Stuart Philpott is never one to shy away from a challenge, and bouncing between four different resorts and three atolls in the Maldives in just 16 days was right up his alley. Here he concludes his adventure with a visit to Kurumba Resort.
Photographs by Stuart Philpott
Saying Goodbye to LUX Resort
Sadly, my brief stay at the five-star LUX Resort, South Ari Atoll, had come to an end. I thought all of the dive sites had been exceptional. I didn’t get to see a whaleshark, but I did encounter just about everything else the Indian Ocean has to offer. I said my farewells to Euro-Divers and the resort staff before boarding the seaplane returning to the capital, Malé.
Arrival at Kurumba Resort
At Velana International airport, a speedboat was waiting to take me to five-star Kurumba resort, my fourth and final port of call. During the journey I got chatting to Valentina Kuzmina, who was joining Euro-Divers as a new guide/ instructor. Little did she know that her first job would be modelling for the visiting Scuba Diver photographer! Ten minutes later we were moored up at the jetty and I was flip-flopping towards the reception desk.
Exploring Kurumba Resort
Kurumba was the very first resort island to open in the Maldives. Last year was actually their 50th anniversary. The resort offers 180 rooms on a half-board, full-board and all-inclusive basis. I had booked into a beach bungalow, which was an excellent standard apart from the fact that there was no sea view, more sea glimpses. Most of the rooms are arranged in a number of semi circles rather than just being built parallel to the beach front. My room came with an open-air bathroom, which is pretty much standard practice in the Maldives. Unfortunately, there were no surrounding trees offering any shade, so in the late afternoon/early evening it became hot as an oven. The lush gardens were probably the best I have seen anywhere in the Maldives. There was also an orchid nursery with a huge variety of colours on show.
It took me about 20 minutes to walk around the small roughly circular 500 metre by 250 metre island locally known as Vihamanaafushi. There are eight restaurants to choose from serving up a variety of different cuisines. The main restaurant Vihamanhaa is buffet style whereas the others are all a la carte.
Did you know?
If entering Maldives as a tourist, you will be granted a 30-day visa upon arrival and your passport must be valid for a minimum of one month. However, if arriving by air, most airlines state that your passport should be valid for a minimum period of six months from the date of entry into the Maldives
The award-winning Thila restaurant is a popular venue. The best tables are set up along the seafront. I sat and watched the twinkling city lights across the water. A cool breeze made a welcome change from air conditioning. The main bar, Kandu, is a great spot for après-dive cocktails. Watching the planes arriving and departing from the nearby airports certainly added a novelty factor.
Meeting the Locals and Resort Guests
The resort doubled up as a weekend getaway for expats and locals living in the capital city, Malé. It was also a popular choice for flight crews stopping over for a few days. I spoke with Captain George, who worked for German airline Eurowings, and he said it was much better than being accommodated on the main island. George was also a keen diver and knew all the local sites extremely well.
Diving at Kurumba: Dive Centre and Dive Sites
The Euro-Divers dive centre was currently being managed by Maldivian Abdula Ahmed. Normally there are at least three full-time members of staff taking turns to guide or run courses. The 20-metre GRP-hulled dive boat has a max capacity of 18 divers and includes a shaded area and toilet. Abdula said there are usually no more than six to 10 people on board even during peak season. There are around 30 dive sites on offer, including two manta cleaning stations, which depending on monsoons, are either 20 minutes or one hour 30 minutes boat ride away. Abdula’s favourite sites are HP Reef and Embedhoo Express. For wreck lovers, the 80-metre-long Victory sits at a max depth of 40m right next to the harbour wall. The cargo ship sank in 1981 while carrying supplies to the nearby resort islands. I was keen to get some pictures, but unfortunately the weather conditions weren’t suitable on the day. Standard cylinder size is 11-litre aluminium and there are also some bigger 12s available. Nitrox is free of charge. The house reef is a superb spot for snorkelling or diver training with blacktips, sting rays and eagle rays regularly sighted.
First Day's Diving: Aquarium and Banana Reef
On my first days diving, acting manager Abdula Ahmed was on leave, so Morgan Bianchi showed me around some of the local attractions. We were just coming onto full moon, so the currents were racing. Morgan suggested we take a trip over to Aquarium, which was about a 45-minute boat ride away. This happened to be one of the sites I visited last year during my stay on Meeru, so I had a reasonable idea what to expect. Most of the action happens at the point where the currents converge. Valentina was keen to help. I couldn’t help but notice the massively long AAS hose strapped to her side. It certainly stood out in my pictures!
We followed the reef around to the point. There were whitetips sleeping on the seabed but every time I tried to get close they would swim off. We got some great shots of the snapper and the sweetlips and I even managed to sneak up on a sleeping green turtle for a few close ups. We came across another green turtle, but just as I was lining up for a picture, Captain George suddenly appeared in the frame. I guess George wanted a picture with the turtle! Valentina had nowhere to go, so I just kept on snapping away with George in the spotlight.
At Banana Reef I paired up with Valentina again while Captain George went off with Morgan. Even though we were very close to Malé, the capital city it didn’t seem to affect the marine life sightings. At the beginning of the wall there wasn’t much to see but about 20 minutes into the dive, I was taking pictures of snapper, cave sweeper, triggers and bannerfish hiding underneath the overhangs. The visibility was slightly murky but otherwise I really enjoyed the dive. I spoke with Valentina several months later and she said they had encountered hammerheads and even a tiger shark patrolling the reef wall.
Second Day's Diving: Embedhoo Express and Chicken Island
On my second day Abdula was back in the driving seat so we visited a site called Embedhoo Express, which was a good hour’s boat journey away. Abdula said that marine life activity at the site was very different depending on whether we were diving with an in or an out current. Fortunately, we hit it just as the current was building. The highlight had to be the swirling mass of jacks. Thousands congregated over the reef. I spent a good five minutes trying to get a picture of the shoal. By now the current was really pumping hard. There was so much action, including sweetlips, eagle rays, turtles and sharks being ‘cleaned’ which I have never seen before. The sharks were in a trance, mouths agape, revealing an impressive set of teeth. This has to be one of the best dive sites in the area, a definite must do for visiting divers.
Just to round of my trip we went over to Chicken Island, aka the Tuna Factory. When the tuna fish have been processed, all the fish scraps are thrown into the water, which provokes the waiting marine life into a feeding frenzy. Although some might argue this is an artificial reaction, it provides a wealth of close-up possibilities for photographers. But Abdula said the factory had recently closed down. So with no free food available, would there still be any marine life around? As we descended, I immediately caught sight of the monster-sized morays – the honeycomb morays are the biggest I have ever seen – but the huge shoal of bannerfish had gone. A number of giant stingrays appeared and this increased to around 12 when a snorkelling boat arrived. They didn’t seem to be bothered by my presence and would do multiple fly-by’s.
Final Thoughts on Kurumba Resort
I had really enjoyed my stay at Kurumba. The resort might only be a ten-minute boat ride from Velana international airport, but this does have its advantages. There are no seaplane transfers to worry about (or costs) and no time wasted travelling to and from the international airport to the seaplane terminal. And as I discovered, if the weather deteriorates, I could still guarantee getting to the airport without worrying about seaplane delays or cancellations. The buffet food was all in all very good and the accommodation – apart from the slightly obstructed view – was an excellent standard. At the beginning I had reservations about the marine life sightings but to my surprise there was a really good variety of dive sites on offer and most of the time they delivered.
My mega Maldives trip had been a rollercoaster adventure from start to finish. All praise to Susanne Valverde from Euro-Divers, as the logistics had yet again worked out perfectly (apart from one or two unforeseen flight delays). All four resorts had provided a very high standard of food and accommodation throughout, so absolutely no complaints from me. I thought each resort had its own distinct character. Some offered a wealth of activities and were probably more family orientated, while others were much quieter and better suited for amorous couples – something for everyone. A special thanks to the fantastic four dive guides, Tomako, Jenny, Yuan and Valentina (not forgetting substitute Egor) for helping me with my pictures.
As expected, all of the Euro-Divers dive centres provided the same high standard of service. The only slight dampener had been the weather. I arrived in a torrential downpour and 16 days later left the same way, holding an umbrella and splashing through puddles!
This article was originally published in Scuba Diver North America US #11.