November 2017…cruising the atolls of the Maldives
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It wasn’t the kindest way to start an idealic cruise through the Maldives, a 1:30am wake up call, a 2.5 hour drive from Uluwatu to Sri Lanka’s Bandaranaike International Airport and a 1 hour flight to from Sri Lanka to Male (capital of Maldives), but by 9am local time I was boarding the Gahaa, my home for the next week, and heading to bluest of blue waters in the Maldives.
I met the crew of the Gahaa upon boarding – Moosa as Captain, Sham as Guide, Nazrul as Chef, Maahil as Waiter and Alam as Room Boy. There was also Sarah, Nikki, Glennis, Claire, Andrew, Maria and Lee travelling with me, we all knew each other as we had traveled together in Sri Lanka the week before.
It didn’t take long once we left the harbour of Male (capital of Maldives) that we saw our first pod of dolphins. We all squealed with excitement as we watched them jumping and diving in and out of the water and basically having a fantastic time, such beautiful animals…it was going to be a glorious week!
The Republic of Maldives is a chain of 26 atolls (or large coral formations) strung along the Indian Ocean south of India and west of Sri Lanka – 200 of the Maldives’ islands are uninhabited and 80 of the islands are lived on. The population sitting at about 360,000. Islam is practiced. The main industries are tourism and fishing.
We cruised for about five hours the first day passing atolls (where you can really notice the different shades of blue – it is even more stunning than in photos), small islands and over water bungalows. We anchored in what felt like the middle of the ocean, a very calm ocean, there was nothing else around. It was surreal.
There was enough puff left in the sun for us to tackle our first snorkel, which would be part of our schedule for the week – 2 snorkels every day in different locations. We climbed aboard the bouncy dingy with flippers, goggles and Go-Pros in hand and headed to the drop between the sandy, crystal clear waters and the darker deeper water where the coral clings to. My initial thoughts, the water was incredibly warm.
The shallow islands and coral reefs are home for about 700 species of colorful fish and other marine life and snorkeling is one of the best ways to glimpse this underwater world – I was amazed by what I saw so quickly after jumping into the water, so many fish and even a turtle.
Day 1 was Male to Vaavu Atoll (ocean anchor)
I woke at 1am the next morning to the boat gently rocking with the wind that had whipped up, the crew scurried around to “batten down the hatches” literally and close the port holes. My bunk (more details at the end) looked into a port hole so I could see the lightening in the distance, not long after the rain came.
At 6am I rose to an overcast day and the sound of the engine kick in as we started cruising towards Dhigghi Resort, which took about 2 hours, having breakfast of toast, french toast, fruit and omelettes along the way. We also got a surprise to see Pilot whales swimming. We were all fooled into thinking it was another pod of dolphins, however Pilot whales are more docile and they glide gently in and out of water as opposed to diving up and down.
We anchored outside of Dhigghi Resort mid morning and had the opportunity to swim with Nurse sharks. SHARKS! Nurse sharks generally feed on small fish and are sedentary in nature, preferring to live along the bottom of the sea floor so an attack is quiet slim, however a shark is a shark so whilst nervy it was exhilarating! There was probably about 50 of these beautiful creatures swimming around us, they weren’t worried about us, so I tried my best to not be worried about them. It was definitely an experience I can say I have done.
After the mornings excitement we continued to cruise south and anchored at Hukuru Sandbar. We swam from the boat into the dark blue waters into stunningly white water. This is what dreams are made of…no words needs…
I am just going to leave this here…
The water was warm and crystally clear, the sand was soft and white and yes it was all ours.
But the day two didn’t finish there, after a couple of hours of bliss, we swam back to the boat, had lunch and cruised for about an hour to Hulhidhoo Reef for another spectacular session of snorkeling – there was massive schools of tiny fish and I saw an eel and an Angel fish. Back on board we traveled to Bodumohoraa and anchored for our second night next to a now uninhabited island and a surf break. I could the sounds of the surf rolling in over sand.
We took the dingy over to the island and walked around. Sadly this island attracts all the wash of the rubbish; which is a shit load; and is extremely disappointing. The rubbish is from a combination of tourists, cruise ships and locals. The island had been lived on but is now abandoned, the eerie silence was still left…
Day 2 was Vaavu Atoll to Dhigghi Resort to Hukuru Sandbar to Hulhidhoo Reef to Bodumohoraa
The next day, after a relaxing evening and being gently rocked to sleep a few of us jumped from the boat and did a couple of laps to wake up before breakfast. What a way to start the day! We saw another pod of dolphins as we cruised and this time the dolphins swam right up against the hull of the boat. We left Vaavu Atoll and cruised out over the surf and into the deeper water. We took the dingy out for our first snorkel of the day and it one of the best days we had for marine life.
I saw three eagle rays, a small reef shark, a turtle, a lion fish, an octopus, an eel, a sting ray and so many different types of fish life. I wasn’t quick enough (or GoPro savvy enough to capture everything).
We arrived at Diggaru late in the afternoon approaching on dark and stormy weather meaning instead of anchoring out in the ocean we moved into the island’s harbour and anchored there for the evening.
After the storm passed we went to visit the island of 1000 people, 119 kilometres from Male. Diggaru has an ambulance station (which is the only vehicle on the island), a school, a grocery stores, a fish market, sports ground and homes.
The island is powered fully by diesel generators and they have a large stockpile of diesel which is barged in about once a month. In each home there is a water tank for fresh water. The streets are sandy but clean, tidy and loved. There are seats at the front of houses for socialising and chatter. The colours are delightful pinks, purples, blues and greens giving off tropical vibes. There is a chief in charge of the island.
As I walked back to the harbour at dusk the Call for Prayer sounded…
Day 3 was Bodumohoraa to Diggaru
The cruise after waking on day four was as smooth as glass, all the colours of the water were alive as we moved through the hot morning’s sun. Breakfast was crepes and I realised I hadn’t had a shower or washed my hair since boarding, relying on the daily swims of salt water to clean me. We arrived Fenbo Finolhu for a snorkel in the warm water, then departed and ate lunch of pasta, vegetables and deep fried cheesy balls. I read a book on the deck and listened to the chef in the background sing Indian dance songs.
We arrived shortly after at a small uninhabited island and dingyed-it to land. There was rubbish around the island and we picked up a few bags of jump to help combat the never ending battle. It was then followed by hours of lazing in the silky sand, feeling the soft waves lap and watching tiny fish dart around…as well as enjoying the storm clouds roll in once again.
Dinner was served back on the boat – a feast of freshly caught fish (tuna) from that day, vegetables and curry and as always fruit was enjoyed as dessert.
Day 4 was Diggaru to Fenbo Finolhu
My body clock roused at sunrise and I climbed to the top deck to have a quick yoga session in the hot, cloudless sky before we set sail to a sandbar in the middle of nowhere. I walked the length of the thin bar and as the tide changed the sand virtually disappeared.
We arrived at Fulidhoo Island after a snorkel, lunch and a 2 hour cruise. Fulidhoo is a tourist island – there are resorts, a dive shop, souvenir shops and you can even buy an ice cream. We walked the island, home to about 400 people and saw the school, boat building workshop, basketball court and mosque.
We were treated to a Bodu Beru (big drum) performance of traditional folk music. A group of men (and some women) sing to the rhythmical beat of drums till they reach a crescendo and stop abruptly.
We even got to meet a stingray “rangler”, a lovely local to Fulidhoo who took great pleasure in showing us his prides and joys which even enjoy a scratch under the chin! #ripsteveirwin
Day 5 was Fenbo Finolhu to Fulidhoo Island
The next morning we arrived at a prime turtle habitat and in the rainy weather we jumped into the water to snorkel. The area we explored has been bleached and the coral is dead, however this means the algae grows in abundance and the turtles love feeding off algae. It didn’t take long and I was swimming within arms reach of a wild turtle – what a feeling! I think I counted about 8 of these beautiful creatures.
It was a surreal way to finish a journey of a lifetime…it was also slightly sad to know we had to make our way back to Male the next morning. However we were treated to a perfect sunset to finish a week of cruising.
Day 6 was Fulidhoo Island to outside Male
Day 7 was travelling back to Male
The Gahaa had 4 double rooms, a crew quarters, kitchen, outside dining area, top deck and front area.
Inside each room was 2 x bunk beds, a cupboard, a fan, window, hatch and a separate bathroom (with sink, toilet and shower over toilet).
The Gahaa ran on diesel fuel (which can sometimes get a little stinky and noisy) and holds enough diesel to last the whole week (there are no sails) so no need to stop for a re-fuel. At night the generator (run on diesel) kicks in so there is a low hum at all times. The fridge runs on the generator as well.
We didn’t need to purchase food anywhere along the journey, all the food and fruit lasted us. The crew caught fish. We ate lots of vegetables, pasta and curries. Nazrul, the Indian chef was fantastic and we did not go hungry. He even baked us a chocolate cake for smoko!
I travelled with a G Adventures tour in November which is the start of the dry season in the Maldives, however it was quite rainy and cloudy when I visited.
I have never spent more than a few hours on a boat at a time and childhood memories of fishing trips at Bribie Island did haunt me. However after an initial feeling of sea sickness while we were anchored in Male harbour I felt pretty good the whole way and gained my sea legs.