You don’t have to go to a fancy re­sort to ex­pe­ri­ence the heav­enly is­land na­tion’s at­trac­tons, dis­cov­ers Heidi Fuller-Love

Friday - - CONTENTS -

As Mal­dives opens never-seen-be­fore is­lands to tourism, there’s noth­ing sur­pris­ing about them - they’re stun­ning is­land par­adises, too.

The first tourists came to the Mal­dives back in 1973. Un­til re­cently, how­ever, they could only stay on the re­sort is­lands. Now, fol­low­ing an ini­tia­tive launched by the coun­try’s for­mer Pres­i­dent Mo­ham­mad Nasheed, non-re­sort is­lands can now ac­cept tourists, and is­lan­ders are open­ing guest­houses where they can stay.

I’ve come to the Mal­dives to visit some of the lesser-known is­lands and meet the peo­ple who live on them. DAY ONE MAAFUSHI IN THE KAAFU ATOLL The tra­di­tional Dhoni boat with curved prow glides out of the Villingili Ferry Ter­mi­nal. Be­neath our boat the wa­ter shim­mers clear as turquoise glass as we bump across the waves, past tiny is­lands set in the sparkling sea like green egg yolks sur­rounded by the blue-white wa­ters of their coral lagoons. ‘Most peo­ple come here for the div­ing – it’s the best in the world,’ says Mo­ham­mad who lives on the first is­land where I plan to start my is­land-hop­ping adventure: Maafushi (right) lo­cated in Kaafu Atoll just 27km away from Male.

Al­though the south­ern is­land was dam­aged by a tsunami in 2004, there are no signs of this when we leap from the ferry onto Maafushi’s tiny jetty.

The sandy track fringed by brightly painted tin roof houses glit­ters gaily in the hot afternoon sun and is­lan­ders smile and greet me with halu kahi­nay, the breathy Mal­di­vian word for ‘hello’.

Guest­houses were first opened here in 2010, and now pro­vide valu­able in­come that helped is­lan­ders re­build. Nowa­days Maafushi is a bustling and pros­per­ous is­land with a scat­ter­ing of sou­venir shops and more than 40 guest­houses. Mo­ham­mad, a staff from the Ve­lana Beach ho­tel where I’m stay­ing, meets me and loads my lug­gage into the ho­tel’s brightly painted wheel­bar­row.

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