I recently wrote about suggesting Sri Lanka instead of Bali. Well, now I find myself perched in an overwater bar in the Republic of the Maldives and am wondering why I’m the only Aussie for hundreds of miles?

The obvious answer is that Australians have access to dozens of tropical islands within a few hours of flying.

That’s not a valid excuse though, because long trips haven’t ever stopped flip-flop wearing Aussies from spreading their larrikin ways all over the world – and I think that this Indian Ocean paradise has a few things to offer that the South Pacific doesn’t.

 

Food and Drink

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The Maldives have long benefited from being influenced by other cultures for thousands of years, due to its strategic position on popular exploration and shipping routes.

This melting pot of Indian, Portuguese, Dutch and British flavours and methods helped shape their current cuisine into a dazzling array of choices for travellers. More recently the islands have adopted methods and styles taken from China and Japan.

Travellers can expect to be treated to handmade dumplings for breakfast, fresh sashimi for lunch and perhaps a Sri Lankan curry for dinner.

Offerings in the wine department are extensive as well, you’ll find bottles from all over the world on the menu, with some exclusive resorts boasting huge cellars for the discerning Oenophile.

 

Overwater Villas

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Obviously the Maldives aren’t unique in providing this favourite style of accommodation for honeymooners – but the sheer amount of availability means that they are probably the most affordable in the world.

Because the country is made up of a chain of atolls stretching almost 1000km from north to south this creates perfectly shallow, crystal blue waters around each island – which is necessary to build an overwater villa.

Not only does this create a truly unique experience for guests, it also allows the islands to retain most of their tropical vegetation and natural feel.

 

Arts, Religion and Culture

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Maldivians are devout followers of Islam, which means the country is alcohol-free (outside the resorts), in Malé you can visit a beautiful mosque, which is made from coral. Local islands outside the capital have only recently been made accessible to independent travellers, as prior to 2009 any visitation by foreigners was considered illegal.

This now makes the Maldives feasible for the ‘cheap and cheerful’ holidaymaker, with locally owned guesthouses an option rather than resorts.

Maldivians are expert woodworkers; the most obvious examples are their boats, called Dhoni, which are used for inter-island transport.

These lovely, lacquered vessels are built without nails and steered with a hand-rudder between reefs throughout the country. Miniature versions are popular souvenirs taken home by tourists.

 

Marine Life

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I can’t deny that the South Pacific boasts fantastic snorkeling and diving – but does it have Whale Sharks? Also, the sheer number of reefs, shipwrecks and shelves on offer in the Maldives means that you’ll never find yourself in a crowd.

By simply slipping into the water off the edge of your overwater bungalow you’ll find turtles, reef sharks, dozens of species of fish from needlefish to huge trevally and brightly coloured coral reef. We took a thirty-minute boat ride to a deserted island and were given a private underwater tour by a certified marine biologist.

 

Natural Beauty

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With most resorts offering seaplane transfers from the International airport in Malé, travellers will be treated to stellar views of tiny islets, submerged reef and chains of atolls.

This type of landscape – or seascape, is simply unmatched anywhere else in the world and it must be seen to be believed!

 

Visitor Diversity

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Apart from the odd Kiwi you’d be hard pressed to find a decent contingent of non-Antipodeans in the South Pacific.

I’ve been in the Maldives for ten days and haven’t seen or heard an Australian yet. The country attracts a wide array of visitors from Asia, Europe, Middle East and the UK – but strangely not (yet) too many Aussies.

Resort workers have been super keen to start up a conversation once they find out where I’m from, with a common theme being sports – as I think Aussies have a reputation for being down-to-earth and approachable, whereas a lot of other cultures visiting don’t seem to want to ‘mix with the help’.

Would you try the Maldives over the South Pacific?