It’s 10 am, time to leave the comfort of my beach villa after an early in-room breakfast. In-room is probably not a fair description given that breakfast was served on my private pool deck that stretches to a white sandy beach. I’m at the Fairmont Maldives that’s spread over the idyllic island of Sirru Fen Fushi that translates to secret water island. A description that almost does justice to this luxury retreat. My villa host – Emma, arrives in a buggy to drive me to a museum. But the buggy only takes me halfway, I need to snorkel the rest of the distance.
There’s probably no museum or art installation anywhere in the world where you need your snorkelling fins to arrive. But the Coralarium is no ordinary installation. The brainchild of Fairmont Hotels and British artist and environmental activist Jason deCaires Taylor, this is the world’s first semi-submerged museum. I reached a mystical underwater gateway – a submerged staircase that leads to a dramatic semi-submerged tidal building. The building is cube-shaped, six metres tall, with its front façade submerged up to the median tide of three metres The exposed part of this structure is visible from the resort and looks particularly dramatic at night when the lights take over.
The structure itself is a showstopper with a design that takes cues from natural coral structures. The plan is to let the marine stainless steel (that currently reflects the blues of the atoll and the ocean) to take on the patina of the sea as it weathers over time and also becomes colonised by algae. But this is more than just an installation. Coral reefs, the rainforests of the ocean, have begun to disappear at an alarming rate, the Coralarium is a small yet significant effort to create a refuge for marine life. Aside from the installations that have been crafted with much effort, the installation includes corals propagated in nurseries. Sam, the resort’s in-house marine biologist who snorkelled along with me explained the complex process of coral reef farming. It involves extracting segments or larva of live corals from a reef and growing them in a nursery until adulthood, almost treating coral like a plant.
After sunrise at the beach, I head off in a boat to chase the perfect sunset in the middle of the Indian Ocean. But it’s the sights along the way that were even more memorable than the sunset. It’s one thing to see dolphins in an aquarium but to spot them in their element in their natural habitat is something else. I must have spotted at least ten schools of dolphins during my 90-minute ride. They jumped in and out of the ocean and also crept under the boat but trying to freeze these moments into a single image was almost impossible with these playful dolphins who enjoyed teasing my mobile shooter. The marine experience continued well after the sunset at Azure, Fairmont’s stunning dining venue on the edge of the ocean. Azure’s array of cocktails resembled underwater scenes with their unique glassware and presentation.
Aquatic elements are always in the mix all over this all-villa resort. There’s a 200-metre long pool that dissects the island and the 120 villas also include the quintessential Maldivian water villas where you can jump into the water straight out of your villa with your snorkelling gear. I couldn’t resist another snorkelling trip after a kayaking expedition around the resort. This meant I had to miss out on my first FlyBoarding experience and the opportunity to fly like Ironman. All those regrets about not getting to play Ironman faded fast as soon as I saw the sunrays percolate through the coral patterns of the perforated roof of the Coralarium. It’s mesmerising to see the multi-coloured fish interact with the installations. I’ve snorkelled across the world including the Great Barrier Reef but nothing compares to the colours of the undersea life in the Maldives and its crystal clear waters on a fine day. It’s one reason I keep coming back; the sundowners on the beach are a cherry on the icing.
Getting there: the Coralarium is at the Fairmont Maldives (www.fairmont.com/maldives) which is about 300 kms away from the Velana International airport near Male. It’s in a remote northern corner and is one of about 1200 islands that make up this island nation. Operators like Trans Maldivian Airways operate seaplanes that land on the ocean at the edge of the resort. It’s just an hour away from Male.