Every morning a new view, a new island, a new adventure
Myself and Kate have been to the Maldives before. It’s a wonderful place full of stunning resorts, but you probably already know that. However there is so much more to enjoy in the Maldives than just a luxury room with a powder soft white beach directly outside your door. The problem I have always had with the Maldives is that after a few days I get bored, although I will admit there are worse places to be in the world! Basically once you are on an island resort you are trapped. Same room, same beach, same house reef, same view, same restaurants, same dive sites, I’m sure you get the picture. And worse than this, if you want to take a trip it costs a fortune compared to what you get in return. Dolphin cruise 50 dollars, sunset cruise 50 dollars, deserted island trip 100 dollars, beach BBQ 150 dollars, snorkelling trip 50 dollars, night fishing 50 dollars. On Dhoni Stella this is all part of the package (on reflection our holiday didn’t cost much more than staying in a medium rated 5 start resort). Image opening your bedroom door every morning to a new view, a new island, a new adventure. For all who think Maldives Water Villas are the pinnacle of indulgence, let me tell you they are nothing compared to mooring off a deserted island, with a pristine reef only metres from your boat.
Not convinced? Let me tell you about our holiday
Firstly, after a few emails between Max (the owner) and myself, the date was confirmed and payment made. I then received a questionnaire about our preferences for food, drink, activities, in fact just about everything that I might want to give my opinion on. This was a nice touch.
The rustic nature of Stella, made from local wood in a traditional style
A 10 minute water taxi ride later and we were boarding Stella 2 in the Male lagoon. Imagine the scene. Luxury yachts everywhere, huge bright white livaboards suitable for 20 people or more, Sunseeker yachts suitable for millionaires and Stella 2! The rustic nature of Stella, made from local wood in a traditional style was a reassuring and unique contrast. Our very own pirate boat! Max introduced us to the 3 man crew (captain, steward and chef), plus the divemaster who was on board for the whole trip (included in the dive costs which are actually cheaper than a resort). A quick look around the boat confirmed that it is exactly as described and in fact bigger than the photos suggest. Leaving the lagoon we headed straight for our first dive. We had been in the Maldives less than one hour and the holiday was already starting, some passengers on the same inbound plane were still waiting for their onward transport. No waiting for us, no long boat transfer or expensive sea plane flight, we were off faster than Usain Bolt!
Seen more dolphins than you could count and dived with Mantas
On the way to Lankan Point (a Manta cleaning station) about a 40 minute ride away we were greeted by a pod of dolphins, there where hundreds of them surrounding the boat. The last time we were in the Maldives we visited Lankan Point in the hope of diving with Mantas but unfortunately they weren’t there, this time it was a different matter. After only a few minutes underwater a Manta glided into view. It was surreal, our first afternoon on the boat and we had seen more dolphins than you could count and dived with Mantas - what a start. Back on board we had afternoon tea (after all we are British!), and talked through the next day plans. After traveling across the Atoll we moored up for the night in a sheltered lagoon, had a superb dinner and then went onto the sun roof to view the night sky. Stunning, simply mind blowing, especially from a boat.
Birthday with the whale shark
The following morning we travelled to the Baa Atoll, home of the famous manta hotspot Hanifaru Bay. After arriving, our second dive was on an outer reef. Guess what... Mantas! Could it get any better? Well yes it did, but I won’t bore you with all of the details. Here are a few of the highlights. For the first few days we saw Mantas everywhere. Whilst we were traveling, whilst we were moored, we snorkelled with them, dived with them, filmed them, they were everywhere apart from in Hanifaru Bay where they were supposed to be! Every day we came across dolphins, sometimes in large pods and at other times in small numbers, they swan at the front of the boat, jumped, played and entertained us immensely. We saw traditional Maldivian tuna fishing up close, with the boats catching large Yellow Fin tuna and a smaller type on pole and line. We had sailfish (marlin) swim by on two occasions. We travelled around the Baa Atoll, over to the Lhaviyani Atoll and back again. During the day we visited uninhabited islands or sand spits, dived, snorkelled, fished and made use of the sun deck on the roof which is also perfect for dolphin spotting. Being at sea meant there was always a cooling breeze, even in the heat of the day. The highlight of the trip was my birthday. A dive with Mantas was exciting, but that wasn’t anything compared to what happened when we surfaced. The boat crew had spotted a Whale Shark and for the next hour and a half travelled around trying to find it. Imagine the scene. The steward, Kate and myself in the small dingy with snorkelling gear motoring alongside Stella 2 travelling the atoll in search of the 8 metre monster. The Divemaster on the roof of the boat acting as lookout, the captain using his local knowledge, even the chef was involved. And then a Maldivian shout (which I assumed translated means ‘shark’) and the Divemaster is pointing into the distance like Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean. We raced towards it, jumped in and for a few minutes were swimming with the worlds largest fish. And there wasn’t anyone around but us, no organised trip, no jostling for position to get the best picture, just us, the crew, the boat, the shark and the ocean. That night the boat was decorated with balloons and a birthday cake, baked on board, was produced along with a chilled bottle of Chardonnay. Happy Birthday to me!
From seasonal fruits to your own catch-of-the-day
The food was fantastic and varied - Maldivian, Italian, English - a lot of fresh fish, fresh fruit, beautiful curries. It is quite remarkable what can be produced from such a small kitchen in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
The service from the steward was exemplary, he really did make a difference. His attention to detail was faultless. Simon & Kate
The boat itself has a charm not found on modern super yachts
Solid and homely, it’s deceptively large compared to the photos. The bedrooms (there are two) are 5 metres x 3 metres with a small en-suite shower room that is perfectly sufficient. The dining area, which is at the front of the boat, is open, cool and features a large solid table that can seat six. At the back of the boat there is a platform that is used for diving and fishing. There is also a small dingy that is used for visiting islands and fishing in the evening. In the evening the crew tend to stay at the back of the boat giving guests complete privacy, just in case you were wondering! So is Dhoni Stella for you? If you want freedom, excitement, adventure and a small amount of indulgence, then yes, it probably is. I’ll put it like this. After spending 10 fantastic days on Stella 2, I really don’t think I would want to be trapped on an island for a full holiday again. Would I go back? Yes, tomorrow if I could and almost certainly next year to sample the delights of what the Ari Atoll has to offer.