Following our experiences with the boat trip last year, we decided to pay the extra £120 for the sea plane transfer. It was money well spent. The flight takes about 45 minutes and gives you a good view of the atolls from the air. We arrived at Kuredu at about 5pm. The boat didn't get in until about 11.30pm. All of the luggage is sent on the boat to reduce the weight for the seaplane, so it was essential to have some suitable clothes for the evening. Some people had to walk around in jumpers because they hadn't been warned about this. It does mean that if you're over your luggage allowance, you don't have to pay extra for the seaplane too. They're quite strict and insist on weighing all luggage including hand luggage.
Not much had changed since the previous year. There are four bars, the Akiri bar by the beach, the main Babuna bar and the two Thundi bars at either end of the island. The Thundi bars had been rebuilt though there still weren't any toilet facilities nearby. There are four restaurants; two normal ones which provide the food included in your meal plans and two others, a Thai restaurant and an Italian restaurant, which provide a la carte meals. There was also a new photography shop, which charged US$26 to develop and print 36 exposures, and a new conference centre. In the second week there was actually a conference taking place. I wish I got invited to conferences in places like the Maldives. There is also a gym with exercise equipment in various states of repair and a studio where aerobics sessions were held twice daily.
Entertainment was provided most nights in the Babuna Bar. It was almost identical to the previous year and consisted of activities like a trivia quiz, a music quiz, a staff cabaret and a disco. We had once again booked on an all inclusive basis. The British tour operators only offer this package. There did seem to be far more people wearing the identity bracelets this year and I think other operators in other countries are now offering all inclusive packages.
If you're actually paying for drinks, then the prices are high. A small beer, 33cl, costs US$4. That works out at almost US$7 a pint. A glass of wine was US$4.75 and a soft drink like Coke was US$2.50. In the waiting area for the seaplane the price of a Coke was only US$1, so these prices are inflated even by Maldivian standards. You're required to sign for everything and, at the end of the holiday, you get back all the chits that you've signed. I got back a bundle about half an inch thick. The water from the taps in the rooms is definitely not drinkable, though a tap is provided near the Akiri bar that does dispense potable water.
The food had improved slightly on the previous year. There were a few more choices other than fish. Breakfast consisted of a buffet with chefs on hand to fry eggs or make omelettes. The choice varied. American style pancakes were always available as was French toast. We got bacon a couple of times and they had smoked sausages occasionally. They also had fish curry and fried noodles every morning. I don't believe that anyone in the entire fortnight had the curry or the noodles. Lunch was also a buffet with fish featuring rather heavily. Rice was always available, as were potatoes, which always seemed to be a bit hard. There was usually one chicken dish too. Supper was a buffet on alternate days. It was the nights that they had a fixed menu that were a problem. The first course was always soup. Just what you need to warm yourself up of an evening. Then the second course was always fish or pasta. Not being a fan of pasta, I used to have the fish which, despite a variety of exotic French names, always seemed to be covered in some sort of tomato sauce. And then there were the desserts. They really ought to give up on trying to do desserts. They were very reminiscent of school dinners with sago and tapioca being particular favourites.
Having paid through the nose the previous year for some Immodium on the island, I took my own this year. Unfortunately, despite drinking only bottled water and avoiding rice, a frequent source of problems, I needed them. Stomach problems were a recurring theme throughout the fortnight. The reps blamed dehydration, but I'm not exactly a stranger to the tropics, and I've now had problems two years in a row at Kuredu and nowhere else, including Fesdu. Speaking to other people, I know that I wasn't the only one to suffer either. It seemed to be fairly common.
Last year I spotted several rats on the island. I'm pleased to say that I only saw one this year, and it was in a cage trap, so they've obviously done something about the problem. A population of a different type of rodent seems to have been introduced to the island. There were some domesticated rabbits hopping around the island. There will probably be thousands of them next year.
Unfortunately, there's starting to become a litter problem on Kuredu. They don't empty the bins very often. The one near us was overflowing with soiled nappies, but they didn't empty it despite us complaining about it two days in a row. When they did empty it, they didn't pick up any of the rubbish that had spilled out onto the sand. The undergrowth on the island is quite dense, but if you look carefully you can see odd bits of rubbish in the bushes. The paths are lit at night and by one of the lights was a blown light bulb and a box which had obviously just been thrown on the ground when the light was changed.
The dive school on Kuredu is run by Pro Divers. I've heard various complaints about them both on Usenet groups and from a colleague at work, but I've got no complaints with them at all, except their prices. They don't have many rules:
- No deeper than 30m
- No planned decompression dives
- Back on the boat with 30 bar remaining
- Maximum dive time of each dive no more than 1 hour
All the diving is done in buddy pairs and a dive master is present for all boat dives. Before each dive, you receive a briefing including a sketch of the site, and then you're pretty much free to dive as you like in your buddy pairs. Everyone has to go in the same direction for reasons of boat cover, but that's it. You are not expected to dive in a big group and your bottom time is only restricted by your or your buddy's air consumption.
As is common in the Maldives, all boat diving is done from dhonis. Facilities are a bit primitive, but all boats carry first aid boxes, oxygen and radios. Unfortunately, they don't carry water. The best you can hope for is a couple of slices of coconut after the dive.
The main boat dives were at 9.30 and 3.30. They also had an early morning boat, a lunch boat that went out at 11.30 and a full day safari boat. A night dive boat runs every night if there is sufficient demand and there's a guided night dive on the housereef three times a week. A trolley was provided for the kit which left the dive centre 20 minutes before the dive. If you arrive any later, you have to carry your kit. You're supposed to be on the boat 15 minutes before it's due to leave so that you've got time to check your kit and listen to the dive brief. The whole thing is efficiently run with about ten dhonis leaving on time for the main boat dives. A single dhoni would carry up to about 12 divers. Because I dived in Kuredu the previous year, I didn't have to do the compulsory orientation dive on the housereef. I also got a 10% discount on the price of my diving and this rises by 5% every year you repeat up to a maximum of 25%.
All my diving was from boats. It is possible to do the housereef and it is a reasonable dive but, having done it the previous year, I didn't really feel much like doing it again. By the end of the holiday I managed the get 15 dives done. This was despite having to cancel three dives, two because I had bad stomach cramps and one night dive I wanted to go on was cancelled due to lack of demand. The first dive was to a place called Gavirifaru Kandu. It was a channel dive so we started inside the atoll and our dive took us through the channel and onto the outer atoll reef wall. There was a small hill of coral or tilla, but otherwise it was quite disappointing and was probably the worst dive I did there. The bottom was quite sandy though I did see a turtle.
My next dive was at a site called Kuredu Caves which is on the outer reef of the island. You're actually only just off the shore but the currents mean it's too dangerous to do as a shore dive. The site had various overhangs which are well worth investigating. I saw a lot of turtles on this dive, something like six or seven. Big grouper were also to be found in the overhangs as well as the usual squirrel fish. There was also shoals of juvenile barracuda, snappers, fusiliers and a small shoal of three tuna. My profile for the dive was fairly typical. Total dive time was one hour, with the last fifteen or so minutes spent at the top of the reef in about 5-8m. My maximum depth was slightly the wrong side of 30m, but what does 60cm matter when you're using a dive computer?
The next dive was also on an outer wall called Medadihura. The coral was especially good on this dive and there were the usual shoals of fusiliers, red toothed trigger fish and oriental sweetlips as well as a moray, a turtle and a puffer fish. The next two dives were called Kahlifushifaru corner, which is on the corner of a channel. And Mashura which is an outer wall. These were both good dives with morays, turtles, Napolean wrasse and big groupers all in evidence.
I then decided to do a night boat dive. The site was called Nakolhu Giri. I'm not entirely sure what a giri is but they seem to be circular reefs inside the atoll. Because it was a night dive, our maximum depth was 20m and our dive time was 45 minutes rather than 60. I saw all the usual things you expect on a night dives, lionfish, squirrelfish, morays and shrimps, which are much more noticeable at night because their eyes light up in your torch beam.
My next dive was Kuredu Express, which is a famous dive site and supposedly one of the best in the whole of the Maldives. It's also only a ten minute boat ride away. As it was an afternoon dive, it was supposed to be shallower and around the 18m mark. So it came somewhat as a surprise to me to find myself at 25m with the instructor below me. I personally wasn't bothered because it was my first dive of the day but most other people had already done one that morning. The current on the outer wall was going towards the corner of the channel, so we drifted in that direction. There are several interesting cuts into the coral on the outer reef and, when you get to the channel, there are big shaols of snapper, fusiliers, triggerfish and sweetlips. There were also a couple of big Napoleans and I saw an eagle ray three times, though it was probably the same one. When we got back on the boat, the instructor got a bit agitated because two Dutch guys were taking too long. He based this on the fact that he had a dive time of 56 minutes and a surface interval of 5. So he started muttering about how when he said 60 minutes, he meant 60 minutes. As he was German, it was all rather reminiscent of a Harry Enfield sketch and a bit difficult to take seriously as he'd said 18 metres and had promptly gone to 30m. When the Dutch guys surfaced about 30 seconds later, he didn't say anything to them. As they were in last, they might not have gone past the 60 minute mark anyway.
Next up was Zafari. In the brief it was mentioned that there were some overhangs at the beginning. So armed with my torch I followed the dive guide down to them and had a look in them. There were some huge fish inside, but unfortunately the depth was 32m. During the dive we were followed by a curious Napolean wrasse and the top of the reef had lots of table corals which were cleaning stations. I then revisited Nakolhu Giri in the day time, and did a couple of outer reef dives on Latheef reef and Medafaru outreef. These dives were similar to previous ones with the usual fauna about. After that I went to Maa Giri South, which was an exceptional dive site. The were big shoals of fusiliers and snapper everywhere. It was definitely one of the better dives and it was a bit shallower than normal at 22.6m.
My next dive was a channel crossing. Channel crossings are always done when there is a current going into the channel. You swim from one side of the channel to another in blue water slightly out from the lip at the bottom of the channel because the current isn't as strong there. On this dive I saw seven sharks. Admittedly they weren't that big, although a sleeping nurse shark was about 1.5m long. I also saw several tuna, including one that was bigger than any of the sharks. You could definitely have made a few canfuls out it.
My last dive was at a site called Fushivaru out. It's an out reef and we again swam out away from the reef into the blue water to look for big fish. It's all luck what you see and this time we only saw one shark, a 2m long grey reef, a stingray and a Napolean. Still it was the first stingray I had seen on a dive. There were a couple of small ones that lived in the shallows by the beach. So watch where you step when you're paddling
My 15 dive package, hiring only tanks and weights, cost me US$304.20 with my 10% discount. However, this price doesn't include the boat trips. Each boat trip costs a hefty US$10 extra, so the total bill was over US$450. For the rest of their current prices, see the official websites. Links are at the end of this report.
The trip itself cost £1123 including insurance and the sea plane transfer. This is quite a lot more than the previous year and the price in next year's Airtours brochure is currently more than 10% more. At these prices, it's starting to bring Kuredu into competition with Caribbean destinations where the diving would be cheaper and the food would be better. They really do have to do something about the food. Having stomach ache on and off for a fortnight is not fun.