The nine of us met up at the Qatar Airline's check-in desk at Heathrow's Terminal 3. We got our seat allocations, made our way through security and trundled off to buy our duty-free purchases. Of course none of us bought any alcohol to take, since that would have been confiscated at Dohar, where the stopover was, or Male at the end of the second flight, since both Qatar and The Maldives are Muslim countries. That isn't to say you can't drink alcohol there, just that you can't import it.
Once we had boarded the brand new Airbus 340 we settled down for an 8-hour or so flight to Dohar. The legroom and service was excellent and the flight took us over Turkey and down through Iraq. We passed just east of Baghdad and directly over Basra before carrying on down the Gulf to Qatar. We only had a couple of hours' stay at Dohar before we were airborne again flying for about four hours to Male in the Maldives. At Male we went to the Maldivian Air Taxi desk and were ferried over to the small seaplane terminal. We boarded one of the seaplanes along with a couple of others (about 14 in total, the pilot and the co-pilot), the pilot (who flew in bare feet) pointed out the six exits and waved the safety leaflet and before you could stop to think he was taxiing towards open water. We all stuck the complimentary earplugs in our ears and we were airborne within a minute. The views of the atolls, giris and thilas were spectacular.
We all met up shortly afterwards for a drink at the Akiri bar before going into dinner. We were very pleasantly surprised at the standard of the food. It was freshly cooked, there was fish as well as meat (including pork) and the people serving the food were extremely pleasant and accommodating. The minimum dress code was 'no wet swim-wear', though dry swimming shorts (but not trunks) were allowed and no bare chests. Apart from that most things were OK including bare feet. The menu changed throughout the week and in the main the meals were thoroughly enjoyable.
The next morning after breakfast we met up with Paul from the dive centre in Kuredu, run by Pro-Divers (www.prodivers.com). Paul was to look after us for the week. We went through all the paperwork, showing our diving certificates and filling in forms before we went on our first dive, which was the obligatory trial dive off the house reef. We put our kit on a trolley and it was taken to the end of the jetty for us, where we kitted up, strapping on our air tanks before doing a giant stride entry, crossing the lane used by the seaplanes and descending at the second buoy to 5 metres depth. There we had to do a mask removal and mask clearance, followed by a regulator removal and replacement by your buddy's octopus regulator. Once everyone had managed these tests we did a leisurely dive along the house reef and back. The reef is quite interesting, with lots of fish and eels. It has turtles, stingrays and a small wreck on it, which houses a resident Napoleon Wrasse that is one of the biggest I have ever seen, it must have been over 2 metres long! Unfortunately there is a lot of bleaching on the coral, a leftover from El Nino, and this isn't confined just to the house reef. After the dive it was back to the dive centre to clean our kit (the facilities there are very good), ready for a boat dive in the afternoon.
The afternoon dive was at Kahlifushifaru Corner (KFFC), dive site #17. This was my (and Neil's) first dive using Nitrox (air enriched with oxygen). Neil and I had done the Nitrox course in the UK with Collin as the instructor. We were on EANx32 (32% oxygen), but Neil guzzled his quite a bit and although we only went down to 23 metres, he only managed a dive time of 38 minutes. Collin suggested I dive the following day with Sue as my buddy and Neil with Rob as his, that way we would be more evenly paired for air consumption. The next day we dived the fish factory (Felivaru Outreef #9) to about 28 metres and Tinga Giri (#26) to just 19 metres. The latter was a reef wall dive with a gentle current ending up on the Giri (shallow underwater coral island) at 5 metres for the safety stop.
We got to Fushivaru Thila (#41) where we saw Kirsty Cook with her group of people on the all-day snorkelling trip. She pointed out a couple of manta rays they had been viewing. We went down to the Thila (deep underwater coral island) and after a while installed ourselves at 18 metres next to a 'cleaning station'. Sure enough, after a few minutes a huge manta ray, with a wingspan of probably 5 metres hovered over the station while small fish cleaned her of parasites. I say 'her' because she acted like a fashion model, with us taking photos of her for ages. We were within a couple of metres of her and she stayed there for about 25 minutes. It was spellbinding to see this creature hovering effortlessly while we struggled to keep our balance in the strong current. I shall never forget that first close encounter with this gentle giant of the ocean. When we got back to the dive centre everyone was blown away by the photos we brought back.
We did quite a lot of diving, which after all was the main object of the holiday. Out of 20 dives, the other memorable ones were The Shipyard (#11), Kuda Giri (#28), Kuredu Caves (#30), Hani Kandu(#1), Vavaru Outreef (#2) and Miaruvani Thila (#4). At the Shipyard, there were 2 wrecks, Skipjack1 and Skipjack2. the latter was on the bottom at 30 metres, while the first stood 6 metres high out of the water, with its stern resting on the bottom. Its wheelhouse was torn off when it 'accidentally' foundered and it landed upside down on the bottom, but during the Tsunami it was lifted off the bottom and righted! There was quite a current on this dive and I didn't fancy being swept between the wreck and the reef, which was a distinct possibility. We snorkeled on the wreck the following week and it didn't seem half so daunting then.
At Hani Kandu (a Kandu is a channel crossing from one reef to another) we saw several manta rays on the surface, but for the most part they stayed there and did not venture down to 30 metres where we were. We did however find a largish sting-ray resting on a ledge on the outreef. While we were investigating it and taking its photo another one came up from the depths, 'buzzed' us and elegantly glided back into the depths from where it had come. At the end of the day's diving Neil's mask broke as well as his snorkel, so Kirsty came up with a black one and a fetching pink snorkel, as you can see in the photo on the right. he used them on the next couple of dives and when we went snorkelling.
One thing I haven't mentioned is that Neil shaved off his moustache the first night of the holiday. He has always had problems with his mask letting in water and wanted a better seal. When I saw him with just a beard I made him shave that off too. All of the women in the group commented on how young it made him look and I think the peacock in him took over as we have been back for two weeks and he is still clean-shaven.
The rest of our group left on the Monday, but we still had until the following Friday. We had quite a few more dives, including another night dive, this time on the House Reef. When coming back to the buoy to do our 'lights out' routine on the bottom we almost landed on top of a sting ray, which hung around looking at us very quizzically. We also did another dive at Kuredu Express, but the current was almost non-existent and as a consequence so were the sharks!
On the Tuesday it was our wedding anniversary and Soniya, our waitress for the holiday decorated our table beautifully. On one of the evenings, before everyone else left, there was a 'pool chipping' competition. A floating golf green was anchored in the swimming pool and contestants had to chip the 25 yards onto it. Max, Neil and I got through to the second round. Max then failed to hit the green and while Neil hit the green his ball bounced off into the pool. I was the only one of us to get through to the third round. By that time I was the only female and all the women were rooting for me, and a lot of the men too. Collin pointed out that this was because I was flashing my knickers every time I took a swing and this put me off so much that I eventually ended up in fourth position. A few days later, a group of us entered the texas scramble competition on the 6-hole par-3 course. Max and Chris managed to come second! Well done to them.
After lunch Kirsty asked where we wanted to go next. The decision was unanimous 'back to the mantas'! So our captain went off to see if he could find them, which he did and we spent another hour or more swimming with them. At one point Neil swam quite a way from the boat and looking down at the sandy seabed about 15 metres below spotted the biggest stingray he has ever seen, lying on the seabed. It must have been almost 4 metres across! He's seen large ones before, but this was the grandaddy of them all.
Eventually we had to say good-bye to the mantas and make our way back. We stopped off to do some snorkelling on the Skipjack1 wreck before finishing for the day, but while returning to Kuredu we again came across dolphins. These were very playful, doing acrobatics and jumping right out of the water. Neil managed to get a brilliant shot of three of them flying in formation. Eventually we got back to the resort tired after the most fantastic day's snorkelling ever, but extremely exhilarated after all we had seen and done.!
We packed on the Thursday night, and on a slightly wet, overcast Friday morning we boarded the seaplane for Male. the pilot announced that the flight time would be 3 minutes, as no sooner had we got airborne than he descended to pick up a few passengers from the sister resort of Komandoo. We then had a forty minute journey to Male, where we found that our plane was overbooked and Neil and I (with plenty of grumbling) would have to fly Emirates to Columbo (Sri Lanka), then to Dubai, then to the UK, adding at least three hours to the journey. After a lot of to-ing and fro-ing we managed to get back on the Qatar Airlines flight, but this time in business class. This certainly made up for messing us about and I could get used to that type of luxury (Qatar, Emirates, Singapore and two other airlines are the only ones rated as five-star for business travel).
Eventually we arrived at Heathrow and were surprised at how warm it was, this being the end of October. We got home where I sorted out the clothes for washing, while Neil, poor dear, had to have a lie down - Men!!! After his lie down he then went on the web to find out his tee time for the following day, so while I was sorting out the washing he was playing eighteen holes of golf - Men!!!
Well I've come to the end of my report. We had a fantastic holiday (the best ever) and next year the group is planning to go to Bonaire in the Dutch Antilles (just off Venezuela), which is known as the shore-diving capital of the world. If Neil and I can make it, we will.
|Date||Depth (m)||Time (min)||EANx||Maldives Dive|
|7 Oct||20.7||58||-||Kuredu House Reef - loads of fish|
|7 Oct||21.2||37||32%||Kahlifushivaru Corner (KFFC) - First ever Nitrox dive, loads to see|
|8 Oct||26.8||49||32%||Felivaru Outreef - Great dive, steep wall, barracuda, turtle|
|8 Oct||14.3||58||32%||Tinga Giri - Great dive, plateau and wall with gian moray & lobsters|
|9 Oct||28.9||34||32%||Kuredu Express - Amazing dive, strong current & sharks|
|9 Oct||21.3||59||32%||Fushivaru Thila - Dive of a lifetime, manta ray on cleaning station|
|9 Oct||22.0||59||32%||Zafari Reef - "pootling" dive, great photographic opportunities|
|11 Oct||28.0||36||32%||Shipyard - 2 wrecks, an invigourating dive|
|11 Oct||13.4||61||35%||Bodu Giri - Easy dive, beautiful scenery|
|11 Oct||15.5||48||35%||Kuda Giri - First ever night dive - fantastic|
|12 Oct||25.0||50||32%||Miaruvani Thila - Lovely dive, loads of fish and coral|
|12 Oct||22.0||60||32%||Nakolhu Giri - Overhangs, glass fish, great photography|
|12 Oct||24.7||60||32%||North Caves (Turtle Airport) - Turtles everywhere, amazing|
|13 Oct||28.4||51||32%||Hani Kandu - Dolphins, tuna humpback wrasse & stingray|
|13 Oct||24.7||60||32%||Vavaru Outreef - Mantas, turtles, octopus, steep drop-off|
|13 Oct||17.7||57||32%||Madivaru Thila - Corals, nudibranch, octopus, stingray and manta ray|
|14 Oct||24.7||57||32%||The Peak - Turtles, lobster, eels, good photography|
|16 Oct||14.9||46||34%||Kuredu House Reef - 2nd night dive, again lovely, though Russian group behaved badly|
|17 Oct||21.6||50||33%||Miaruvani Thila - Fabulous dive on out anniversary day, no current though|
|17 Oct||21.0||60||33%||Kuredu Express, little current, small shark, stonefish & leaf fish|