A VOYAGE OF DISCOVERY - Tahiti and Her Islands

Posted March 21, 2012, 3:14 p.m.
A VOYAGE OF DISCOVERY - Tahiti and Her Islands By Christelle Holler We have been living in this country for 10 years and it is always magical going sailing to discover new islands from among the 118 scattered around a territory that is as large as Western Europe. Polynesia is a fabulous place for nature lovers, both on land and under the water. We provide a service as live aboard dive guides on mega yachts, here is one of our stories… Ia orana e Maeva i Tahiti The cruise was scheduled in September for a couple of weeks aboard the M/V Bullish, travelling through the Society Islands and some of the Tuamotu atolls, North East of Tahiti, the country’s main island. The charter guests were both interested in diving and visiting unspoilt areas. Our first stop was Moorea, Tahiti’s sister island, only 10 miles from Tahiti. Arriving in Moorea is very special. Opunohu Bay has been protected from any building construction and offers the greatest scenic views with high sharp mountains and lush green rainforest. Going through the pass to anchor in the middle of the bay brings you back to 1769 when Captain Cook arrived here aboard the Endeavour after having sailed the oceans for months. You can imagine the traditional outriggers coming to the ship with singing tanned Tahitians paddling and greeting white men for the first time in their history after having been totally isolated for centuries. We prepared for our first shark dive in the ocean with the guests and set off to see the three to four meter long lemon sharks that swim on the bottom outside of the pass. These dive spots are usually between 50 and 100 feet deep when in the ocean and always very close to a reef. Tahiti is so isolated from any main land that fish aggregate around the islands like an oasis in the desert. The dive guide explained that sharks were protected in Tahiti and that we were likely to see up to 10 different species throughout the whole trip. The dive was very thrilling but we didn’t know what was about to happen… Getting back to the tender, our guide, Rodolphe, saw a humpback with her calf in the distance. We couldn’t believe our luck and became really excited. As a licensed operator he gave the pilot very strict instructions on how to approach the whales carefully and explained that if they were resting we could consider snorkeling with them. We waited a few hundred feet away as Rodolphe explained that this was our chance to live a once in a lifetime experience. We put on our snorkeling gear and slowly went into the water. The most magnificent scene was before our eyes. The calf was cuddling its mother, resting. It then slowly started heading to the surface to breathe and came so close to each of us, definitely watching us, that we were all breathless from emotion. The show went on for a while and we were all left speechless! Well, this was quite a beginning to our cruise on the Bullish! Our next stop was Bora Bora and we sailed overnight, passing the islands of Huahine, Raiatea and Tahaa en route. We did a couple of great dives here, encountering black tip and grey sharks, eagle rays and many other fish. Some guests chose the option of going with a local fisherman and brought back a beautiful mahi-mahi, which became a part of dinner that night. A wonderful barbecue dinner had been prepared for us on a private motu (Islet in Tahitian - always located in the lagoon and usually close to the reef) with a colourful traditional dance show and fire dancing. The atmosphere was unreal. It felt a bit as if we were having a special party with Christian Fletcher and the crew of the Bounty. We left Bora Bora during the night. The guests chose to spend some more time in one of the luxury resorts of the islands and then charter a plane to Rangiroa the following day to meet the boat there. After a 17 hour sail to Rangiroa, in the Tuamotu archipelago, we were greeted by huge bottle nose dolphins that swam along with the ship in the Tiputa pass. We anchored in a lagoon close to the pass. Nicknamed the diving ‘Mecca’ by dive aficionados, Rangiroa is the second largest atoll in the world. During our dive, not only were we lucky enough to dive with sharks (we also saw a giant hammerhead and a sail fish), but there were also a dozen dolphins playing all around us as we drifted through the pass. The dolphins live here year long and like to come and greet the divers. A couple of them even came so close, stopping in front of us, that they could have been petted! Although accessible to any kind of diver a pass can be unpredictable with the various currents and it made the guests realise just how important it was to dive with an experienced guide. We spent our last day at the blue lagoon (a small lagoon within the lagoon) enjoying a Tahitian picnic on a coral white sand beach shaded by coconut trees and with a light blowing tropical sea breeze. Meanwhile the Chef was getting some good provisioning thanks to one of the daily flights from Papeete. Indeed, the atolls are definitely a bad place for shopping addicts! However, anything is available in Papeete and can be flown within 24 - 48 hours even to some of the most remote islands. On the way to Fakarava, we stopped on the unspoiled atoll of Toau. Excellent dives, great spear fishing, and surfing all day long and into the evening. We were taken to a secret place where we set traps with fresh coconuts cut open to attract the shy but incredible coconut crabs (they can weigh up to 20 pounds). Having no predators, some brown boobies had nested on the ground and the chicks were looking at us out of curiosity, showing no fear at all. The younger guests were amazed to see the birds let them approach and view them at such close range. After dinner we went back ashore to search in the bush with torches and found lots of small hermit crabs and many huge blue coconut crabs, some of which were in our traps. They live on land and feed on coconut flesh only. Being an endangered species they were all released. Everyone felt like a castaway on this tiny piece of land in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Our last destination was Fakarava. Our Captain anchored close to the small airport near the North pass. Fakarava and the surrounding atolls are a UNESCO classified biosphere reserve. Diving the pass in the incoming current was fabulous. We passed close to grey sharks, schools of barracudas, we went down to Ali Baba’s canyon, sheltered from the current and enjoyed watching the fish go by above us. However, our best time in the water was in the South Pass (depending on the boat draft it is possible to cruise down the lagoon from the North). The place is almost removed from the rest of the world with only a handful of inhabitants. The pass is narrow and shelters hundreds of grey shark. We found almost every kind of beautiful tropical fish there as we snorkeled in the lagoon, including huge friendly Napoleon wrasse and cute turtles feeding on small sponges stuck on coral outcrops. Some of the guests went surfing as the swell was good, while the others went to a pearl farm to discover the art of grafting the black pearl oysters which make such precious jewelry. On our last day we took a tender ride to nearby islets offering fabulous light pink sand beaches due to the colour of the seashells. One of them supposedly hides a very old skeleton and one could almost imagine being on a secret treasure island, far from it all… Suddenly we had come to the end of a marvelous trip for both crew and guests. On the way to the airport the guests could look for the last time at the unreal crystal clear water of the lagoon before getting onto the plane. They promised to be back soon to explore further untouched and uninhabited islands. Mauruuru (thank you) Tahiti!