The Maldives: a honeymoon paradise where people take sunset strolls and spell out proposals of marriage in shells on powdery white beaches; where time slows down and life swims at the pace of the giant green turtles trawling the reefs. But there is another side to paradise – a side where the world’s top surfers gather to cut through gigantic curling waves; where catamarans slice through the crystal clear seas and scuba-divers explore the depths of submerged reefs.
Last autumn, six former world champion surfers descended on the islands for its inaugural surfing competition. While the Maldives doesn’t quite measure up to Australia’s Gold Coast of South Africa’s Jeffrey’s Bay, waves averaging three to eight feet, and reaching well over 12 feet on a good day, are more than enough for most would-be surfers.
Most resorts have resident instructors available to coach all levels (I stayed on the Four Season’s island resorts of Landaa Giraavaru and Kuda Huraa) and specialist surfing packages are common.
While the pros were off riding the big waves, I started in a placid lagoon at Kuda Huraa. My instructor, a former pro whose patience was only bested by his enthusiasm, acted as a human wave, pushing my board along as I learned the basics of how to stand up (which, for anyone who hasn’t tried, is no mean feat).
By the end of the course I could paddle out to sea, change direction and jump onto my board just in time to watch a wave break in front of me, before crashing back into the water. But the rare moment when I got the timing right was exhilarating – an achievement made all the more rewarding by the amount of effort it took to get there.
When the winds blew in, I swapped my board for one of the island’s catamarans, on which you can sail to the nearby islands. Keep your eyes open and you’ll see pods of hundreds of dolphins leaping out of the water chasing flying fish. On a particularly gusty day you can reach breakneck speeds, the fibreglass vessel almost leaving the water as it zips along.
For anyone seeking adventure, no holiday to the Maldives would be complete without a trip to the bottom of the ocean. Scuba diving lessons are available for all levels, giving everyone a chance to see first-hand the breathtaking array of vividly coloured marine life. Excursions to nearby islands will take you to popular turtle- and manta ray-watching spots and if you’re lucky you could even see a whale shark; the leopard-print, gentle giants of the ocean.
As the sun sets you can head out on a ferry to line-fish for your dinner, which the island chefs will cook for you. Others on my boat caught fat red snappers and bream. I wasn’t so lucky – my line stayed resolutely slack, which just goes to show there are some things you can’t control, even somewhere as perfect as the Maldives.
And when you return to shore, you’re stepping back into paradise; the perfect place for a romantic break for one. Located 250 miles south west of India, the Maldives are as secluded as anywhere in the world. Look out the window of your flight as you approach and you’ll see hundreds of tiny islands, some only a few feet across, glowing like turquoise bacteria in a gigantic blue Petri-dish.
There is something uniquely satisfying about lying in a hammock, hundreds of miles from everything and everyone you know, listening to the low rumble of a tropical storm breaking on the horizon.
If everything sounds a little too perfect, it’s because, in a sense, it is. The islands have been sculpted in an architect’s impression of paradise – no branch is out of place or stray rock allowed to rest on the beach. The islands are regularly fumigated to get rid of mosquitoes and an army of staff will follow you around, sweeping away your footsteps to give the impression that, when you walk onto the beach, you are the first person ever to set foot there. It’s the equivalent of the planet-making business in The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, where perfectly constructed worlds are churned out for those with the available funds.
At dusk the pathways are lit by tiki torches burning incense, warding off any mosquitoes who hadn’t got the message after the latest fumigation. Leaves rustle underfoot to the zig-zagging of hermit crabs, dragging their borrowed homes across the island.
The biggest inconvenience – the only inconvenience, come to think of it – was a short war I waged against a colony of large black ants, which invaded my villa after getting wind of the melted chocolate left lying there. I picked off a few of the first battalion before surrendering to a tactical defeat, allowing them to occupy the space between the Nespresso machine and a carved box of ethnic trinkets. Instead of pressing home their victory, the ants seemed content with their lot – appearing to fall asleep and never venturing further into unknown territory. By the morning all trace of them had gone – even their dead had been carried away. It was, in retrospect, a stupid, pointless war.
Although the Maldives are officially Muslim, the islands borrow heavily from Hindu and Buddhist traditions, with yoga and tantra practitioners on site. I diligently woke at 6.30am every day for sunrise yoga – which is as alien to me as moon cheese – and drank very little. After a week, I felt healthier than I have in my adult life – relaxed, more supple, with the healthy glow that sunlight and exercise will give you.
The Maldives is far more than a honeymoon retreat. Whether it is adventure or relaxation you’re looking for, it’s here in abundance. You won’t come away feeling like you’ve tackled nature head-on – but that would be missing the point. This is painstakingly constructed paradise; thrills set against a backdrop of luxury. And everyone could do with that every now and then.
NEED TO KNOW: THE RESORT
THE Four Seasons resort of Kuda Huraa is tiny, a picture postcard island with white sand beaches surrounding the entire island. A gigantic four poster bed dominated my beach-side villa (everything is beach-side on an island of this size) and outside was a shaded bed to lounge in, a hot-tub and a plunge-pool. The luxury spa – located on its own tiny island accessible by a small ferry – is a must. The building is on stilts above the water and under the masseuse’s tables are clear perspex windows, allowing you to watch fish swim by as the knots are kneaded from your shoulders.
The island has three great restaurants; Cafe Huraa, the Reef Club and Kandu Grill, which is the pick of the bunch, serving fish and seafood pulled straight from the ocean.
Landaa Giraavaru, a second Four Seasons resort a short sea plane ride away, has a different atmosphere to is smaller sibling, with more dense vegetation and chirruping lizards. The villas are also bigger, looking like they have been designed for the Maldives edition of The Sims. They are gigantic, with huge outdoor structures, complete with tables and a spiral staircase to a hidden hammock overlooking the ocean.
Kuoni (01306 747008 or kuoni.co.uk) offers 7 nights on room and breakfast at the Four Seasons Resort Maldives, staying 4 nights at Kuda Huraa in a beach pavilion with plunge pool and 3 nights at Landaa Giraavaru in a beach bungalow with pool, including return flights with Sri Lankan Airlines from Heathrow. Prices for June 2012 from £5,534 for a single traveller. www.fourseasons.com