Sunday Herald Sun - Escape - - WHAT’S YOUR BUDGET MALDIVES -

The Mal­dives is no longer just a fairy­tale des­ti­na­tion for hon­ey­moon­ers and af­flu­ent trav­ellers. New re­sorts and flights are mak­ing this In­dian Ocean par­adise more ac­ces­si­ble than ever. The ar­chi­pel­ago will wel­come 40 re­sorts be­tween now and the end of 2018 on top of the spate of open­ings in the past few years.

A wide range of ac­com­mo­da­tion – from af­ford­able guest­houses, to mid-tier re­sorts and ul­tra-high-end re­sorts, as well as live-aboard cruises – has also spread the play­ing field to the out­ly­ing atolls.

Mal­dives Mar­ket­ing and Pub­lic Re­la­tions Cor­po­ra­tion deputy direc­tor Rafil Mo­hamed says the num­ber of Aus­tralians vis­it­ing the Mal­dives has risen in the past 12 months and there is huge po­ten­tial for more.

“Nu­mer­ous fac­tors are con­tribut­ing to the in­crease,” he says. “Among them, a greater propen­sity for Aus­tralians ... to ex­plore far-off ex­otic lo­ca­tions, in­creas­ing dis­pos­able in­comes, greater aware­ness and word-of­mouth rec­om­men­da­tions by trav­ellers (and) our 30-day free onar­rival visa. The Mal­dives is (also) an at­trac­tive prospect for surfers, due to the pris­tine surf­ing con­di­tions of the Mal­dives.” CELESTE MITCHELL Not since the Mal­di­vian gov­ern­ment gave the green light for tourists to stay in guest­houses has a stay in the Mal­dives been so af­ford­able. This month, Mer­cure will open its first Mal­dives prop­erty in Gaafu Alifu Atoll. It may be bud­get friendly but it cer­tainly won’t skimp on the ex­pected lux­u­ries, such as restau­rants, pool with pool bar, spa, gym and dive cen­tre. The 68 vil­las (in­clud­ing 43 over­wa­ter and 25 set along the beach) all come with out­door show­ers and deep bath­tubs. Meals are served over­look­ing the pool and that dreamy la­goon at Alita Restau­rant, while VISTAS is set out over the water and serves a ta­pas-in­spired menu. The re­sort is ac­cessed by a 55-minute do­mes­tic flight from Male In­ter­na­tional Air­port rather than pri­vate char­ter. When a re­sort has a fa­mous su­per­model “face”, you know it’s go­ing to be glam­orous. At the re­open­ing of Kanuhura in late 2016, Amer­i­can Erin Was­son was ap­pointed as the per­fect em­bod­i­ment of its new-found “gypset” style. Found in the Lhaviyani Atoll and ac­cessed via sea­plane trans­fer, here you can leave reg­u­lar life be­hind and flit be­tween your bun­ga­low or over­wa­ter villa, the main pool and 10 restau­rants and bars, in­clud­ing Drift grill on Je­hunuhura, Kanuhura’s own ex­clu­sive pri­vate is­land. Book in for a treat­ment at Kokaa Spa and join in med­i­ta­tion and yoga classes in the hatha yoga stu­dio. When you need a bit more ac­tion, snorkelling tours, big game fish­ing, wa­ter­sports and sun­set cruises are on the menu. It’s hard to ad­e­quately de­scribe the feel­ing of rid­ing a cruiser bike along the raised board­walks of this re­sort in the re­mote Thaa Atoll. Or how a massage in the over­wa­ter spa can send you into a depth of re­lax­ation you never knew pos­si­ble. The food is a high­light with three restau­rants and Taste of the In­dian Ocean-themed buf­fet nights. Watch reef sharks and st­ingrays play in the shal­lows be­yond your toes at Tai Ja­panese restau­rant as the sun sets. Book surf­ing lessons or trips to nearby surf breaks, grab a pad­dle and stand-up pad­dle­board across the im­pos­si­bly clear la­goon, go on a dol­phin-spot­ting cruise or night snorkel, or swim over to a nearby pri­vate is­land and feel like a ma­rooned cast­away – at least for the day.

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