Niyama Private Islands, the Maldives: This place will ruin all other beach holidays forever

"Relax, keep your eyes on the horizon and remember not to lean back," says Farrah, my guide, reassuringly. I smile nervously. That's a lot of things to do at once. His colleague fires up the jet ski that's powering my jet pack and two torrents of water blast me skywards. Well, briefly. I'm so concerned about not leaning back that I overcompensate, tip forward and plunge face-down into the lagoon "That was good," he says, diplomatically. "Let's try again."

Eventually I get the hang of it and find myself soaring what feels like hundreds of feet but in reality is only three metres above the water. I let out a genuine squeal of delight. People on the beach cheer. For a few magical minutes, I'm James Bond.

I was not expecting to go jet packing in the Maldives. This is my first visit to the tropical archipelago 1000 kilometres south-west of Sri Lanka and I'd presumed my four-night stay on Niyama Private Islands would be a brochure-inspired montage of beachfront strolls, sunset cocktails and lounging by the pool. Of course, you can do all that, but it turns out there's a surprisingly intrepid range of activities, too.

After helping me out of the jet pack, Farrah (whom I've started calling "Q") talks me through the next bit of Bond paraphernalia – the Seabob, a kind of underwater scooter. Looking like a mini jet ski, it's a sleek propulsion device that you hang on to with both hands as it drags you through and under the water. It's exactly the sort of thing Bond would use to approach an enemy lair undetected and I wonder if I could use it to make a covert, early-morning raid on the breakfast buffet.

There  is also kite surfing, wakeboarding and parasailing, as well as more gentle pursuits such as kayaking and paddle boarding. The point is, there's far more to do on this idyllic sandy atoll in the middle of the Indian Ocean than I ever imagined.

Niyama is comprised of two adjoining islands (called Chill and Play), making it the Maldives' third-largest resort. There's an army of buggies to ferry guests around but most people choose to explore by bike, using the islands' network of sandy, forest-lined trails.

I'm staying on Chill in a capacious beachfront villa surrounded by lush, tropical jungle. It has a private plunge pool but I never use it because the beach is 10 steps away via a path through the trees. I start each day with an early-morning swim, padding out of my villa, across the powdery white sand and into the inviting warm turquoise water. Often, I'm the only person in the ocean.

While the villa is appropriately luxurious, with varnished wooden floors, a king-size bed and amenities including a full-size fridge, coffeemaker and Bose surround sound system, the real wow-factor is the alfresco bathroom. The under-cover section contains an indoor shower, two marble sinks and a vast outdoor bath, then stepping stones lead you through an ornamental pool to an outdoor shower under a canopy of verdant forest. Every time I rinse off, I feel like I'm in a shampoo commercial.

Villas are assigned a thakuru (butler), who can be summoned day or night to remedy what qualifies as a pressing issue in these parts – replenishing the complimentary homemade ice-cream in the freezer, for example, or having one's daybed moved from beside the plunge pool to the beach (in my defence, it was a two-person job).

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The resort also has a maze of over-water bungalows, many with pools and direct lagoon access, plus sprawling two- and three-bedroom villas that are popular with families. Given the Maldives' reputation as a magnet for honeymooners, I'm surprised by the number of families here with young children. They're well catered for with a kids' club for children aged 12 months to 12 years and free dining for under 12s.

During our stay we get to sample the resort's wide range of excursions, from a glorious champagne sunset cruise to an expedition looking for dolphins and turtles. This second activity is bittersweet – the high of finding a playful pod of acrobatic spinner dolphins is tempered by a disappointing snorkel over a badly bleached coral reef. Thanks to global warming and the effects of El Nino, almost all the Maldives' reefs are now bleached. Since 2010, Niyama has offered a coral reef adoption program that invites guests to help regenerate the reef by planting healthy coral in a nursery with a marine biologist.

There are other diversions such as tennis, yoga and big-game fishing, but the activity Niyama is best-known for is something else I'd never associated with the Maldives: surfing. It's the only Maldivian resort with a surfable wave that breaks directly on to the island, a hollow left-hander called Vodi at the western tip of Play island. Nearby are other impressive breaks including Kasabu, a hollow right-hander at Kudahuvadhoo Corner, and Hocus Pocus, a photogenic reef break at Maaenboodhoo Corner. "It's perfect," says the male half of an American couple I meet one day at breakfast. "I can have a surf in the morning and we can still hang out for the rest of the day."

To satisfy the ravenous appetite created by all these activities, Niyama has no fewer than seven restaurants. each of which has its own cuisine and theme. Breakfast is at Epicure, a beachfront venue with a buffet so vast and extensive you could easily not eat for the rest of the day. Blu serves Mediterranean-inspired cuisine overlooking the lagoon, Tribal offers African dishes in a jungle setting and Nest serves modern Asian and teppanyaki in a two-storey, Tarzanesque treehouse.

For me, the dining highlight is Edge, a restaurant 500 metres offshore that we're ferried to by boat. After savouring a sigh-inducing sunset over the ocean, we settle down to an alfresco five-course seafood extravaganza featuring oysters with kristal caviar, crab gratin dusted with truffle and succulent lobster wellington with miso lemon sauce. After dinner we descend a chandelier-lined staircase to Subsix, a bar and restaurant submerged six metres below the water's surface. Bathed in an eerie sub-aquatic blue glow, we sip Deepwater Daiquiris while tropical fish glide past floor-to-ceiling windows.

If, for some reason, none of these appeal, the resort also offers "destination dining", where guests can request everything, from a private breakfast on the beach to a romantic dinner onboard a traditional wooden dhoni.

By day three of my stay, the resort has taken on a cosy familiarity. I know where everything is, I've figured out my favourite cocktail (the lemongrass-infused Mariner's Martini) and I've sampled almost half the breakfast buffet. There's only one aspect I never get accustomed to and that's the ridiculously staggering beauty of the place.

Before visiting, I'd been worried about this. Could the reality of the Maldives ever match the expectation? Are the beaches really that white? Is the water genuinely that sublime shade of turquoise? The answer, I'm pleased to report, is yes. On one day alone, I took 432 photos. It's given me a new benchmark for tropical perfection. And ruined every beach holiday I'll ever take again.

FIVE MORE THINGS TO DO

CATCH A MOVIE

How can you improve on Top Gun? By watching it on the beach in the Maldives. Catch your favourite cult classic on the resort's portable outdoor movie screen.

BE PAMPERED

Niyama Spa offers a wide variety of treatments, including oxygen facials by Intraceuticals, a favourite with Hollywood celebrities.

LEARN TO DIVE

The resort offers a full range of PADI-certified diving courses, including Open Water and Advanced Open Water, plus junior courses for kids.

COOK UP A STORM

One of the resort's expert chefs can teach you how to cook meals from the countries of Africa and South America, as well as Japanese and Chinese dishes. 

LEARN TO SURF

With a surf school on the beach and a wave breaking directly on to the island, Niyama is an ideal place to improve your surfing.

TRIP NOTES

MORE

traveller.com.au/maldives

visitmaldives.com

FLY

Singapore Airlines flies to Male via Singapore. From Male, there are three ways to reach the resort: a 45-minute seaplane flight, a VIP private chartered flight or a 30-minute domestic flight to Dhaalu Airport and then a 10-minute speedboat transfer. See singaporeair.com

STAY

Beach villas start at around $940 a night, including taxes and breakfast. See niyama.com

Rob McFarland was a guest of Niyama Private Islands Resort.

See also: Airport review: The underwhelming gateway to an incredible paradise

See also: A place so much like paradise, it's insane

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