Martine Bury concludes that three resorts are better than one. Read the article in the current issue of Quest Magazine and below.
The first morning I arose in my over-water bungalow at the Four Seasons Kuda Huraa in the Maldives, I walked straight out to the deck to drink in the surreal view. There was water as far as my eyes could see, crystalline and turquoise blue. A few feet directly below a graceful, solitary blacktip reef shark glided through the tranquil waters lapping at the structure’s wooden beams. Home to over 30 species of sharks, including the elusive, gentle whale shark, the Maldivian archipelago is a designated sanctuary for these fish spanning 35,000-square miles of Arabian Sean in the Indian Ocean. Suffice to say, I didn’t spend much time contemplating the swath of nature that spread out before me. I grabbed my iPhone, took a shot and promptly posted it on Instagram and Facebook—the modern- day postcard. The immediate reaction of scores of friends and acquaintances overwhelmingly expressed that this breathtaking range of 1,200 coral is- lands, dotting this intimidating spread of ocean, is at the top of most people’s bucket list. “Dream trip,” “Bucket list,” “Wow, wow, wow.”
Scientists have grimly speculated that the chain of Maldive Islands—name derived from mālā, the Sanskrit word for garland—will soon disappear, and succumb to rising sea levels. With a sense of excitement and urgency, I wanted to get the most possible out of the experience on every level. Comprised of three unique resorts, The Four Seasons Maldives made it easy. Inspired by the region’s singular, aquatic sense of place, it was time to really see the sea.
Faced with hundreds of islands, over 110 resorts, more than 50 additional resort projects in the works in this delicate ecosystem and the desire to get to know this uniquely mixed native Indo-European culture, one can be plagued by the tyranny of choice. A stay at the Four Seasons allows guests to explore many special environments in the Maldives in a seamless experience combining two private island resorts and a luxury live-aboard yacht.
The 12-acre garden island Four Seasons Kudaa Huraa is a diminutive destination compared to the 44-acre jungle island Landaa Giraavaru, its more remote sister property in the Maldives’ only UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve Baa Atoll. Docked at Kuda Huraa, the 11-cabin, three-deck yacht Four Seasons Explorer is literally a floating luxury lodge for die-hard divers complete with staff, dive pros and a boat tender following on a traditional Maldivian vessel to cater to every need. In the details, the resort’s highly curated experiences always remind you that no matter how lavish life can be on the surface, you are there to experience what’s underneath it. You have to take the plunge.
From the moment I disembarked Cathay Pacific Airways’ new direct flight to Malé from Hong Kong for the late night, 25-minute speedboat ride to Kuda Huraa, I had to get my sea legs. With its Island Spa, four great restaurants and stretches of white sand beach, the resort was the perfect entrée to my Maldivian journey. I soon discovered that this very special grouping of properties offers inspiring opportunities for all-out luxury, high-adrenaline adventure, centering mind-body experiences, as well as meaningful conservation. Here is my ‘bucket list some life-changing things you can only do at Four Seasons Maldives.
Ride the Next Wave
With prime exposure to Southern Ocean swells and rock star breaks such as Chickens, Jailbreaks and Sultans, the Maldives boasts near-year-round ideal surfing conditions in the Malé, Central and Outer Atolls. Kuda Huraa offers every level of thrill from expert-taught surfing lessons to seven-day guided “surfaris” aboard the Explorer, touring secret spots. But the ultimate ride is the private seaplane surfari, led by Tropicsurf pros. Rush-seekers charter a private seaplane, fly from break to break and chase the waves for a solo fantasy or a man-date for up to eight participants, surfing at will and discovering untouched shores.
Live on a Boat
A private charter cruise is the best way to connect to the essence of the Maldives. Reputed to be the island nation’s swiftest, most opulent live-aboard, Four seasons explorer excursions are completely bespoke. On a multi-day trip, the 128-foot catamaran spoils up to 22 guests with luxuries such as on-board massages, champagne cocktails and torch-lit dinners on remote sandbars surrounded by the sea. Dive and snorkeling expeditions range from leisurely to scientific (marine biologists in tow), with opportunities to peek into the colorful coral architecture of this expansive underwater volcanic mountain range and spot rare wildlife—native turtles, giant whale sharks and willowy manta rays, the space aliens of the sea.
Make a Clean Start
All stripes of watersports and spa treatments are available at both island resorts. But Landaa Giravaaru offers opportunities to both unplug and achieve enlightened wellness at the spa & Ayurvedic retreat, a destination in its own right. While there, I consulted with resident Ayurvedic Physician Dr. Shylesh Subramanya, whose background is in sports medicine. While he educates and customizes treatments for guests, he is also part of a team spearheading innovative offerings such as the Sleep Clinic, individualized detox programs and even private cooking classes. Also on the menu at both resorts is the night spa, starting at 10 p.m., where open-air treatments, like the chakra-balancing Om Supti Ritual, make you feel the island is your own as you melt beneath a blanket of stars and canopy of banyan trees.
Save the Sea Life
The most compelling reasons to visit the Maldives are the environment, the wildlife in the ocean and the people who live above it. As one of the world’s poorest countries, a tug of war exists between the first big enterprise, tourism, and the second, fishing, both connected to a way of life. Environmental challenges, such ocean acidification, higher temperatures—and especially rising sea levels—are a genuine concern. The Four Seasons Maldives gets guests involved in mitigating these problems through first-hand experiences with accredited research, rescue and conservation experts. Kuda Huraa’s Marine Discovery Centre works with trailblazing organizations such as Center for Responsible Tourism (CREST) and Seamarc. Focused on protecting, monitoring and rehabilitating the region’s seven species of turtles, the resort is home to the Maldivian sea Turtle Conservation Program and the olive ridley Project. On Turtle Safari, guests actively participate in the monitoring of the turtle population while diving with marine biologists.
The reefscapers and Coral research initiatives offer hands-on experiences. Area reefs have been on the decline since a devastating El Nino event in 1998 and due to continual warming of the water. Dedicated to bringing the reefs back to health, the team gets guests involved in the building of coral frames. Coral fragments are carefully attached with simple cable ties, deposited into a specified location in the ocean, recorded in a database and monitored. You can even “adopt” a frame and track its growth over the years. With over 1,200 coral frames successfully planted between the two resorts, this program has boosted the reefs surrounding the resorts by 20 percent.
On my last full day at Landaa Giraavaru, I got a thrilling wakeup call. “Manta on Call” began with notification by phone that manta rays had been spotted about 20 minutes away by the resident Maldivian Manta Ray Project Team. Quickly, we were whisked away by boat to Baa Atoll’s Hanifaru Bay to snorkel with the friendly, mysterious winged fish, helping the researchers spot the rays as they took ID photos for the manta database.
Mesmerized by the creature, I lost myself in its effortless, floating motion and looking beneath me at the endless crater of deep blue, breathless. The manta had vanished in a flash. So many things about the Maldives I couldn’t take with me or share. They just left an indelible picture in my mind.
For more information about the Four Seasons Maldives, contact your Travel Professional or visit us online at www.kerdowney.com. To read the current issue of QUEST magazine online, click here, and be sure to stay up to date on all of QUEST’s online content by following the QUEST Facebook page.