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I've just arrived at the all-villa One & Only Reethi Rah, stepping off a suitably luxurious launch that has whisked me from the rather less than plush Ibrahim Nasir International Airport, and wouldn't you know it? I appear to be the one and only guest sporting legs able to match the impossibly pure white sand of the beaches that ring one of the Maldives's most exclusive and renowned resorts.
Everyone (read: Germans, Americans and pre rouble-challenged Russians) seems to be over-tanned, over-rich and over here. "Exclusive" doesn't really begin to describe this bejewelled speck in the Indian Ocean. This is a place where rings sell at the resort shop for $90,000 and men's designer polo shirts start at $415. What's more, the wife of a Russian oligarch – apparently a regular guest of the resort's most lavish villa – anchors her massive superyacht off Reethi Rah. Oh, and the Maldives is correctly pronounced Mal-deeves, don't you mind.
No wonder I'm feeling more than a little like a tropical fish straight out of turquoise waters. My partner and I are booked in for three nights, but any sense of personal incongruity is alleviated when presented with our accommodation at the far end of the island. It's a water villa, one of a complex of four that extend, claw-like, out into a protected lagoon so perfect it looks like it's been photo-shopped by God. The footprint of our water villa – one of 32 – is roughly the same size of our home (sans water views) back in Australia what with its generous wraparound over-lagoon decking.
Yet the essence of a luxury resort these days is not merely the facilities, but increasingly the privacy it affords whether you're staying in the least, or most, expensive villa or suite. Our water villa is neatly designed to maximise that sense of privacy, angled to eliminate views of the adjoining accommodation. The resort's newer water villas even feature their own plunge pools, though we're more than content to settle for our in-villa's egg-shaped bath-tub, replete with lagoon views and, of course, the giant plunge pool that the lagoon itself presents.
After a stellar few decades, the One & Only brand, founded by South African entrepreneur Sol Kerzner in 2002, has entered the Australian market. It now manages the iconic Hayman Island resort on Queensland's Whitsundays and will take over the Emirates-owned Wolgan Valley Resort in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney early this year.
The One & Only Reethi Rah, located in North Male Atoll, used to be just that: pretty much the one and only resort in the Maldives. But the Maldives is now a hot and hotly-contested tourism market, with the One & Only Reethi Rah facing a welter of competitors. Despite the warnings that the low-lying islands – with the highest point being not much higher than a professional basketballer – may one day be drowned out of existence due to the effects of global warming, the race to built yet more new resorts remains unchecked.
But climate change isn't the only challenge confronting the Maldives, a country with roughly the population of Canberra. Male, the Maldives' own capital, is one of the most densely-populated on earth, presenting a confronting sight as you emerge from the airport built on its own, separate artificial island.
Each tourist to the Maldives, which is these days governed by a conservative Islamic, anti-democratic government, is said to produce, all up, three kilograms of rubbish a day during their stay. That plume of smoke I noticed from the launch on my way to the resort was from an island, in the absence of a proper waste management system, entirely devoted to the burning of garbage.
Cushioned from the realities of daily Maldivian life at idyllic resorts, it's easy for tourists to overlook the less than perfect bigger picture which isn't quite as postcard perfect as the view from my water villa. And like all luxury resorts there's more than a passing sleight of hand involved; the One & Only Reethi Rah is no exception.
Our island is large enough to require bicycles (or electric buggy) to get from one end to the other, travelling along beautifully-maintained shaded sandy tracks flanked by thick forests of palms. Of course, at a resort of this class and quality, all roads lead to fun and sun.
There's seemingly more choice of (mostly al fresco) restaurants than you're average major town or suburb, including, my favourite, an al fresco Japanese teppanyaki and sushi bar. There's also a resident artist, a top-notch spa and even an in-house "beauty acupuncturist" from Russia.
Back at our villa, the pristine turquoise water in the lagoon is as invitingly tepid as a children's bath. Here, in our personal slice of barefoot nirvana, there's nothing to disturb us except for the regular float-planes, delivering guests to and from their resorts, that pass over us.
One afternoon we head out into the Indian Ocean on a speciality One & Only excursion. Our destination is a private sandbank, some kilometres off-shore from Reethi Rah. As we head out to sea we pass the occasional exotic-looking dhoni, the traditional Maldivian wooden fishing boat reminiscent of a Middle Eastern dhow, a far cry from our more modern high-speed launch. These old vessels certainly add a welcome note of reality to our time at the One & Only.
On the way, we stop for a snorkel, spotting sea turtles in the reefs below the surface, before arriving in the shallow waters just beyond the sandbank, a tiny fleck of lint in nature's giant watery navel.
As we wade from the boat to the shoreline in knee-deep warm water, we feel utterly, if not guiltily, indulged. The Maldivian boys from the One & Only set about their work. As one erects an Australian-made gazebo for shade, another digs a hole in the sand to form a heart-shaped table, complete with leg inserts.
As we wander about, trying not to get in the way of our industrious hosts, we're surprised to discover that the sandbank is teeming with life in the form of bleach white crabs, the surface dotted with burrows from which the swift-moving creatures constantly pop in and out.
What remains of the afternoon, as we tuck into a generous high-tea amid the high-seas, melts away into a powder blue and pink tinged sunset, partnered by a welcome fresh breeze, over the Indian Ocean. By the time we leave, the sun has dissolved like an Aspro below the horizon and as darkness envelopes us, we board the boat which travels at high-speed between a channel of blinking red and green-flashing buoys, racing us back to luxury central.
After three heavenly nights at the One & Only Reethi Rah, we've grown accustomed to our bit part in a modern-day Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous episode and it's regrettably time to leave. My legs are by now the colour of a strawberry daiquiri and we resisted the $90,000 rings, let alone a polo shirt. But, rich or not (make that not), I can't help, as I head back on the One & Only Resort launch to Male for the flight back to Singapore, to at least feel a little like a million dollars.
Explore One & Only Reethi Rah in the photo gallery above.
The writer was a guest of One & Only Reethi Rah, Sofitel So Singapore, Qantas and Sri Lankan Airlines.
A new partnership between Qantas and Sri Lankan Airlines has allowed codeshare flights between Australia and the Maldives on the two carriers. Fly from Australia to Singapore with Qantas and connect there with Sri Lankan Airlines to Male, the Maldivian capital, via Colombo. Contact Qantas on 131313 or visit qantas.com. At Ibrahim Nasir International Airport there are convenient, chargeable transfers by high-speed boat or float plane to Reethi Rah.
A stay at the One & Only Reethi Rah starts from $990 a room a night, depending on the season. The rate includes access to the fitness centre and daily classes, non-motorised water sports, land sports, including table tennis and volleyball, Wi-Fi access in all guest villas and selected public areas, daily afternoon tea at Rah Bar and more. See website above. Combine a holiday to the Maldives with a stopover in Singapore on the way to the Maldives. The new Sofitel So Singapore has rooms starting from $320. See sofitel.com