Vilamendhoo, is on the South East reaches of the Ari Atoll, in the Maldives. It is situated approximately 3°38’ North of the Equator. The island itself is cigar shaped and it took approximately 45 minutes to stroll around.
Being on such a small island it is amazing how quiet everything is. You quite often hear the arrival of a seaplane, or the distant chugging of the native fishing boat. The tranquility is only broken by the splash of a surfacing fish.
On Vilamendhoo, there is a reception area, where details of your excursions can be found, and safety deposit boxes are kept for all your valuables. It is not necessary to carry any money with you on the island as it is ‘all inclusive’ and any souvenirs bought in the shop can be added directly to your room bill. Next to the souvenir shop is a jewelers store, which many of the ladies in our party took a fancy too. There are two bars, a restaurant area and a TV lounge, if so required.
The staff live on the island, as it is not all that easy to commute in the Maldives. This makes for a very pleasant atmosphere, as you have the same waiter for the whole duration of your stay, and the same bar staff serve you in either of the two bars.
The island has to be self-contained, generating its own electricity, de-salinating the water for use in the bathrooms, laundry facilities etc. This is all contained in a central area, and as bad as it may sound, this certainly does not interrupt your stay. The only thing that was a nuisance was the ‘mossie’ man, who came round with this perfumed smoke to keep the mosquitoes at bay. When you are sat on your open-air toilet, you soon finish your business when the ‘mossie’ man comes by.
One of the more surprising aspects to our stay was how tolerant to humans, the wildlife was. As you walk around the island you can see, crabs, herons, black tip sharks and sting rays to name but a few. All within a few feet of the shore line.
Localised Showers in the Maldives
Being in the tropics as you are, you expect plenty of sun, warm, balmy evenings and beautiful sunsets. That you do. However, on the other hand you can receive tremendous down pours which can soak you in a matter of seconds. During our recent visit to Vilamendhoo we were fortunate enough not be subjected to one of these storms. Our dive guide was telling us that if you are out in the boat and are caught in a storm, sometimes you cannot see more than 5 metres away, severely restricting the visibility of the boat crew and making it very difficult to find surfacing divers.
If a storm is approaching, the boat handlers will strike the ladder to the boat several times indicating that a storm is approaching. Under such circumstances you must surface immediately so that all the divers can be retrieved safely. This did happen to us on one occasion and it took us some time to recognise the distant ‘ringing’ sound. Once aboard we could see the deep, blackening clouds approaching, however the wind blew the storm away from us.
We did not experience the full fury of a tropical storm, however we did have some ‘light’ showers, and beware of the very localised showers. On one occasion we were having our evening meal enjoying the excellent choice of Maldivian food, when we had one of those ‘light’ showers. We were safely under shelter so there was nothing to worry about , in fact it was quite a relief, as the rain brings a refreshingly cool breeze. After we had finished eating, the rain had stopped and we were going to enjoy the nightly entertainment – a shot of tonic and a bottle of gin. Venturing out of the restaurant, we waited outside for the stragglers. Once outside there was an exclamation from one of our members – to avoid any embarrassment I’ll change their identity to Ray (tenuous link). “Why are we stood out in the rain, lets get under some shelter”. Somewhat bemused the rest of us could not understand this statement, because it was not raining. Unfortunately Ray was standing underneath a section of guttering that had no down pipe and so was getting soaked.
Madivaru (Manta Ray Point)
Madivaru was about 2½ hours due west of Vilamendhoo by boat. It was also known as Manta Ray Point. Up until our visit, recent trips that had been to Madivaru had been unsuccessful in finding any Manta Rays, to the extent that the trips were no longer being conducted. Our dive guide, Jens, had been in touch with another resort who regularly visited the site and had been told that there had recently been brief glimpses of these shy creatures. The whole group wanted the chance to see these wonderful creatures and accepted that it would be a days trip and it was not guaranteed that we would see any, but having traveled such a long distance that risk was worth taking.
The pre-dive briefing highlighted 3 cleaning stations where the Manta Rays generally came to feed. The best of these was at about 10 metres and there was a 4 foot overhang which gave a superb location from which to view any Manta rays. Manta rays can be scared very easily and there were some general rules to which we should abide – do not use flash photography, stay as still as possible and do not touch.
Once we had reached the dive site, had our briefing and kitted up, we entered the water. Madivaru is a shallow reef (~10m) and beyond that there was a steep drop off out into the big blue yonder. In order to prolong the dive we limited our selves to the shallow reef.
As we made our way past the first cleaning station this large dark shape appeared and we all instantly froze. The sight of this manta ray was awe-inspiring. It was such a graceful creature, circling directly over our heads, literally a few metres away. It must have had a span of 20 foot, and that’s not a divers 20 foot, that’s real 20 foot. It circled for about 10 minutes before moving on. It was a mesmerizing experience.
After an excellent buffet lunch our second dive was to be the same site as the first. On reaching the second cleaning station we settled ourselves down to wait for the Manta rays, and we were not to be disappointed. Two manta rays appeared with their entourage of remoras, and spent the best part of 15-20 minutes feeding directly over us. We could turn around and look over the drop off to find more swimming below us. It was an amazing experience. When they departed we tried to follow them, but could not find them. We spent our time swimming between the cleaning stations, and on our return to the second station, where we had spent our time watching the rays, we found one feeding in the very depression in which we had been in earlier.
Personally, those dives will always be remembered with fondness, not just because of the manta rays but also for the look on people’s faces whilst watching these wonderful creatures. It’s not often you can have a 70 minute and an 82 minute dive, and be entertained for the whole time.
Copyright © 2001 Bristol Aerospace Sub Aqua Club. Last updated: 25-April-2001