Maldives 2006 - Thudufushi and Athuruga

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A two-centre holiday in the Maldives in April/May 2006. The first week we stayed on Thudufushi (where we stayed ten years ago), and the second week we stayed on Athuruga (where we stayed two years ago).

The Islands

The usual 10.5 hour Monarch flight from Gatwick to Male, and the spectacular half-hour seaplane flight from Male to Thudufushi over the coral reefs.

In the middle of the holiday we had a 25-minute speedboat transfer from Thudufushi to Athuruga (they are only about 12km apart).  We paid extra for this - but a 1-hour dhoni transfer would have been free.

The beach round Thudufushi has changed completely.  Ten years ago, there was a wide beach surrounding the jetty and none outside our room on the other side of the island.  In 2006, it’s the other way round.  We found 30 metres of soft white coral sand beach in front of our room, but the beach bar next to the jetty was in danger of slipping into the sea.  The hotel has laid hundreds of sandbags on either side of the jetty to try and stop the erosion.

Other changes included a stylish lounge area built on a deck out over the beach and the sea in front of the main bar.  This was tastefully furnished with sofas and white drapes.  There was also more shaded covered seating area next to the beach bar.  Otherwise the resort was pretty much the same as before.

Athuruga Island hasn't changed at all in the last two years.  Check out our report from 2004.

Both islands are run by the same hotel chain - Planhotel, based in Switzerland, and they really know how to look after their guests.

Rooms

Thudufushi

We'd read a review on the web that said that room 14 was by far the best room on the island - so we asked the resort to reserve it for us.  It has been renovated, and although the standard of workmanship of the carpentry was not high, the additional wardrobe and drawer space was welcome.  We understand that the rest of the rooms on the island are to be renovated this summer to the same design - presumably no 14 was their prototype.  The changes included laying a wooden floor over the tiles, and covering the inside of the roof with wooden planks instead of wickerwork mats.  We weren't too keen on the wooden floor - there were gaps of several millimetres between the planks, which were all too evident when walking around in bare feet. 

In addition, all the new woodwork was planed and sanded smooth, but not sealed or varnished.  This meant that it stained very easily.  Condensation running down the outside of a glass, accidentally spilt sun lotion, oil used to lubricate the door hinges - they all left stains.  The newly decorated room was already looking well used.

The open-air bathroom had been upgraded to a high standard.

The resort is now (summer 2006) closed for a couple of months while all the rooms are renovated, presumably to the same design as number 14.

Athuruga

We again stayed in room 35.  The bathroom has been upgraded to the same high standard and design as our room in Thudufushi, otherwise the room was the same as before - less wardrobe and drawer space, but non-staining tiled floors and varnished woodwork.  Our room boy claimed to remember us from two years ago.  So did several of the bar and dining room staff.  We certainly recognised some of them, but they must have very good memories, with guests coming and going every week or two.

On both islands, bed linen changed every two or three days, with bath and beach towels changed every day.

Beach

Thudufushi

Fantastic beach of white coral sand, with coconut palms and other trees and shrubs around the rooms.  The verandah outside our room was surrounded by trees, affording high shade.  This meant that we could see the beach and the sea beyond the trees, and also benefitted from the steady warm breeze from the west.  Ideal for keeping cool in the heat of the day.  A 30m sprint from our verandah down to the water's edge into the sea.

Most rooms had reasonable shade, however, rooms with numbers higher than 24 lost the sun by late afternoon behind the trees.  Indeed, the sea outside these rooms seemed at times a bit murkier and on occasion a bit smelly.  Rooms 1 to 4 near the jetty however, had very little beach outside.  Our recommendation is therefore for rooms 10 to 20.

Athuruga

Much less beach than Thudufushi - just enough to fit a sunbed on, also the trees and shrubs were much lower, meaning they blocked the sea breeze.  It therefore felt much hotter on the beach on Athuruga than Thudufushi.  We felt that room 32 was probably the best for shade and proximity to the channel cut through the reef to the drop-off.  However, the beach can dwindle to nothing here from year to year.  On balance we'd now recommend going for a room between 4 and 19 on the sunset side of the island.  Here you get the best beach, the sunset views, the cooling breeze (between Dec and May), and it's only a couple of minutes walk back to the cut-through outside room 35.

Food+Drink

Restaurant - Thudufushi

This is now buffet-style (ten years ago it was waiter service), and has a fantastic choice of really fresh salad and cooked foods.  Whatever you like, you'll find something to your taste here. 

We were lucky to have a table to ourselves near the beach side of the dining room, so we could look out over the beach to the sea as we ate.

One evening tables were set up on the beach so that we could dine by candlelight under the stars.

An unusual feature is that wine by the bottle is included, if wanted, at lunch and dinner - most other resorts insist on wine by the glass only.  The resort's relaxed attitude to alcohol was refreshing after other Maldivean islands which attempt to impose restrictions on what you can or cannot have.

Restaurant - Athuruga

Not quite as bountiful a choice as Thudufushi, but still plenty of great fresh food.  Again, we were next to the beach with a great view to the sea as we ate.  On our last night, our waiter set up our table on the beach.  There were always a barbecue and a pasta station set up on the beach.

Somebody on Athuruga told us that you could order a bottle of wine to be delivered to your room at any time.  

Main Bar - both islands

Cheerful staff who worked efficiently to ensure you rarely had to wait more than a few seconds to get a drink.  Draught Lion beer.  Drinks were all good, with extremely generous shots of spirits.  Mainly obscure brands (eg Wellington brandy, Great Bear vodka), but some international (eg Bacardi, Malibu, Kahlua).   

No stupid restrictions about taking drinks back to your room (as long as you bring the glasses back), or certain items not being on the all-inclusive deal, so that was a relief. 

Sena, the bar manager at Thudufushi, has been there since the resort opened 16 years ago.  We discovered that many of the staff have been at the resort for years.  It's clearly very popular with the staff.

Beach Bar - both islands

Another bar, near the jetty, open outside mealtimes.  Two years ago on Athuruga there were restrictions on spirits - you could only get beer or wine.  Now they are quite happy to serve you a rum and coke or gin and tonic.  Sandwiches and cakes available all day, just in case you're hungry (highly unlikely!).

Room Service

On arrival at each island we found a bottle of bubbly cooling in an ice bucket, and a plate of fruit and cakes - a nice touch.  Indeed on Thudufushi every couple of days we found a chilled bottle of wine and a plate of fruit in our room late afternoon.  Very pleasant indeed, and showing that the hotels have read the section on customer care in the textbooks.

Other facilities

Water Sports Centre

Next to the Dive Centre on the beach.  The usual range of snorkelling equipment and trips, parasailing and hobie cats for hire.  Thankfully no noisy, smelly jetskis. 

Internet Access

Near reception.  Payable locally. 

Shops

There were shops on both islands - souvenir, boutique and jewellers (Sifani - who have a branch in London).  On Athuruga the souvenir shop will make up a t-shirt with your choice of design on front and back, chosen from dozens of examples, in 24 hours for just nine US dollars all in - a real bargain with the dollar rate at about 1.80 to the pound.

Serena Spa

Aromatherapy, Ayurvedic massage, henna tattoos, relaxing Indian music, joss sticks etc.

Underwater

Late news: The Crab no longer run the dive centres on these islands.  They now seem to be based in Kenya.  The dive centres have been taken over by IDive in a management buy-out, and the first-class service described here continues.

Some good diving from the Crab Dive Centres on each island  The Italian dive leaders were professional and friendly, and possessed of hawk-like eyesight, picking out tiny critters to show to you.  Thanks to Paola and Francesco at Thudufushi, and Antonella and Fabrizio at Athuruga. 

Also thanks to the boat captains who can find the right tilla in the middle of the ocean without needing GPS, and the boat boys & shore staff who look after all your kit, ensuring that it's delivered onto the boat for you, and taking charge of it afterwards, rinsing it off and hanging it up.  They also provide you with slices of coconut and pineapple after the dive.

The dhoni dive boats were spacious and well equipped with fresh-water showers and a sun-deck on the roof, and one even had a loo (essential for the occasional all-day trips).

The dive dhonis left at either 0930 or 1000 (Francesco told us that they wanted to leave earlier, but the Italian guests just wouldn't get up in time) and 1500 for the afternoon dive.

Highlights were a Frogfish at Degga Tilla, loads of sharks (grey reef, white-tip reef and nurse) at Kuda Miaru Tilla, beautiful coral and reef fish at Thudufushi Tilla and Kalughiri, two Leaf Scorpionfish and a Reef Mantis Shrimp at Atabu Tilla, several Hiby's Lamellarid at Mas Tilla, plus Stonefish, Scorpionfish, Lionfish, Octopus, Turtles, more grey reef and white-tip reef sharks, Spotted Eagle Rays, a Crown of Thorns starfish, many Phyllidia nudibranches, a Suzanne's Flatworm, stingrays and millions of reef fish at these and other dive sites.

The water seemed a lot murkier with plankton this trip.  Fabrizio said that although the off-season (May-Oct) has the clearer water in South Ari Atoll, it can vary from week to week.  I seemed to have hit a particularly murky period, with vis sometimes down to 20m or so.  On previous trips at the same time of year (late April/early May) I've been lucky to have vis of 30 or 40m.

The Crab are generous in handing out Loyalty points, meaning that I got an automatic 10% reduction as a repeat customer, plus a week's free equipment rental (BCD & reg).  This contributed to my 12 dives (a six-dive package at each island) costing a total of USD633 - about GBP366, or a good price of about GBP28.50 per dive. 

Snorkelling is better at Athuruga than Thudufushi - the reef is easier to drift over at high tide, and is visited regularly by big friendly turtles, which browse unconcerned on the coral while you float alongside them.  We even saw a spotted eagle ray flash past us in the shallows one day.  This year I counted 31 baby black-tip reef sharks circling idly around the island in the shallows, hassling concentrations of small fish.   There were also a baby nurse shark and some frying-pan-sized stingrays just off the beach.

Photos

Eight or ten photos to a page, each page totalling a megabyte or two.

  1. Photos of Thudufushi
  2. Photos of Thudufushi
  3. Photos of Thudufushi
  4. Diving photos
  5. Diving photos
  6. Diving photos
  7. Diving photos
  8. Photos of Athuruga

(Just a few photos of Athuruga this time - check out our Athuruga 2004 photo pages for more.)

Conclusion

We enjoyed our stays on these fantastic islands even more the second time round.  Thudufushi is better because the beach has improved in front of the room and the food is better, and Athuruga is better because you can now get a rum & coke in the afternoon.....!

We're already planning how we can go back to these paradise islands...

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