Telegraph Luxury Travel Editor John O'Ceallaigh was the first guest to check in to the Muraka - the world's first undersea residence, designed by New Zealand engineer Michael Murphy.
After you've spent 48 hours immersed in a completely alien environment, it's hard to pinpoint the most surreal moment, but I'll never forget seeing the sun set from the sea bed – all alone, bone dry and with a glass of Ruinart in hand.
That morning, I had been the first-ever guest to check in at The Muraka at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island resort. It is the latest lavish, stand-alone villa to open at one of the country's resorts, but it incorporates something unique: encased by a curved acrylic roof, its master suite stands 16ft below the sea's surface. Billed as the world's first undersea residence, it is an abode without compare.
My unconventional Maldivian sunset experience proved a case in point. Couples who visit what may be the world's most predictable luxury honeymoon destination (with good reason, to be fair) will find every high-end resort capitalises on this reliably beautiful daily occurrence by repeating the same roster of themed events, from romantic dinners on the beach to dolphin-watching cruises.
Surrounded by luminous bluestripe snappers and a tightly coiled ball of minuscule silver fish that swirled overhead like a murmuration of starlings, I instead stood in my underwater bedroom as dappled swashes of gold shimmered on the surface above and radiant beams penetrated the pastel-blue waters like spotlights. As the last embers of the day extinguished and darkness descended, the silver fish caught the dying rays and burst into fireworks.
Embedded outside the bedroom, coloured lights (bolstered by watery shafts of moonlight) allow guests to observe passing sea life into nightfall, but Muraka residents aren't restricted to the depths. A Palm Springs-style low-rise set on plinths above the water, the villa's upper-level is vast (at 550sq/m) and multi-faceted.
It includes an infinity pool, sunrise-facing terrace, two additional bedrooms, an expansive open-plan dining room and glass-walled lounge, plus separate quarters for staff.
Guests also enjoy a portfolio of exclusive privileges and experiences. Rates include board and so a private chef and butler are on constant standby; 90 minutes of complimentary spa treatments are offered each day; and tailored excursions aboard the resort's 56ft yacht might include whale-shark expeditions or tours of local islands.
With an additional speedboat, jet skis and other amenities reserved exclusively for Muraka guests, and private seaplane transfers ensuring they come and go in appropriate style, an entire ecosystem has been developed autonomously of the resort. Should they so choose, Muraka clients could stay at the Conrad without ever encountering anyone else visiting it.
Given that rates for up to nine occupants start from US$62,500 (about $91,000) a night inclusive of taxes (depending on what package residents choose), that assured privacy should appeal to the super-rich that make up The Muraka's intended audience, but it begs the question: what is such an elite proposition, representing an $21.5 million investment, doing in a Hilton Hotels-operated Conrad resort where the previous best villa cost about $5600 a night?
While the level of hospitality at The Muraka is pitched significantly above what's on offer elsewhere, the development is less incongruous than it originally seems. It was here that Hilton became the first international hotel brand to establish a presence in the Maldives, back in 1997, and it was also the first Maldivian resort to offer its guests overwater villas. Most significantly, it was here that Ithaa, the world's first underwater restaurant, opened in 2005.
An immediate success, the restaurant's enduring popularity convinced the team that The Muraka would be commercially viable, and lessons learned in Ithaa's construction proved invaluable when considering how to craft it.
Among the development team were three full-time marine biologists, who painstakingly relocated local corals to a nearby nursery and then returned them to the site when development was complete. Sadly, the extreme coral bleaching that so devastated the Maldives two years ago means the results of their labour are less apparent than they may once have been, although there are tentative signs of recovery to be seen and sea life remains abundant.
I was made aware of that on my second day at The Muraka, when our speedboat journey to the property was interrupted by a pod of playful spinner dolphins. Distracted by the spectacle, I returned late to my underwater bedroom to find the external lights already pulsating purple, green and blue, '90s rave-style, as hundreds of fish flitted in dazzling constellations around me. I had returned to what appeared to be an hallucination and searched Spotify for music suited to the occasion.
My choice, of course, was Under the Sea from Disney's 1989 animation The Little Mermaid, which is why I found myself nodding along in agreement as a cartoon crustacean called Sebastian sang, 'Just look at the world around you, right here on the ocean floor. Such wonderful things surround you, what more is you lookin' for?' On second thoughts, that was the most surreal moment of my stay.
The Muraka at Conrad Maldives Rangali Islandaccommodates up to six adults and three children. Itineraries are fully personalised and so rates vary. A four-night stay for two, incorporating the experiences referenced above, could cost approximately $365,000.