Is there such a thing as too quiet?

Steve Richards hears how the Maldives missed the worst of the tsunami - and now needs visitors to return to its shores

Here is a sad confession. I don't really like the idea of a winter holiday in the sunshine. Something to do with the shock of switching from familiar, grey cold to alien, blue warmth. What is more, I write about politics for The Independent. I'm a political junkie, and I do not want to miss a second of the pre-election campaign. Yet here I am swimming effortlessly in the Maldives while Britain shivers and its political leaders declaim wildly. Amazingly, I seem to be able to cope.

Here is a sad confession. I don't really like the idea of a winter holiday in the sunshine. Something to do with the shock of switching from familiar, grey cold to alien, blue warmth. What is more, I write about politics for The Independent. I'm a political junkie, and I do not want to miss a second of the pre-election campaign. Yet here I am swimming effortlessly in the Maldives while Britain shivers and its political leaders declaim wildly. Amazingly, I seem to be able to cope.

I am on one of the 1,200 or so islands and islets that make up the Maldives; only 200 of them are inhabited. Until the tsunami they were famous mainly for being a tourists' destination, with even some of the more sceptical guidebooks summarising the islands in a single word: paradise. Now they have become part of a tragic news story. About 100 people were killed on the Maldives, and, according to government officials, 20 of the islands were destroyed. Although the islands that are popular with tourists were mostly untouched, the Maldives continues to take another sort of battering - a perception that they were wiped away or that they have become a dangerous paradise. But of course it's not true.

Our island, Kuramathi, is one of the largest, and is an hour and a half's boat ride from the capital Male. It is shaped like a carrot, its tapered end curving sinuously northwards to a sandbank which gives way to an ocean displaying every imaginable shade of blue, from virtually transparent to deepest midnight. Our water bungalow has steps leading directly down into an occasionally choppy sea. At this eastern side of the island the sound is of the sea thwacking and gurgling beneath the underside of our bungalow. A 50-yard stroll through sand paths between palms and banyan trees and you're looking at another beach.

The ocean immediately around Kuramathi is so shallow that you don't need to strap yourself into a diving suit or even a snorkel to get a ringside seat of the cut and thrust of tropical undersea life. Standing knee-deep among a cloud of tiny, almost transparent herrings, I realise that a school of about eight baby black-tip reef sharks, each one the width and length of your forearm, is moving among them. They're clearing their way as efficiently as heavy duty cops in a football crowd, creating pools of panic, forcing some of the herring to leap out of the water to escape. Brooding over the scene is a pair of herons, who then dart forward like hyperactive ballerinas to claim a fish or two themselves.

Coral reefs ring the island, helping to sustain one of the richest and most diverse marine eco-systems in the world. Six years ago, a rise in seawater temperature caused the coral to change colour from its natural reddish-brown to a paler shade and then to white as much of it died. Walking through shallow water around the island you crunch over pale shards of dead coral. They look exactly like bones.

Now the island management and the diving school employ an Austrian marine biologist, Dr Reinhard Kikinger from the University of Vienna, to study the regeneration of the coral and to act as an adviser on the environmental impact of tourism on the marine ecology of the Maldives. Dr Kikinger says what he is doing is indirectly helping to preserve the reefs. "When guests are informed they take responsibility. Once they understand that coral is an animal and it's delicate, they take care not to stand on it or touch it. Damage which takes a few seconds can take years to repair."

Kuramathi experienced the tsunami as merely a swell that swamped the beaches and did scarcely any damage. Dr Kikinger thinks the coral reefs were partly the saviour of these islands from more extensive damage. "Looking down from the air, you'll see we have many very deep, steep atolls coming up from the depths so the tsunami couldn't build up. Also the coral reefs took up some of the energy, so when the tidal wave got here it was little more than a swell."

From our seaward balcony we watch the antics of windsurfers and dinghy sailors as they wrestle with their sails. When our 15-year-old son Jake sees how fast the dinghies can go, he is keen to try his hand. It's some time since he learnt the basics on a sailing course in Fishguard harbour - what he can mainly remember is how numbingly icy the water was during the obligatory capsize exercise. Now he has an hour with a 20-year-old Maldivian instructor with a Nirvana T-shirt and a natty line in bleached hair. After a quick resumé of the basics, and less than an hour at sea, Jake is sailing solo, zipping confidently the length of the north-eastern coastline. Now he is even talking of sailing at the Welsh Harp Reservoir, off the North Circular Road in London. That's how inspirational it was.

A half-hour boat ride from Kuramathi takes us to the tiny islet of Kandaloudou, barely 250 metres long and 100 metres wide. Just 16 bungalows and beach houses have been built on this ultimate refuge, whose name means "the island of beach lilies". The water bungalows each have a whirlpool spa with uninterrupted ocean views. At the heart of the island is a spa and treatment centre - all wooden decking, wind chime music, pebbles, running water and massage tables looking directly out to the ocean.

It's time for some snorkelling. A coral reef is like a submerged city. All sorts of peculiar and wonderful life forms find a niche and thrive in some sort of strange harmony. Some of the coral formations look like ornamental garden urns, some look like cannonballs while others resemble petrified loaves of bread lying on the ocean floor. Our safari guide Melanie, a marine biologist from Bremen, dives down to point out the clownfish that starred as Nemo in the hit film, and then a sea cucumber. She looks like a sea creature herself, gliding gracefully to the ocean floor.

In the aftermath of the tsunami, these islands are incredibly quiet - even Kurumba, the island which is only a 15-minute boat ride from the airport. During our stay on Kurumba it was preparing for a post-tsunami visit by Bill Clinton and George Bush Snr. That's style for you - not one former president, but two.

Walking to the sandbank one evening to see the sunset, I saw my own sandal print from the day before. That evening, I found a plastic bag scrunched up in the shallows - the only piece of detritus I saw in all the time I was there. I picked it up and binned it. Polluting paradise just isn't right. It was now, briefly, my home, and - mysteriously - I found I was losing interest in the British pre-election campaign.

GIVE ME THE FACTS

How to get there

Steppes East (01285 651010; www.steppeseast.co.uk) offers seven nights at Kuramathi Blue Lagoon in a beach villa from £1,345 per person, or seven nights at Kurumba in a superior room from £1,225 per person. Both prices are based on two sharing and include return flights, transfers and b&b accommodation. Steppes East also offers seven nights on Kandholhu in a beach villa starts from £2,165 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights, transfers and all-inclusive accommodation.

Further information

For information about the resorts contact Universal Resorts (00 960 450 527; www.universalresorts.com). For information about the country contact Visit Maldives ( www.visitmaldives.com).

News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Bruce, left, with Cream bandmates Ginger Rogers, centre, and Eric Clapton in 1967
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
News
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
arts + entsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Junior Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker