You’ll be hooked by the wondrous Maldives sea life – finding a slice of paradise in South Ari Atoll
- Max Hastings stayed at the Lux resort on South Ari Atoll, arriving by sea-plane
- South Ari is less than a mile-and-a-half long and there are no cars on the island
- He enjoyed snorkeling and caught a 20lb wahoo during a fishing expedition
We drifted with the current. Beneath us bannerfish, butter- flyfish, snappers, spangled emperors and unicornfish flitted about. Turtles and manta rays were miraculously unafraid.
We glimpsed the occasional reef shark; a brilliantly-maned lionfish. Who could resist another little passer-by named the seal-faced puffer? My wife Penny and I are passionate snorkellers, and the Maldives are among the great playgrounds for our kind.
Every hotel amid the thousand islands scattered across the Indian Ocean south-west of Sri Lanka offers boats for watersports and fish-watching.
Paradise: The Lux resort on South Ari Atoll, which is less than a mile-and-a-half long
Through the glass floor of our villa set on stilts above the sea at the Lux resort on South Ari Atoll, we watched the octopus that lived in a heap of rocks ten feet below. Remind me not to be reincarnated as an octopus: you spend half your life waiting for lunch to swim within tentacle-reach; the other half hiding, to avoid becoming somebody else’s entree.
Guests reach the Lux resort via a half-hour flight, itself a pleasing little adventure, on one of the fleet of floatplanes that services the islands.
South Ari is less than a mile-and-a-half long, and one of its joys is the absence of motor vehicles: everybody walks, rides an electric buggy, or bikes. As the place is dead flat, even pedallers of our age are unlikely to suffer coronaries, and we went everywhere on two wheels.
The four restaurants serve every kind of Western and Asian food. We rotated between them, especially savouring the Italian place’s pasta arrabiata.
The Lux’s 400-odd guests are a three-way spread of British, European and Asian. Each evening we walked the length of the island’s pristine beach, watching tables set for the honeymooners who opted for candlelit dinners on the sand.
We fell in love with Goni, the warm, tough, laconic boatman who took us out to the reefs. I had special reason to appreciate him, because I would never have made it back into the pitching speedboat without being heaved onboard by his brute strength.
On our most spectacular day, we peeled away from our usual dozen-strong group to take a private 20-mile trip to an uninhabited atoll.
On the passage we trolled long fishing lines, and I took up a rod to bring in a 20lb wahoo. Then for an hour we snorkelled blissfully, without another soul or boat in sight. Once ashore, Goni and his boys barbecued the wahoo and a couple of snappers. Penny and I lay idling, revelling in the dazzling white sand and azure sea.
Lunch was a gastronomic triumph, though if I am honest, the heavily-spiced snapper tasted better than my own catch. In the afternoon we snorkelled again, then Goni bounced us home across the sea at 40 knots.
Catch of the day: Max impresses guide Goni
Penny and I agreed that the remoteness, amid so much beauty, placed that day among the best of any holiday we remember.
We should acknowledge some flaws in the perfection of this paradise. On our barbecue atoll, it was heartbreaking to see thousands of plastic bottles — the global plague — beached above the tideline.
Years ago when we snorkelled and dived on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, we saw living coral in its brilliance. By contrast, almost all the coral we saw in the Maldives was dead: many reefs resemble moonscapes, up to 75 per cent having fallen victim to bleaching.
How long can the fish populations survive amid such sterility? We had two dud boat outings, in search of the hugely popular, brilliantly spotted whale sharks. In the channel where a few gather, we met 30 other craft on the same mission. Each time a whale-shark briefly appeared, 50 or 60 snorkellers and divers hurled themselves into the sea, mobbing the poor creature. It was a horrible sight, and we quit rather than participate in any more thrashing viewing frenzies.
We adored our Maldives fortnight, and would recommend the Lux to anybody active enough to swim, bike, eat and drink: Penny had to be dragged away from the infinity pool overlooking the ocean outside our villa.
But those thousands of acres of dead coral provide a terrifying reminder of what has been happening to the planet on our generation’s watch. Grandchildren are unlikely to experience more than a fraction of the natural wonders we have seen, either at sea or ashore. Those who love such things should head for the reefs quick . . . while some remain.
Six nights at Lux South Ari Atoll costs from £3,180pp B&B based on two sharing, departing March 2, 2019. Price includes flights from London Heathrow, virginholidays.co.uk. For further information, see visitmaldives.com.
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