Resort diving in the Maldives with Dive Butler Amilla

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For the entire year of 2015, I was privileged to live and work on an incredible resort island in the Maldives, known as “Amilla fushi”.

As a Dive instructor, the Maldives had always been top on the list of places to visit for diving, promising a multitude of marine creatures to keep me enthralled and I jumped at the opportunity to go. I was blessed to have a years leave of absence from my day job, and jet across to the middle of the Indian ocean to live a dream life.

Amilla fushi roughly translates to “Home island” in Divehi, the Maldivian language, and I spent my days living on this sandy rock and diving the balmy waters surrounding it. Located in Baa atoll, Amilla fushi is one of the newest resorts in the area, with a modern design and a concept different to the standard Maldivian resort islands.

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I worked for Dive Butler International, a boutique dive company that is based not only on Amilla, but also dotted around other Resorts throughout the Maldivian atolls. Closely aligned with Amilla fushis modern concept, Dive Butler Amilla, saw me being quite literally a Dive “Butler” to people from all over the world, from fellow Anzacs, through to European millionaires and even American celebrities.

People are attracted to Baa atoll for many reasons, of course the sun, the picturesque islands and the azure waters, but a huge part of what makes this particular atoll so incredible, is something absolutely unique to this part of the world – the largest seasonal aggregation of Reef Manta rays, feeding en masse in a place called Hanifaru bay.

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Although diving isn’t allowed, snorkelers visit daily with the resorts in the area between May and November when the bay is open. Hard to put into words, swimming with these gentle giants is something one must experience, and the close proximity of Amillas dive sites to Hanifaru bay, meant that on most dives at nearby sites, we encountered Mantas cruising past, feeding or cleaning.
Diving in the Maldives is different to the diving I’d experienced before – both in the logistical structure of the operation and also in the prices. Our island had its own fleet of boats, which we would take out with a maximum of four divers to one instructor/guide. Daily we would do a two tank morning dive, and an afternoon single dive usually followed up by a night dive on the house reef the same evening.

Guests pay for each dive, their gear and the boat ride all separately. Most avid divers travelled with their own gear so would only need to cover the dive and boat costs, but one thing that was unanimous with all dive centres, was the need to have diving insurance. Being an Instructor I was insured up to my eyeballs annually, but what was great about the dive centres is that they could insure guests on a day by day, or week by week basis. Not that I ever had a situation where we had to use it, but it was great to know we could give guests that piece of mind when diving in sometimes very remote locations only accessible by boat.

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I dived 40 sites throughout the year whilst based on Amilla, and even still there were so many sites I never managed to get to in that atoll, let alone the other 25 atolls. Not once did any dive site disappoint. I encountered critters like leaf fish, ghost pipefish and frogfish as well as chilled out Turtles every dive. In season Manta would pass us like they were cars in traffic on Dominion road – constantly and without a break in between. Never did I ever get accustomed to them, and I always had little shrieks of delight everytime their shadow would be spotted far off in the distance as they swam directly for our dive site. Its so easy to get lost in their eyes as they whirl around you, gracefully flicking their pectoral fins in the current like a great eagle soaring on the wind. I began to recognise individuals, smaller males that had scarring, larger females who had remora tag-alongs in tow, but never did I become jaded or sick of their presence on a dive.
Another megafauna who periodically made an appearance underwater, were Dolphins. Spinners and Bottlenose would often bow ride the dive boats en route to the sites, and one site in particular was great for seeing them hunting. I remember ascending with my 12 year old Discover scuba diver guest, and seeing a lone Dolphin shoot past as he chased a school of needlenose fish. Next minute, before I’d even managed to point him out to the other divers, he had turned and used his tail to smash the school of fish out of whack, and then shot around picking up the dazed fish as he filled his belly. If only I’d managed to film it, but even if I had a camera, the moment seemed to pass so quickly that by the time I would’ve started the video it’d be all over.

I’m sad to admit it, but I never came across a Whale shark in my time in the Maldives. It is an absolute hotspot for the Sharks, but I guess my sheer bad luck meant I never timed it right to see them. Luckily for me, I was able to saturate myself in Whale sharks in Mexico that same year, but that blog is for another time… (stay tuned).

The Maldives is a paradise for anyone and everyone who likes the Sun, Sand and Sea, but more so for any of my fellow Ocean lovers out there. An underwater photographers dream, whether you go to Baa atoll for Manta, or Ari atoll for Whale sharks, any atoll affords a rich diversity of life and colour that will have you so excited in encaptured that you’ll be down to 50bar before you know it. So, make sure to make diving top of the priority list when you get there.

Good to know;

The Maldives is an Islamic country. Although the religion doesn’t have much affect when you are at the Resort, landing in Male the capital and transiting to the island begs a sense of respect. For women, don’t expose any skin unnecessarily. When I would travel I would wear long shorts and a t shirt, just enough to look respectable but also not overheat in the 30degree environment.

Being Islamic, alcohol and pork are prohibited when you land so don’t go buying up large in duty free in the way there. Resorts have ample stocks of both booze and pork so don’t worry-it won’t need to be a dry holiday!

All pricing is in USD and has a catch-the “+ +” rule. Basically, any price you are quoted will be an amount with + + behind it. The first one is to cover gst which isn’t included in an advertised price, and the second one will usually be a service charge/mandatory tip that goes to the resort. On my island a single dive, excluding the gear or boat ride was USD$75++. This meant the final cost was infact $75 + $7.50 for service charge (10%) and another 12% for gst. Best to be aware of this when planning your budget.

There are many airlines that fly to Male, and so many different routes thanks to its close proximity to Dubai, Singapore and China. I flew via all three of them, and found the cheapest was usually ex Auckland through Guangzhou. The nicest would have to be a toss up between Emirates or Singapore airlines – similar in pricing at the higher end of the spectrum too.

Being so small, (population of about 300,000 when I lived there) and so spread out, there are many places that are still very much third world. There is a lot of support for locals to start their own BnB’s so if you are wanting to do it on the cheap look for Maldivian Guesthouses. You’ll be sure to have an authentic cultural experience but if opting for this, be sure to be extremely respectful of their religion and also that you won’t get access to booze or bacon but you will have incredible insight to their beautiful Mosques, untouched Beaches and simplistic way of life.

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About Author

My name is Fin, and I am a New Zealand born and bred Kiwi girl. From a young age I had a fascination with all things Ocean, whether it be the Sea, the Beach or Rockpools where I would wander about investigating crabs and anemones. This led to me studying Marine Biology in the tertiary realm which has since taken me to some incredible places for work and play. The places I have worked have been varied and have seen me having to become a guru when it comes to airports, layovers, transits and making the most of spare time. This inspired me to share my adventures, as I can attest to the journey being as much of the fun as the final destination. Afterall, Life's not about the destination, but enjoying the journey. I'd love to hear from anyone interested in working alongside me! Whether as your brand ambassador, guest blogger or columnist. My skill set is based in the Marine biology realm and leads onto Scuba instructing all the way through to professional hotel/voluntourism reviewer, as well as being a social media for business whiz. Please feel free to contact me for further information;

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