Luxury hotels abound in the Maldives, but Kudadoo and Hurawalhi private islands resorts are drawing the superyacht crowd. BOAT reviews the best hotels in the Maldives to help you plan your next superyacht holiday now that the country has reopened.
A perfect string of more than 1,200 tropical islets fringed with white-sand beaches and electric-blue waters teeming with marine life: it’s hard to describe the Maldives without resorting to clichés. Spread across roughly 90,000 square kilometres of the Indian Ocean – 270 nautical miles south of India – it sits along ancient trade routes from the West to the East. It was well regarded for the fish stocks that sustained sailors, and soon became an important staging point for merchant ships. Today, the Maldives’ marine life is equally prized by the wealthy tourists who flock to its private island resorts – and a steadily growing number of superyacht owners.
With an increasing number of yachts heading east rather than west for the winter, the Maldives, despite their lack of specific superyacht infrastructure, are becoming a popular stop-off. Many charter brokers report that it is their second-most-popular Asian destination after Thailand. “I think clients are looking to try further-off-the-beaten-track charters,” says Matthew Gant, from Edmiston. “The Maldives offers utter privacy, isolation and relaxation.”
One notable yacht spotted there in recent years was 136-metre Flying Fox, one of the world's largest charter yachts, managed by Imperial Yachts. “Flying Fox planned a trip to this destination right after her delivery, as the interest shown by charter guests for this size of vessel was significant,” says Eric Lepeingle, head of sales and charter at Imperial. “In the Maldives you can really be hidden from the world, thanks to the multiple small islands offered by the many archipelagos.”
An added bonus for visiting superyachts is that, as well as isolation, there is a plethora of options for guests who want to go ashore. “With the last charter I had there, the clients loved visiting each island, mainly to check out the facilities of some of the top hotels in the world,” says Gant.
With such rich pickings on offer, competition between resorts is fierce and individuality is rare. However, a new contender is pushing the boundaries of luxury in the region. Kudadoo Maldives Private Island has just 15 private villas and operates on the mantra “anything, anytime, anywhere” (AAA).
Dispelling any preconceptions about the “all-inclusive” tag, there isn’t a wristband in sight, but instead a charming butler with a bevy of back-up staff will facilitate any request, big or small. Champagne-fuelled dinner on a private sandbank? No problem. A three-hour pampering session in an ocean-facing spa? Sorted. What makes this level of service stand out is not just its charming nature – I considered kidnapping my ever-smiling butler Ishaaq to take home with me – but that the AAA philosophy genuinely stretches to everything, including diving and fishing excursions and unlimited spa treatments. In short, it’s the closest you can come to superyacht service on dry land.
Kudadoo isn’t just changing the service ethos in the Maldives, it’s also at the forefront of Maldivian design. The island’s structures were created by the Japanese-American architect Yuji Yamazaki, and while the unvarnished cedar villas are supremely stylish – with a natural airflow created from the glass door at the front and open-air bathroom at the back – the island’s focal point is the Retreat. Home to the bar, restaurant, spa and gym, this sloped double-storey building connects outdoors and indoors, with open-sided walls, tropical orchids and dark teak furniture. The striking building has a futuristic feel and its zigzagged roof is covered in solar panels that create enough power for the whole resort (another first for the Maldives).
With 22 atolls to choose from, visiting yachts are spoilt for choice. “There is so much to discover in the Maldives that a single two-week trip is not enough to explore even two per cent of what is on offer,” says Lepeingle. The capital, Malé, is the easiest pick-up point, as it receives multiple direct flights, but some of the best cruising grounds are further afield.
More than 80 nautical miles from Malé, Lhaviyani Atoll (home to Kudadoo and its sister resort, Hurawalhi Island Resort) is less accessible than other atolls, but this also has its benefits. “You don’t get the boat traffic as you do near Malé, so the marine life can thrive,” says Bradley Calder, who is general manager for both resorts as well as an avid diver. “I have been fortunate to dive at pretty much all the atolls in the Maldives, and this one is definitely the best. There are more than 50 dive sites and you have got everything – turtles, manta rays and sharks.” For those who aren’t visiting on their own yacht, the island also recently took delivery of a Princess 55, which is available for day and overnight charters to give guests a taste of the cruising on offer.
Despite windy conditions making some of the more common snorkelling sites off-limits, it doesn’t take me long to get a snapshot of what Calder is referring to, as one of Kudadoo’s private tenders takes me to a nearby reef. Allowing the wind to work for us, my guide explains that we will drift for 20 minutes along the reef before being scooped up by the boat at the other end. As soon as I look under the water it’s like being dropped into a scene from Finding Nemo, with schools of clownfish, bizarre-looking unicornfish and snub-nosed butterflyfish dotting in and out of the colourful corals. A few seconds later, my guide dives down and points out an octopus hiding underneath a patch of coral, and a moment later a blacktip shark swims past, less than a metre away from the end of my flippers.
Not content with just showing what the reef has to offer, the guide takes me to Kuredu, which is nicknamed Turtle Airport thanks to its population of green sea turtles. Lhaviyani Atoll has the largest registered number of turtles in the Maldives, and we jump off into the lagoon where they come to nibble on the sea grass. It doesn’t take long to spot one and I happily float above an individual seemingly oblivious to my presence as he enjoys his brunch.
The other underwater residents that attract visitors to the atoll are reef manta rays, which are typically between three and three-and-a- half metres in length. The Maldives is thought to be home to nearly 5,000 mantas in total, and 381 have been recorded in Lhaviyani during the season, which runs from the end of September until March. To help visitors swim with the majestic creatures and protect their future, Kudadoo and Hurawalhi share a resident marine biologist from the Manta Trust. Part of Lynn Kessler’s role is helping to educate tourists on how to interact with them.
“We want the mantas to keep coming back to the same areas, so we want to make sure there are not too many bubbles and commotion,” explains Kessler. “The important thing is to stay calm and let the mantas come to you so we try to spread these guidelines.” One of the most common spots to see the mantas is the Fushivaru cleaning station, to the north-east of the group of islands, which is less than six nautical miles from Kudadoo. Here you float on the surface and watch as the mantas come to get cleaned by parasitic crustaceans called copepods.
Kessler’s other concern is trying to collect data to track the rays. Each has a unique spotted pattern between its gill plates, and photos of the pattern can be used to identify each fish. This helps to keep track of the population (the females have a gestation period of about a year, and a birth has never been seen in the wild) to get a better idea of their movements. For example, one manta ray called Ewok was found to have travelled more than 700 kilometres south to another atoll. It is hoped that more superyachts visiting the Maldives can also help with this by taking pictures of any manta rays they spot so that they can be checked against the database being created by the Manta Trust. “We need time, resources and manpower to collect this data,” says Kessler.
For those seeking further entertainment, the atoll has another trick up its sleeve – it’s home to 5.8 Undersea, the world’s largest all-glass restaurant. Located on Hurawalhi, a spiralling staircase leads you down into the otherworldly restaurant where just 10 tables offer ringside views of the surrounding reef. The swirling schools of reef fish (including damselfish, pairs of butterflyfish and clownfish) are entrancing, and despite being an adults-only resort, most of the loved-up couples spend the meal gawping at the surrounding spectacle rather than at each other.
Fish also take centre stage in the five-course lunch or seven-course dinner menus, with dishes including tuna tartare with wasabi sorbet and poached lobster with smoked trout ravioli and truffle caviar. The vegan menu is equally enticing with inventive dishes such as sweet-pea tartare on caramelised quinoa and truffle-roasted butternut risotto. Halfway through the third course, someone shouts, “Shark!” All cutlery is quickly abandoned as everyone presses against the glass panes to watch the blacktip’s darting path through the water.
Beyond it being a mesmerising and highly Instagrammable experience, the restaurant also serves a higher purpose, believes Calder. “It’s a great way to connect people with what’s under the water,” he explains. “People fell in love with what’s above the water in the Maldives years ago, but what’s underneath is even more spectacular.” Calder hopes that by establishing this connection, it will help visitors to the Maldives engage further with the plight of the world’s oceans.
As spectacular as resorts such as Kudadoo and Hurawalhi are, it’s the marine life that still holds the real magic in the Maldives. Thankfully, those visiting on superyachts are perfectly poised to make the most of what is both above and below the water at this beautiful crossroads in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
This feature is taken from the May 2020 issue of BOAT International. Get this magazine sent straight to your door, or subscribe and never miss an issue.SHOP NOW