Island hopping on the Tuamotu atolls

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Oceania » French Polynesia » Rangiroa
February 10th 2014
Published: February 11th 2014
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French Polynesia stretches over an area roughly the size of Europe (which we certainly couldn’t have guessed before coming here), and contains god knows how many islands, so obviously we cannot cover it all within three weeks, but we tried to include some different islands on our itinerary. Thus, after the mountainous, green Leeward islands, we hopped on yet another flight to reach the Tuamotu atoll islands, Tikehau to be the first destination. Seen from the plane, the atolls look kind of like sandy rings with palm trees on them, filled with turquois water in the middle. But once you are on them, you can’t really tell the shape anymore, as at least TIkehau is so big that you cannot see the opposite edge of the atoll when you are standing on the beach.

So, the scenery differs quite dramatically between Tuamotu and Leeward islands, but otherwise our life here goes pretty much according to the same pattern; sleeping in a pension or resort on the beach, eating good seafood, snorkeling and swimming all day in turquois waters, observing sharks and rays, and that kind of usual thing 😉

On Tikehau our accommodation was Pension Hotu. When I sat on our terrace writing the blog, just a meter away I could see white sandy beach, palm trees, and of course the sea – nice! And moreover, before we had thought that those two shy sharks living in the lagoon next to our pension in Huahine was exotic, but it doesn’t seem that way anymore; here we can regularly spot up to six sharks just near the beach whenever we stand on the pier for a few minutes looking into the water. We are quite used to them by now, and feel confident that they will ignore us, but on the Hotu beach the water is not that clear, and it does feel creepy when you are swimming in the slightly murky water, and suddenly realize you have a shark just some meters away from you! Not that it happens all the time; mostly the sharks keep their distance, luckily. And btw, these are blacktip reef sharks, which are supposed to be harmless to humans. The pension host was playing with them using a bloody fish tied on a rope the other night, and even had a hard time attracting the beasts with that, so probably we are safe.

Like on Bora Bora, also on Tikehau we took a full day lagoon tour. Unfortunately it didn’t quite reach the standards of the Bora Bora tour, but we did see a few manta rays (Leo saw one well, I just saw one unclear shape from a distance), visited a bird habitat island, and a weird community called Eden, which was started by a Taiwanese prophet sometime in the early 90s. This prophet started a cult stating that people must leave behind all technological degradation and start living “like in the beginning”. Now on a small island, there are seven people living according to his teachings, and apparently the rest of the followers (more than 100) come for a week long pilgrimage visit every year. Only they appeared to have all kinds of modern stuff in use, such as solar panels and plastic. They did seem to grow all their food on the island organically, though. Our lagoon tour ended with several hours on so called pink sand beach. I didn’t see any pink sand, just sand with slightly orange shade, but it was again a real paradise beach. The snorkeling didn’t seem as good as before, though, the waters were not as clear, and the fish weren’t as many. Snorkelingwise Tikehau was a small disappointment; the water just wasn’t that clear overall.

On Rangiroa island then again, we had a fantastic snorkeling experience. Our alarm set off at 6.15 to a grey and relatively cool morning, and we felt like blaah, do we have to go snorkeling now…Well, we had arranged to be picked by our guide by boat at 7, so we didn’t have a choice. The boat took us to the pass from the ocean into the lagoon. The currents there are very strong and can be very dangerous, if you don’t know when you go there, thus the early morning timing and guided tour. As soon as we hopped into the warm water we forgot all about the grey sky and early hours, at first we didn’t even see any fish, but we could see absolutely clear bright blue water right until the bottom, the depth was probably like 20 meters or so. Then started the fun part; freely floating and going with the strong current, keeping our faces underneath the surface to see the passing views. The current was so strong that we were proceeding in this way faster than we could ever swim. At first we were all (us, the guide and a French family) holding on to a red floating pad, but quite soon we let go of that and just went with the flow (current going towards the lagoon, not the ocean, which is crucially important). Under the surface we had magnificent views rolling pass us, more and more chorales, and more and more fish. The guide even saw a sea turtle and picked it up for a moment to show us. We did this floating with the current twice, on both sides of the pass, ending up in the “aquarium”, which is a huge chorale garden absolutely full of fish. It was definitely our best snorkeling so far, and we saw several kinds of fish we haven’t seen before. We even saw a huge moray eel lurking in the bottom, its head looked like a bear’s head or something to me :D This visit to the Tiputa pass was just about the only thing we did on Rangiroa, and it is the main sight of the island, apart from scuba diving. The weather wasn’t that good and we were anyway feeling kind of lazy, so we spent a lot of time sitting on our nice private terrace again, reading and using the weakly working wifi. We also spent quite a bit of time sitting next to the pass on the shore waiting for the promised dolphins to appear. We were told by locals twice that they come at about 4pm every day, so on both of our afternoons in Rangiroa, we were sitting faithfully next to the pass waiting for them (there are 60 dolphins living in the area). Well, on the second afternoon we were already about to give up and leave, when we finally saw the dolphins. They were quite many, but also quite far away, and they were not jumping in the water that much, so I have to say our dolphin encounter in Chile was much better. Oh yeah, we did meet few friendly local children too, neighbors of our pension: on our first day they yelled at us, when we passed their house, asking (in French) what our names were, and then, when we passed their house twice on other days, they yelled “hello Leo” and waved with smiles. Very cute, but apparently my name was too difficult to remember J

Last but not least of the Tuamotu islands on our agenda was Mataiva. Mataiva is very authentic island, as in not very developed, not touristic, and it inhabits only 250 people. It was also very green, covered in almost jungle-like palm tree forest everywhere. It could have been a real paradise, but unfortunately the weather turned grey and rainy as soon as we arrived, and that lasted almost the entire time; only on the last morning to noon we saw a bit of blue sky and sun. When we booked our pension in Mataiva, we didn’t know we had also booked days filled with activities. It was like being on kids’ summer camp: every morning breakfast was at 7.30, and then the activities would start at 9. We made a plate of palm tree leaves, had two great picnics on the beach, collected shells & made necklaces, went fishing, had a barbecue, went on lagoon trip, and learned a Polynesian dance. It was all quite fun while it lasted, but at the end of our three day stay, we were more than glad to get to our own peace and quiet again, and what’s most important, instead of setting alarm for 7.30, to sleeping as late as we want. Strangely, before Mataiva, we were already in a rhythm where we woke up every morning spontaneously at sunrise, so around 6-7am, but as soon as we HAD to wake up at 7.30, it became difficult.

Now, mauruuru (=thank you in Polynesian language, and our new favorite word), and forward to Tahiti!

PS: On our way to Tahiti we stopped for one more night at Rangiroa, and again went to look for the dolphins, this time without even bothering to bring our cameras. Of course, then the dolphins came jumping around in great numbers, offering something resembling a show at delfinarium. It did happen, even if we have no photos for it ;D

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