Hulhumalé – The Liveaboard Launchpad
Wherever you want to go in a liveaboard, most journeys begin on the aquamarine blue lagoon of Hulhumalé. It’s very hard to believe that this beautiful island isn’t natural, but manmade, down to every single tree planted all over the island.
In 1997, after much deliberation and drawing of several master plans, Hulhumalé started to take shape as a mound of sand dredged out of the Hulhulé Farukolhufushi lagoon. Where there were just two islands – the airport and the Farukolhufushi Island, which was developed as a resort – there now are three.
This wasn’t just a whimsical development. Malé, the capital island had been gathering population from all corners of the country steadily over the past decades, and desperately needed to grow, beyond the limits to which it had already expanded by reclaiming land from the small lagoon around the island.
Hulhumalé, just 20 minutes away by ferry and 5 minutes by speed boat, was the best solution, after Vilingili to the west, which had already reached saturation. Now, 15 years later, the phase one of the expansion has come to an end. Although most of the policies that govern the development of the island has changed over the years, the main idea is for Malé city to become the pride and joy of the island nation.
Hulhumalé, along with the Gulhifalhu “Eye of the Maldives” Project, is a major part of the Urban Development Program unveiled in late 2010, which involves connecting the capital municipalities with a bridge.
Your arrival into the Maldives will give you a glimpse of Hulhumalé, as it is adjacent to the runway of the international airport. You can either hop onto a ferry to Malé and take the Hulhumalé shuttle from there, or take the bus or a taxi to Hulhumalé, which will travel via the causeway that connects both islands. The latter is of course less stressful especially if you’re travelling with a lot of luggage.
Depending on your itinerary or the company you chose to arrange your vacation with, you will either be lodged at one of the beachside inns on the eastern edge of the island or taken directly to your safari vessel. If it’s the former, you’ll wait for your vessel to be ready while spending a couple of days acclimatizing to the Maldivian weather while hitting the white sandy beaches of Hulhumalé and visiting the capital island for some sightseeing and shopping for any essentials that you may have forgotten, like sunscreen, swimsuits or dive gear.
Hulhumalé has several cafés and department stores where you can look for munchies for your trip around the islands on the safari. The lagoon of Hulhumalé is on the western edge of the island, where you can see dozens of safari vessels moored. Dinghies drop and fetch visitors at the jetty, which is also a stone’s throw from the Hulhumalé ferry terminal from where ferries leave to Malé island.
There are a couple of dive schools on Hulhumalé, who take travelers on day trips to nearby dive spots, but as your safari of the Maldives involves extensive diving, these schools can be helpful if you’re new to the Maldives and can’t wait for the dive cruise to begin.
While there aren’t plans to develop the lagoon as a marina just yet – most probably because during rough weather, the lagoon gets a bit choppy – there definitely will be a marina at Gulhifalhu.
So what’s the deal about Hulhumalé?
Hulhumalé is in stark contrast with every other island of the Maldivian Archipelago. Nowhere else are the roads paved with asphalt, for one thing. The roads are quite regularly spaced, and are wide and well thought out with parking spaces at intervals: something that Malé island desperately needs.
The contrast becomes even more evident when you visit Malé. Pavements are so narrow that people walk single file, that is, until it suddenly vanishes! There’s neither rhyme nor reason to the urban sprawl of Malé, stopped only by the very edge of the house reef that was filled up in the 90’s.
Coniferous trees line the avenues on the eastern and western edge of Hulhumalé, providing an effective wind break for the city, while all the streets inside have trees that pop like umbrellas, shading most of the streets. Solar lighting was piloted here, and most of the streetlamps are autonomous, providing an ambient glow to the city, not too bright, unlike Malé, which is lit like a Christmas tree every which way with orange sodium vapor lamps that would be more at home in an industrial zone.
Hulhumalé has very sparse traffic, and while there is a hospital and schools, most people exhibit the typical Maldivian speed of extra leisurely, something that is absent in Malé. Parks and undeveloped land abound, and children and adults alike wander in the evenings to play and chill out at dusk.
You might want to check out the barbeque area on the northern edge of the island, a designated area for people to have fun after sunset, mixing food and fire. The barbeque area overlooks the island of Farukolhufushi, the island that shares the lagoon with Hulhumalé. This island has been the Club Faru resort for quite a while. The master plan of Hulhumalé involves filling the entire lagoon all the way upto and beyond Club Faru, adding to the existing 188 hectars of land and opportunities for national and foreign investment.
The island still is in a state of flux; development is still happening at a very rapid pace. About a thousand apartments in residential complexes will be completed later this year, and will support more than 4000 residents from Malé in the central part of the island, while private properties are being developed at a rapid pace along the beachfront on the east. Land to develop hotels are up for bidding, which will all come together to form one of the most modern cities in the popular Indian Ocean travel destination that is the Maldives.
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