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I was attracted to SwimQuest Swimming Holidays (The Maldives) after my long time swimming buddy, Sarah suggested we go to celebrate my 50th birthday. Our first conversation was back in September 2022. Sarah and I discussed the possibility during training, where some additional kickboard laps were done while dreaming of the idea! Sarah and good friend Laura had already made their booking for April 2023. The challenge now, was to get me booked in for the same dates. A tiny “hiccup” was thrown our way, with the original dates being booked out, not allowing me to join.

However, we weren’t deterred by this small problem. SwimQuest offered to swap Sarah and Laura to the second trip, scheduled for the last week in April. Luckily this trip had room for all three of us – Hooray. We were all going to The Maldives together to celebrate my 50th birthday – how lucky was I going to be? Swimming with my buddies, turtles, sharks, dolphins, manta rays and whale sharks for my birthday. To be honest this news took a while to sink in and I often day dreamed at work about what my upcoming holiday and experience was going to be like? Sometimes scared and excited all at the same time.

My absolute favourite moment was swimming past turtles and being able to take my time filming them with my underwater camera (which was a very generous birthday gift from my partner, Matthew).

The crew and guides were extremely patient, understanding we were swimming and on holiday. They allowed opportunities for us to stop, watch and observe all the different sea life we encountered. On this particular day, I had spotted a large turtle on the reef and happened to have my camera ready. Another swimmer and I floated and filmed the turtle for as long as we wished. The turtle was extremely generous with its time ! It hung around and did many slow swim passes, allowing us to film and watch for as long as we liked. Not to mention, when we finally looked around for the boat and the rest of the group we were way behind – whoops ! Soon came Paul’s (SwimQuest Guide) smiley face checking to see if we were okay ? All we needed to do was give him the signal for “turtle” and he knew we were fine. He helped us catch up to the rest of the group, who had stopped for a drink at the dinghy. I proudly shared my turtle footage with my family and friends over social media at the end of the day and still watch it now.

A patient turtle – happy to be photographed!

Another memorable moment was being taken ashore for an evening BBQ. The crew set up a dinning table, complete with fairy lights. Some of the crew made a whale shark sand sculpture surrounded by candles. This was pretty special and the crew worked so hard, all the trimmings and food were perfect.



The boat was Emperor Explorer based in Male. My room had a small porthole, plenty of space for my case and safe for valuables. The ensuite had a roomy shower, sink and toilet, which was reached by a short walk up three stairs. Everyone found this hilarious and was the cause of great laughter !

It was clean and had everything required for a comfortable stay for the week. Keeping in mind I wasn’t there to sit in my room ! I was lucky enough to have a double bed to myself with an ensuite.  There was a power outlet for charging devices and air conditioning. I never really figured out if I wanted to sleep in the cool or leave the air temp in my room a bit warmer to sleep with the covers over me. The common areas on the boat were comfy and welcoming. While the boat was motoring you could always find someone to chat with. Our group enjoyed morning stretching and yoga sessions on the top deck. This was a friendly way to start the day, before breakfast.

A lower deck cabin, sole use

Food, food, food ! OMG there was delicious food laid out at meal times. I actually don’t know how the crew in the kitchen managed this. It was far beyond my cooking and catering capabilities.

Each meal offered a mixture of hot and cold fresh foods along with a generous helping of fruit. Curries, fish, salads, roasted vegetables and a variety of breads were available through the week. I remember one day coming back to the boat after a long swim walking up the steps to warm chocolate cake and a banana smoothy. I acknowledge, I swam a long way each day and burnt off some energy, but probably ate my fair share of scrumptious food once back on the boat. All crew members knew their roles and went about their jobs in a friendly way with a smile.

What can I say about the guides…? There were two guides, Dewi and Paul. Both had everyone’s safety and enjoyment as paramount. They provided encouragement for everyone to make improvements in their fitness and swimming technique. I found the technique filming session and critique of my arm movement extremely helpful and keep those pointers in mind when I swim back at home in Hobart.

Dewi and Paul created a relaxed and humorous atmosphere onboard the boat. I felt, I could speak up if some aspect of the journey worried me or I had a question. Nothing was too much trouble and we were dropped off ready to swim, only if the current had been assessed as safe.

Guides watched us from the stand up paddle board or dinghy. This allowed them to make continuous head counts, keep close to us and not damage the reef.

Ishelle and Simon (employed by Emperor) were onboard with us and were knowledgeable about the sea life that might be spotted at different times. Throughout the trip the group was called to the main deck for briefings before we swam. I liked this, as I knew what we might see and some information about the animals. Such as different sharks and how they might behave when we snorkelled past.

Normally I would have been scared to death seeing multiple sharks cruising around the bottom, but because we were briefed and knew about the sharks behaviour (and their teeth) our group was excited and amazed rather than scared ! Again, I had my new camera ready …

(Friendly!) nurse sharks


I would most definitely travel with SwimQuest again, but in a different location. The islands and reefs of The Maldives were beautiful everyday. Each reef offered something a little different, such as a diverse variety of brightly coloured fish. One day turtles, next day nurse sharks, then manta rays, after that a mid-night visit from a whale shark, and finally multiple pods of dolphins jumping high above the water. We were truly spoiled !

One piece of advice would be to make the effort to have a shower and get dry after morning and afternoons swims. 

It Is very hot from the time you wake up until you fall asleep. My hair was constantly wet, keeping your skin and hair dry for part of the day should prevent rashes. Hats, sunscreen and long sleeves are a must. However, there was always a shady option. The boat had strong sunscreen, which was free to use.

Certainly get yourself the $35 local sim card when arriving at Male Airport. There was internet coverage pretty much available for the whole trip. You will have so many amazing videos and photos to share with your friends. I am not usually someone who posts on social media, but I made a daily Facebook post with a map update and summary of photos from the day. If you use Strava – you will want internet to upload your daily activities.

I certainly felt comfortable leaving a cash tip at the end – each and every crew member worked their butt off, for my holiday. I am grateful for the experiences I got to have and sea life I have swam with. Going with friends was important to me and we made memories that will last a life time.

Shelley Millhouse
23nd May 2023

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