Meals by moonlight, diving with sharks and rolling on Beach Wheels in the mazy Maldives.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009 20:53

With the sun directly overhead, we headed out across the coral reef, our breath rasping through our snorkels. To our left was a purple sea anemone, to our right a powder-blue surgeonfish, and then we were out into the deeper, cooler water, where the reef dropped off sharply into the depths of the Indian Ocean. Within seconds we saw it: sleek, grey and fast, nosing towards us with that instinctive, preternatural cunning, flexing its body with restrained power. It was the reef's superior predator, king of the food chain - the shark.

My wife, Amanda, gripped my arm and we froze still in the water. We were several hundred yards from the shore and there was no one else within earshot. In that moment I thought: well this is just great.

Luckily, this was a reef shark, a harmless blacktip, and with so many thousands of bite-sized fish for him to feed on, we humans were of no interest. 'In all my 13 years here,' said Ronnie, our dive instructor, 'I have never known anyone to be attacked here.' Good. I'm glad we got that straight then.

It had taken precisely eight seconds from emerging from the flight that morning at Male airport in the Maldives before a discreet figure appeared at our side, all crisp white uniform and resort logos. 'Good morning, Mr Gardner, I am here to escort you and your family to the island.' My children looked up expectantly. The Maldives does pampering in spades - I could see they could get used to this.

The boat crew barely glanced at my wheelchair, a tedious but integral part of my life since getting shot while on assignment in Saudi Arabia five years ago.

Within seconds, they had me off the jetty and on to the cushioned deck and we were accelerating away in a flurry of foam.

When it comes to transfers, the Maldives has it sorted. Instead of messing around with buses or taxi queues, you go straight from the arrivals lounge to the adjacent harbour and take a speedboat to your island.

Strung out off the coast of Sri Lanka, the 1,200 islands straddle the Equator and most of them are uninhabited. Only 200 are lived on by Maldivians and 90 others are designated as tourist resort islands.

We were heading for Baros, a coral-fringed island in the North Male atoll, 30 minutes away by boat. Read more.....


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