“Ah, so you’re from South Africa,” says my GO (resort ambassador) at Club Med Kani, directing my luggage as she hands me a cold towel to freshen up with as the humidity hits. “You like to surf, yes?”
“Ah, no,” I reply, looking at the flat water and wondering where one could possibly catch a wave.
I’m asked about my interest in surfing several times over the next couple of days when I reveal my nationality. Apparently the Maldives is a good destination for keen surfers and, despite the distance from home, it attracts many South African surfers.
Calling all water lovers…
There are loads of island getaways offering great watersports, some of which are far closer to home, but the Maldives is one of the world’s leading watersports hubs and offers some of the best snorkelling and diving in the world.
The water is a ridiculously pretty shade of blue and so warm that you don’t even have to use a wetsuit. The marine life is dazzling. Depending on where you dive, you can expect to see dolphins, sea turtles, rays, reef and hammerhead sharks, loads of colourful fish, Manta rays (especially in the North Male Atoll), and the enormous whale sharks (more common in the South Ari Atoll).
Maldives’ waves are not the biggest or most powerful, but they do offer many barrels. “It’s a good surfing destination for intermediate to advanced surfers and the best times are from April to October,” says Cape Town-based artist and water enthusiast, Natascha Petersmann who recently spent a few weeks there surfing and windsurfing. Although there are more waves in the atolls just north and south of Male, these areas are busier, while the more challenging boat-only access to the central and southern atolls means no crowds.
Almost all the resorts offer water-skiing, stand-up paddling, canoeing, catamaran sailing, kite surfing, knee-boarding, parasailing and sea scooters. Flyboarding is the latest craze. A flyboard is a water jetpack usually attached to a jet ski, which powers it. Water’s forced through a hose into the “boots” of the flyboard, providing the thrust to make you “fly”. I didn’t have the courage to try it – but watched enthralled one evening as the resident pro at Club Med Kani demonstrated his skill, diving into the water and shooting about 10m up in the air.
Luxurious, yet authentic
Despite its reputation as a glamorous getaway, Maldives has somewhat of a fragile air. It’s the smallest Asian country and the “most disappearance-prone island on the planet” according to a 2016 report by Geopolitical Monitor. At only one to three metres above sea-level, low-lying countries such as the Maldives and Seychelles are at the greatest risk of being submerged by rising sea levels, and over 100 Maldivian islands have already been claimed by natural erosion and rising water levels.
Maldives is the most scattered country in the world, and the islands are so tiny that many world maps don’t show them. The 26 atolls (ring-shaped coral reefs) are made up of a string of about 1 200 small coral islands (that number is according to www.maldivestourism.net although there are other references to 2 000 islands), but only 200 are inhabited. Of these about 100 are resort islands, ranging in size from 2,5km to just 150m in width, which means you only have access to what your resort offers during your stay, unless you take a boat excursion. But, believe me, you won’t want to leave your island – these resorts offer everything your heart desires, with perfect views and extremely hospitable staff.
WHERE TO STAY
Club Med Kani and Finolhu Villas recently received facelifts. The former, with its lively atmosphere and loads of activities, plus the newly built Happy Children’s Corner (for ages 4-10) is ideal for families. Finolhu Villas is part of the Exclusive Collection, and features private designer villas and a far more intimate setting and premium experience. Guests have full access to Club Med Kani, a short water shuttle away.
The premium all-inclusive packages mean that all is taken care of before you leave – so there are no unexpected costs. This includes flights, transfers, accommodation, all meals and snacks, a selection of activities and children’s club. So if the exchange rate goes south after you pay, you don’t have to worry.
Club Med has a unique approach in terms of staff. GOs (Gentil Organisateur) are ambassadors of the Club Med spirit at all resorts, while GEs (Gentil Employé) are Club Med employees and native to the country where the resort is located. They are key in preserving the soul of the location.