Our first steps on terra firma of the atoll kind are tentative. From the air, those innumerable white sandy circles tinged green and surrounded by turquoise, then dark blue waters, seem dream-like. Will the ground dissolve beneath our feet?
But as we step from our seaplane onto land it's immediately apparent that the luxury, comfort and eye-popping scenery at the Emerald Maldives Resort & Spa are on solid footing.
The five-star resort, on the 20 hectare Raa Atoll, in the northern part of the Maldives archipelago, opened in August. While it offers all the standard Maldives must-haves: over-water bungalows, private beaches, fresh and varied food options, a spa, water sports and, of course, that water those fish and that sand, it is unusual in that a stay here is all-inclusive. Food and alcohol are included – and that also goes for the mini-bar which is replenished once daily.
The Emerald's 120 villas blend into the natural environment thanks to the use of materials such as bamboo, natural stone and Langhi Langhi leaves. The effect is tropical yet contemporary, with sleek interiors and stunning lighting. The water in the villas is solar heated and waste water is used to irrigate the island's vegetable gardens which provide produce for the resort, while fresh fish is provided by local fishermen.
Some villas offer indoor/outdoor pools, kitchens and private beaches, but for many, the Maldives is all about the over-water bungalow. The Emerald has 60 of these and, like the beach and garden bungalows, they feature king-size beds, satellite TVs, high-speed Wi-Fi, a separate giant bathroom with double shower and vanity, and a bath built for two (filled and sprinkled with flowers on request). There's a dressing room, walk-in robe and a large deck over the water with a hammock, sun lounges and an outdoor shower. It's from here I spot small rays doing a shimmy in the sun. Luckily, all of the restaurant options – including Japanese and South American - are standouts, otherwise it would be tempting to never leave your room.
If you do venture out, you can take one of the bikes available at your door, grab a lift on an electric golf buggy, or wander barefoot on the 1.5 kilometres of soft white sand that surrounds this drop in the ocean.
Rates from $US581 a night - 25 per cent off - available till December 20 if you book direct.
Jane Richards was a guest of Emerald Maldives Resort & Spa and Visit Maldives. See visitmaldives.com