This was our third trip to the Maldives in as many years so, on arrival at Male, we knew exactly what to expect and had changed into T-shirts and shorts on the plane. As we watched the other passengers wilt in the heat of the barely air-conditioned airport, we knew that we'd made the right decision.
The formalities always take a bit of time because of the customs checks. After we'd cleared the airport we transfered to the boat that was to take us to Kuredu.
Kuredu is the only resort island in the Lhaviyani Atoll. It's quite a long way to the north of the Male atoll, where most of the resort islands are located. The brochure had said that the boat would take from 4-4.5 hours. The boat itself did not look promising. It was called the Native Dancer and if there was one thing it didn't do, it was dance. The seas weren't quite as calm as they usually are in that part of the world, but they weren't exactly rough either, though the boat seemed to make very heavy weather of the conditions.
The seating was rudimentary to say the least. There was an upper deck with solid metal seats, but the constant spray made it an impractical place to sit. The other two choices were an indoor cabin, which wasn't big enough to hold all the passengers, or an area over the engines with the same hard, metal seats and an atmosphere redolent with diesel fumes. The trip took 6 hours and quite a lot of people were seasick. All in all, it wasn't the sort of journey that you want to face after a two stage plane flight in excess of 12 hours. It was possible to take a sea plane, but it is expensive. It costs US$140 each way. They send your luggage by the boat, which does have the advantage that you don't have to pay any excess baggage for the sea plane.
When we finally arrived at our destination, it looked quite promising. There was a long jetty to the island and we were greeted and handed a fruit juice cocktail. Then we signed in and walked past a couple of rats on the way to the restaurant, where sandwiches had been laid on.
We'd booked a standard room, which was a detached beach hut. They don't look too impressive from the exterior because they are unpainted but they're perfectly acceptable inside. There was no air conditioning, but a large ceiling fan proved to be quite adequate. The bathroom was a bit unusual in that it was outside in a small garden surrounded by a wall. Standard rooms don't come with hot water, but it's not exactly cold either even if you take a shower at midnight.
We had booked an all inclusive package like all British guests. We were given plastic, non-removable bracelets that you were required to show when ordering drinks. As part of our package all soft drinks, beer, house wine and basic spirits were included. Mineral water was included by the glass but you had to pay for it if you wanted a bottle. There was also a tap in one of the bars that dispensed drinking water. Water from the tap is not potable. For those nationalities that weren't all inclusive, it was a potentially very expensive prospect. The prices were all given in Maldives Rufiyaa on the resort, though they didn't actually accept payment in Rufiyaa. This was taken in a variety of western currencies with the currency conversion rate set by the hotel. Needless to say the rates weren't very competitive. On arrival the bank at the airport were offering 11.8 Rufiyaa to the US dollar. The hotel were offering 10.5. All the prices in this report have been converted to Pounds Sterling at the rate the hotel were offering at the time.
|Glass House Wine||2.94|
|Bottle Mineral Water||1.53|
As you can seen, a couple of glasses of wine with dinner and a few pints of beer and you've managed to run up a £20 bar bill, quite apart from any soft drinks you might have during the daytime. Rather unsurprisingly, the bar used to be almost solely inhabited by people wearing all inclusive bracelets after about 9.30. Most of the other guests would spin out one drink for as long as possible before going to bed quite early, which was a shame as it did dampen the atmosphere a bit.
There are 4 bars on the island. The largest, the Babuna bar, has entertainment most nights organised by a Scotsman called Ian, who speaks both English and German. The Akiri bar overlooks the beach where there is a volleyball court. Then there were two Thundi bars, one at each end of the island, that were open for a limited number of hours each day.
There were two restaurants that served the standard food and two a la carte restaurants. Having already paid for a food, we never ate in the a la carte restaurants. One was an Italian style grill and the other served Far Eastern food. Other people did give good reports on them, but you could count on spending £50 for a meal for two. The standard food was rather less inspiring. Breakfast was OK, with two chefs on hand to cook eggs to go with the buffet. Lunch was always a buffet of about 5 choices. One seemed to always be pasta in tomato sauce and the other 4 choices tended to be fish, with the occasional chicken dish. Vegetables were mainly rice and salad, which usually consisted of cucumber, green tomatoes, cabbage and not much else. Dinner was much the same, with buffets alternating with set meals. After about 10 days of this you start to have fantasies about steak, chips and pizza.
Other facilities included a sports centre with free aerobics once a day and what looked suspiciously like a gym through the window. There was also a shop which sold some overpriced souvenirs and little else. There was also a nurse, whose services I had to use when I came down with a stomach upset. In addition to paying for the tablets, you had to pay a consultation fee, so 12 Immodium ended up costing me £17.07. I certainly won't be forgetting to bring tablets in the future, and several other people I spoke to had similar ailments.
There was also a dive shop which sold kit. The prices weren't that great but they weren't as bad as the other prices on the island. They didn't have an awful lot of stock though. I wanted to buy an octopus holder and they only had them on order.
And so onto the diving. Kuredu is a large island by Maldivian standards, with something like 250 rooms, so the dive school was correspondingly large. The whole operation was organised with great efficiency. They had two main dives a day. One at 9.30 and one at 3.30. There was also a lunchboat at 11.30 and a night boat at 6.45. Every other day there was an early morning boat at 6.30 and they did an all-day boat about twice a week. They usually had about 8 boats going out at 9.30 and 3.30. The others required a minimum of 4 divers and so were occasionally cancelled. You were supposed to arrive at the dive centre half an hour before the dive and load your kit onto the trolley. Then you could stroll along to the boat, get your kit off the trolley onto the boat and assemble it. The same happened when you came back, so the good news is that you never have to carry anything more than about 20 yards. The bad news was the prices, which are as follows:
|Dive Package||Rented Kit £||Own Kit £|
|6 days unlimited||221.01||171.57|
|Open Water Course||305.77||268.69|
|Advanced Open Water||182.17||169.81|
Boat trips are not included and cost a further £6.18 extra.
When you consider that a single shore dive on the housereef, with your own equipment, and no divemaster costs £17, you're basically paying a lot of money for just a weightbelt and a tank.
The dive school did have a few other rules. You had to be on the surface with 30 Bar remaining and you weren't allowed to go below 30m. That said no-one ever checked your remaining air, and the only time the depth restriction was enforced was if the dive guide saw you going too deep. Mind you there really was no point in going below 30m and most the people who did it did so without realising. The other rule was that everybody had to do an orientation dive on the housereef no matter what their qualification or number of dives logged.
Personally, I'm not keen on this sort of thing, although it's not as much of a nuisance in places like the Maldives where you're not going to use more than one dive school. It does make you wonder what the point in having more advanced qualifications and logging dives is, if you're required to continually demonstrate the most basic of skills. The fact that I'm also expected to pay rather a lot of money for the privilege also rankles.
Anyway, we did the initial dive on the house reef. So we started off by clearing our masks, demonstrating alternate air source breathing and then went on to explore the reef a bit more. The coral wasn't exceptional, consisting of a number of large blocks, surrounded by sand, but the fish life was very prolific including a Napolean Wrasse and a shoal of juvenile barracuda.
After that, I did all of the rest of my dives from the boats, called dhonis. They aren't the fastest craft in the world, but there's plenty of room for kitting up and they were all equipped with oxygen and radios. Each boat was crewed by three Maldivians and a dive guide. All diving was done in buddy pairs, and you weren't expected to stick with the dive guide though you did have to go in the same direction as them for boat cover reasons. At the initial briefing, they stressed that you were responsible for your own deco management. Use of computers was highly recommended because most of the dives could usefully be done as multi-level dives. Anyone using tables basically had to limit their depth to 18m. Computers were available for hire at £2.35 a dive. Post dive refreshments were limited to a few slices of coconut, so bringing your own bottle of water was a good idea.
My first dive was to a place called Peak. I was assigned a German buddy and told to discuss what I wanted to do with him. However, when I asked him what he wanted to do, he said "dive". Clearly this was going to be hard work. The actual dive summed up everything I dislike about holiday diving. There were 13 divers and one dive guide, so it was very crowded down there and my buddy insisted on hanging around all the other people. That said the fish life was very good. There was a big shoal of batfish, lionfish hiding in the reef, ribbon eels and a large turtle. It was also the first, though not the last time, I saw a honeycombed moray. Subsequent dives weren't all like this though. On some dives the group of divers became quite spread out so that you were just effectively diving with your buddy. As the boat chugged back to the island we saw a couple of dolphins, something that happened on about half of the dives there.
One thing that was a new experience for me was channel diving. My previous visits to the Maldives had been to Fesdu, which is in the middle of the Ari Atoll. Kuredu is right on the edge of the atoll and the housereef on one side drops down a very long way. Many of the dives we did were on the outside atoll walls and into the channels between reefs. There was usually a current in the channels, which tended to attract the pelagics.
My first channel dive was at a site called Kuda Kandu (or Small Channel in Dhiveli). The plan was to dive the outer wall, then to swim against the current at the entrance to the channel for a time and then finish the dive off in the channel wall. It didn't go entirely according to plan because we were a bit ahead of the dive guide and we made the mistake of staying too close to the reef just before the corner of the channel. The current is much stronger near the reef and so there was no way that we could swim against it. The dive turned into a rather exhilarating drift dive as the current was ripping through at quite a speed. There's no danger of being swept a great distance though, because as soon as you exit the channel, the current tends to drop off quite rapidly. Although it didn't go entirely to plan, it was still a good dive with the highlights being a stingray, a grey reef shark and a large Napolean wrasse.
Almost all the dives were excellent, but my last dive really ended the holiday on a high. We went to a place called Fushivaru Kandu for a channel dive. There wasn't much current, so the profusion of fish life was quite surprising. The channel itself was about 40-45m deep. We swam along the lip of it at about 25m looking out into the blue. On that one dive I think I saw something like 9 or 10 sharks, both whitetip and grey reef sharks. This included a group of six greys swimming in formation past us. There was also a large eagle ray that swam close by. We then finished off the dive in about 10m over a coral reef populated with the usual assortment of tropicals.
During the holiday, I also did a night dive. It left a bit early, so it wasn't really dark for the first half. It didn't have a great start though, because my regulator decided to freeflow as I hit the water and couldn't be persuaded to stop. Fortunately, the dive guide lent me her kit so I did the dive after all. It was pretty good and we found a cave with about 5 lobsters sleeping in it. The guy at the dive centre did try to fix my reg, but they're only really set up to deal with Mares equipment, so I ended up using a school reg for the last 5 dives. Like all the equipment, it was well maintained and performed reasonably. And though they would have been perfectly within their rights to charge me for kit hire for the last dives, they didn't, which was appreciated.
On the transfer back to the airport we had to get back on that boat again. We did think that it couldn't possibly be as bad the first trip because the sea hadn't been that rough since and it would be in the daylight this time. What we hadn't bargained on was that it left at 6.30 in the morning which seemed a bit early for a 3.30 flight. Unfortunately, there were some people for earlier flights on the same boat which explained the early start. The trip still took 5 hours and conditions were perfect. I don't believe that that boat is capable of doing the trip in the advertised 4-4.5 hours. The summer Airtours brochure claims that the transfer is only 3.5 hours, which is impossible unless they're going to use another boat.
The early arrival at the airport did give us a chance to go on a shopping trip to Male. It was not something I'd bother to repeat. The souvenirs were cheaper than the resort shop but I thought they were pretty uninspiring. It was also very hot walking around the Male streets, though the shops did have air conditioning.
We booked the trip with Airtours. The brochure price was £949 but, because we booked with Going Places, we recieved a 10% discount if we bought their insurance. The insurance was overpriced but the trip still only cost us £900 including insurance. I think that's very good value for an all-inclusive holiday. The prices at the resort are very high, but there's no real need to pay for anything except the diving. I certainly wouldn't consider going to Kuredu on a non-all inclusive basis, though it is possible to convert on arrival for US$30 a day. The price is the same whether you booked full board or half board originally.
All in all, it was a most enjoyable holiday. I think I'd go back. The diving was probably the best I've ever done. I think I'll be stumping up the money for the seaplane transfer next time though.