Just under four hours away from the UAE lies the gorgeous archipelago of the Maldives, 1,200 islands surrounded by astonishing coral reefs and stunning sea life. Scott Armstrong took Benchmark to Kurumba to discover what it has to offer.
I catch my breath for an instant, which rattles loudly in my snorkel, as the creature glides into view, one of the world’s oldest and most graceful predators, and yet coming face to face with my first shark is a surprisingly serene experience .
In the clear turquoise waters of the Maldives, I freeze, not from fear but from awe, treading water gently as the Black Tip reef shark swims past me. I keep movement at a minimum, not wishing to break the spell, for spellbound I am.
Another, then another appears, until eight are around me, seemingly unconcerned and uninterested in my presence, unaware of the mix of emotions coursing through me, excitement, nervousness, but curiously calm.
This is a show unlike any I’ve witnessed and as I float there and I know ‘the day I swam with sharks’ will linger long in the memory.
Welcome to the astonishing ‘house reef’ of the Kurumba resort in the Maldives, just 15 minutes maximum via boat from the capital of Male, a short four-hour flight from the UAE.
One of the most established resorts in the stunning archipelago, it opened in 1972, its beautiful waters of the Indian Ocean have been attracting divers and snorkelers for decades, of course the five-star accommodation, the top-notch dining, and steady 30c year-round sunshine and the powder white sand don’t hurt either.
Shallows are protected by a sea wall, making it ideal for young children, drop away after you swim out through the channels, maybe just 20 or 30 metres from the beach front.
Here the coral reef stretches ahead, home to a universe of colour and size, a bewildering kaleidoscope of sea life that words seem to shallow a medium to use to describe.
In the waters of the Maldives there are around 1,100 species of fish, five species of turtles and 21 species of whales and dolphins, whether you’ll see them all is debatable but around Kurumba their number is overwhelming.
Where the reef falls away is where your heart stops and you float like an astronaut in orbit above an alien world, as the depths plummet down. Gently stroking your flippers to stay over the crest you watch spellbound as a rare Hawksbill turtle, longer than a metre, swims up the slope and towards you, ancient and graceful.
Time slips away as you float there, the crackling of fish feeding on the coral accompanying the breath in your snorkel as the soundtrack to this moment of tranquility and wonder. Around you dozens of bright blue fish gather, and all of a sudden it seems this underwater sky is full of stars everywhere you look, and you tread water trying to drink in the experience.
It could take a lifetime to describe all the sealife there by Kurumba, but suffice to say even those who are not up for diving, or not qualified to, can see a hidden universe with a pair of flippers and a facemask and snorkel.
On land Kurumba delivers as well, in terms of accommodation, dining and entertainment.
Unlike some, Kurumba doesn’t set out to be the total isolation of a Robinson Crusoe experience, rather it wants you to come enjoy yourself.
I, and am my family, were lucky enough to stay in one of the spacious Presidential Pool villas, two floors, its own pool, a private garden which leads out onto the beach. It was ideal for a family with parents upstairs and teenage son down, so at least some privacy for all concerned.
The master bedroom comes with television, sofa, a massive bed and an executive-sized bathroom featuring a bath, and showers both inside and outside in area with a monsoon shower, the most refreshing way to start the day.
Another advantage for Presidential Pool villa dwellers are the complimentary happy hour drinks at the main bar Kandu, home to nightly live music, and the choice of breakfast at either the main Vihamana restaurant – perfectly fine – or the excellent seafront Thila (I’ll come back to this).
However, all of the accommodation on Kurumba, no matter what your budget impresses. All feature huge beds, luxury bathrooms, and whether you are sea view or garden view you are a stone’s throw from the shore.
Kurumba has one of the biggest choices in the Maldives when it comes to dining, with eight restaurants spanning seafood, Japanese, Italian and French , Arabic, Indian, Chinese and international.
Of these Thila, for me, was the star, its superb seafront location matched by the excellence of the food and the service. This is also where breakfast can be a long lingering affair with free-flowing beverages.
That choice in food is matched by choice of entertainment, with tennis courts, water sports or every kind, table tennis, pool, soccer and beach volley ball tournament, and a kids club for youngsters to give mums and dads a well-earned rest.
And nowhere could be better for that quiet hour or two than the Veli spa, where trained massage therapists wait to soothe away any aches from jet-skiing or swimming (such a tough life).
Having visited many spas, I can honestly say this is one of the best. Yes, like every other facility it’s tranquil and comforting, but here the therapists really know what they are doing, the hot stones used in the ‘Signature’ treatment work away even the tightest of hunched-over-desk shoulder muscle knots.
What impresses most about Kurumba is the effort the resort, and the staff down from the affable general manager Jason, put in.
They could rest on their laurels knowing they have a beautiful beach and good marine life and snorkeling, but they don’t.
Kurumba goes the extra mile to make ensure guests remember their stay on land, on the sea and under the ocean.