A trio of tranquillity in the Maldives

Kudadoo Residence
Kudadoo Residence

Belinda Luksic checks into three Maldivian resorts where ‘barefoot luxe’ treads lightly

Kagi Maldives Resort and Spa

A breeze ruffles through the palms, as I dash across powder-white soft sands, to where a bamboo pavilion hovers above the Indian Ocean. I’m late for yoga; the private pool in my overwater villa, and mint green sea views, are a delicious distraction from time, schedules, and even downward dog.

I’m soon striking a warrior pose in Baani Spa’s floating yoga pavilion, an open-air teardrop deck, where the cerulean skies and gentle slosh-slosh of the sea make for a blissful bubble. It’s a rejuvenating half hour, and a nice segue to the spa’s sunset sound healing, a vibrational pow-wow of singing bowls, grain sticks, and timbre-rich gongs.

Not all destination spas are equal. Some require you to relinquish your phone (and every other joy) at the door. Others pay lip service to what is little more than massage. At the 50-villa Kagi Maldives Spa Island, wellness is more than skin deep. Yoga, sound healing, crystal bathing, meditation, and diving are part of a mindful holistic approach that strikes a joyful balance. For me, this also means champagne poolside, sunset cocktails, and zinging pan-Asian at fine diner Ke-Un, watching tropical storms roll in. Kagi’s wellness ambassador, Cindy, is on speed dial if I want to curate my wellness journey.

I slip into a different flow on a guided snorkel of the house reef, a few flipper kicks from shore. Dive instructor, Pratik, leads our group to where the current gently nudges us over a swathe of iridescent coral, rainbow fish, and turtles. I’ve seen black-tip reef sharks darting beneath my bungalow — the sign of a healthy reef — and now, this glorious harem of fish in every size and colour.

We’re snorkelling the tip of North Male Atoll, an idyllic sea peppered with dive sites, resplendent coral, sharks, and manta rays; something Kagi is doing its bit to protect. Jet skis and speedboats are out. Kayaks, sailing and windsurfing are in. The Healing Ocean toiletries in my villa are refillable and reef-friendly, while the glass bottled water is filled at Kagi’s own desalination plant.

Hurawalhi Island Resort

Gathered around a lush tangle of rainforest are 90 villas fringed by a house reef so astonishingly flush with marine life, it’s like swimming in an aquarium. Romance takes a backseat at the adult-only Hurawalhi Island Resort, a magnet for diving enthusiasts.

Within the cooee of this Lhaviyani island are more than 50 dive sites, dazzling coral walls, shipwrecks, and jaw-dropping encounters with rare and endangered marine life. Manta rays glide by, October to March, and whale sharks have been spotted inhaling plankton in the blindingly clear waters.

Dive boats head out throughout the day, and the dive centre runs twice-daily single dive trips as well as private charters. For non-divers like me, there is a roll call of watersports that include water skiing, wakeboarding, kayaking, and windsurfing.

It’s one thing to learn about the reef at Hurawalhi’s Marine Biology Centre, and quite another to snorkel it with resident marine biologist, Frankie. I’m soon drifting above bouquets of bommies studded with blue-lipped clams and orange staghorns, my ears filled with the gentle rasp of parrot fish nibbling coral. Hundreds of glassfish zip by; an army of fusiliers and the occasional slow-moving wrasse.

Lhaviyani’s ripple of narrow and shallow channels makes for a biodiversity hotspot, luring thousands of fish, shellfish, and more than 200 species of coral to its midst. I spot quivering antennae poking out from a rocky ledge, and free-dive down to discover a pod of lobsters packed tighter than sardines. In the dazzling blue drop-off, twenty metres deep, huge trevally float like blimps above a football match, silvery against the dazzling white seabed. I shadow an octopus, its tentacles feeling their way along the coral as if looking for a light switch in the dark. Dolphins leap above the water while, below, an eagle ray takes watery flight.

Another outing takes us to the waters near Kudadoo, where critically endangered green sea turtles proliferate. Seaplanes are taking off and rain is ricocheting off the sea, but all I can hear below the surface is the sweet chomp-chomp of a turtle, grazing on a swathe of seagrass.

I don’t scuba dive but get a tantalising taste of the deep at 5.8 Undersea Restaurant. At the bottom of a spiral staircase lies this Aladdin’s Cave — a sparkling twenty-seat fine diner that is the world’s largest all-glass undersea restaurant. The seven-course degustation, paired with wine, begins with Alaskan crab and a flute of Taittinger Champagne and ends with a melting chocolate ball dessert and full-bodied sweet Sauternes.

Thunder squalls put paid to a sunset dolphin cruise, but not the dreamy Champagne Pavilion, a tiny 12-seater bar perched so far out to sea I feel like I’m at world’s end. Marine blues smear into aqua greens and the champagne flows freely. Hurawalhi also takes guests to Dream Island, a patch of sand lapped by crystal waters popular for sunset picnics, and marriage proposals. Well, it is the Maldives, after all.

Kudadoo Maldives Private Island

I switch gears at Kudadoo Maldives Private Island, a sybaritic slip of sand with 15 ryokan-style ocean residences exquisitely crafted from sustainable wood, stone and reed thatch. These are odes to space and light, with expansive decks, a luxuriously long lap pool, swing and stairs that lead down to the serene ocean waters.

Like Kagi and Hurawalhi (Kudadoo’s stablemates in Crown & Champa Resorts portfolio), New York-based architect Yuji Yamazaki is behind the harmonious, eco-conscious design for what is the Maldives’ first solar powered island. The island wears its eco-stripes on its main pavilion roof, where 984 solar panels soak up the sun.

Few places say luxury quite like the Maldives. Where once it was about the thread count of the sheets, now it’s about private island buyouts, green credentials, and highly curated stays. Kudadoo takes this to the next level, with the first truly all-inclusive stay and a private butler on-call 24/7 to realise every whim: be it a two-hour Healing Earth treatment, a foot massage in the pink salt chamber, private diving or hoverboarding, a dolphin cruise, champagne and charcuterie from the cheese room at 3:00am or a private degustation paired with exceptional wine (80 from Wine Spectator magazine’s Top 100 list).

Journey Notes

Rates at Kagi Spa Island start from USD$696 (about AUD$1042) per night for an Ocean Pool Villa (twin share) including breakfast. At Hurawalhi, the rate for an Ocean Pool Villa starts at USD$728 (about AUD$1090); while at Kudadoo Maldives Private Island, a one-bedroom Ocean Residence starts from USD$3,196 (about AUD$4788) per night. Rates exclude fees.

The writer was a guest of Crown & Champa Resorts.

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