The Edition visits isles across the Maldives on a bi-monthly schedule, discovering the intricacies of island life and amazing islanders residing in different atolls, taking our readers through a 'virtual' tour of the country.
Goidhoo Atoll, dubbed Goifulhafehendhoo by its islanders and named Horsburgh Atoll by ‘overreaching’ western explorers, has held a special place in my heart for many years. Since the mid-'90s, by some stroke of luck, I’ve found myself on these shores every decade or so. In fact, when fortune smiles particularly bright, it's been as many as three times a year!
So what keeps drawing this traveller back to this stunning atoll and its three idyllic islands?
Apart from the breathtaking physical beauty it presents, both above ground and underwater, I have never experienced more kindness, friendliness and open hospitality elsewhere in the Maldives. The smiles you’re greeted with are genuine, open and happy - these islanders embody the best of tropical living.
Geographically speaking, Goifulhafehendhoo is unique in that each of its three islands boast exquisitely distinctive features. The surrounding reef enclosing the atoll’s vast lagoon protects the delicate shores within, whilst also nurturing a rather one-of-a-kind ecology - but we’ll get to that later!
Our expedition began at the smallest of the three islands. As you can imagine, two and a half hours on pleasantly calm waters was a simply brilliant start and when we arrived, the rather authentic dinghy ride to Fehendhoo was already prepped at Goidhoo (the ferry hub).
No more than five minutes later, we arrived at Fehendhoo, a 21-hectare island that is home to only 300 islanders and less than a handful of guesthouses. With no harbour built around it, from drop off visitors experience a version of Maldives that is much lost in this age - simply hopping off a ’bokkuraa’ (small Maldivian dinghy) onto a traditional ‘faalan’ (jetty) is an experience that recent generations seem to have all but missed out on.
Upon arrival, we were greeted by our hosts from Tropical Village with temple flower ‘maafathi’ (local version of a Lei) and bright smiles.
A hop, skip and a jump later we were at our rooms, where freshly made welcome drinks and coconut slices followed a speedy check-in process. Having missed lunch, we were especially appreciative of the delicious chicken sandwiches the staff brought for us, chips included!
It would appear then on this island, less is more, as although one of two operational hotels, Tropical Village’s spacious rooms and outdoor toilets are fantastic in every way, complemented by top-notch service. They ensured our stay was resort quality, with an authenticity that five-star hotels simply do not possess. To add to its locality, the guesthouse is owned, managed and largely staffed by Goifulhafehendhoo islanders.
‘Round the corner was our very own private beach. As we walked on, we noticed that several strategically pruned bushes that separated varying combinations of three, four or two beach chairs, offering couples, families and friends unbelievable privacy on the beach. Unprecedented on a local island, and it's this sort of lovely touch that places Fehendhoo in a definite class of its own!
As we ogled and enthused over the beach, the sun set across us, setting the skies alight in shades of crimson, violet and fiery orange, before sinking into inky horizons.
Dinner was served buffet style; all meals are three courses here and every bit, from our starters to dessert, proved delightful. We also got introduced to the 'diver couple' that ran AQUA BLUE Fehendhoo Dive & Watersports, with whom we excitedly planned a rather ambitiously active Friday.
Tummies, as Maldivians say, like Maakunbe’s (the story is far too long to tell here, but suffice to say ‘twas his voracious appetite that caused his undoing!), we headed out to the foyer, where surrounded by lush vegetation we tried to outdo one another by naming a couple of the millions of glittering constellations stretching out above us. (Spoiler: We got as far as Orion belt... and the moon before we decided our collapsing on the comfy beds was a far better idea).
Morning beckoned in full force, and once brekkie’d up, we headed to get our water sports on. One of the most fantastic initiatives run by the dive and watersports, of which there were many, would be offering complimentary use of their equipment to those willing to collect waste from the beach, as well as the provision of refillable water bottles to their customers.
My own navy bottle firmly clipped on, we headed out to explore a gorgeous day on a catamaran feeling every bit the fabulous party that we surely were. We docked on a stunning stretch of beach and tanned just the right shade of cocoa thanks to a generous helping of coconut oil. Next, because one adventure is never enough, we zipped out on Jet Skis between the three islands, spotting everything from StingRays, Manta Rays and Green Turtles as we cut through glass-like lagoons.
As we pranced (yeah, it is impossible to just ‘walk’ when your heart is so very happy!), through the island, ladies beckoned us to come over and try Sea Almonds they’d just extracted from the dried fruit. Their jovial demeanour painted a wonderfully traditional scene, ladies laughing together, ‘spilling tea’ and sharing delicacies perched over coral stone walls.
Bright and early the next morning, we headed for a dive at one of the ‘Giris’ (small pinnacle) within the expansive lagoon. I was a little bummed out as I wanted to check out the house reef, but not all of us were experienced divers and anyway, our Dive Instructors Chikako Nasu and Matthias Hook both assured me I would not be disappointed.
Certainly, it isn’t the sort of dive site pictured on most websites and guidebooks advertising Maldives - but it should be. There were over 10 species of corals in just a square meter of growth, healthy, colourful and decidedly unbleached. A conservationist at heart, the fish life and reef health was inspiring, and I couldn’t wait to call my fellow researchers to tell them what I’d found!
Spirits high having experienced all kinds of beauty, we headed out to Fulhadhoo for our next adventure.
At 31.5 hectares, Fulhadhoo is a tad larger than Fehendhoo, albeit more of a narrow, lengthy expanse. We hastily checked into our rooms at Azoush Guesthouse, a converted home with a rather intimate feel to it. Our guide was kind enough to arrange a ride to the beach, saving us a half-hour walk, though passing by the canopy of palms made us almost wish we’d strolled instead.
Fulhadhoo is widely heralded as having some of the best beaches in the Maldives, which even a short Google search would prove, a very tall order. Surprisingly enough - we can confirm the tales are true!
Right at the ‘thundi’ (tapering edge of the beach), two currents meet and intermingle, creating an almost ethereal effect at dusk, when the water shimmers like liquid silver. As one ventures forward, simultaneously descending into the water, it is difficult not to feel like you are on a ‘stairway’ leading... somewhere celestial!
Though idyllic beaches are a common sight here, the sheer vastness and clean purity of Fulhadhoo’s beach makes it one of a kind, offering some of the most unbelievable sunsets in the atoll - the sort that renders one absolutely speechless.
We headed to grab some hedhika (short eats) from a local tea shop, before tucking in for the night and dozing off almost immediately… as distracted as we were by the natural beauty surrounding us, it is no wonder we underestimated how tired we’d gotten ourselves during playtime in the sea!
Awakened by calls of the Koveli (Asian Koel) as sunny rays escaped through curtain slits, we sauntered off to breakfast in a bit of a happy, soppy daze. Stuffing ourselves with freshly prepared mashuni and steaming cups of tea, we checked out and headed to our next stop - Goidhoo, the heart of this ‘atoll’.
Having rented some bikes, because at 114 hectares, Goidhoo is a large island, we rode into the extensively green landscape dotted with agricultural fields, old mosques, a partially enclosed mangrove and lush, gorgeous spaces in between.
Our jovial guides helped pluck fresh tropical produce right off the plantations and sampled the deliciousness with us as we explored an island that showcased truly the best of the Maldivian experience. As with the rest of the atoll, it was much like escaping into a different time altogether.
Giggling and laughing, we waded out into the mangrove, up to our knees in earthy goodness and soaking in nature at its finest. Running short on time, we then grudgingly headed off to pick up some freshly made short-eats from a quaint little store, the perfect spread for a makeshift picnic by the beach.
Mats down and hats off, we laid ourselves ungracefully on a secluded beach, gazing at the wonder of colour before us. Skies clear and waters still, the glorious orange orb melted into the ocean with a final shimmer of red before painting the horizon with enviable artistry. Batteries worn out from a snap-happy day, we found ourselves having to be content with committing the mesmerising sight to memory, one that proves hard to forget.
My friends have a running joke that wherever I go, I find cousins - such is the size of my family I suppose! Nevertheless, while I can assure you that I have traced absolutely zilch relatives in Goidhoo Atoll, every single trip to this special place has felt like a homecoming.
This island, this little atoll of its own, is to me, best described as ineffable. A spirit so gentle, so lovely, it evokes a peace within all those that wander its way. The easy, unaffected kindness of its people and their genuine aura of hospitality all add to the character of this beautiful place.
Everyone I have ever brought down here with me, and there have been a few, have echoed this sentiment. I suppose it is one of those ‘you have to see it to believe it’ things. In any case, if you’ve heard the rumors that it is truly #betterinbaa and want to see it for yourself, then I must say ‘GoiFulhaFehendhoo’ certainly makes for one of the best Maldives has to offer.
(You better believe) Isle Be Visiting... will you?