Halaveli, Maldives

Text and production Sven Alberding Photographs Elsa Young Maybe it was his spot underneath the mango tree that made Sean Connery not recognise Ursula Andress as a fellow spy. But the image of the super-babe emerging from the aquamarine sea around Dr. No’s island shaped the Hollywood notion of tropical beach nirvana forever. Next Daniel Craig marches out of the indigo-blue depths, with tanned glistening torso and skimpy turquoise trunks. Only on the big screen? Not so … but let me rewind. We are in the departure lounge of Malè’s domestic terminal and the pilots of Maldivian Air Taxi are dressed rather like public-school boys, sporting neat Bermuda shorts, starched white shirts and flip-flops, if any form of shoe at all. And so we find ourselves on a seaplane from Malè to the Constance Halaveli Resort in the Northern Ari Atoll with a barefoot pilot in charge. The low-altitude flight lasts just 20 minutes but it’s from this perspective that the true beauty of the Maldives, at least from above water, can best be admired. Coral reefs encircle tiny islands to form bigger oval shapes that make up an atoll. The depth of the Indian Ocean and its sandy shallows create a myriad blues, from the lightest hint of turquoise to a ripe cornflower and the depth and danger of an inky midnight sky. Soon our taxi is landing next to Halaveli and manoeuvring its way towards the jetty. I can see the resort’s Water Villas suspended on stilts above the picture-perfect lagoon. Each morning after waking I jump into my very own plunge pool. From here it’s exactly two steps into the sea below. It is on my first Maldivian dawn that I see them – their elegant torpedo shapes swirl slowly past me. Sharks … blackfin reef sharks to be precise. Of course they are small and they don’t bite but I have since found myself tempted to turn them into a Maldivian Jaws when telling people about my trip. The resort’s Water Villas are connected to the island via a kilometre-long wooden jetty, also a very popular blackfin hangout. My villa is situated a few flicks of a shark’s tail from the Spa de Constance, where I spend my first morning. Many of the spa treatments have rather ethereal names and the Skin to Within promise gets little more than a polite smile out of my facial muscles when the therapist explains it to me. But when I find myself looking out to sea, doors wide open, ready to levitate towards the ceiling, I know it’s working. Using Ila’s Beyond Organic range of products, the svelte therapists ensure you float back to your villa or, like me, to the pool bar for a little lunch fun. The discovery of a truly good cocktail can be more exciting than spotting a little Loro Piana label in the back of a potential date’s cashmere cardigan, which is why a visit to the pool bar’s head mixologist, Anne Dubois, is guaranteed to give you a head rush. Anne serves a cocktail that will, mark my words, take over SA bars this summer. The Lagerita – roughly chopped lime, tequila, aloe syrup and beer poured over crushed ice – is the perfect precursor to a lazy lunch at the pool and becomes our favourite drink while the sun is up. When it gets too hot we sink into the nearby pool, which is refreshingly cooler than the tropical ocean. Our days are spent between excursions to the heavenly spa (‘Oh, I’m all massaged out, um, how about that Ayurvedic treatment we talked about yesterday?’), dips in the sea (‘Who’s first at the outer reef?’), and repeat visits to Jahaz restaurant’s buffet table (‘I missed the lobster. I’ll have to go back once more. It’s the last time, promise.’). It’s our second night and we’re in for a real treat, we’ve been invited by fellow South African Etienne Truter to dine at Jing restaurant. Etienne is the head chef at this speciality fusion eatery. The temptation to let go on tropical islands is all too strong and I find myself in worn-out flip-flops and a damp T at the Jing door. Mistake. While nothing here requires the dress code of an Aida performance at La Scala, the setting, decor and attention to detail at Jing clearly communicate a fine-dining experience – perhaps a welcome diversion in the oh-so casual tropics. The portions are model-size but ample, the wine list beyond impressive and the food too fantastic to describe. (Get your hands on last month’s issue of House and Leisure for our feature on food created by Etienne.) Another grand Halaveli evening is almost at its end when we hear the sound of music drifting down the jetty. And since we can find a mirror ball faster than Julie Andrews could swirl across a meadow, we’re soon heading towards a magically transformed pool bar. The once daytime lounge area has been turned into a full-blast dance palace, hubbly bubbly smoke rising and tanned bods moving. I’m again bowled over by Anne’s cocktail-conjuring skills, and the last I remember is the sweet taste of a very good Martini blending with the apple flavour of a hookah pipe. Good night. There’s no better way to wipe away the last traces of the night before’s Martini than getting up close and personal with wildlife. We catch the resort’s dhoni to a neighbouring reef that promises amazing snorkelling and diving. Splish, splash, flippers, mask, snorkel … I tumble overboard into a school of thousands of iridescent trigger-fish drifting, like me, in the current that hugs the outer reef. The bigger blue waits below. It’s a never-ending depth, one that many people fear, but up here we’re with all manner of shiny happy creatures. Sometimes you might spot a reef shark patrolling its territory much further below or a gigantic turtle paddling through the shallow water above the coral. It’s all too tempting to focus on the bigger creatures but, hey, sea anemones are Nemo territory, and after a few minutes our first orange-and-white-striped friends are spotted. Floating in the lukewarm current, we spend the next hour hanging out with the most impressive display of underwater life and it is with a heavy heart that we finally climb back into the boat. Way too soon I hear the propellers of the Maldivian Air Taxi approaching and I hope I’ve misread the itinerary and we’re not leaving today. But when my bags are fetched I know it’s time to take my last walk along the jetty. Gazing down the beach I see a woman appearing out of a paradise-perfect wave. She’s tall and tanned and young and lovely. She waves at her boyfriend – he clearly has no idea that she might be a secret agent.

How to be Stranded in Style

The Maldives is hot and sunny throughout the year so pack plenty of light summer wear, sun protection and a hat. The shop at the resort stocks fabulous swimwear for that stylish Mediterranean look, but is unhealthy for those spending rands. Local currency is the rufiyaa, but most credit cards and US dollars are accepted on the islands. SA passport holders do not need a visa when visiting the Maldives for under 30 days. The rainy season is from May to November. The time zone is GMT +5, excluding one hour of daylight saving for the resort islands. Constance Halaveli Resort has an excellent gym with state-of-the- art cardio and weight equipment – so remember to pack your gear. This article was originally featured in the December 2009 issue of House and Leisure.