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By Cain Nunns
The Maldives has long been synonymous with over-the-top extravagant travel. An aquatic playground for moneyed honeymooners, celebrities, business barbarians at the gate and the glitterati set. Each year, new resorts try to outdo each other with their latest offerings: underwater spas give way to underwater gyms, which in turn give way to underwater nightclubs and restaurants.
Its tiny palm-fringed airports are stocked with private jets. Seaplanes ferry Prada-dripping tourists to plunge pool-laced villas. And when they get there, luxurious catamarans and launches take them island hopping. Of course none of this bodes well for the environment. High-end tourism and sustainability is an oxymoron at the best of times, but in Maldives, where demanding guests and one of the world’s most delicate reef systems collide, the results are often disastrous.
Thankfully that situation is changing as a growing number of travellers become more aware of the different types of footprints they leave behind.
Being ferried by a state-of-the-art speedboat over cool, translucent Maldivian waters is usually opulent enough. That’s until you pull up to Coco Prive Kuda Hithi’s 60-meter long private jetty and a staff of 26 are waiting to greet you. All of them immaculately lined up by Paul Brown, this private island residence’s general manger and former senior footman to Queen Elizabeth.
Private chefs are on call 24 hours a day, whipping up everything from contemporary western fare, to pan-Asian staples to the best of the sub continent. A dive master, aquatic sports manager and an on-call masseuse are also on standby for guests with a bent for exertion or relaxation.
Since opening its doors last year, this uber-flash 1.4 hectare private island retreat in North Male Atoll — a 30-minute ride from the airport and one of the world’s most densely populated capital– plays host to six super contemporary eco-friendly James Bond baddie villas that push the boundaries of sheer luxury and best sustainable practice.
Designed by Singapore-based firm Guz Wilkinson, which has quickly racked up a global reputation for delivering cutting edge eco-solutions with design showpieces, the property also houses a jaw-dropping two-story stripped concrete and amber timber master residence replete with private plunge pools, wraparound decks, a 12-seat dining room, wine cellar, private bar and study.
Just outside, a 66-meter infinity pool runs through the spine of the property, buttressing one of the island’s blindingly bright beaches and a multicolored reef stocked with rays, turtles and juvenile black-tip sharks. The property is a fervent partner of the Maldivian Sea Turtle and the Manta Ray identification programmes, two of the only tagging and research endeavors found in the country’s marine-rich waters.
Prive is also working closely with the Olive Ridley project, which monitors ghost nets, the dangerous drifting fishing nets from Sri Lanka and India that entangle turtles in their webs. Most of the unfortunates either drown, die of starvation or amputate their own flippers to escape. Olive Ridley also works to rehabilitate and eventually release the turtles after nursing them back to health.
But it’s inside where Wilkinson has built with energy payouts in mind. A heavy emphasis has been placed on recycled and sustainable build materials. The state-of-the-art power, water and sewerage systems slash energy use, an overriding concern in a 1,200-island archipelago totally dependent on diesel generators for its spiraling energy needs. Building materials were sourced as locally as possible, the design blending with the natural surrounds was fortified, while also adhering to environmentally friendly construction practices and keeping the carbon footprint of the island to a minimum.
It straddles a fine line between thoughtful design and championing cleaner, softer carbon footprints. A guilt-slicing bolthole of fulfilled wishes, Prive works as a private respite, family getaway or batten down the hatches party spot.
It’s already garnered a quiet reputation for hosting royalty, celebrities, professional athletes and big-end-of-town businessmen. Not that Brown, who worships at the alter of discretion, would let give much away about who’s stayed and who hasn’t. “Guests can do anything they want here as long as it isn’t illegal. Privacy isn’t ensured. Its cast-iron guaranteed,” he says.
But perhaps the illegality rests solely on the island itself. An electric-blue punch hole in the middle of the Indian Ocean, soaking in Prive’s obscenely elevated beauty seems almost morally wrong when the rest of the world is laboring away in urbane utilitarian pillboxes.
Thankfully that needle prick of guilt doesn’t last long, and is washed away by waves of blissful self indulgence like those cool translucent Maldivian waves on the island’s palm fringed shores.
Coco Prive North Male Atoll, Coco Prive Kuda Hithi, Maldives must be rented in its entirety with prices ranging from US$13,000 per night for 4 people during low season (May-July) to US$34,000 per night for 12 guests during the high season.