As Autumn makes itself known to us with cooler air and wind and rain, memories of Summer vacations begin to fade and minds inevitably drift towards the possibilities of Winter sunshine. Among visitors to Ocean Leisure's store on London's Embankment near Charing Cross, the most popular destination must be the Indian Ocean island nation of the Maldives.
Scattered across a swathe of tropical sea, the Maldives are a chain of around 1200 tiny palm-fringed islands that are mainly just north of the Equator, arranged around the rims of what are thought to be sunken prehistoric volcanoes, now ring-shaped reefs called 'atolls'.
The islands are so small that any that have resorts based on them have only space for one. Some of these resorts represent the highest quality in tropical accommodation likely to be found anywhere in the world whereas others suit travellers on a budget. You choose.
Transport between the islands and the airport is either by speedboat or be seaplane depending on the distance involved. You may opt for a beach villa, a garden villa or a water-bungalow, but once you've grown accustomed to the abject luxury of it all, you'll be irrevocably drawn to the sea. Each island is built upon a reef so you won't have to go far to start swimming with the tropical fishes and while the majority will be content to snorkel off the beach, it's a perfect opportunity to learn to scuba dive because nearly every resort has a dive centre attached. Now although the Maldives has a reputation for high-voltage diving on the ocean side, within the atolls it can be very easy. Some resorts have even sunk old and unwanted vessels for the benefit of visiting divers and with time these have turned into vibrant coral reefs.
You won't have to travel very far. The marine life comes close to the beach. If you prefer to simply snorkel the dive centre can rent you a mask, fins and snorkel but there's something nice about having your own. The wise traveller tries on a mask and fins before purchasing. That's because, although Ocean Leisure has a wide range of different masks available and they are all good, faces are infinitely variable and you'll want a mask that's comfortable and doesn't leak. Buying fins is like buying shoes. It doesn't matter how good they are if they're not comfortable so try before you buy. If you plan to scuba dive with your own equipment, don't forget to get your regulator serviced in good time before you go away.
Snorkelling around the house reef can be a relaxing affair but you might find the urge to go further afield. The resort will have a fleet of dhonis (locally built boats) for this purpose.
So what marine life are you likely to see? Well, hawkbill and green turtles are common in that part of the world. Be patient and you're bound to see one. The ubiquitous blue-lined snapper is the signature fish of the Maldives and these hover around in great yellow clouds as a defence strategy against predatory fish.
You'll want to bring back more than just memories of what you see. A little amphibious camera such as the Canon D30 is watertight to 25-metres deep and will withstand the rigours of being taken to the beach every day.
An Olympus TG4 is only good for 15-metres deep but it has a submarine housing available for it that will allow it to go much deeper. This will take ancillary wet lenses and an off-board flash, should you so wish. A different solution comes in the form of the Fujifilm XQ1
This represents a bargain in that it is bundled with a proper underwater housing, carrying case and memory card. If its live-action you want to record, the phenomenal GoPro range of action cameras, once fitted with a filter for underwater use and a neutrally buoyant grip to make handling easy, are almost unbeatable by price and performance. You'll be kicking yourself if you get to see a gracefully cavorting manta ray while you are in the Maldives and come back without a record of the experience.
Whatever your plans, we at Ocean Leisure can ensure that you arrive in the Maldives with the best options for either snorkelling or scuba diving and bringing back a tangible record of the things you have seen.