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EVEN WITH AN ENGINEERING PROJECT of biblical dimensions, the devil is still in the detail. Reethi Rah used to be a small island much like the hundreds of others that dot the edges of the atolls of the Maldives, until it drew the attention of Sol Kerzner and the One&Only group of resorts.
The aim was simple, to create the most luxurious holiday experience on Earth (yes, another one), and for that you need space - if there isnt enough, well thats simple, make it bigger.
A lot bigger, in fact - six times the size of the original patch of white sand and swaying palms. Having achieved this remarkable feat, of course, you then need to create an environment of such taste and understated luxury that it should be an unparalleled experience for those lucky enough to visit.
This is where you go from god-like ambition to maniacal attention to detail - the sort of people who travel across the world seeking out the last word in something tend to be drawn by the big things, andto notice the small things.
Among those pilgrims seeking the last word in the holiday experience was a smelly, hairy, badly dressed diving journalist (me).
After my repeated pleading, the Editor had kindly agreed to allow me to visit the resort: Come on, Steve, its important for the diving public that we find out just how good this place is. In fact, its your duty to send me.
The condition was that I sorted out my own flight, which I did through a certain charter airline.
I am a large chap, and it took an excruciating degree of cramming kneecaps and shins into a seat designed for hobbits before I was in position for the flight.
What followed was a festival of cramps, irritation, numbness, and backache - and we were still only taxi-ing down the runway at Gatwick.
The ensuing 10.5 hours left mental and physical scars that Im not sure will ever heal, but when I finally presented myself to a beaming attendant at the One & Only desk in Male Airport, life began to improve instantly and dramatically.

Assisted ashore
Several attendants in crisp beige coats with silver buttons immediately grabbed my bags, and led me to what could only be described as a small ocean liner in the harbour. I was assisted aboard like some dotty spinster, and we set out majestically from the quay.
For the 50-minute yacht ride to the resort, yet more people brought me things relentlessly until at last the island hove into view off the bow.
Stuffed with small bits of fruit, mineral water, and fragrant with the smell of lightly scented moist towelettes, I was assisted ashore by a new team of smiling, beige-coated staff, to be led to a temple-like carved wooden building and my first experience of One&Only Reethi Rah.
That strange combination of scale and detail struck me immediately. The reception building is quite beautiful, an intricately carved edifice that is all deep carpets and gently swishing fans.
The PR director met me at the entrance, sat me down in a sofa the size of a snow drift, and told me a little about the island and the arrangements for my visit.
As the statistics were reeled off, I found myself no longer scribbling notes but simply staring and nodding enthusiastically.
The facilities were breathtaking, the standards giddily high, and the accommodation sumptuous. Things surely couldnt get any better.
Oh, and by the way, said the PR lady, there is another photo shoot on the island at present, and for simplicity we thought you should all take your meals together, so youll be eating with the models for lunch and dinner for the duration of your stay.
Beaming like a simpleton, I was then driven to my water villa by yet another chap in a golf cart. The villa was a heady mix of hardwoods and soft fabrics, a symphony of imported good taste and local handiwork, with the blue water of the inner reef lapping at the crafted edge of my personal sun deck.
I spent the rest of my first afternoon exploring the island, including the expansive spa and watersports centre, all benchmark stuff. At the end of a glorious day, as the sun went down, I slipped between sheets of Egyptian cotton and drifted off to sleep with the unmistakable whiff of exquisite good taste assailing my nostrils.

Triumphal procession
The next morning I walked to breakfast along the sweep of sugar-white sand that led to the restaurant, perched on a spit of land jutting out towards the reef crest that crackled and foamed 100m away.
In fact it was less of a walk to breakfast and more of a triumphal procession, as every 10m I met a member of staff who greeted me like some long-lost relative.
After breakfast, I sauntered to the dive centre to be met by its exuberant Danish manager, Sten Johanssen. Sten can only be described as a giant Viking - the epitome of environmental awareness, he loves his reefs with a passion.
Yet I couldnt help thinking that, but for an accident of time, he would have been kicking his way through the back of my straw hut, sporting a shiny helmet with horns on, and pinching my woman.
Sten described the dive operation to me, and what has been required to translate the One & Only luxury ethic to the world of diving.
We tend to operate in only small groups, and try to cater for all levels of diver. As such, should we have some experienced divers, we allocate a boat and guide to them, and less-experienced divers will travel elsewhere with another boat and guide.
We have a maximum group size of five, and cater for pretty much all levels of diver, right from Bubblemaker courses through to rebreather diving.
The dive centre is, naturally, wonderful, with an air-conditioned reception area and shop, and a wet room lined with shiny examples of pristine kit.
There is also a large chill-out area, resplendent with scatter cushions and sofas, where the exhausted diver can relax before and after a dive while sipping mineral water and being lulled by piped music.

Eagle ray fly-past
Over the next few days I got thoroughly stuck into the local dives, and found a splendid mix of classic Maldivian fare, with some terrific drifts and busy reefs.
Of particular note were the nearby Kuda Thila and Helengili Thila, reefs full of exciting nooks and crannies as well as a pleasing number of pelagic encounters - including one magnificent fly-past by four eagle rays with a manta following a matter of metres behind.
One of my concerns was that due to the scale of the engineering required to create the island, the local reefs would have been badly affected - an unacceptable price to pay for ones luxury dive experience. Although there is a certain level of disruption to the shallows, with some evidence of broken coral and silting, the system seems to be recovering rapidly in the vicinity of the resort, and reefs slightly further afield seem to be completely unaffected.
Time will tell, of course, whether the change in the islands topography will affect local currents and ecosystems, but the indications at least for the time being seem very encouraging.
The centre has 30 dives available, although Sten has ambitions to extend this yet further by conducting a geophysical survey of the more distant reefs during the quieter times of the diving year.
There are three boats available to the dive operation at all times, all 60-footers with acres of deck space.
As a dive operation, I couldnt fault One&Only Reethi Rah. Although there is the unmistakable feel of limitless budgets about the place, the real asset it has is something money cant buy - a boundless enthusiasm and excitement for its operation and the future.
It is early days for the dive centre here, and indeed the resort itself, but the potential is huge.
This is unmistakably a top-end diving experience, and it doesnt come cheap, but if you are willing to splash out, One&Only Reethi Rah will have both you and your family purring with contentment.

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Hawksbill turtle at Embudhu Express

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anemone reef scene

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Not an O-ring out of place in the dive centre

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a Reethi Rah water bungalow

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accommodation designed to impress

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FACTFILE

GETTING THERE: Emirates flies regularly from London Heathrow to Male, with a stopover in Dubai. Sri Lankan Airlines has a stopover in Columbo on the way back. Transfer from Male to the island in North Male Atoll is by yacht.
DIVING & ACCOMMODATION : One&Only Reethi Rah (www.oneandonlyresorts.com) has 130 villas, 40 pools and 12 beaches plus spas, three restaurants and three bars.
MONEY : US dollars
WHEN TO GO : Any time, but winter and spring are best.
COST : Seven nights in a double beach villa with breakfast, flights with Emirates and transfers costs from £2295 per person, based on two sharing. Dives £24 each.
FURTHER INFORMATION: www.visitmaldives.com