There are some places on earth that you need to visit in person to fully appreciate.
You may have a general understanding that the Grand Canyon is big, for example. But the overwhelming vastness doesn’t hit home until you teeter on a craggy cliff-edge in the middle of the Arizona desert and think, “Okay, I get it now.”
Likewise, it’s hard to believe the azure blue waters of the Maldives are as serene as they appear on Getaway and Instagram. Until you swoop down on a Maldivian island in a private sea plane and step out into the Indian Ocean.
This realisation comes in a collective gasp that floods our small aircraft as six passengers and two pilots touch down on the shimmering doorstep of Niyama Private Islands. The water is really that blue. The scene is incredible.
My first thought is that it would be impossible to enhance such natural beauty by plonking a A$2,000-per-night resort on an island here. But the opulent Niyama, which can cost from A$700 to A$12,000 per night, exceeds expectations.
134 wooden bungalows sprawl across two connected coral islands that feel spacious and blissfully quiet even when the resort is fully occupied. Visitors with children tend to stay hidden among the trees and close to the Kids Club on “Play” island, while couples and honeymooners opt for the more expensive “Chill”, which is ringed by those idyllic overwater bungalows ubiquitous in marketing material for the Maldives. Don’t worry if you only budgeted for a beachside bungalow – these actually feel more secluded among the coconut palms than the overwater villas with their interconnected boardwalks. Either way, you can quickly whiz around both islands on resort bicycles that come with personalised name tags and a handy basket (for the iPhone and Instagram).
Every villa comes loaded with indulgences: a private pool, Bluetooth stereo system, enormous bed, flat screen TV, Nespresso and even a popcorn machine. My favourite room is the open-air bathroom, which is crowned by a majestic waterfall-shower and an eggshell bath. Hook your phone into the Bluetooth stereo and blast your favourite tunes as you sip champagne in the bath like a jungle boss.
Getting to the island involves a 40-minute seaplane journey from Male, the cramped Maldivian capital, to the northern Dhaalu Atoll. If you pay attention, you’ll spot pods of dolphins and sea turtles breaching far below. If not, you’ll get a chance to see them up close on one of the countless snorkelling, diving and water safari trips that venture out from Niyama’s pontoon daily.
I don’t usually associate surf trips with luxury, but Niyama is blessed with a world-class surf break, known as Vodi, just a short paddle from the sand. Surfing champions including Australia’s Owen Wright, Matt “Wilko” Wilkinson and Gabriel Medina have all surfed there. Many have left snapped-off surfboard halves in the eerie “surfboard graveyard” that cropped up after a particularly large swell in June 2014.
Fortunately, Vodi offers gentle three-footers throughout my visit, which I share with my partner and just one other surfer. Portuguese surf instructor Ricardo – who is chiselled like a living Ken Doll – is on call to take lessons and boat trips out to other nearby waves. He even runs a private Whatsapp group for surfing guests, which he messages three times a day with detailed updates, videos and photos of the conditions.
Most food tastes good after a three-hour surf in the tropics, but there’s no room for my usual post-surf servo snacks at Niyama. Daily seaplanes restock the kitchens of seven restaurants offering various dishes from African game meats to Lobster Wellington. My favourite is pan-Asian restaurant Nest, where you can perch among the treetops as you pull apart slow-cooked Massaman beef and next-level pad Thai.
One of the charming personal touches of Niyama is that each villa has a Thakaru (butler) available on speed dial at any time of day. Our Thakaru, Roxy, happily comes puttering down the jungle path in her golf buggy when my legs are too tired to cycle to dinner. She also drops me off for an expert massage of my aching surfer limbs at Drift spa the next day. The Maldives is known for catering to a cashed-up market, so expect any extra massage, excursion or meal not included in your plan to be expensive. A three-hour Turtle Quest tour costs US$80, for example. It reads as expensive, yes. But there are few places in the world where you can float through pristine waters with sea turtles flapping just centimetres from your snorkel mask.
Australians will need to stop over in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur or Dubai to fly commercially to Male. From Male, a private seaplane transfer to Niyama Private Islands costs US$560 per adult.
Beach villas start from sale prices of A$695 with breakfast, but are often closer to A$1,200 per night.
The author travelled with assistance from Anantara Resorts.