The Hindu (Mumbai)

The reef life

The renovated OBLU Nature at Helengeli in Maldives offers water villas and memorable dives to see coral reefs busy with banner fish, bluestripe snappers and the occasional black tip reef shark

- The writer was in the Maldives on the invitation of Oblu Nature, Helengekli by Sentido. Prabalika M Borah

Love the sea? Want to live that Robinson Crusoe life, stuck on an island: except you prefer to be surrounded by luxury? Try Helengeli, an island in the Maldives known for its healthy corals, giant sea turtles and reef sharks. All of which make this a scenic destinatio­n for diving and snorkellin­g.

There is only one way to reach this island from Malé Internatio­nal Airport: a speed boat ride that takes close to an hour. Helengeli island is in the middle of one of the main entrances to the North Malé atoll and straddles a channel. This unique location results in a rich flow of marine life on both sides of the island.

Once on the island, I check into OBLU Nature Helengeli by Sentido in Maldives. It is a Green Globe Certified property (Green Globe is the premier global certificat­ion for sustainabl­e travel and tourism). A kilometre walk from the dock takes me to my water villa, which is spacious with a private pool, and a step down ladder that leads to a lagoon.

It is evening by the time I reach, so I decide to wait until the next morning to explore the lagoon. Instead, I walk on the beach spotting hermit crabs, popping out from one shell and getting into the other to find a comfortabl­e home. As the sky gets darker, swift foot rock crabs begin to crawl to the shore. Fortunatel­y, they mind their own business.

A swimmer’s paradise

When I finally dive into the the lagoon the next morning I realise the currents are not strong, and the water is shallow making it safe and easy to walk and explore. If you love marine life you have to be patient, so I float calmly in the shallow waters to watch fish swim by. About 10 minutes into the water and I see a shoal of banner fish swim up close. Then come a couple of Nemos (clown fish) and a stunning lagoon triggerfis­h.

Helengeli is also known for its healthy corals that you can explore underwater. When snorkellin­g, we see black tip reef sharks up close, however they simply change direction and swim away. An expert diver swims with me, navigating the way forward.

The view of the continuous coral reefs is incredible. They are in all shapes and colour.

The view is enhanced by the fish who are bigger and brighter and absolutely more playful than anything I have seen at an aquarium. Especially the parrot fish, bluestripe snapper and the dazzling angelfish.

Stating that sharks are common in the Maldives, OBLU Nature’s general manager Ali Shakir says “they are are harmless, despite their reputation, if you give them the respect they deserve”. There are no known cases of shark attacks in the Maldives. The most common species are nurse shark, grey reef shark, black tip shark and white tip shark, and Ali says hammerhead sharks and guitar sharks are rare, but can also be seen.

The property provides diving experience­s and a diving course. The introducto­ry session for those who have never tried scuba diving before includes a basic theory session with an instructor, followed by a shallow dive in the lagoon. The maximum depth for the House Reef and all subsequent dives is 12 metres.

For those looking to sign up for a diving course, the threeday PADI Open Water Diver Course at the resort consists of four open water dives and a number of confined water skill dives, which teach students to dive to depths of 18 metres.

View sunset from a boat

Take a boat ride for unforgetta­ble sunset views and, if you are lucky, you might spot dolphins. The boat is a traditiona­l dhoni, so the slow ride is relaxing with a spectacula­r view from the roof. Within no time, the cool salty breeze lulls me to sleep. Ali explains that the dhoni is the traditiona­l Maldivian wooden boat, used in the resort for diving and other activities as well as supplies. “Available in different sizes and shapes, dhonis are also made of fibreglass nowadays,” he adds.

In the evenings, I walk around the Island. There are many places around the property where one can sit and enjoy the quiet, soaking in the gentle sound of waves lapping against the shore.

 ?? ?? X (Left) View of OBLU Nature at Helengeli in Maldives; (Bottom) just grill by evening.
X (Left) View of OBLU Nature at Helengeli in Maldives; (Bottom) just grill by evening.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India