Whether basking in the sunlight at the base of a coconut palm – like one of the variable lizards found on the island- scuba diving in azure waters or dining on freshly caught sea-food, Gillian McLaren revels in the sensuality of the tropics.
A ghost crab scuttles past me across the white sand, down to the gently lapping ocean’s edge. It is dusk and the creature with its stalked eyes, scavenges for food in the lambent water. A soft radiance from the fast-fading sun caresses the condensation drops on my wine glass. The heat of the day dissipates into an evening sky streaked with vermillion.
I am pleasantly weary after a day of spectacular scuba diving off reefs near the North Ari Atoll of Halaveli Island, one with the exotic name of Batha Maaga Khan Thila. Images of fat Napoleon wrasse, sleek dog-tooth tuna and curiously hanging batfish fill my mind. Being hooked to a rock in strong current, as white-tipped reef shark, grey reef shark and a hawksbill turtle swim close to me, is a new and exhilarating experience. Soft coral formations in exquisite colours are like spring gardens. With a personal dive-master, new equipment, spacious flat-bottomed Dhoni boat with curved sides, post-dive fluffy towels and a banquet of fresh snacks, this is coddling sybaritism.
Not that I really need to dive or even snorkel at Constance Halaveli, as the water is so clear, I have viewed trumpet-fish, fusiliers and purple jellyfish from the bathroom of my Water Villa, which straddles the ocean.
I come out of my reverie to see an Indian flying fox leaving the nearby banyan tree and soar out into the now moonlit sky, like some giant pterodactyl. My travelling companions hail me and I stroll, barefooted, with them to the Jahaz Restaurant, where we choose a table on the beach, under a pandanus palm. They regale me with details of their snorkelling trip, where they saw a turtle, whiptail ray and bluefin trevally with electric blue fins. We are all sun-kissed and chatter so enthusiastically that the genial waiter reminds us that tonight is the seafood buffet, so we are welcome to help ourselves. Spoiled for choice, we are unable to try everything on offer, but we agree that the grilled crayfish is excellent, as is the sushi. No hearty fare here, this is gourmet cuisine prepared with fresh ingredients and honed skill.
Although there is a golf cart available to ferry us back to our Water Villas, we prefer to savour the ozone scent of the sea air and the dome of stars, so we amble along the discreetly lit wooden walkways.
My villa is ultra-luxurious with an entrance hall leading to a spacious bedroom on one side and a roomy bathroom with a ball and claw bath and a shower on the other. These all lead onto a wooden deck with an infinity plunge pool. I sit in the pool’s fresh water and gaze at the bioluminescence on the surface of the ocean.
As I leave my curtains open, I wake up early to see the sun’s rays lustrous on a lapis lazuli sea. Although the island is small, my walk takes a while as I am intrigued by the various inhabitants that are up before me, like the solitary grey heron in front of the water sports centre, who waits motionless, then shoots out its neck to grab a small fish in its yellow beak. I have seen a kill! On the beach at the high tide mark, in front of the main swimming pool, I sit on the soft beach sand, a breeze on my face, before I continue round the island, trying to learn the names of the trees that are conveniently labelled.
Built on stilts over the lagoon, the Constance U Spa has cleverly included areas of glass flooring, so I am able to glimpse shiny silver fish scudding in the water below, as I am given a massage. Lulled by the rhythmic movement of hands on my back and the fragrance of oils, I soon close my eyes.
As I walk to the jetty, to catch the seaplane for the 35-minute flight to Malé International Airport, a land hermit crab slips out of its current snail shell and manoeuvres into another empty snail shell, which it grips with specialised legs then walks on its other legs towards the water. I stop to marvel at its agility and then take a last lingering gaze at the setting of Constance Halaveli, place of much pleasure.
Constance Halaveli Maldives
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