In the Maldives your holiday begins before you step ashore. Whether you are traveling by seaplane, speedboat or local ferry, the journey is part of the adventure. The white and blue wooden dhoni that takes us to Thulusdhoo on a Thursday afternoon is packed with scooters, locals and half a dozen Westerners with backpacks. It’s the weekend and everybody is excited to get away from the hustle and bustle of Malé. We sail past resort islands, a fish processing plant, the local islands of Huraa and Himmafushi. By the time we reach Thulusdhoo, one and a half hours later, crowded Malé feels a long way away.
A young man from Nepal, holding a blue and white sign that reads ‘Canopus Retreat’, meets us at the ferry and places our bags into a wheelbarrow lined with a blue garbage bag to make sure they won’t get dirty. No amount of dirt could damage my tattered old backpack, but I appreciate the gesture. It’s a sign of how things are at Canopus Retreat.
Everything at this small, 5-room guesthouse, from the professional welcome sign, to the good collection of brand new copies of books and magazines about marine life and other things to do with Maldives, to the slippers in the wardrobe and the faux flowers on the bedside table, tells me that it is run by industry professionals used to resort standards.
The rooms are spick and span, the bed linen crisp and the streamlined furniture brand new and designed to maximize space and ease of access. The entire wall behind our bed is covered with photographic wallpaper of a biscuit coloured sandy beach and a lonely palm tree bending down into a turquoise lagoon. It’s the view we enjoy at mealtimes and that future guests will be able to enjoy from the seven ocean facing rooms in the new guesthouse nearing completion right next to the existing one.
Mohammed, manager of the guesthouse, has over twenty years experience working in resorts. He addresses us in German, takes a phone call in Italian and tells us in English about Canopus Retreat’s ambitious plans. He points to a large signboard that reads “Thulusdhoo we’re getting ready to welcome you”. It shows the modern, state-of-the-art architect impression of stages 2 and 3, respectively three and six storey additions to the original guesthouse. There will be a restaurant at beach level, ocean-facing balconies, there are plans for a spa and Canopus is about to open the island’s first dive center, just around the corner.
Traditionally a surf island catering to guests with minimal needs – good surf, filling meals and a place to crash – Thulusdhoo is indeed getting ready to welcome a whole new market. Families and couples are new to this market and Canopus Retreat knows their needs well. The packages at Canopus Retreat include daily snorkel excursions on a brand new speedboat, your very own deck chair on the beach and resort-standard food presentation, all of which are highlights of our stay.
A family and a couple from Italy are comfortably settled in at Canopus Retreat when we arrive and the eating area inside the guesthouse courtyard is too small for all of us. Our meals are served outside, right on the beach, in a freshly painted concrete gazebo, complete with power plugs to charge our many devices.
In the evening, just before dinner, it’s the place to hang and chew the fat. Aussie and Israeli surfers exchange stories about the three meter breakers they caught that day at Cokes Point which can be reached via a rickety bridge on a separate wooded promontory. August, we are told, is the best month of the year for surfers.
The next morning from our breakfast table on the beach we watch a parade of men with boards, big muscles and groovy haircuts pass in front of our table. I am no surfer and this is not the place to learn, but the spectacle of what are now tiny dots on boards catching world-class breaks, keeps me entertained all day.
In the afternoon Mohammed takes us to “Bikini Beach”, a short stroll away on the sunrise side of the island. We swim across the sheltered harbor, where a dinghy comes to drop off a couple of fishermen. Mohammed points out lobsters hidden in rock crevices, moray eels, doctor and trumpetfish.
For a small island, there is much to see here. In the evening we walk all around the Western side and across the reclaimed land area where kids play in the setting sun and surfers jog across the vast sand dunes that look like a patch of desert on a coral island.
The next day Mohammed takes us to see the place that gives the world-class surf point on Thulusdhoo its name, the Coke factory. It’s the only Coca Cola factory in the world that makes the famous beverage from desalinated water. We didn’t expect a factory visit to become a highlight of our visit to a tropical island. Watching 20,000 bottles per hour inflate from cigar-like plastic tubes, before being washed, filled, capped and labeled, is a spectacle that keeps us entertained for days to come.
You wouldn’t know it, but sleepy Thulusdhoo is the capital of Kaafu atoll, and it is set to become a popular destination for independent travelers seeking a variety of experiences. Canopus Retreat will be there to welcome you and show you a good time.
All photos except otherwise mentioned are by Kerstin Pilz