California Bill\’s Travel \’n Other Stuff

Travels and occassional rantings of an old guy.

Paradise in the Tuamotus: October, 2008

 What and where are the Tuamotus?  They are a group of about 77 atolls in French Polynesia, south of the equator, about 2,500 miles south and a little east of Hawaii.  They are some 200 – 300 miles north of Tahiti, sprinkled across 10 latitudes and covering a length of 900 miles and a width of 300 miles.  They are considered some of the most remote islands in the world, as well as some of the most dangerous to ship’s navigators.

 

They are atolls, as opposed to “high” islands.  Volcanic in origin, long ago the volcano and surrounding land mass sunk into the sea, leaving the ring reef and a languid inner lagoon.  They are home to some 400 varieties of fantastic, rainbow-hued fish and beautiful coral formations. Some are very large (Rangiroa is the 2nd largest atoll in the world).  Some are mere specks in the vast ocean.

 

Atolls generally have a maximum elevation of 3 or 4 meters, and there are stories of dead fish in trees after terrible storms.  Outside the lagoon, the ocean is thousands of feet deep; inside, depths range to about 100 feet.  Inside the lagoon, the water can be mirror calm, and feature turquoises, blues and greens that dazzle the eyes.

 

We came back to the Tuamotus in October of 2008 to rest, snorkel and relish the complete tranquility of being far, far away from everything.  We visited Rangiroa in 2002, and have wanted to go back ever since.  Our itinerary included Tikehau, Manihi, and Fakarava.    We weren’t disappointed! See our pictures at http://www.flickr.com/photos/calbillstravnstuff/sets/72157608525521115/.

 

Tikehau; The first island on our itinerary, is almost circular, averaging about 26 miles across.  It has a population of about 400, located mostly in the little village of Tuherahera, in the southwestern portion of the atoll.

 

After a one hour flight from Tahiti, we arrived at Tikehau airport and were picked up by Caroline, the proprietor of our lodging for 3 nights.  It is located on a beautiful beach very close to the airport. We loaded our luggage into the back of a Toyota pickup, and climbed up on wooden benches in the back of the pickup.  Caroline was delightful, with a quick smile and very friendly.  We loved our stay at this pension (their version of our B&B’s).  Dinners were top quality.  Fish, lobster, fresh veggies, great desserts.

 

Our bungalow was on a beautiful beach. The deck was great for looking out at the world. The bathroom was complete with a hot water shower and sliding windows and doors.  Very comfortable.

 

We went on a motu picnic, crossing the lagoon and stopping for snorkeling while the guides speared some fish for lunch. Yes, that’s right.  As you snorkel and view the pretty little fishes, “TWAK,” a spear comes hurtling by you and one of the little pretty’s is now lunch. The picnic was great, with barbqued fish, poisson cru, vegetables and the ever present Hinano Beer.

 

Manihi;

The atoll of Manihi is the farthest north we travelled, at latitude 14 south.  The Tahitian Black Pearl was farmed intensively here until a few years ago. Now only about 10 farms survive of the several dozen that once existed.  The village of Turipaoa holds most of the 1500 residents.

 

De-planing at Manihi airport, you can watch people take a few steps, then stop and fumble for a camera.  The airport is – er, ah – “quaint.”

 

Our stay here was impacted by 18-20 knot winds that stayed for three days, except for one little hour break. We were in the water for that and found a large Moray Eel right outside our overwater bungalow.  But due to the winds, all excursions were cancelled except the shuttle to the little village.

 

Fakarava: We saved the best for last.  The atoll Fakarava is part of the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere global network, so beautiful is this lagoon.  It is large, second only to Rangiroa, at about 37 miles long and up to 15 miles wide.  Most of the 1,700 inhabitants live in the village of Rotoava, in the northeast corner, where the airport is located. However, we were taken by boat some 60 km,s south to Raimiti (Between sea and sky), a pension on a remote motu in the southeast.  Only 6 bungalows, no electricity or hot water; just what we were looking for.

 

The food here was incredible. Dinner was to lantern and candle light.  Fish, fresh vegetables and dynamite desserts.  Annalee was particularly impressed by the vishyswa and crab bisque. How they do it in such a remote place is beyond us.

 

Our tiny bungalow, simple but comfortable, was open to the world, with balmy tropical breezes bringing the scent of hibiscus and bougainvillea.  Trying to identify a tree, she smelled the flower.  When asked what does it smell like, she said with a sigh, “The South Pacific.”  The cold water shower was refreashing in the tropical heat.  After dinner, a lantern lit the way back to the bungalow, and was our only light until the next morning.  Quickly we were into the spirit of the location, totally relaxed and taking in the gorgeous views of lagoon colors, sunsets and night skies.

 

We didn’t meet any Americans during this trip, but we had a very fun time with the French and Italian honeymooners here at Raimiti.  We laughed and joked with each other’s language deficiencies, and had fun with national rivalries, all in the spirit of fun and comradeship.  One night, astronomy book in hand, we all gathered on the dock.  In the incredible south pacific darkness, pointing and laughing, together we learned the French, Italian and English name for the Milky Way.

 

Our snorkel trips to the pass were amazing, especially the drifts we did in the pass.  In the “fish pond” we got up close and personal with giant Napoleon Wrasse, Moray Eel, and black tipped reef sharks.  The photos will show you what I mean.  http://www.flickr.com/photos/calbillstravnstuff/sets/72157608525521115/

 

We had a great trip to the Tuamotus.  We will go back. It might be our favorite place on earth.

November 2, 2008 Posted by | Travel | 1 Comment