From the moment my mum and I arrived at Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu, we were transported to another world. First came the beautiful villa with its own private beach (we could hear little more than gently lapping water and the calming buzz of insects, whether sitting in front of the ocean, or enjoying views of the vivid orange and pink sunsets from its terrace), then the sumptuous organic food. These were followed by the luxurious spa employing traditional healing techniques from India, Thailand and Indonesia, and the wonderfully kind and unassuming staff. Peace at last, and a world away from hectic city life.
It was mid-June when we found ourselves among the vivid blues and greens of Dhuni Kolhu after a three and-a-half-hour plane journey from Dubai, followed by a short but scenic seaplane ride across the Maldivian islands. There are approximately 1,200 islands in this beautiful paradise and around 800 of them remain uninhabited. As the story goes, the islands are likely to be the remnants of a chain of sunken volcanoes formed around 60 million years ago.
The villas are rustic and appear completely rooted in nature – their land-meets-sea setup made me feel a part of the ocean and the island. The endless view of languid water is stunning, while, inland, thick and lush forestry makes for a lively change of pace from the Middle East’s deserts. This island in particular is situated in the Baa Atoll, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve – which prioritises sustainable drinking water and nature conservation (no plastic allowed) – and is one of the reasons I was ﬁrst attracted to it.
My only concern when Coco Resorts invited me to experience the island – being an avid adventure seeker – was that the relaxation encouraged by the Maldivian pace of life isn’t an obvious bedfellow with the spirit of exploration. But I was wrong. Just a few hours in and experiencing itchy feet after the plane journey, we were off to explore!
In the heart of the Indian Ocean and with its azure lagoons and its 26 white sand atolls, these beautiful islands are the dream for all divers. As I discovered, the resort offers a great variety of dive sites and instructors are on-hand for lessons. For anyone that hasn’t done so already, it’s actually the perfect place to earn your diving licence. I was thrilled with the variety of sports and activities there, too. We tried some of my favourites, such as volleyball, and I loved watching other guests take to the water in their catamarans and on water skis. Better still, the water temperature was perfect, and I was taken aback by the marine life. Tropical ﬁsh in colours ranging from candy pinks and bright purples to blazing orange and red ﬂurried around our feet with every dip in the ocean – it’s not just a paradise above the water.
I had been hoping to take my mum on a trip for a long time, but had been ﬁnding myself on relatively rugged escapes of late (such as riding around the Gobi desert or travelling into the heart of Rwanda). Something told me that she’d be more content in a ﬁve-star hotel experiencing lush island life. We’d also never had the opportunity to travel as just the two of us, so I knew this would be the perfect opportunity to spend uninterrupted quality time together. It couldn’t have been more perfect when Dhuni Kolhu surprised us with a very special lunch on Embudhoo, a nearby deserted islet. There was only one hut and we were the only guests – it felt like we’d walked into the pages of Robinson Crusoe.
The chef prepared dishes including fresh seafood melded into a Maldivian-style stew, and salads packed full of ingredients plucked from his garden. Young coconuts, locally known as kurumba, came right from Embudhoo’s palms. With the beauty of the wilderness, the tranquil sound of the ocean, and the incredible food, this was truly a once-in-a-lifetime memory that my mum and I now cherish forever. That night we slept to the sounds of the ocean and the hum of the island’s insects – it was bliss.
The next morning I woke up early and headed straight for the ocean (not hard when it’s just a few metres from the front door). The water was a mix of silver, blue and light pink underneath the rising sun and the temperature was cool enough to knock me out of my early morning fogginess. Perfection.
The Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu also has a charming mini Maldivian village on its island showcasing its heritage and old, traditional houses. We were able to experience a unique private breakfast in the village where the food was so fresh and colourful and the view by the water was so beautiful, I could hardly believe it was real. We ate local dishes such as mashuni (smoked tuna and scraped coconut with lime juice, onion, and chilli), and roshi (Maldivian ﬂatbread). Fresh fruits such as watermelon and mango were ﬂavourful in a way that’s only possible with garden-to table. We were so relaxed by the end of the meal that I didn’t want to get up. It was a great start to another incredible day on the island.
In 2015, Coco Resorts partnered with the Olive Ridley Project (founded in 2013 by biologist Martin Stelfox in response to the large number of entangled olive ridley sea turtles he encountered in the Maldives) to create the ﬁrst and only veterinarian-led Marine Turtle Rescue Centre in the Maldives. After our wonderful breakfast in the village, mum and I were fortunate to spend some time at this special sanctuary. While I was impressed by the care they gave the turtles, it broke my heart that most of these beautiful animals had missing ﬂippers due to being caught in ‘ghost’ ﬁshing nets. Coco Resorts and Olive Ridley are working together to identify where the nets originate and ultimately put an end to sea turtles drifting into the Maldives entangled and in danger – it was an eye-opening experience for me.
The island is ﬁlled with so many wonderful intricacies, and when I found out there was a display of Maldivian lacquered wood carving on the island I wanted to see it for myself. The hand-operated lathe looked so simple, but the vibrantly coloured vases and bowls the artisans make just blew my mind. They were kind enough to let me try the lathe, and believe me, the technique is much harder than it looks to perfect. Like so many traditional crafts, this type of woodworking is at risk of dying out. I hope the next generation shares the same love for it – it’s too beautiful a skill for the world to lose.
Each time I travel somewhere new I am ﬁlled with gratitude for the experiences I have and the people I am fortunate enough to meet. This was my ﬁrst time in Maldives and I was awed by the beauty of the sea (especially from the sky), the nature of its people and the tranquillity it managed to bestow upon me. Most of all, I’ll remember the sincerity of my mother’s face when she thanked me for sharing the experience with her – it nearly brought me to tears.