Maldives 2022 From South to North
By Lauren Aston
Fuvahmulah Pre-Trip Extension
Before our full group gathered for the liveaboard, a smaller group headed down south to the remote island of Fuvahmulah. This small island (the only single-island atoll in the Maldives) has become known for its resident population of tiger sharks.
Accompanied by Insider Divers host Simon Lorenz, the group got their trip off to a thrilling start with some incredible up-close tiger shark interactions.
As well as the tiger sharks, Fuvahmulah is occasionally visited by other shark species. The guests were lucky enough to encounter several thresher sharks, and even got a hammerhead sighting!
Thresher Shark close up
Central Atolls Tour
Whilst the early birds were whetting their appetites with tiger shark dives, the rest of us were making our way to meet in Male. After assembling the mixed group of Girls that Scuba and Insider Diver guests, we met with the Blue Voyager crew. A short trip on the dive dhoni (a side boat which acted as a mobile dive deck) led us to our new floating home for the next week.
A quick boat orientation and safety briefing was soon followed by our first dive of the trip. Some of the group were lucky enough to glimpse a manta ray on our check out dive - an encounter which turned out to be the first of many to come!
The following morning set us up on the routine we’d adopt for the next week - eat, sleep, dive, repeat. After an early morning dive with a few shark-y sightings, we embarked on a crossing to Rasdhoo Atoll.
The crossing was an ideal opportunity to properly welcome our guests, with a talk hosted by Simon and myself. We introduced Girls that Scuba guests to the Insider Divers story (and vice versa!) and shared what to expect from a hosted group trip.
One of the many benefits of guided group travel is the chance to learn something new alongside experienced hosts. Our thorough briefing of how to dive in current and how to use a reef hook was put into practice immediately as we reached our next two dive spots.
Two thrilling dives at Rasdhoo Madivaru gave us the opportunity to hone our reef hook skills, whilst schools of grey reef sharks glided in front of us. We also encountered tuna, schools of jacks and batfish, leaf scorpionfish, and a particularly photogenic mangrove ray - which was more than happy to pose with guests!
After a wonderful first full day of diving, we finished up with a Maldivian bucket list tick. You can’t go to the Maldives without sinking your toes into a bright white sandbank and taking in a sunset, can you?
North Ari Atoll
The following day took us to North Ari Atoll, where our shark encounters continued with sightings of silvertips alongside the usual grey reefs and whitetip reef sharks. The visibility wasn’t so kind to us at depth, but the top of the reef at Maaya Thila was thriving. Stonefish, cuttlefish and octopus, amongst other reef residents, were found hiding in the crevices.
In between dives, Simon hosted a talk about manta rays to prepare us for the encounters we had ahead of us. Our evening plans included a manta ray night dive. With lights set up from the back of the boat to attract plankton (manta food, as the group learned from the talk), we waited to see if the mantas would join us.
Nurse sharks gathered at the back of the boat and gave us quite the show. Although one manta swam through for a fleeting visit, it didn’t come back with more friends as expected, and our night dive plans were dashed. Whilst we didn’t get to dive with these majestic beings by torch-light, this wasn’t the end of our manta story…
South Ari Atoll
After making our way down to South Ari atoll, our manta luck completely changed. In fact, most guests would probably agree that the next day turned out to be the absolute highlight of the trip!
Our first dive at Lilly Manta Point, a manta cleaning station, brought us five beautiful manta rays. We watched on in awe as the behaviours we’d learned about in Simon’s manta talk played out in front of our eyes. We were even lucky enough to have a group of mobula rays pass by.
A second cleaning station dive at Mahibadhoo Rock served up more manta-stic interactions. One pregnant female manta was particularly interactive, spending time playing in the bubbles above a few group members’ heads!
You would think that those two dives offered enough excitement for one day, but the ocean wasn’t done with us yet. Whilst watching a pod of spinner dolphins breaching at the back of the boat, a familiar, blocky shaped face with distinctive spots loomed towards our lights.
When the first whale shark arrived the boat was flooded with excited whoops and yells. By contrast, a serene calm came over everyone once we hopped into the water to snorkel alongside it.
We were just awestruck by the sheer size and beauty of the creature in front of us. Nothing compares to being metres from an animal so many times the size of you. Except being metres away from two of them, which was exactly what happened as a second whale shark eventually emerged from the depths!
By the early hours of the morning, there were three whale sharks in total which stayed with the boat until 5am. Bucket lists were certainly ticked and incredible memories made on that evening.
Rounding Out The Route
Still riding the high of the previous evening, the next morning delivered two stunning dives. We experienced the best visibility of the trip so far whilst exploring a sprawling garden of table coral.
Next up was a long crossing to Felidhe Atoll, to experience one of the Maldives’ best known night dives. Alimatha Jetty is home to an abundance of nurse sharks, which make for an incredibly fun close encounter on a night dive. As well as the nurse sharks, stingrays and trevally also sneak in to get in on the action.
For the final days of our liveaboard route, we worked back up through South Male Atoll before returning to Male. One site that always is pounding with currents is Cocoa Thila, which was populated by tons of eagle rays.
Another standout Maldives dive was on at the end of our schedule - Fish Tank aka Aquarium. Situated below a fish factory, waste scraps of tuna attract hundreds of stingrays, alongside schooling bannerfish, jacks, and curious parrotfish. Resident moray eels also made great models for the group’s budding photographers to test their skills
Our final dive of the liveaboard was back at our first dive site, Lankan Manta Point. This time, we had much better visibility, and rounded out the trip with one final manta encounter which was seen by the whole group! Our final evening on board was celebrated with a wonderful presentation of the trip’s photos, and reminiscing on our amazing experiences over a few drinks.
Hanifaru Bay Manta Ray Extension
The following morning we waved goodbye to a few members of the group as we all returned to Male airport. However, the majority of us were hopping straight onto a short inter-island flight to continue the fun! After 35 minutes on a flight with the aptly named “Manta Air”, we found ourselves on the stunning local island of Dharavandhoo.
As if we hadn’t had enough manta sightings already, we were on our way to witness the world’s largest aggregation of feeding manta rays in Hanifaru Bay. This UNESCO site is protected by rangers, who are constantly spotting to monitor manta activity in the area. They communicate with the small number of guest houses on Dharavandhoo, and other nearby resorts, so visits to the bay can be timed during peak manta activity.
After arriving at Aveyla Manta Village, we had a quick lunch before heading straight out to the boat. Rumour had it the mantas were ready and waiting for our arrival.
Hanifaru Bay absolutely exceeded our expectations. Snorkelling from the surface (diving in the bay is not permitted), we were floating above what can only be described as “manta soup”. It was a true spectacle as 60-70 manta rays fed on the microscopic plankton beneath us.
Once again, the group’s newly found manta knowledge from our talks served us well. We could see all the fascinating feeding behaviours we’d learned about. The mantas danced below us, demonstrating chain feeding, barrelling, and vortex feeding. Our allotted 45 minutes in the bay went by far too quickly!
After a restful night at Aveyla, our next morning was spent sampling the dive sites around Dharavandhoo. Our two dives took us to some stunning thilas (underwater seamounts) adorned with beautiful soft corals and enormous fan corals.
In the afternoon, we headed back into Hanifaru Bay for a final visit with the mantas. 30-40 individuals danced around as we watched on in awe. It’s fascinating to watch them interact with one another - with so many in one place you’d expect them to bump into each other, but they glide amongst one another with an impressive ease!
With countless manta memories made, we spent our final morning exploring Dharavandhoo. Some of the group had a final freedive on the beautiful shelving reef and wall outside our accommodation. To round out our wonderful trip extension, we finished up with an evening catamaran cruise to take in a beautiful sunset.
A huge thank you to the crew of the Blue Voyager who looked after us on board, and to the Aveyla Manta Village and Liquid Salt Divers teams who showed us the beauty of Hanifaru Bay. And of course, a final thank you to the wonderful guests who joined us. We can’t wait to see you all again underwater!
Lauren Aston is Content & Community Manager at Girls That Scuba
as well as GTS Trip Group Leader and
Follow her adventures here.