The Maldives are rightly known as heaven on earth, just over a thousand islands all reflecting an idyllic vision of paradise. Tiny islets of fine golden sand dotted throughout a crystal glass sea, basking in glorious sunshine that stays between 25 and 35 degrees all year round.
International Excellence Magazine decided to visit Kanifushi in the Lhaviyani Atoll to experience all the thrills and spills of motorised water sports with adventure sports professionals Dive And Sail. Dive and Sail have a number of great dive centres on island resorts in the Maldives: Ellaidhoo, Hakuraa, Kanifushi and a soon to be opened centre on Gasveli. The Dive centre on Kanifushi is managed by Frank, an expert with 20 years experience in diving and hospitality all over the world. See here: http://diveandsailmaldives.com/english.
The atolls in the Maldives are essentially old volcanoes where coral grew and formed barrier reefs. These circular formations developed into islands of sand surrounding a lagoon which encouraged a wide variety of marine wildlife and rich eco systems. The islands in the Maldives are often around 2 kilometres long and widely regarded as the most beautiful in the world, however if you think they are just for relaxing and sitting on impossibly beautiful beaches, well think again.
So this was the setting for our first venture, a jet ski safari around the Lhaviyani atoll. My companions and I took out three Yamaha Waverunners along with our Dive and Sail guide in their speedboat. The Waverunners were all lined up on the beach next to the 200 metre long jetty and we clambered aboard with gusto. Our aim was to visit all the islands and get a dolphins’ view of the atoll and perhaps mix it up with a little competitive racing along the way.
We started the push button engines and gently made our way past the jetty so as not to disturb the water until we got further out and then as we cruised from the turquoise water into a deeper blue we pulled the throttle in and picked up some speed. Our guide waved us into position, a rear flanking triangle behind the boat, and sped off toward the first island to the north of Kanifushi. Kanifushi is on the western tip of the atoll, so we had planned to head North, then circle East at the top, before heading back down South in a loop.
One of my companions, Joseph, took off like a shot, leaping over the waves, so Ben and I revved the engines and caught up, keeping in formation. The waves came in at various angles, with a little chop, so we rode along each rolling crest and leapt like horses up and over. The Yamahas easily keeping pace with the speedboat cruising along at between 25 and 40 miles per hour. The sheer freedom of roaring over this impossibly azure sea, the spray billowing over our faces with each rise and fall, thousands of miles into the Indian Ocean ringed by desert islands was tremendous.
We cruised on past the tiny islands Vavvaru and Veyvah until we reached Naifaru, the capital of Lhaviyani Atoll, with a population of around 4000 people, more than 120 shops or markets and the main hospital for the area. It is the sixth most populated island in the Maldives and relies mainly on fishing. We sailed on past the dolphin park and tiny eastern port with its mix of sailing, fishing and industrial boats and headed further north.
We passed more stunning desert islands, our waverunners swooping up each wave, teetering on the edge, then surfing down the other side. As we reached the island of Hinnavaru, one of our guides in the boat waved us closer and explained with pride that this was this home island where he grew up. You have to admire the commute.
Just further north we came upon Kuredu, the island we had visited just two years before. The sight of the beach and jetty there brought back many fond memories, but we had no time to stop and say hello so we pressed on east past Maagiri and Fushifaru.
The lagoon here is known as the Laccadive sea and is well known for its dolphins, whale sharks, manta ray and turtles and we were not disappointed. As we turned south we first spotted a few dolphins jumping in the water ahead, then tens, then possibly 50 dolphins that flickered around the bikes. At first the fins resemble those of sharks, but as we got nearer it was clear it was a large shoal of Spinner dolphins. They sped like torpedoes before us, inches from the front of the waverunners, clearly delighted in their ability to out run us, leaping out of the water and twisting back into the sea with ease. Each was around five feet long and they swam so close you could reach out and touch them, the sound as they expulsed air as they surfaced could be heard even over the engines.
This lasted for around five minutes before they flew off into the deep blue yonder, leaving us with an incredible memory of their visit. There are over 23 species of dolphin in the Maldives (a quarter of the world’s total) and five of these are quite common, so you are likely to see them even on short trips. It’s part of what makes the Maldives so unique, and an exceptional experience.
We continued on our tour of the atoll, with the chaps from Dive and Sail, sharing their knowledge and passion and expounding on the history and culture of their islands. It was a great way to see and enjoy this vast lagoon, more personal and memorable than simply flying from one island to another. We had a much better sense of scale being on the ground, more visceral than being in a boat or yacht and simply chauffeured around.
As the sun set we performed some doughnuts in the deep water at around 30 mph and then cruised slowly into the shallower rainbow green/emerald water back to Kanifushi. The jet ski safari had been absolutely exhilarating and the Dive and Sail team had looked after us extremely well.
Mono Ski and Wake Board
Throughout the rest of our stay we also water skied with Dive and Sail, water ski and wakeboard for my companions on the back of the waverunners, and mono ski behind the speedboat for me. The waves can get pretty choppy in the afternoon, so the morning and sunset is best. There is nothing quite like mono skiing over the transparent water in the Maldives next to a resplendent deserted beach with palm trees waving in the wind.
Mono skiing is one of the greatest sports, the sheer violence and speed, being able to leap over waves, the tremendous force of the boat pulling you along, slaloming back and forth across the wake, the massive acceleration and the bounces when you fall. All this in stunning surroundings and in the knowledge that when you fall at high speed, you land comfortably in warm, velvety water. There is nothing quite like it.
JetLev Water Jet Pack
Not content with the ski safari and water ski, I tried out the JetLev or water jet pack too. This is actually a lot easier than it looks, but you do need to be comfortable with a fairly heavy pack on your back and able to twist from face down to face up in the water.
You start with the back pack a la Jame Bond with two arm controllers, connected by thick tube to the Sea-Doo water craft. The craft is actually pulled around by you, so you control the direction. The wave rider simply controls the power. At first the Sea-Doo rider gently ramps up the power and you start to rise. As you do you must be careful not to flip backwards as you will hit the Sea-Doo, not a good idea, but the Dive and Sail maestro on the bike can kill the power to keep you safe.
So you start face down in the water and as the power builds you move forward and up, as you do you gently lower your arms to achieve a steady upward motion and then you rise up over the sea. The first time you are concentrating on what you are doing, but on the second or third go it becomes quite easy and you start to take in that you are flying over one of the most beautiful islands in the world. A crowd of people started to assemble on the jetty taking pictures and waving. I looked out over the atoll, the jetty and the boats, water jetting out behind me, taking in the scenery.
It is quite a weird experience as you really cannot quite believe what is happening. It is at the same time so futuristic, yet in such a natural and idyllic setting. It is way more fun than you think it will be, exhilarating and liberating. You are actually flying, and you can go up, forward or down all at will, simply by moving your arms slightly up or down. The wave rider watches and alters the power accordingly. It is like being Superman for a brief spell, you are no longer tethered to the planet but can move in all three dimensions, all whilst admiring the world from a completely different viewpoint.
Some experiences really stay in your mind, I will always be able to see the island of Kanifushi, the jetty, the palm trees, the boats, the sand and the Laccadive sea from above, perfectly preserved in my memory.
Heck of a way to pick coconuts too.
The Dive and Sail team at Kanifushi are a great bunch, really enthusiastic with a terrific sense of humour who ensure a great time is had by all. As well as the motorised water sports, they also have paddle boards, kayaks and lots of windsurfs for all levels. And they do a great banana boat ride at sunset for the kids. Not to mention the fun tube or inflatable sofa that gets towed behind a waverunner at huge speeds, skidding across the water and bouncing over the waves. The same thrills as water skiing, but from the comfort of a double armchair.
All in all there’s a lot more to do than just sit on the beach on this tiny paradise island, but of course you can just do that too.