Dhangethi – The Maldives
After a bumpy speedboat ride from North Malé Atoll to South Ari Atoll we arrived at the island of Dhangethi and moored in the harbour. It was clear straight away that this was a local island and not a well-manicured resort.
There was work being carried out around the harbour and development was taking place so things looked a little less well kept. We later learned that they had been working on the drains and were having fibre broadband installed across the island. There were also various upgrades and developments taking place around the harbour area to cope with the increase in tourists and visitors to the island. Apparently, the opening up of the local islands has generally been welcomed by the locals. It has led to improvements in infrastructure and communications for all. As an example, previously there would only have been passing boats visiting the island and supplies would have been hard to come by, but now there are several scheduled boats between Malé and Dhangethi a day. I’m sure there must have been some opposition from some people but from what we could gather most have welcomed the changes, and we, as tourists, were certainly welcomed by everyone we saw.
As we got off the boat we saw a blue and gold macaw. These aren’t native to the Maldives as they come from the Amazon so presumably it was a pet bird. It made for a nice photo though and seemed quite at home in the jungle-like vegetation of the island.
We were taken to Antares guest house and checked into what would be our room for the next three days. The guest house and staff seemed really nice and the dinner that followed soon after arrival went down well.
Dhangethi itself is only 925 x 350 m in size. It is the capital of the South Ari Atoll and has a population of around 1000 people. It has a number of guest houses, restaurants and shops, a house reef for snorkelling, several dive centres a bikini beach at its SE corner and some sports pitches and a volleyball court in the centre. There is a harbour on the East side and a newly constructed jetty on the west. There was a health centre too and it has an ATM. The ATM seemed to be Lara’s favourite thing on all of the islands that we visited and she spent many a fun time there trying to work out how to actually extract the money she wanted!!
As with all the local islands there were swinging rope chairs hanging from the trees all over the place. Apparently these are an integral part of Maldivian culture called joali. They are a cross between a deck chair and a hammock that continue to create communal spaces on the sandy island streets. Originally, joali were entirely a product of the coconut tree, with a wooden frame supporting the rope seat made from coir, but most are now made from less sustainable materials. They do still however provide a place for people to chill, to come together in the community and to put the world to rights!
After a walk around the island we chilled for while, explored the beach opposite the guest house which was festooned with lights and had some very comfortable leather recliners on it and then headed off to bed.
After an early morning swim in front of the hotel we had breakfast at the guest house and a presentation on responsible snorkelling.
There was quite a current at the end of the island so I didn’t swim too far.
We then headed off in a boat to a shallow sandbank not far from Dhangehti. This was to give Zaff a chance to assess our abilities in the water and make sure our snorkelling kit was OK before he let us loose on a better reef. We snorkelled above the seagrass meadows in the sunshine and then returned to the boat which took us to a reef. The snorkelling here was better with lots of fish including a huge Wrasse and a small turtle.
There were sandwiches and slices of orange on board for us after this, which we weren’t expecting as we had already ordered lunch from a restaurant just down the road from the guest house. We were dropped off at the jetty on the west of the island and walked back to the restaurant where we ate a nice lunch in the open air.
We mainly chilled in the afternoon, checking out the joali chars and avoiding the worst of the afternoon heat. I did think about going windsurfing but the kit was a little dated and they only had one small 4.5m sail which just wouldn’t have been quite enough given the wind conditions.
We then headed off for a tour of the island with Zaff and Jai. Jai (sp?) seemed to know everything about the island and seemed to have connections with everything that was happening. It was therefore a very interesting tour and we had some good chats about the changes due to the opening up to tourists as well as about the sustainability and eco-friendliness of the islands. It seems a shame to us that they don’t make more use of renewable energy sources but maybe that will come.
The gigantic Banyan tree was a highlight of the tour, as were the fruit bats that were squabbling in the coconut trees. We also visited the school which looked very nice and the education system seems to be well-funded and well-organised. After the tour we had some snacks on the beach provided by the guest house and then wandered to the west side of the island for drinks where we watched fish jumping in the bay and bats flying above the vegetation. Anna and I then chilled back at the guest house with fresh coconut juice before heading off to bed.
Unfortunately what we though was the air conditioning starting making a huge racket and kept us awake all night. It would do it every hour or so and would be unbearably noisy for about 20 minutes before stopping. Typically, whenever we got anyone out to look at it it would be quiet but the staff promised to get an AC engineer to look at it the following day. We didn’t really get any sleep but I guess it couldn’t be helped.
The following day dawned bright and sunny again so after breakfast we headed out on a RIB to a deserted sandbank in the main lagoon of the atoll. Zaff, Jai and the rest of the crew set up a shelter for us while we lounged in the clear blue waters. I swam around the entire island and the RIB headed off to get supplies for lunch.
As well as swimming around the island I walked around its periphery too – all 400m of it! The sandbank was inhabited by a small flock of white terns (dhondheeni) and black terns and a large heron. They didn’t seem to bothered by our presence and simply flew from one end of the sandback to the other if disturbed.
We soon headed off for a group snorkel at the edge of the reef where we saw loads of fish and the highlight was an elegant Eagle Ray.
The RIB returned later with a full supply of tables, chairs and food for our lunch. There really wasn’t any need to go to these lengths as we would have been more than happy to sit on the sand. It was nice though and after lunch we headed back to Dhangethi
Once back on the island Ash, Claire and I hired SUPs from the little watersports centre and paddled around the bottom of the island and back up the other side to the jetty. We saw stingrays, eagle rays and a shark as we did so. Meanwhile Anna chilled on the beach and chatted to an old man who joined her (no, not me!).
We then did some souvenir shopping in the local shops, went to the Compass Bar for some drinks and a pizza where we watched the sunset and then headed back to the guesthouse via the beach where we came across a number of whale shark sand sculptures. We then all had a BBQ on the beach at Antares Guest House before heading off to bed.
The AC noise was even worse tonight so I ended up moving down to the hotel lobby to try (unsuccessfully) to get some sleep. In hindsight we now think it may have been the fridge making the noise, not the AC unit, but it was annoying whatever it was! The following day we would be leaving Dhangethi behind and heading to the neighbouring island of Dhigurah. It would be a shame to leave, but not we were looking forward to more relaxing nights!
Here’s a short video round-up of our days on Dhangethi.