Scooting across the deep-blue ocean towards a golden sunset as pods of dolphins gracefully glide through the water just metres away from our jetski is a spectacle that could easily be mistaken for a scene from a glamourous Hollywood film. Rather, it was just another day revelling in the magical reality of the Maldives.
Experiencing the beauty of wild dolphins leaping from the ocean and flipping over fellow pod members, snorkelling with sharks, superyacht sunset cruises and gorging on beautifully authentic meals on the beach with only the stars and flaming torches for light certainly makes up for the lengthy transit time.
We arrived at Anantara Dhigu Maldives Resort in the dead of the night, after two Singapore Airlines’ flights and one speedboat transfer. A bottle of Champagne and a cheese and fruit platter awaited us in our over-water villa – the epitome of a Maldivian holiday.
But it wasn’t until the sun broke that I truly grasped the breathtaking allure of Dhigu.
Suspended over crystal-clear turquoise waters, waking up in my sunrise suite was genuinely awe-inspiring. From my private timber deck with a staircase leading straight into the ocean to the freestanding bath with an uninterrupted sea view and the glass floor at the foot of the toilet (so you can watch tropical fish swim by), it is easy to see why the destination is synonymous with opulence.
A short stroll down the boardwalk, lingering over the luminous water and through the palm tree-lined sandy walkway, led me to Fushi Café, where it became apparent the islands aren’t just popular with loved-up newlyweds, but also increasingly with families wanting to rekindle their accord with sleep and relaxation, and to create a memorable, once-in-a-lifetime holiday.
After feasting on the breakfast buffet overlooking the signature white sandy shores, I borrowed one of the dozens of vintage cruiser bicycles and took a leisurely spin around the entire island before arriving at the over-water Anantara Spa for a 60-minute signature massage, complete with a glass floor for optimal marine viewing – the ultimate jet-lag buster, if you ask me.
Revered Eastern and Western massage techniques, with my own choice of aromatic oil, eased me into life in the Maldives, but I soon worked up quite the appetite. A short pontoon ride from Dhigu took us to the neighbouring island Anantara Veli for lunch at Baan Huraa – authentic Thai in a traditional stilted teak house in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
A plethora of signature dishes graced our table; Bai Cha Ploo Goong Tord (deep-fried betel leaves with prawns), Yum Som O (spicy pomelo salad with chicken, roasted coconut ground, peanut, shallot, spring onion, kaffir lime leaves and chilli paste dressing), Poo Nim Phad Pong Kra Ree (deep-fried soft shell crab with yellow curry sauce, turmeric, evaporated milk and egg), Gaeng Kiew Waan Gai (a piquant creamy green curry cooked with chicken, Thai eggplant, baby eggplant, coconut milk and sweet Thai basil), Panang Pla Tong Ting (mild red curry with reef fish fillet, coconut milk, cumin, peanut and Thai sweet basil leaves) and, to finish, Khao Niew Mamuang (sweet pandan sticky rice with ripe mango and coconut cream).
And the perfect way to burn off our self-induced food comas? Hours of watersports at Aquafanatics.
Fishing, diving adventures, high-speed water activities and exhilarating excursions is all on offer at the centre. We opted for an hour of stand-up paddleboarding and, despite being incredibly uncoordinated, I managed to stand for a brief, albeit extremely wobbly, amount of time.
After relaxing on the SUPs, our inner-adrenaline junkies flourished on the jetskis. While our guide did nifty tricks on the water toy, we were quite content zipping over the waves as we ogled pods of dolphins swimming alongside us. It is easily one of the most mesmerising and enduring experiences the tropical island has to offer.
Indulging in teppanyaki at Origami was the perfect way to end our first day on the island. From the knife throwing – equally as impressive as it was terrifying – and nimble lobster-cutting skills to eyebrow-singeing fire eruptions, the Japanese culinary affair was as theatrical as it was delicious.
Our first two nights were spent in what I thought was a quintessential Maldivian resort. How could it possibly get any more decadent than sleeping in an over-water suite? Enter Naladhu Private Island Maldives.
A cruisy five-minute pontoon ride directly across the crystal lagoon from Dhigu is the exclusive retreat with just 19 elegant houses and one two-bedroom residence – a home away from home to the likes of Kate Moss and Roger Federer.
Greeted with jasmine leis and refreshing cold towels, our butler sprinkled red rose petals in front of our every step as we walked down the arrival pier and into heaven.
After we wound our way along a pearl-white sandy path lined with coconut trees and plants native to the Maldives (each appropriately labelled magoo, kashikeyo), two magnificent wooden doors opened to reveal a private garden and white stones leading to the suite’s front doors, complete with a wooden hanger engraved with, ‘Welcome home, Emily’.
Handmade sweets topped with flecks of edible gold, savoury canapes, a fresh fruit bowl, coconut water and a bottle of Taittinger Champagne sitting on ice lined the bar, and soft tunes filled the room, an outdoor day bed swung gently in the breeze and an iPhone solely for me to directly call my private butler sat on the timber writing desk.
The cushiony bed, which was longer and wider than all six foot of me, faced the ocean with large doors framed by soft flowy drapes opening to unveil uninterrupted views of the open sea. But it was the bathroom that really took my breath away.
Extending on from the walk-in robe and pamper room was a large alfresco-style bathroom, complete with another day bed, sunken bathtub with one side sharing a glass wall with the 8 x4m infinity pool, his-and-hers washbasins, indoor steam shower (just in case the Maldivian humidity wasn’t enough for you) and, my personal favourite, the angelic outdoor waterfall shower, framed by a tropical garden with an expansive view of the deep blue.
You don’t have to ask me twice to call the Ocean House with a pool my home.
When in the Maldives, swim with sharks
As hard as it was, I tore myself away from my slice of paradise (only after indulging in the sweet treats), for a casual afternoon of shark snorkelling.
A 45-minute ultra-fast jet-boat ride took us to the nurse shark location. Equipped with flippers and snorkels, one by one we literally jumped into a sea of sharks. Being from Australia, where so many living animals can hurt us, it was quite daunting to peer off the edge of the boat and see dozens of sharks swimming near the surface. With the comforting words from our local guide, who told me he’s never seen a nurse shark bite, not even a nibble, I jumped right in.
Once I was floating beside the incredible creatures, many gracefully gliding right underneath me, it was a surprisingly tranquil experience – once you managed to ignore the extremely large, eerie teeth.
Back at Naladhu, we jumped on the pontoon headed for delectable Italian at Terrazzo – an authentic dining experiencing overlooking the Indian Ocean at Dhigu. Whether you were tempted by Cacciucco (seafood soup with prawns, mussels, fish, calamari rings in a rich tomato-based seafood bisque), Spaghetti al Nero di Sepia all Aragosta (squid ink spaghetti with fresh lobster tail, cherry tomatoes and pomodoro sauce), Filetto di Manzo Rossini (Australian Black Angus tenderloin and duck liver served with porcini truffle sauce), Tagliata di Tonno alla Mediterranea (seared Maldivian tuna, Mediterranean style) or Pesce Locale alla Griglia (grilled Maldivian reef fish topped with fried artichokes, diced tomatoes, basil chiffonade served with saffron cream), the choices seemed endless.
And quite like the ceaseless gastronomic options at the Maldives, where almost everything is imported from Europe, India or Australia, so is the Anantara offering.
Of all the bucket-list experiences I managed to swiftly tick off during the flying visit, nothing quite trumps the moments spent sitting on the horizon looking back at the picturesque atolls with the meditative sound of waves loosely breaking nearby.
As I’m relaxing on the upper deck of Nirvana, Naladhu’s exquisite Sunseeker superyacht, enjoying a flute of Champagne as we sail the turquoise waters into the quintessentially Maldivian rose-hue sunset, you can’t help but sit in awe of the magical enclaves. It is pure utopia.
The writer travelled as a guest of Anantara Hotels, Resorts & Spas.