An overwater bure at the Anantara Kihavah resort in the Maldives

Maldives magic | one-off wonderland | designer paradise

Sexy and glamorous. Red carpet ready. Did someone say 'rescue fantasy'?

Stargazing, underwater dining, art classes, and swimming with manta rays sets one Maldivian destination apart.

In the Maldives some things are a given: powdery sand, turquoise water, coral reefs, kaleidoscopic fish, dolphins, starry nights.

What, then, are the points of difference in paradise?

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The magic circle of over-water villas at Anantara Kihavah

Unique selling points might be exclusive sandbars for sunset cocktails (Soneva Fushi); retractable ceilings and slippery slides that let adults channel their inner child (Soneva Jani); premium surf breaks (Como Maalifushi); dive wrecks (One&Only Reethi Rah); big game fishing (Kanuhura Maldives); or Bodyism, a holistic approach to health (Amilla Fushi). Not to mention the new transparent, inflatable Beach Bubble tent at Finolhu, which sent guests like Jesinta and Buddy Franklin into Insta ecstasy last month.

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Finolhu’s exclusive Beach Bubble tent

Anantara Kihavah, 125km from the capital, Male, in the UNESCO marine protected biosphere of Baa Atoll, has several signature attractions. The sky is the star. Arriving around midnight, Excess All Areas is greeted by a waxing moon shimmering over the Indian Ocean, its wingmen Sirius and Mars ablaze.

Because the Maldives is just north of the equator, explains local astronomer and resident “Sky Guru” Ali Shameem, stargazers get the best of both hemispheres, and there is little light pollution to corrupt the view.

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That eye, the sky: Anantara Kihavah’s observatory

Last year the resort spent A$300,600 ($US220,000) building an observatory that rises like a four-legged creature from the blue lagoon beside the Sky Bar, with a silvery cupola and retractable roof. Shameem, who has spent many an hour yarning with astronaut Buzz Aldrin, a regular visitor to the Maldives, had a Meade LX200 telescope specially customised so guests could share the glamour of the galaxies. In July, it was thrilling them with four planets – Mars, Venus, Saturn with rings, and Jupiter with three of its four visible moons, the zodiac sign Scorpio, and Omega Centauri, a globular cluster in the constellation of Centaurus.

And that was just a warm-up for the following night’s much awaited astronomy event: a blood red moon – at nearly two hours’ duration, the longest lunar eclipse in a century.

The reef rave

Since opening in 2011, Anantara Kihavah has won a string of awards, many for its underwater restaurant, Sea. Manoeuvred into the resort’s reef to a depth of 6 metres, the fine diner has six large picture widows, 10cm thick, through which to view a metropolis of dazzling fish, soft balletic corals, turtles, crabs and – the party guest you’re not sure you invited – a moray eel.

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Dining companions at the underwater Sea restaurant

This is indeed special occasion dining. Chilled Dom Perignon greets diners at the top of the stairs. A four- or seven-course menu includes lobster from the day’s catch and highly marbled Miyazaki beef – with matched wines from a cellar of 450 labels if you wish.

Then there are the prized reefs. Divers rave about the yellow corals of the Golden Wall. There are three coral nurseries at Anantara Kihavah. A new initiative, the Historic Approach to Reef Protection (HARP), is dedicated to maintaining, monitoring and growing coral in the face of bleaching and crown of thorns star fish. Here it is overseen by passionate conservationist Flora Blackett. Snorkelling the colourful wonderland that is the “house reef” at the front door you can see new branches of coral growing on rope frames attached to the sea floor.

An hour away by fast boat is Hanifaru Bay to snorkel amongst majestic, gliding manta rays that front-on look like a Star Wars special effect with their grill-like mouth and sci-fi plankton-guzzling feeders. The manta ray population in the Maldives is said to be between 4000 and 5000.

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Underwater playground: the Anantara Kihavah house reef

Prior to Anantara’s arrival, the coral island of Kihavah Huravalhi was uninhabited. It’s unique, says Shameem, because the 700m x 300m island is “maintained by nature … most islands suffer from erosion, but this one is 98 percent kept in shape naturally.”

Flavour, fitness, film

Anantara Kihavah has 40 over-water villas circling a shallow turquoise lagoon and the same number of beach villas. All villas have king beds, a private pool, day beds and hammocks, spacious bathrooms and indoor and outdoor showers. Bedding is light and luxurious and there are menus for pillows and even for soaps. There’s a large spiral-bound sketch pad in the suite, books that are not left-behind airport thrillers, a chess table, and a wine fridge. A Villa Host coordinates each day and deposits guests where they need to be.

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You want bubbles with that? Yes, even an over-water bath

Sporty holidaymakers can kayak, fish, dive, snorkel, or go parasailing. Join turtle and dolphin discovery cruises. An artist in residence conducts painting classes. The spa, with its assembly of over-water villas and cushioned daybeds, has a focus on Ayurvedic assessment and treatments.

Blissed out, wander back via the organic garden and the orchid house, a profusion of blooms from pop fuchsia to green-tinged creamy white. Tree orchids are abundant on the island. They make strolling along sandy paths among the lush landscape a magical experience.

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An abundance of tree orchids

Maldivian food is full of spice and flavour. A cooking class held in the teppanyaki restaurant, Fire, teaches its building blocks. Learn to make yellow fin tuna soup, turmeric crepes, chicken curry, and a dessert made from simmering together glass noodles, cardamom, cashews and cinnamon bark in milk.

The restaurant Salt takes the unusual step of suggesting exotic salt matches rather than wine matches.

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DIY turmeric crepes with chicken curry

Have Cinema under the Stars all to yourself or book in the family. Choose a film. Enjoy the catering. Hidden Figures – the story of the uncredited black female mathematical geniuses who underpinned NASA’s space program – is, this particular starry week, a no-brainer.

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Sitting on the dock of the bay….

Photos Susan Skelly and Jelena Popovic; Finolhu Beach Bubble supplied


An edited version of this story appeared in the November 2018 edition of Belle magazine. Susan Skelly was a guest of Anantara Kihavah. Rates for 2019 are from A$1900 per night in the Summer Season (May to October) and A$2375 per night in the High Season (November to April). This includes dinner and a gourmet breakfast with international stations and an à la carte menu that offers Anantara Kihavah’s signature lobster Benedict and chilled Champagne. For more information visit 



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Copyright © Susan Skelly 2020.