the indian ocean cuts across wealth, status and power. I’m staying at a Maldivian resort that costs from £600 a night, but the water is murky, the light poor and the sharks far below us. Whatever your net worth, you can’t swipe your Amex black card and magic up the perfect dive. Nature doesn’t do “have a nice day”.
But, topside, Anantara, my host, does. Anantara isn’t actually the place to visit for a diving holiday, it’s very clear about that – you come here for a holiday with diving.
You come here because you have a partner who doesn’t dive or kids who are too young or because you need some real R&R – and which intensive dive-trip ever feels anything but exhausting by the time you finish?
Some divers, especially in clubs, enjoy competing to get the cheapest possible deals on training, kit and, of course, holidays. There are also many others who prefer to do their own thing and are less keen on group trips. Nor are they ashamed to splash the cash to enjoy some creature comforts.
An old friend, Arthur, loved underwater photography and had willingly endured leaky dive-boats with failing generators to reach sites still on the frontier of diving exploration.
But on a led trip to a long-established destination that had an upmarket hotel, he had baulked when expected to stay with the group in accommodation best described as adequate. “I’ve made a bit of wedge, so, if there’s a really good 5* hotel, why shouldn’t I enjoy it?” he said.
Anantara is out to attract guests like Arthur who put a premium on service and facilities and understand that those attributes come at a price. For a few days I would be experiencing them too.
We complete paperwork at the Anantara office at Male airport, and at the nearby dockside board Nirvana, a gleaming 17m Sunseeker, for the half-hour hop to the South Male atoll resort.
On arrival the jetty is lined with staff in their best whites, and drummers beat a welcoming tattoo.
Three holiday islands make up this Anantara resort, linked either by piers or complimentary water taxi, with a fourth reserved for staff.
Dhigu is geared towards families, while Veli is adults only. Naladhu is called the private island. It isn’t totally private, unless you hire it in its entirety, but it provides the most privacy.
I’m delivered by electric cart to my overwater bungalow on Dhigu. If you don’t want to walk around the island, you can borrow a bicycle. The bungalow has a lot of opulent indoor living area, a vast bathroom and a private deck for chilling.
Steps lead down into thigh-deep water, and it’s dark as I wander down to test a mask in the shallows.
A sting ray as big as a tennis racquet has settled on the sand beside the lowest step. I get my camera, but the ray has read my mind and departed.
My first dive is scheduled for just a few hours after arrival. The diving is outsourced to Aquafanatics, owned by Silversands which runs watersports operations for many Maldivian resorts.
At the centre, Antoine Perretti studies my qualifications. There’s a compulsory check dive. I had wondered if, because my time is limited and as I’m an instructor, experienced and recently dived up, plus reporting for diver, they’ll set the check-dive aside for me.
They don’t. It’s a good sign.
All dives take place from boats, and the 16m Neutral Buoyancy is very spacious. Maximum capacity is 12 guests but it’s low season, and on several outings there’s a dive-guide, skipper and two deck-hands to look after me and one other client.
Another boat, Zero Gravity, can be chartered for private diving.
Ibrahim, one of the ever-attentive deck-hands, is training as a divemaster. I ask if he has spent time in the States, given his broad US accent. “No, I just watch a lot of American TV,” he answers.
Sleep-deprived throughout the trip, I’m grateful to him for buckling me into my harness and ensuring that my hoses are properly routed before releasing the bungee so that I can shuffle to the exit. In the water, I dive on muscle memory.
The dives are follow-my-leader, so if you’re an underwater photographer you might like to hire a private guide, or you could struggle to work your subjects without disrupting the other guests.
I got to see diving operations from both group-guided and privately escorted perspectives, and none of the guides rushed the dives or seemed jaded.