The Maldives is an exquisite far-flung island nation resembling scattered emeralds floating in the Indian Ocean, southwest of the Indian subcontinent.
There's no way around it: it's an epic hike from Australia, at least two flights and a boat ride – making it just that bit harder, more exclusive and more tantalising. For many travellers it's a once-in-a-lifetime destination, a honeymoon hotspot, while surfers dream about its barrels and long fun waves.
But our destination is even more aloof and remote than most: Konotta, a private island in the Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll, 340 kilometres south of the Maldives capital city of Male. It takes an entire day to reach here, and by the time we come in to land, all trace of other resorts, gleaming like intergalactic warships beneath our flight path, have disappeared.
Even when we arrive at the tiny Kaadedhdhoo Airport, we're not quite there. Stepping aboard a luxury cruiser, we're swallowed up by the inky night and delivered to what feels like the end of the earth – willing castaways in what is known as the forgotten atoll.
Deliriously tired, I fall into the king-sized bed, scattering the tiny leaves carefully assembled with the word "Welcome" across the white linen; no longer sure which way is up or down.
Unquestionably the best thing about arriving in the dead of night is waking the next morning and seeing where you've landed. I peel back the curtains of my two-storey villa, and feel that same rush I did on Christmas morning as a child.
Through lush foliage, I can see vivid turquoise waters lap the whitest of white sand steps from my door. I stagger into the blinding sunlight, plunging straight into the languid sea.
I float on my back like a starfish, feeling like a prop in a heavily Photoshopped postcard. But this gorgeous little island – home to the new Outrigger Konotta Maldives, the tropical nation's newest resort –i doesn't need airbrushing.
The surrounding Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll is home to what is considered some of the best hard coral fields in the world and it's a virgin atoll for diving, says Trevor Bowden, operations manager for Best Dives Maldives at Konotta.
"It is forgotten this far south," he says, referring to Alexander Von Mende's book The Forgotten Atoll. "We're still searching for dive sites," he tells us in his Cockney accent.
There are only five resorts in the atoll, and the new Outrigger sits somewhere in the middle, surrounded by turquoise sea punctuated by uninhabited islands. It's so near the equator (a mere 50 kilometres north) that the water temperature hovers around 30C. There are lots of plankton, and marine life is abundant around the small island.
"We are amazed at the amount of species that we find: whitetip and zebra sharks, guitarfish, schools of eagle rays and much more. The corals are in pristine condition and extremely colourful in this part of the archipelago," Trevor says.
Being a diver, I'm itching to get beneath the surface but, frustratingly, the remnants of a bout of glandular fever keep me at sea level. The house reef, however, is spectacular.
A guest referred to snorkelling here as akin to sticking your head in a tropical aquarium, and it's an apt analogy. There are baby eagle rays, huge schools of fish, blacktip reef sharks, clown fish and a couple of lion fish hanging around the arrival jetty. Some snorkellers are lucky enough to spot playful spinner dolphins that regularly make an appearance in these waters.
The area is also famous for surf breaks, most notably Divana Point and Diva Giri, with both small waves for beginners and breaks of about five metres high. The resort has six brand new surfboards, and I stumble across a staff member fashioning a rack for them out of driftwood.
"I found the wood on one of the islands," he tells me as I admire his innovative handiwork.
One dazzling, cloudless day I join a group of around 20 honeymooning Chinese couples for a snorkel with on-site Italian marine biologist Caterina Fattori. Many of the Chinese guests are unfamiliar with the water and need flotation vests. They wear cute matching neck-to-knee sun-safe suits.
Feeling like a third wheel, I snorkel ahead of the group and stumble across a hornbill turtle cruising the shallows. For a moment I consider alerting the rest of the group, but decide a large pack of curious snorkellers could put a turtle off his lunch. We float together for a while until he descends into the blue, while I snorkel on to my overwater villa (where we spent one night), loving how i could climb directly from the water up to my room.
Days on Konotta start with a la carte breakfasts served poolside at Blue Salt overlooking the ocean. Wait staff Sadiq and Izam, local Maldivians, deliver a freshly squeezed juice of the day and dishes cooked to order, while telling me stories of local life.
My favourite food is the Maldivian curry served with roshi, made from line-caught tuna. Being so close to India and Sri Lanka, the food has a regional influence. Seafood such as reef fish, yellow tuna and lobster feature, along with regional spices and flavours such as passion fruit, lemongrass and coconut.
My favourite dining option is the open air Nala Rah, a teppan grill with a contemporary teppan-raw bar and fabulous cucumber mojitos. One night we dine on sashimi made from snapper plucked from the ocean just hours before.
Aside from the excellent wining and dining, there's also yoga or reiki sessions on offer at the fitness centre, a gorgeous Asian-themed spa and a schedule of activities ranging from sunset cruises and dolphin-watching, to night snorkelling. A terrific kid's club focuses on island and marine activities. Kids are issued with a coral watch card they can take in the water to identify marine life.
Unable to dive, I spend most of the time rediscovering the joy of snorkelling and twice swim the entire house reef, which encircles the island. It takes about 90 minutes, and both times I arrive back at my villa totally spent.
I climb the stairs to the top deck, hidden in the lush palm trees, where I lay comatose on the sun lounge, the book I thought I'd read unopened. Spread before me is a scene that's almost surreal – impossibly blue waters; a traditional dhoni boat moored offshore, fish jumping exuberantly. Visiting Konotta is like holidaying in a virtual postcard.
FIVE MORE THINGS TO DO
All tours, except the cooking class, are run by Best Dives Maldives and are an additional cost.
Take a local island tour to see how real Maldivians live. The four-hour tour sometimes visits the local island of Tinadu with its beautiful coral stone houses and paddy fields.
Join a two-hour dolphin spotting tour in a traditional dhoni boat to spot pods of spinner, bottlenose and Risso's dolphins.
Take a speedboat to a remote uninhabited island or sandbank for the ultimate in romantic picnics. Guests can snorkel, swim, relax or fish during the "Robinson Experience".
Charter the resort's luxurious yacht and sail across the equator to the Southern Hemisphere on an "Adventure Journey to the Centre of the Earth". Enjoy a three-course set bento lunch, and be welcomed back with bodubra drumming and dancing.
Learn how to make sushi, masroshi (savoury snacks) and other local delicacies in a private Maldivian cooking class taught by the resort chef.
Singapore Airlines offers daily flights to Male from Melbourne and Sydney via Singapore with connections to Kaadedhdhoo Airport with Maldivian. Flights departing Sydney on Friday, Saturday and Sunday offer the shortest flight and layover time of 17 hours. In Singapore Airline's new premium economy service from Sydney-Singapore, customers enjoy Ernest Rapeneau Brut Prestige champagne, greater seat comfort, the largest inflight entertainment screen in its class and a choice of premium meals with the exclusive Book The Cook service. A stopover in Singapore, particularly on the way over, is highly recommended to break up the journey. See singaporeair.com.
A beachfront villa at the Outrigger Konotta Maldives starts from $1108 per night twin, including breakfast for two and non-motorised water sports. Domestic flights from Male and luxury boat transfers to Konotta cost $687 a person return. Singapore Airlines Holidays offers a seven-night package including accommodation in a beach pool villa; return flights from most Australian ports and air and sea transfers from Male are from $9225 per person twin share, including breakfast. Upgrade to premium economy from Sydney to Singapore from $10,984 per person twin share, valid for travel from January 11-April 15, 2016. Phone 1300 728 998, or see siaholidays.com.au.
Sheriden Rhodes travelled courtesy of Outrigger and Singapore Airlines Holidays