Water, Water Everywhere

Writer Stephanie Shiu | January 11, 2019

Pristine beach and the bluest water you’ve ever seen are given on a Maldivian getaway, but the rest can be a delicious surprise. Resorts with more than one property often offer packages highlighting the different perspectives. Como Hotels have Como Cocoa Island (the original) for a charming, intimate setting, while larger, sister property Como Maalifushi impresses with contemporary villas and spectacular marine life.

Should your trip tie in both it makes sense to start with Como Cocoa Island, especially if you’re arriving on a late flight as the oasis is a mere 40-minute speedboat ride away from Malé. A boutique hideaway with just 33 villas, Dhoni Loft Suites are modelled on the traditional local boats (though this may change post-revamp which takes place in May).

Known locally as Makunufushi, the whole island takes just 10 minutes to walk around, accessibility adding to its homey vibe where the majority are repeat guests who know the place inside out. They usually  fall into either the spa or marine excursion types, which are the main draws here. I have enough time for both, the latter a guided snorkel at a nearby island where turtles are frequently spotted. It was my first time seeing them in the wild, and counting up to 12 in just an hour, exhilarating. 

A different renewing experience are the Body Care treatments at Como Shambhala Retreat. The Rejuvenating Body Treatment starts with an Abhyanga back massage followed by a scrub and herbal oil mask, wrapping up with a facial and massage on the front. It’s surprising how much can be tended to in just 90 minutes as I emerge feeling whole again. The only other plan for my fly-by is dinner consisting of the general manager’s recommendations including roasted scallops and chorizo, lobster biryani and the legendary chocolate soufflé with banana-caramel ice cream.

VISUAL REALITY

I’m on a seaplane to Como Maalifushi in the morning, the first property built on breathtaking Thaa Atoll. The 40-minute flight offers a real sense of arrival, boggling the minds of visitors with Maldivian beauty, inviting islets speckled amongst near-surreal ultramarine. The design allows the seascape to take centre stage, its subtle design by Japanese architect Koichiro Ikebuchi, whose work is known for cultural authenticity and sensitivity to nature.

The rooms absolutely make the stay. Upon laying eyes on my overwater villa, I’ll happily not leave for the four days. Floor-to-ceiling windows frame sea and sky, with oversized sundeck from which to take it in, whether cooling off in your private infinity pool or reading on comfy raised loungers. If you’re able to book the sunset side, you’ll be treated to a mind-blowing display.   

However, staff tell me Tai Restaurant is prime sunset position. Nab a table outside and enjoy sashimi, sushi and tempura as the sun leaves a fuchsia trace behind. The water below the Japanese restaurant happens to be nurse shark territory so you may catch sight of them there in the evenings. Prefer to dine with sand between your toes? Thila is super casual. Go for the samosas, island fries and lobster rolls. For something healthier, order from the Como Shambhala menu at Madi where the crab, longan and mango salad, and pepper-crusted yellowfin tuna are favourites.

SUN DRENCH

Mornings begin with group hatha yoga to incorporate a bit of routine into your holiday, a mixed-level class led by quality teachers. It may also make you feel less guilty about the French toast or hotcakes you indulge in immediately after, unless of course you are virtuous and stick to healthy Como Shambhala menu options like açai bowls and gluten-free granola.

Adequately fuelled, mornings are the best time to snorkel at the house reef. There’s a sweet spot three quarters of the way from the jetty to the villas, at the drop-off point where the rainbow of coral transitions into deep blue, where black, white and silvertip sharks are often seen. I swim with a few chilled-out hawksbill turtles here. Back in the shallows, I’m privy to a dazzling spectacle of parrotfish, Moorish idols, powder-blue surgeonfish, Picasso triggerfish and cute, cartoony porcupine fish.

The midday sun can be intense so if you’re craving respite, head to the spa. Unlike your average pampering spot, this haven is perched over water, boasting vistas of the Indian Ocean. The Deep Tissue Massage releases tension, detoxifies, restores and relaxes. My kind of treatment, it increases circulation and lymphatic flow – the stronger, the better I find. The add-on express 30-minute Sundari facial is the perfect antidote to too much sun, using an omega 3 complex to restore lost lipids and reawaken the skin’s natural glow.

WHALE OF A TIME

For an active afternoon, complimentary equipment hire at the Watersports Centre includes everything from stand-up paddleboards to windsurfs and catamarans. I opt for a kayak to explore the uninhabited private Lavadahoo Island facing my villa, though also near enough to swim to. Like a scene from Cast Away, there are only towering palms and cyan waters around you. Well, that and Moray eels, herons and baby black tip sharks once you reach its powdery shores. It’s the ultimate spot for an island barbecue or romantic picnic with literally nothing between you and the elements.

At risk of sounding spoilt I’ve been on a few sunset cruises in the Maldives, but for dolphin spotting this was best. Pods of spinner and bottlenose dolphins appear almost as soon as we set out, surfing the boat bow’s waves. Taking in the pastel sky over bubbles and bento snacks on the return is idyllic and total beauty overload.

Perhaps the most surreal was a night swim with a whale shark. The season runs from November through April and sign-up involves a briefing where you’re given a mobile to be take with you between 7–11pm should you receive call of a sighting. You then have 10 minutes to get to the marine centre and hop into a speedboat hurtling north another 20 minutes before reaching the fishing boat whose bright lights attract plankton, and in turn the whale sharks. There’s a maximum of 12 on-board, half observing and the rest in the water.

We pile onto the fishing platform to catch the first glimpse of the largest fish in the sea, making its suspenseful albeit painstakingly slow entrance surfacing in the vertical feeding position, white mouth agape gulping down plankton. After a 10-minute wait to ensure it hangs around, snorkellers can get suited and jump in. Crystal-clear waters mean 100 per cent visibility, and like us, you could be fortunate enough to see eagle rays and barracuda while waiting for the docile giants.

The build-up is adrenaline fuelled, but interacting with the incredible creatures, utter calm. They swim gracefully mere feet away from you, a vision mesmeric enough to stay in the water until truly pruned, though fluffy robes back on the boat await. There are times it’s best to be present, but renting a GoPro to relive it is a good decision. After all how many times can you say you met a whale shark in the Indian Ocean basked in moonlight? It’s a moment I still relish getting my head around.

www.comohotels.com

Crystal-clear waters mean 100 per cent visibility, and like us, you could be fortunate enough to see eagle rays and barracuda while waiting for the docile giants