Maldives: Into the big blue

By Kerri Jackson

Is there a more beautiful spot in the world than the Maldives? Kerri Jackson doesn't think so.

The Maldives covers a big area but little of it is above water. Photo / Supplied
The Maldives covers a big area but little of it is above water. Photo / Supplied

Life suddenly resembles a Duran Duran video, circa 1983. White sunshades billow in the warm breeze. A large pink sun sets over a glassy torquoise sea as a wooden fishing boat glides past.

The end of another day, as they say, in paradise. And in this instance, paradise is Club Med Kani in The Maldives.

The Maldives have long held a comfortable position on any list of the world's top holiday spots: most beautiful... most romantic... you name it. And it's hard to argue.

The country, just southwest of India, is made up of some 1120 atolls stretching 820km north to south and 120km east to west. Though all that area amounts to just 100sq km of land, and of that, more than 80 per cent of it is less than one metre above sea level.

And arriving at night, skimming across the water on the 30-minute ride from the capital of Male to Kani (full name Kanifinholu), you could be forgiven for thinking there's not enough substance to the place to make up a whole country.

Twinkling lights from other resort islands seem to float on water. And when you wake to the soft lapping of the lagoon beneath your bungalow and venture into the already hot morning, there's barely another island in sight.

This is my first visit to a Club Med resort and before arriving I had some rather exaggerated and, I see now, misguided Hi-de-hi notions of what it might be like - all forced hi-jinks and scheduled fun, with keen staff jollying guests out of their holiday stupor and forcing them to join in.

The reality is quite the opposite. What Club Med does is give guests plenty of ideas to choose from - kayaking, windsurfing, sailing, pilates, sunset yoga and aquarobics (which, I can tell you, is quite exhausting to watch) to name but a few - and from that point how much guests do or don't participate is entirely up to them.

For example, day one for me consisted of: a delicious breakfast followed by a recovery period in a lounger and a cooling soak in the pool; enormous, equally delicious lunch, followed by a recovery period hogging one of the enormous shaded beach beds for just me, my book and my pina colada; then a refreshing wallow in the sea, followed by a soothing spa massage to ease away the day's obvious tensions. By day two I realise, given the deliciousness of the food, I'm going to have to get a bit more active, or things are going to go a bit pear-shaped. Literally.

I ignore the gym despite it's floor to ceiling windows offering beautiful views across the lagoon, and opt

instead for a windsurfing lesson and am soon quite confident I will be contesting nest month's Olympics as long as it involves sailing in only one direction. Otherwise my alarmingly buff Senegalese instructor will have to come with me to tow me back to shore, as he had to do - often - in Kani.

Having a go at any of the watersports at the resort is also an excellent way to appreciate how spectacularly clear the water is here. Stingrays, colourful fish and even a few sunbathing baby sharks (don't panic, they're barely 30cm) are all clearly visible even where the water is metres deep.

As well as being famous for its spectacular beauty, the Maldives is renowned for its world-class diving and snorkelling.

For the amateur snorkeller one of the best excursions is the Blue Lagoon half-day tour. The boat will collect you from the Kani jetty and first whisk you off to one of the most perfect sights you may ever see - a sandbar rising randomly at low tide out of the middle of the sea, creating for a few hours every day what is possibly the world's smallest and most perfect beach.

On the day we visit it becomes another 1980s music video moment by the sight of a lone man barbecuing freshly caught lobster on the sand for the boatload of Italian tourists. We pretend we don't want any lobster and instead swim in the warm shallow waters, blinking to make sure it's all real.

From there the boat heads for the nearby reef where we snorkel and bond with the rainbow nation of fish who call it home. Then we're in for another treat as we come across several pods of dolphins which flirt with the boat, showing off with flips and spins in the air.

The final stop on the tour is a visit to an the island village to meet the shy but friendly locals Back at Kani it's time for another banquet dinner. The food is, sadly for the waistline, an attraction in itself. The main resort restaurant is open for three buffet meals a day - but it's not buffet as you may know it from ghastly family restaurants in New Zealand.

The food here, especially given the scale on which it needs to be made, is a delicious mix of traditional Maldives cuisine - a mix of traditional Indian and Southeast Asian food, with tuna dominant - as well as dishes from throughout the world. It makes the most of the super fresh local produce and every day is different. Pardon me, is my gluttony showing?

Now that I add it all up. this has been a gorgeous holiday of sloth, gluttony and avarice. All deadly sins I'm told. Odd that I should have succumbed to them in paradise.

IF YOU GO

* The Maldives is a Muslim country. Outside the resorts no alcohol is permitted and women must dress "modestly", which essentially means knees and shoulders covered.

* The Maldives rainy season lasts June to August, but even then showers generally pass quickly overhead. If it rains hit the spa at Kani; having a facial or massage as the rain drums against the woven huts is a gorgeous experience.

* Kani is particularly focused at couples though it's open to everybody. Children are welcome but the resort does not have the specific child facilities and activities Club Med's family resorts have. Club Med resorts are all-inclusive, meaning all meals and drinks are included in the tariff.

* See your travel agent, call 0800 258 263, or visit clubmed.co.nz for more information.

- Herald on Sunday

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