Allow me to touch the rewind button for a second.
Six years ago, for the other half’s 40th, we decided to visit a part of the world we and many people dream of. The Maldives, that crazily-beautiful dual chain of idyllic atolls in the Indian Ocean. Warm, crystal-clear waters, high-end resorts and two guys from Sydney that wanted to be part of it.
Getting to the Maldives involves flying to Malé, its capital. It’s a bizarre place to land as one minute you’re descending over turquoise waters peppered with atolls and the next you land adjacent to a small island densely urbanised with colourful buildings. It’s like someone took a large cookie cutter of a city and plonked it in the ocean.
Our arrival time meant we had to spend the night in Malé, giving us little time to explore this very unique island city. A couple of early morning hours walking the streets of downtown and around the small fish market before we made our way to the marina where we were picked up in a private speed boat. Soneva Gili, here we come.
The Soneva Gili set-up is done in typical Maldivian style. A tiny island that’s mostly covered in thick vegetation, a smattering of eco-friendly buildings tucked in amongst it and several arms of jetties and overwater bungalows for guests to get comfy in.
Whilst on the speed boat we’re given a cotton draw-string satchel that we’re asked to keep our footware in for the duration of our visit. These guys encourage you to walk around barefoot for your entire stay. And why would you not when it’s mostly soft white sand you’re walking on?
This was where we lived for a week; a not-too-shabby free-standing two-storey overwater bungalow that was like some lush version of a Robinson Crusoe house. That would be me (in the above pic) getting my twenty minutes of vitamin D on our private deck. I couldn’t let the sun chairs go unused, could I?
Small details around the bungalow make it all the more special. Like the “do not disturb” sign at the front door. If you want your Mr Friday (yes, you get your own personal assistant) for any particular reason you slide the panel to show open eyes. If you want privacy, just slide it the other way to show closed eyes.
The bungalow is simply decorated and features a lot of raw timber. An air-conditioned bedroom at one end …
… and a central leisure area that’s open to sea breezes. Table and chairs, a couple of day beds, chess and backgammon boards, a minibar and small espresso machine. A perfect place to sit with an espresso or glass of vino, ponder the days activities or watch the storms roll in.
Walk through to the other end of the bungalow and you enter the bathroom, complete with twin vanities and a spacious bath in a bay window overlooking the clear water below. One side of the bathroom drops down to an enclosed section of the shallow ocean that’s perfect for a skinny dip with the tropical fish.
Did I get my kit off? Bloody oath I did. Leading from the bathroom is a narrow “gangplank” that ends at a circular shower recess big enough for two. I haven’t shown it, but upstairs is a large roof deck with a thatched pavilion and seating area overlooking the island and surrounding ocean.
As much as walking is encouraged, you also get your own bike to get around the jetties and island pathways. Lounge by the swimming pool and get waited on with chilled bevvies or make your way to the overwater bar for a relaxed lunch and sunset cocktails.
Back then I wasn’t much into photographing food so I have little to show for it. I loved the lunch spread the most where numerous stations are set up with various things such as fresh local seafood ready to be cooked. You choose your seafood and the chef asks how you want it done and with what flavours. He works his magic and within minutes the plate is delivered to your table.
Aside from the complimentary session at the overwater wellness centre and the occasional gym workout we didn’t do much other than sit around, eat, talk, snorkel on the reef and kayak to a small island with nothing more than a lone palm tree on it. Places like this are all about doing nothing, I guess. A chance to forget the normal world and escape in paradise.
Soneva Gili has since been sold and renamed Gili Lankanfushi but it appears to have not changed much in the process.