The Islamic island nation of the Republic of the Maldives consists of 1,192 beautiful tropical isles laid out in a double chain group clustering of 26 coral atolls that are widely spread out across approximately 90,000 square kilometres, thus making the Maldives one of the world’s most dispersed countries. The 26 massive atolls are largely grouped together in a north and south manner with the capital Malé sitting right in the middle and centre.
The Maldives is also the lowest-lying country in the world, with maximum and average natural ground levels of just between 2.4 metres and 0.75 metres above sea level. In fact, more than 80 per cent of the country’s land is composed of delicate coral reef islands that rise less than one metre above sea level. As a result, the low-lying Maldives are most vulnerable and at an extremely high risk of being submerged due to rising sea levels and coral reef deterioration that have been accelerated by the unrelenting and detrimental effects of climate change.
Needless to say, visiting and photographing the amazingly picturesque and sinking coral atolls of the Maldives is high on the must-do bucket lists of many people, and it certainly has always been a personal dream and wishful desire of mine. Climate change scientists estimate that at the rate that the polar ice caps are melting, the entire region has another 30 to 80 years before it starts to become inhabitable. I decided to finally prioritise visiting the sinking Maldives for myself before it becomes a sunken memory of the past, much like the lost city of Atlantis. I wanted to see with my own eyes how severe the situation might actually be.
With 132 resorts and countless hotels to choose from, visitors to the Maldives are absolutely spoilt for choice. After hours of careful research and narrowing it down to a handful of the best resorts, I finally decided on Hurawalhi and their romantic, private and exclusive sister resort, Kudadoo. These are two of the sparkling jewels on Crown & Champa Resorts’ list of hotel properties in the Maldives. I based my decision primarily on both resorts’ extensive eco-friendly measures and commendable efforts to conserve the marine environment, minimize their carbon footprint and combat climate change, as well as for the fact that the world’s largest all-glass undersea restaurant is located right at Hurawalhi.
Upon landing at Velana International Airport in Malé, we were being chauffeured and whisked away in comfort inside a spacious vehicle to a private holding lounge located right next to the Maldivian seaplane terminal. After a brief albeit refreshing rest stop, we boarded a Hurawalhi seaplane and took an extremely scenic and breathtaking 40 minutes plane ride that flew across and above the northern stretch of Maldivian atolls. Myriad hues and various shades of turquoise, aquamarine, cerulean, azure, teal, and every other possible shade of blue merged and blended the sky, sea and coral isles into a wide panoramic blue mosaic. The plane ride was so enjoyable that I almost did not want it to end. From my vantage point up in the sky, I could clearly and undeniably see that many of the islands were already partially or completely submerged in water.
Depending on who you ask and speak with, the entire climate change issue is either a very real and dire problem, or a load of absolute conspiracy theory hogwash. Interestingly, some of the born and bred Maldivian locals that I quizzed told me that they have not personally and tangibly witnessed the sea levels rising in all of the decades that they have lived in the Maldives. Nonetheless, it is evident and obvious that the peaceful inhabitants of this Indian Ocean nation want to continue to live, play and thrive in their own motherland. This prompted the Maldivian government to reverse the executive order to evacuate and relocate the nation’s inhabitants to higher ground. Mr Mohamed Nasheed, the embattled ex-president of the Maldives delivered an impassioned plea at the United Nations’ climate summit, pleading for all governments of every nation to overcome their petty differences and take decisive and immediate action to tackle the largest environmental crisis of our time. In his speech, he said, “We are not prepared to die. We are not going to become the first victims of the climate crisis. Instead, we are going to do everything in our power to keep our heads above the water.”
The Maldives has the largest population of giant oceanic manta rays in the wild out of any place on earth. We had a blast snorkeling and diving with these elegant creatures as they swam right past us, while we watched marine biology researchers calmly snapping photographs of the unique spotted underbellies of these manta rays that identifies each individual for the Manta Trust’s research archives. The Manta Trust marine biology centre located on the same island as Hurawalhi is an independent and non-profit organization whose chief mission is to advance conservation of these threatened and rapidly declining manta rays and sea turtles in their natural habitats through science, research, education and raising awareness. Resort guests can take part in various educational workshop talks and dive trips run by Hurawalhi’s resident marine biologist and their team of experienced support staff. The bubbly, effervescent and passionate marine biologist who hails from the UK shared with guests her deep knowledge by educating those who were present on better appreciating and understanding the fragility of the marine environment, as well as the need to conserve the natural beauty of the surrounding coral reefs which is home to a large marine biodiversity of aquatic sea creatures.
The Sulha spa that is located over at the top floor of the Retreat building is a slice of heaven that houses the Maldives’ first pink Himalayan salt chamber room with walls that are fully lined from floor to ceiling using mineral-rich pink Himalayan salt that are well over a millennia-old. The spa’s unique signature treatment “The Lonu Immersion” allows weary guests to place their bare feet onto pretty pink Himalayan salt slabs while they rejuvenate their bodies, minds and souls by deeply inhaling the healing salty air, which acts to clear out the sinuses, and eases muscle tension. I fell asleep during my “Heaven on Earth” therapeutic massage treatment at the skillful hands of the highly trained therapists. I even dreamt up my next travel destination while listening to the soothing sounds of the outside rain as the gentle ocean breeze flowed through the wide open windows.
Hurawalhi, which sits on top of the stupendous Lhaviyani atoll, has a neighbouring private sandbank, and boasts four different culinary establishments. The newest of which is called “JFK” (Junk Food Kitchen), which I loved not just for its quirky moniker, but for the fact that it offers a mouth-watering selection of ethical, guilt-free, and delicious vegan takes on comfort food classics such as burgers, nachos, and other finger-licking snacks that they would tempt even the most avid meat eater. For lunch, we headed 5.8 meters down below the surface to the iconic and awe-inspiring “5.8 Undersea Restaurant”, which is this immensely instagramable full glass undersea eatery that allows you to savour world-class fine dining culinary creations and gastronomical delights in the kindred company of a plethora of oceanic fish. For an added cinematic effect, atmospheric and relaxing oceanic musical scores play softly in the background. Indeed, this is a complete feast for all of the senses. As the sun sets over the horizon, we headed over to the lively Kashibo restaurant, where the talented and flamboyant Teppanyaki chef beguiled us with his effortless flair and aplomb as he entertained, flaunted and teased us with his skills, while whipping up tasty Japanese seafood dishes live right in front of our very eyes.
Just when we thought that it could not possibly get any better, next door Kudadoo’s total freedom service motto of “Anything, Anytime, Anywhere” takes the cake and elevates luxury hospitality to a whole new upper echelon level altogether. The moment we arrived via a short speedboat ferry ride from Hurawalhi over to Kudadoo, we were promptly greeted and being introduced to an ensemble of well-groomed key staff members and presented with our own private butler to be at our beck and call. Throughout the entirety of our stay, we were absolutely spoiled by the bespoke and fully customisable 24/7 hospitality and service on this adults-only exclusive private island resort.
Designed by New York-based architectural firm Yuji Yamazaki that also built next-door neighbour Hurawalhi, Kudadoo (which literally means “small island”) is the epitome of luxury island chic with sleek clean lines, a classy earth tone palette and natural sustainable building materials which harmonizes perfectly with the surrounding lush tropical greenery on this unspoiled island paradise. This petite island is home to a variety of exotic wildlife such as different species of shy hermit crabs, lizards and graceful herons. Fifteen spacious overwater villas fan out in a circular ring formation that mimics the natural geographical shape of an atoll. Each of these private villas offers unsurpassed privacy and comfort in a contemporary design setting. There is literally nothing between you and an endless sea of azure blue water and sky. Simply slip off the villa’s pool ledge and you will be snorkelling right next to butterflyfish, blacktip reef sharks, batfish, turtles, and many other aquatic sea animals.
Caring for the fragile environment and social responsibilities towards the local native communities are part of the principal core values of Kudadoo. Every single element and detail on the island has been carefully thought of and put into place in order to effectively minimise the resort’s eco carbon footprint to the maximal extent. The main resort building hub named “The Retreat” has stylised solar roof panels that allow dappled lighting to filter through while it cleverly accentuates the beauty of the surrounding landscape as it harnesses sunlight to totally power the entire island’s electrical needs, with a surplus to boot. This impressive 21-metre high iconic building built over the sea also houses many amenities such as a restaurant, bar, spa, gym, infinity pool, etc, and is the highest vantage viewing point in all of the Maldives.
At the resort’s water sports centre, a wide selection of exhilarating and thrilling water sports activities awaits. During our stay, unlimited jet skiing, water skiing, windsurfing, kayaking, wakeboarding, flyboarding, catamaran sailing, and much more were at our complete disposal. There is more to do here than we could possibly accomplish during our stay. We decided to opt for the active and independent route of discovering nearby idyllic lagoons, tiny sandbanks and little islets by ourselves by paddling our own kayaks. Our butler told us that dolphins, flying fish and sometimes even gargantuan whale sharks make regular and frequent appearances in the surrounding waters especially during sunset time. As such, we took his advice and chartered a private speedboat out into the open sea during the Golden hours of dusk and gawked at schools of playful dolphins leaping out of the ocean showing off their aerial acrobatics flips as we sipped on chilled glasses of expensive champagne and nibbled on healthy snacks.
Text and Photography by: Luke Elijah