down in the Indian Ocean I float, drifting languidly over swarming rainbows of tropical fish, gently gyrating anemone and a rocky landscape of corals. The ocean bed stretches silently – enormously – before me, shafts of sunlight streaming through the turquoise waters from the clear blue sky above.
And suddenly there’s movement – what I thought was a rock abruptly twists, swivels round on itself and gracefully propels itself up towards me. I’ve successfully spotted the first turtle of the dive.
As we potter along the surface of the ocean on this sunniest of Sundays, a further 15 turtles are witnessed.
“Not bad!” exclaims our dive master as we clamber back onto the dive boat, flushed with success. What a treat.
The ocean lays on yet more entertainment with a prancing pod of dolphins that dances alongside our boat as we speed back to our resort. To be honest, I’ve had worse weekends.
I’m in The Maldives and staying at Anantara Dhigu resort, part of the South Male atoll. It’s a quick-and-easy 40-minute transfer by speedboat from Male International Airport, perfect if you’ve got kids and don’t want the outlay of a seaplane transfer.
To be honest, I’d been toying with a trip here for years – but I guess who hasn’t? And quite frankly, it turns out to be the closest I’ve ever come to tropical island, picture postcard perfection. I’m soon questioning why we hadn’t visited sooner.
I think it was the vastness of the country that had me stumped – numerous islands, atolls, resorts. Was it worth paying the extra for a seaplane to a more remote area, and what about the kids? Would there be enough to do on, what is essentially, a bunch of sandbanks? Silky white sand and swaying palms don’t always cut it with action-loving tweens and teens.
But as it turns out, there is plenty of activity. It also transpires that a near-empty beach, a lounger and a good book slows the pace right down for everyone. Back in Hong Kong I barely stop all day, but by day two at Anantara Dhigu I’m questioning whether I really want to leave the shade of the lovely coconut palm in the garden of my beach bungalow? Maybe I could skip the afternoon’s planned snorkel expedition and just settle down here by the gently lapping waters for another hour…
We’d flown into Male International Airport for a four-day break. Cathay offers a rather late arrival time of 9pm, but we are warmly greeted on arrival and efficiently escorted to the Anantara airport arrivals office where we are offered a drink and asked to fill in the requisite check-in paperwork. It is then a short walk to the speedboat where our luggage is already being loaded.
The Republic of Maldives covers a vast area of the Indian Ocean, its 26 atolls straddling the equator. The atolls, or rings, are home to almost 2,000 coral islands, including about 80 resort islands.
After half an hour of bumping along on the ocean in the dark, we pull into a jetty and are met by a group of beaming staff members. Within minutes we are ushered to a beach buggy and dropped off at the most glorious beach bungalow. Arriving so late at night it is difficult to see what’s what – if only that Cathay flight took off a couple of hours earlier – so it’s straight to bed.
Daylight the next morning, however, reveals our beautiful accommodation, fully beach-vibed with a turquoise and white colour palette, outdoor shower and bath, and French doors leading onto a patio surrounded by lush foliage. For families, the two-bed pool villas have recently been refurbished and there are interconnecting-villa options for larger groups.
Following the tiny hermit crabs along the garden path brings me out onto the stunning beach and the shimmering, turquoise waters of the lagoon. I shall never forget sitting on the sand that first morning, soaking up the sheer beauty of the place. After all that dilly-dallying over atolls and resorts and speed-boats and seaplanes, thank goodness I’d finally made it.
And then began our busy long weekend. Gosh, if we weren’t lingering at the alfresco beach buffet over plates of fresh coconut and mango, then we were changing for lunch at one of the stunning resort restaurants. And then there was the beautiful resort infinity pool, the snorkelling excursions, the diving, the sunrise yoga, the spa… We were flat-out – albeit mostly on a sun lounger.
Anantara Dhigu is the child-friendly island of a three-island resort. Opposite is Veli, served by a regular speed-boat puttering between the two, and is adults-only until 6pm, when families are permitted to use the island’s restaurants. A third island, Naladhu, is private. There is also a snorkelling island, Gulhifushi – staff can sort you out with a picnic and you can while away an entirely pleasant afternoon with the fish.
Dhigu boasts an attractive kids club, the Dhoni Club, with plenty of fun wooden play structures, treehouses, pirate ships, swings and an indoor area. It serves children aged from three to 12 years with a full activity programme – think crab hunts, pirate days, chef sessions and local art and craft workshops. Babysitters are available to accompany littlies aged from three months (bookings must be made 24 hours in advance). There’s also The Anantara Surf School by Tropicsurf which accommodates all levels of surfer and was advertising beginner lessons in the calmer lagoon waters during our stay. If you’re looking for waves, the ‘proper’ surf season runs from May to September, which is also wet season.
The resort’s dive school is run by Aquafanatics and offers a busy menu of PADI courses, dive adventures, refresher courses, speciality courses and private dives. But if you don’t want to dive, there are also miriad snorkel opportunities. I’ve already mentioned the turtle adventure, but also well worth signing up for is the nurse shark snorkelling and manta snorkelling. A longer, eight-hour full-day expedition can have you blowing bubbles with whale sharks.
There is also a snorkelling trail around the island that passes in front of the resort’s signature restaurant, Sea.Fire.Salt. A chat one evening with the resident dive master, Alex, reveals that the oceans around the resort underwent a ‘bleaching’ a couple of years ago, killing a lot of the coral off. Coral is a sensitive organism, vulnerable to extreme weather and sudden environmental changes. The water temperature and salinity need to be absolutely right for it to flourish.
The resort has now undertaken a coral re-growth programme, although it’s a slow process. To grow a reef, coral larvae needs to attach to a hard surface. Crates have been submerged in various parts of the lagoon surrounding Anantara’s resort islands and guests can take part in its ‘Coral Adoption’ programme. They grow at a rate of around eight inches a year but despite the small size of these nascent reef nurseries, they were swarming with fish. If guests choose to plant a coral, the resort will provide follow-up email updates and photos monitoring its progress.
In an area of the world constantly under threat from global warming and rising sea levels, it was heartening to see eco-touches, such as reef-friendly sunscreen provided in all accommodation, as well as refillable canisters of shampoo and conditioner and good old fashioned bars of soap in paper packets. The dive school recommended all sunscreen should be applied at least 30 minutes before entering the water, otherwise it slips off and forms an impervious surface on the ocean, preventing life-giving sunlight from penetrating to the corals below.
But if you want a break from the ocean, the Dhigu swimming pool is large, family-friendly and situated right next to the beach by Fushi Cafe.
All that water-based activity certainly builds up an appetite and the resort offers plenty of memorable dining opportunities. One evening, dining in Sea.Fire.Salt at an oceanside table, we spot grey nurse sharks swim right up to the edge of the jetty below us as we eat. It’s a beautiful moment, three fish gliding gently through the floodlit waters as we enjoy our meal.
Another dining highlight was lunch at the resort’s signature Thai restaurant, Baan Huraa. It is set on a jetty over the lagoon and rather excitingly requires a speedboat to whisk you over. We spend a gorgeous couple of hours completely mesmerised by the rainbow fish flitting in the waters below as we tuck into an indulgent lunch. The spectacular natural aquarium certainly keeps the young children at an adjacent table engaged.
On our last night we chose the resort’s Dining by Design option. The chef and waitstaff duly set-up a naped and draped table on the beach just beyond the garden of our bungalow. Candles are planted in the sand and hung in the branches of overhanging trees and the whole magical scene is polished off with a BBQ and platefuls of grilled seafood, meats and salads as we tuck in under the stars. Love Island eat your heart out.
I have to admit I am pretty blown away by The Maldives. So often brochures promise the earth and on arrival it’s all, well, just slightly underwhelming. But this corner of the world is simply spectacular. My fears about not having enough to occupy us are completely unfounded. I land back in Hong Kong with a heap of dreamy memories and feeling ever so relaxed.
Hong Kong Family Traveller was a guest of Anantara Dhigu. This article first appeared in the Autumn issue of Hong Kong Family Traveller. Never miss an issue by subscribing here.
Cathay Pacific flies five times a week from Hong Kong International Airport to Male. The flight time is just over five-and-a-half hours.
Anantara Dhigu is a forty minute speedboat ride from Male International Airport.
The best times to travel are from Christmas through to early June. Rainy season runs from June until autumn, which is also peak surf season.