Here I am on my last evening at the Kanuhura Maldives, a child of paradise. I lie in the open-air bathtub staring intermittently at my propped-up laptop screen and then at the stars, a glass of Cloudy Bay 2014 on one side and a tumbler of water on the other. For the last three days, we’ve waited for rain as it’s August and reputedly monsoon season. The forecast reads stormy for all four days and yet the rain never comes.
The bathtub sits in an outdoor alcove, a semicircular stucco wall shields me from the outside world, and pebbles and white stepping stones lead the way back into the covered bathroom. The sound of the sea rushes underneath the netted hammock less than a metre away. Relaxing in the bathwater, suspended between the dark, the quiet roar of the waves and not much else, it’s as though I’ve been returned to a warm, enveloping nascence. Come to think of it, this might be exactly what paradise is.
My sister and I are sequestered in one of the resort’s water villas, a cottage on stilts just off the main island’s beach. We get to it by bike, foot or golf cart along the wooden jetties that are signatures of these atolls. Our backyard is the ocean; wooden steps lead us down into the water whenever we please. With rented snorkels we’ve paddled in between the stilts and farther afield in the sea grass. Turns out all the exciting sea life is happening right around our abode. Pleasing indeed. It’s our first trip to the Maldives and though we arrived not knowing what to expect, it seems as though Kanuhura is determined to make our journey to the Lhaviyani Atoll one we will never forget.
On our first evening, we land at Velana International Airport to air perfumed with the local Addu Atoll flower. We spend the night in Male, waking at the crack of dawn to catch the first seaplane to Kanuhura, an ancient seafaring shelter 40 minutes away in the northern quadrant of the Lhaviyani Atoll. There’s so much myth to this country of haute-travel, a thousand or so islands lying to the south west of India and Sri Lanka, and stretching more than 800km across the Indian Ocean, I can’t help but feel cautious. Every resort is the go-to honeymoon destination, every one promising luxury beyond wildest imagination and the trip of a lifetime.
Before we board the seaplane, we’re whisked to the Kanuhura waiting area, which sets the tone for the trip to come. The elegantly appointed, air-conditioned lounge offers everything from fruit and pastries to drinks, and a quick do-it-yourself pre-flight facial spritz station using the same Subtle Energies products available at the resort’s Kokaa spa. There are also showers should you wish to freshen up between flights. We’re almost loath to leave when we’re told the 16-seat plane is ready.
Once in the air, the main diversion is to peer out of the windows and spot coral outcrops in the azure waters. Close to the city, steel cranes rise as if Poseidon had plonked down a series of tridents to create ever more outposts of Maldivian heaven in the midst of his home. The more the merrier? In some places, sea villas and networks of cottages are packed together like some metropolis of oceanic retreats.
The further we fly, the less building we see until we approach an island rimmed by sparkling white sand. It’s one of three in a row and we descend toward the largest one. The seaplane lands by a long jetty to a crowd of waving staff, all dressed in black-and-white striped linen that flaps in the wind whipped up by the propellers. Warm smiles and a coconut each brimming with its water greet us before we’re whisked off to our villa in a golf buggy by our round-the-clock villa host.
As soon as we arrive, we step into the sun-bathed foyer where shelves of nautical books greet us, and we know Kanuhura will live up to its reputation. The place has an uncanny ability to make you feel as though you’ve lived there all your life. Our luggage already sits comfortably in a massive white-painted walk-in closet with a glazed window at the end that allows the warm tropical sunlight to stream in, and there’s a straw market bag thoughtfully provided for our island-activity impedimenta.
Each morning and at evening turn-down, our clothes are kept immaculate by the staff. Our bed – decorated with a leaf-and-flower arrangement created from the island’s bounty – faces the ocean in the well air-conditioned space. We take off our shoes to feel the coolness of the light wooden floor and don’t put them on again until we leave.
Refurbished with the idea of the “gypset” lifestyle and “unfettered paradise” in mind, Kanuhura comprises three islands: one for accomodation, one with a beach restaurant and one entirely untouched. The 80-villa residential island – 1.3 kilometres long and 300 metres wide – also supports a small village to house its staff, a welcome respite from the grandiose and unabashed luxury prototype so often replicated around these parts. Kanuhura is as close as you’ll get to having your own private island without the loneliness or responsibility, and my sister notes time and again throughout our stay that when the villas are near full capacity we see people only at mealtimes. Otherwise, the island, its entire perimeter fringed with soft beach, seems as if it’s all yours – laid-back luxury.
There are eight restaurants. Breakfast is an unending bounty. The buffet at A Mano offers every cuisine from sashimi to pizza to curry to cereal. Each morning we ask for a huge plate of freshly cut fruit to be brought to our table and dig into a profusion of rambutans, pineapples, mangoes and the like. Next door, overlooking the pool and next to the spa, Bottega does an excellent Italian lunch. Poolside at Cowry Club, children dip in and out of the pool throughout the course of their light meals.
For dinner, we simply have to eat at Veli, a beachside Asian fusion restaurant where you wait for your food by strolling along the beach stomping for neon plankton and staring at the galaxies above. But my favourite has to be the chef’s herb garden, where a six-course dinner is created out of the produce that grows around the table where you’re sitting.
To say I have a favourite, however, is unfair. The two private islands Jehunuhura and Masleggihura offer unparalleled dining experiences. Both are deserted and the first is home to Drift, a restaurant where you eat among hermit crabs and the island’s free-roaming chickens and rabbits. The latter hosts no restaurants, but should you wish to spend an afternoon spotting baby sharks and heron, and snorkelling amid coral, the resort’s chefs can set up a glorious castaway picnic complete with fish wrapped in banana leaf baked under the sand.
As recompense for gluttony, we request a full itinerary of yoga classes, aqua fitness and even the Maldivian Warrior workout. Even then we miss out on a whole host of water sports that the island offers, from kayaking to diving to water jetting, as well as less strenuous activities – we plump for sundown dolphin-spotting on the aptly named Sunset Cruise. If you sit on the lower deck of the traditional Maldivian boat, the pods of dolphins that swim next to you are close enough to touch – but please, never do. Their clicks and chirps, tricks and fun mean that two hours go by seemingly in five minutes for your newfound inner bohemian.
Of course, if being in paradise is to have the pleasure of lounging as much as you like, then Kanuhura has created heaven. Between lying on a hammock suspended above the water from the villa patio, reading the books provided, and taking naps on the beach, the Kokaa spa is the epitome of Kanuhura’s gypset philosophy, an approach to luxury that’s as subtle and pared down as it’s decadent. Using products from Subtle Energies, Terres d’Afrique and Voya, the treatments range from Maldivian coconut massages to Javanese therapies.
We plan to end the trip as we started, with a massage swaddled in ayurvedic oils and warm towels. It’s poor consolation for having to leave the resort, to say goodbye to walking barefoot on pristine sand, to dipping my head underwater underneath my villa to watch the fish at play, and to the island’s tranquil perfection, but that’s a thought for tomorrow. Now, I’ll just put down the laptop, release more hot water into the bath, breathe in the wafting scent of Addu Atoll gan, sink a little lower into the bubbles and count the stars against the rhythm of the ocean.