The Maldivian captain of our transfer yacht may think I’m accusing him of being overweight, but after repeating my rounded stomach and finger-down-throat gestures, he realises that Mrs Smith is pregnant and sea sick. He duly slows down and we cruise calmly south from capital Malé in search of our island getaway. Our four-man crew serves up ice-cool mineral water and even colder face cloths – one of which slaps sharply across my forehead – penance for embarrassing Mrs Smith before we even reach dry land.
A percussionist pounds big bass drums and the jetty is scattered with roses when we arrive at Naladhu. My polite attempt to avoid treading on the petals leaves me looking like an uncoordinated Morris dancer. Hassan our House Manager guides us to our villa and suggests that such a dance will come in handy to negotiate the little land crabs that scuttle across the sandy pathways.
Our grand Ocean House residence – named Thanburu after a local flower, and set in a tropical garden – boasts a huge carved wooden door. Inside, dark wooden floors contrast with white-washed walls, and antique mirrors, period furniture and retro ceiling fans mix it with contemporary accessories.
The walk-in wardrobe, alfresco shower and glass-sided twin-bath adjoining the outdoor infinity pool immediately get Mrs Smith’s attention. Meanwhile, I become transfixed by the mosquito ‘survival kit’ which comprises just an anti-insect burner. I’d expected at the very least a mosquito net, a kilo of Neem and an industrial flamethrower! Saving the best until last, Hassan shows us past our seven-foot-square bed out to the terrace where Indian Ocean waves crash below us.
Even if we were A-listers, the paparazzi would struggle to get close to our opulent, private abode, given those protective six-foot-high security waves. Clothes suddenly seem superfluous and ours soon come off as like kids in a sweet shop we try out the steam-room rain shower, suspended deck-bed and pool. After watching the sea-crabs battle for territory on the rocks, we explore the island.
Naladhu is one of a cluster of four islands owned by the Anantara group. Opposite us across the crystal-clear lagoon is family-friendly resort Anantara Dhigu, complete with sunset bar, three restaurants and a spa, and Anantara Veli, with three restaurants, an ocean-view bar, gym and a walkway back to Naladhu. We can cross to either island but their guests can’t come to ours. Who said elitism was dead?
Pregnant and peckish, Mrs Smith is craving Thai food, so we stroll the 15-minutes across the pontoon to Veli and its reefside restaurant Baan Huraa. Although the meal is a bit unsophisticated, the evening is enchanting thanks to a talented waitress who fashions a baby’s mobile of three flying birds from a bamboo leaf.
Aquatic larks beckon the next morning in the vast bathroom and pool. This waterworld means only one thing to a childlike Mr Smith – high jinx! As I emerge from the bedroom sporting a bathrobe, flippers and snorkel, it’s impossible to resist dive-bombing the pool and pulling faces underwater through the glass-walled bath.
Naladhu doesn’t flaunt any typical Maldivian overwater villas or restaurants, but its intimate size means that meals can be enjoyed on the beach facing the tranquil lagoon, where waist-high waters quietly lap on the white coral beach, while on the opposite side of the island roaring waves roll in. It feels like two different worlds only metres apart. After a mouth-watering breakfast of tropical fruits, house-made yoghurt, honey, eggs and a lime-juice energiser, Mrs Smith reluctantly agrees to allow me to ferry her by kayak to the sand-island near Dhigu to snorkel.
As we don our fluorescent life-jackets, poor Mrs Smith resembles Danny DeVito dressed as a tangerine. By contrast, I summon the might of Arnold Schwarzenegger, because despite occupying a two-man kayak, Mrs Smith’s efforts with the oars are mere tokenism. Naturally, I neglect to mention that the reason we speed across is less to do with my prowess and more the powerful current. Although some of the reef has been bleached by rising ocean temperatures, fortunately there’s still a large array of colourful marine life with a number of cocky Nemos nibbling at our masks.
Casting off for home later, the need to get Mrs Smith back in time for yoga spurs me on, helped by the fact that another kayak is departing too – cue a race! As our oars splash and the canoe fills up with water we realise we’re only winning because the other couple are going in the opposite direction. I still claim a technical victory but the unamused Mrs Smith heads off for a nap. Note to self, keep the alpha male activity to a minimum. It’s this epiphany that gives me the impetus to go to yoga in her place.
At the Sunset Bar on Veli, I meet Glenn, the unfeasibly cool yoga instructor. Two things unnerve me about this New Age exercise session: it’s being held on the terrace in full view of the inquisitive cocktail crowd; and I am today’s only attendee. What would Arnie or Danny do? At first it all seems simple, but as yogi masters will tell you, pride comes before a fall and Glenn soon starts channeling Bruce Lee, while my trousers are now hoisted so far up I look like Simon Cowell doing a dad-dance at a wedding.
A private-dining experience down on the lagoon beach is lined up for our last night. A petal-strewn, candle-lit table is set up on the shore, surrounded with a heart-shaped ring of fairy lights. The gentle lapping of the ocean is broken only by the sound of a champagne cork popping. Anywhere other than the Maldives such a backdrop would be a cliché, but there is nowhere else we’d would rather be.
‘Naladhu’ means ‘beautiful isle’ and it certainly is. It may not have overwater bungalows, an on-island spa or the time-honoured infinity pool, but the cyan lagoon, capacious villa and utter seclusion more than make up for it. Maybe it should be redubbed ‘pure romance’.