Submitted by: Rachael Woolston
With white beaches and azure waters, many who visit the Maldives spend their days soaking up the beauty of this tropical idyll from their lounger. Yet to ignore what lies beneath the beautiful warm waters would be to miss a magical experience.
With dazzling corals reefs in a kaleidoscope of colours, you can float through the sun-pierced blue with shoals of parrot fish, snappers and angel fish. Venture away from the reef for the big fish, sharks, manta rays and even a whale shark if you are lucky.
Match the beauty of this watery underworld by staying at the stunning Baros in your own private villa complete with eternity pool. Here you can enjoy massages in the spa and watch the sunset from your private deck. Should you find it hard to drag yourself away, you still need not miss out on diving. The retreat has it’s own private reef to explore just 30m from the shore, and is the only retreat in the Maldives with ecological status.
If you are a seasoned diver, though, you may prefer to try a ‘live aboard’ with the Four Season’s luxury catamaran, The Explorer. This provides unparalleled access to untouched reefs, atolls and wrecks but with the luxury you would expect from the Four Seasons brand.
Visit Baros for £426 a person a night based on two sharing. Book with Abercrombie & Kent (www.abercrombiekent.co.uk). Four Seasons breaks cost £1,013 for seven nights, including meals, diving and transfers. Book with Ampersand Travel (www.ampersandtravel.com)
Sipadan Island, Malaysian Borneo
Malaysia’s only oceanic island, Sipadan was formed by living corals that grew on top of an extinct volcanic cone. Considered one of the top five diving locations in the world, it is surrounded by an oval-shaped reef that offers such a diversity of marine life, it would keep even the most experienced diver occupied for weeks and still leave more to explore.
For sheer beauty, drop down into the Coral Garden with its sloped wall of rainbow-coloured coral that teems with fish. Or Turtle Cavern, named for the dozens of turtles that rest in the crevices or float serenely past as if flying. Sheer grace.
It is now illegal to stay on the island and the area is protected by restricting dive permits to 120 per day. Instead, stay on the beautiful island of Mabul, which is just 15 minutes away by speedboat.
Sipadan Water Village, with just 39 traditionally built wooden cottages, which stand on stilts over the sea, is a retreat truly away from it all, each with a private sun deck and outdoor whirlpool. As a real diver’s resort this is more rustic than most, but what it lacks in polished luxury, it makes up for in terms of the sheer beauty above and below water.
From £2,085 for seven nights including flights and diving. Book with Dive Worldwide (www.diveworldwide.co.uk)
West Papua, Indonesia
Float through enchanting coral gardens with stunning cliffs and the most amazing diversity of fish – West Papua is one of the world’s most biodiverse marine regions. From the majestic manta ray to shipwrecks off the island of Manokwari, this area has it all.
In fact, there is so much spectacular diving to be had here, you would be forgiven if you spent most of your time underwater. It would be a shame, though, to miss a jungle trek into the island, home to many indigenous communities, many of whom have had little contact with the modern world. That is of course, if you can drag yourself away from the Misool Eco Resort.
Situated on the private island of Batbitim, it has just eight cottages. Each are built from reclaimed tropical hardwood and sit on stilts spaced around a crystal clear lagoon. In fact, you don’t even have to get on a boat to dive – simply drop into the water from your private veranda, and in a few fin flips you can descend into the blue to visit the retreat’s own reef. It takes three flights to get to Sorong followed by a four-hour speed boat ride to get here but it is worth it, taking you far away from your normal life.
From £2,945 per person based on two sharing, including flights, transfers and full board.
Vamizi Island, Mozambique
Castaway for a true Robinson Crusoe experience – though with serious 21st-century luxury – to this slender coral island just off Mozambique’s northern coast, and considered by many to be the new Maldives. With stunning diving including mountain seascapes and beautiful coral cliffs that plunge into the deep, the big draw is Neptune’s Arm, considered to be one of the top 10 dive sites in the world.
An underwater island, Neptune’s Arm sits just 8m below the surface, and its canyons attract reef sharks, snappers, potato bass and a myriad of tropical fish.
Equally as impressive is the retreat of the same name, built in 2005, which makes access to the diving sites here possible and works hard to maintain the environment with the supervision of the World Wildlife Fund.
With just 13 colonial-style villas, Vamizi Island retreat embodies barefoot chic, with teak wood private terraces and muslin curtains that billow gently in the tropical breeze as you watch the sun set over the sea and icing-sugar white beach.
Not content with diving? You can kayak, hike into jungle to spot samango monkeys or stretch out with the island’s resident yoga expert.
From £3,475 a person for seven nights all-inclusive (six nights at Vamizi and one night at Oyster Bay) including flights and transfers. Book with Original Travel (www.originaltravel.co.uk). Book with Ethos Travel (www.ethostravel.co.uk)
Lizard Island, Australia
Mention diving and most people immediately think of the Great Barrier Reef, and the remote Lizard Island is just a short ride from one the reef’s most famous diving sites, The Cod Hole. Here you could find yourself surrounded by cod fish weighing up to 150kg. Not your thing? Dive the nearby Ribbon Reefs, famous for soaring rainbow coral pinnacles and steep drop-offs, which seem to descend into an abyss.
Top side, Lizard Island is just as impressive, with 24 private beaches with fine, powdery white sand where your bare footprints will likely be the only ones. Indeed, the retreat can even arrange private seven-course evening meals on the beach. That is if you can drag yourself away from your villa.
For pure escape, choose to stay in The Pavilion perched on Sunset Ridge with panoramic views of the beach, bay and nearby Osprey Island. It comes with a private plunge pool and private walkway to a secluded deck for even more spectacular views. You can choose to dine privately or in their beautiful restaurant. It’s small wonder Lizard Island regularly makes the Top 10 Hotel Lists.
From £7,639 a person for seven nights, including all food, accommodation and international flights and transfers. Book with Tailor Made Travel (www.tailor-made.co.uk)
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