A taste of paradise in the bountiful islands of the Maldives

Explore's Buddha's Island + Maldive Dhoni Cruise

Explore's Buddha's Island + Maldive Dhoni Cruise

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A PLATE of fresh coconut sat on the table in front of me, accompanied by some fruity drink.

I couldn’t help thinking of those Bounty adverts promoting a taste of paradise to the cold gloom of 1970s Britain.

I don’t know if confectionery commercials were filmed in the Maldives but they could have been, for this part of the globe is paradise personified.

Resting like a string of pearls in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives consists of 1,200 islands grouped in 26 atolls. Interestingly, the word atoll, meaning ring-shaped coral reef and small island, is the only Maldivian word to enter the English dictionary.

The country’s land mass accounts for less than one per cent of its area, with the remaining 99 per cent water. The Maldives once formed a maritime trading post, with Arab commerce prompting the conversion of the Sultan to Islam in the 12th century.

The rest of the islanders followed suit, creating what is still the smallest Muslim nation on earth, where faith acts as the bedrock of society.

Travel between the islands is on the ubiquitous Dhoni, a craft developed from the Arab Dhow, that has seen sufficient modification to create a singularly Maldivian vessel.

Life aboard is idyllic. Bunches of ripening bananas hang from the boat’s canopy, while a chef creates seemingly-impossible culinary masterpieces in the small galley.

One morning there was great excitement as our crew arrived back from their dawn fishing trip. A large Grouper, Barracuda and two Giant Trevally were hauled aboard to be filleted, before being served grilled that evening.

And after hard days of doing practically nothing, you are rocked to sleep by the gentle motion of a boat moored to the ocean floor. The cabins are compact and adequate but sleeping al fresco is the real deal, beneath a ceiling of inky-black sky and glittering stars.

One afternoon, the Dhoni arrived at Felidhoo Atoll, which contains the world’s second largest reef behind Australia’s Great Barrier. The islands appeared as blobs of vegetation, surrounded by the gleaming white sand of coral crushed by crashing waves since the dawn of time.

Along the coastline, fisherman brought the day’s catch ashore, often leaving these rare and wonderful species to dry in the midday sun. On the beaches, crabs scuttled sideways in a comical dance before burying themselves to escape hungry predators.

Wonders of the natural world are never far away and snorkelling offered underwater snapshots of a marine eco-system that has existed in harmony for millennium. Gold-striped Bream, Oriental Sweetlips, Royal Angelfish, Long-Nosed Butterflyfish, Blue Surgeonfish and Black-footed Anenomefish provided foreground interest to this real-life aquarium. The species appear to have been designed by an avant-garde painter and their show is carried out against a backdrop of corals, giant clams, starfish and sea urchins.

The following day Mother Nature wheeled out her main attractions. A pair of Stingray flapped along the ocean bed, then a giant turtle paddled over the reef’s edge before plummeting into the infinite blue below. Two Barracuda traced a path through the water, smoother than a laser, while a Moray Eel poked its unattractive face from a hole in the coral.

But the best was saved until last. Close to the boat, a Whitetipped Reef Shark gazed from the sanctity of its cave, belying its fearsome reputation and seemingly more wary of its visitors than they were of it.

It was a fitting finale to the drama of a particularly harmonious aquatic symphony, a composition that perhaps should be titled Taste Of Paradise.

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