Comprising a series of coral islands and atolls in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives is most easily explored by boat. Dhonis are charming, open-sided fishing boats available for charter from the capital, Male and most island resorts. The price depends on destination, trip length and your negotiation skills. Island-hopping for a day should cost around AUD$250.
Many travellers will go from the capital, Male, to their island or resort by seaplane. They can also take you between islands during your stay and can be chartered for sightseeing or photography trips. They're not cheap – prices start at around AUD$100 for a 20-minute flight – but the breathtaking view they offer of the atolls, islands, reefs and lagoons is worth every penny.
For those who seek adventure over romance, speedboats are an excellent option. They travel greater distances than their more traditional counterparts, and for around AUD$300 you can spend the day racing around the islands in style with a captain and small crew. Be warned that on some islands you will be required to refuel the boat at the end of the tour.
A vedi is a large dhoni that travels between Male and the outermost atolls. Mostly used for local trading, they are slow but cheap. A trip to the southernmost atoll, Addu, will take two days and cost around AUD$19. If you don't mind the lack of creature comforts then a vedi would certainly be an authentic local experience.
The Maldives is balmy all year, with the temperature rarely dipping below 30°C. There are wetter periods though – May to November hosts impressive storms. Prices will be at their lowest then, but if you don't fancy having your sunbathing interrupted by lashing rain, opt for December to April. For underwater adventurers diving is good year-round while surfers should aim for March and October.
Tipping is not compulsory in the Maldives as a 10 per cent service charge is added to almost everything, from minibar drinks to room prices. However, the high standard of service and low staff salaries means most tourists do give extra – often at the end of the holiday rather than every day. Look out for an ‘unseen staff' tipping box.
Lightweight cotton clothes should make up the bulk of your suitcase. You're likely to spend the day clad simply in swimwear, shorts, sarongs and flip-flops. Being a Muslim country, you will need to dress more modestly in restaurants. Pack shoes for swimming to avoid coral cuts and, unless you fancy a lobster-red complexion, take hats and tons of sunscreen.
There are a few things to bear in mind when donning your goggles and flippers. Corals can be killed if you touch or step on them, so be careful when snorkelling and diving. Also, tropical fish are unable to digest bread, so resist the urge to throw them table scraps. It could kill them – and the idyllic mood.
Singapore Airlines operates daily flights from Auckland with a stopover in Singapore. The total journey time is 17 hours.
The airport is located on the island of Hulhule, 2km from the capital, Male. Most visitors are met by travel reps outside customs and whisked away to their resorts. If you are making your own way by boat, it is generally easiest to go from Male. The trip will take 20 minutes and cost you as little as AUD$1.
Resorts located more than 15km away from Male usually offer transfer by speedboat. Again, costs vary depending on the distance but you can reasonably expect to pay between AUD$50 and AUD$100. Speedboat transfer is often part of your package price, but if a dhoni is on offer and you want to get there faster, you'll have to pay extra for a speedboat.
Once you've stepped off the ferry in Male there are several transfer options available to you. Dhonis, traditional Maldivian boats that you'll find in the harbour, can take you to your resort, provided it is less than 15km away. Progress will be slow and steady but they offer a less expensive fare than seaplanes and speedboats. Prices vary, but you're looking at around AUD$50.
Seaplanes offer a stunning aerial introduction to the glorious reefs, islands and lagoons of the Maldives – and they'll get you to your island at pace. There are two charter seaplane companies and both fly from the seaplane port right next to Male airport. As the most expensive way to transfer to your island, it'll cost between AUD$140 and AUD$350.
Though you may be unnerved by their vast size at first – their wingspan can reach 20 feet – these beautiful, peaceful creatures are harmless. Manta ray swimming tours are available to both divers and snorkelers. Watching their elegant forms swooping, gliding and spiralling all around you is something you will be dreaming about long after your tan has faded.
This beautiful mosque in Male, dating from 1656, is the oldest in the country. Though the outside is protected by corrugated iron, don't be put off. Look closer and you'll see its coral walls are carved with intricate Arabic writings and patterns. The extraordinary lacquer and artwork of its interior is equally breathtaking. For those seeking culture, this is a must-see.
Marvel at the Maldives' stunning coral reefs, tropical fish, turtles and sharks from the comfort of the Whale Submarine. This is the largest passenger submarine in the world. Boats from Male and the airport take you to its dock off the coast, where you'll be given a drink before boarding. It costs around AUD$80 for an adult and AUD$40 for a child (no under threes).
Although simply reclining on a soft white beach and listening to the rhythmic lapping of the waves will soon have you feeling soothed, visiting a Maldivian spa is essential. Using traditional treatments such as sand massage, virgin coconut oil and gandhakolhi leaf (for aches and pains), these little temples of luxury must be top of any to-do lists.
Set 16-feet below sea level, this is the world's first all-glass underwater restaurant. Sit back and savour mouth-watering dishes like rock lobster with sauvignon-blanc cream sauce while enjoying 180° views of the coral and marine life. It's seriously delicious, and seriously expensive. Prices start at AU$120 for lunch. Note that attire is smart and you need to book two weeks in advance.
The Deep End restaurant – laid out over the glistening blue waters at the Taj Exotica Hotel – has won numerous plaudits for its cuisine. Savour sumptuous dishes like Moroccan spiced spiny lobster medallions and Turkish delight chocolate souffle. Prices are high but you will leave replete and bearing little gifts, such as beautifully wrapped coffee granules for the morning.
This large, sleek restaurant in the capital offers an array of enticing dishes from all over the world. Spicy lamb cutlets, Maldivian chicken curry, prawns on avocado salsa – there's something to suit every palate. You'll receive excellent service in lovely surroundings and a bill that won't give you indigestion. Main courses start from only AUD$5.
This beachfront eatery – romantically candlelit at night – offers delicious, local and international cuisine in a beautiful authentic setting. Enjoy spicy local delicacies and international fare served on tables laid out over the sand and covered by a natural alang-alang (dried grass) roof. Prices are reasonable, service is fantastic and the atmosphere is unforgettable.
This luxurious establishment boasts the world's first underwater treatment rooms. Revitalise body and soul with a heavenly creme de la mer facial, ayurvedic massage or a manicure and pedicure while watching angelfish and turtles floating by. Its packages include the aptly named Indulgence, Especially for Him and Reconnection.
Surrounded by the stillness of a vast glistening lagoon, this stunning spa uses ancient wellness techniques practised for generations by Indian royalty. Carved from wood and stone, and including over-water pavillions, it offers an array of blissful therapies, yoga and culinary delights in a subtle, intimate and elegant atmosphere.
Nestled on its very own tropical island, this haven of tranquillity offers the ultimate in sumptuous spa treatments. Indulge in a Maldivian Hathareh massage, where two therapists work in tandem to leave you feeling deeply soothed, or book yourself in for the night spa and experience heavenly relaxation under the stars.
Stretch to the panoramic horizon with yoga sessions on a teak-lined floating platform. Take a rejuvenating rainforest shower or drift off during a massage on the expansive luxurious sunbed. You can even seek spiritual fulfillment with a healing painting session. There is a never-ending supply of bliss in store at this tropical oasis.
After waking up to the sound of gentle waves and tropical birdsong, make your way to your resort's eclectic breakfast buffet. Indulge in eggs and bacon, continental pastries, or, for the more adventurous, the local morning fare of fish curry. Spend the day relaxing on your lounger and snorkelling in the coral reefs with their colourful, curious fish. Enjoy sundowners on the beach, followed by a delicious dinner in your open-sided restaurant. End the evening with cocktails and crab racing at the bar.
Make your way to Male for a day of culture. Spend the morning marvelling at the wood carvings and exquisite artwork of the ancient Hukuru Miskiiy mosque. Savour a mouth-watering lunch at Aioli Restaurant before heading off to the small but impressive National Museum, brimming with fascinating artefacts including a coral stone head of Buddha. Finish the day with a trip to the crowded, colourful fish market, where you'll marvel at the size of the freshly caught swordfish and barracuda.
Wake up early and board a dhoni for a morning spent swimming with dolphins. Return to your island for a relaxing lunch and then an afternoon of pure sensorial indulgence at the spa. At sundown, take to the water again for a spot of tranquil night fishing. Your catch will be grilled to perfection by the tour chefs on a deserted island. You'll eat by the light of the stars while watching rays and baby reef sharks glide past you in the shallows.
Spend the morning diving, or, for the uninitiated, taking one of the excellent courses on offer. Training takes place in the local reef, and with over a thousand species of fish and underwater creatures inhabiting Maldivian waters, this is an experience worth signing up for. Later head off to the water sports centre for an afternoon of jet skiing and parasailing. End the day with a private dinner on the beach while being serenaded by local musicians.
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