Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Rangiroa- Thursday

Rangiroa is an atoll in the Tuamotu Islands. An atoll is a collection of low lying islands with a lagoon in the midlle. Rangiroa is the second biggest atoll in the world. As we cruised in the first thing I thought of was the fact that if there was a tsunami that hit this atoll it would disappear under the sea forever. It is hard to imagine what it must be like to live through cyclones on this island. The island we landed on is only 300 meters wide at its widest point, the tallest things on it were the coconut palms & it was the biggest of the islands that make up the atoll. The water is beautifully clear & has the most lovely blue to it, but it is quite shallow. We cruised up the Tiputa Pass (the locals know it as the Dolphin Pass) & then anchored inside the lagoon not far off the island of Reporepo, from there we had to catch the ships tender service to the island.

Our first trip of the day was a glass bottom boat. The owner talked in both English & French so it was nice to hear about her life on the island. She was originally from France but moved to this atoll quite a few years ago. She said that there were only 3,000 inhabitants of this atoll & only 300 of them had a job. Nearly all the jobs centre around tourism, as there are a couple of resorts on the atoll (a Japanese one & an American one) & then there are all the water based activities that also cater for tourists. The children of the island grow up with a very large extended family & a lot of cases grandparents, aunts, uncles as well as mothers & fathers all live together in the one house. There is only a primary school on the island so after primary school the children have to leave to Papeete (only a 1 hour flight away) to go to secondary school. She was asked what they do in storms & apparently they basically surround themselves in coconuts & pray because there really isn't much to save them. No vegetables grow on the island so the main diet is fish & coconuts although marijuana grows really well on the island & the young people indulge in it.

The glass bottom boat took us out to an area known as The Aquarium. It is a reef just inside the Tiputa pass & the numbers of fish are amazing. The locals have unwritten law that there is to be no fishing in this area so the fish are plentiful plus they get fed several times a day by the glass bottom boat owners as well as the people who run the snorkeling adventures. We dropped anchor & then one of the crew jumped over the size with what looked to be a spear gun. On the end of it he had a fish & then all the other fish came to take a bite. By holding it under the boat we were able to see, parrot fish, butterfly fish, red snapper, angel fish, surgeon fish & right at the bottom near the end of the trip we saw a black finned shark. The sharks in the lagoon are either white finned or black finned & the locals said they "only bite the white boys" so that gave me all the confidence in the world about our next adventure for the day, snorkelling.

We went back to shore & as we had time to kill before our next excursion we went for a walk to a lovely white beach to have a swim. I thought it would be a lovely sandy beach imagine mynsurprise when we got there & it was all just white coral. White coral is dead coral & the whole beach was made up of it. Once we got out into the water a little way there was a sandy bottom & along with the warm water, sandy bottom there was also stingrays basking. Luckily they kept away from us mainly but once I put my mask & snorkel on I decided to curb any possible attacks by keeping my feet off the bottom & just floating on the top of the water. We quickly found some little reef like outcrops & that was were the fish were. We just floated around them & saw all the brightly coloured fish. It really was amazing. Some funny things happened while we were out swimming. Firstly a woman got in the water & walks over to where there was an outcrop & starts yelling, "there's fish" & went back up on the beach, she didn't want to be in water that had fish in it apparently. A lot of people didn't realize that coral is very harsh to walk on & were in agony just trying to get to the water as they had bare feet. Others were determined to sunbathe & even Scott & I sitting in the shade managed to catch a tan. Those who sunbathed invariably got sunburnt & there were quite a few red bodies around the ship for days after. Mindful of the fact that we could get burnt from the reflection of the water we decided to walk to the other side of the island, the Pacific Ocean side. It was only 300 metres but it really was very hot in the middle of the island with the sun beaming straight down on to the hard earth. The ocean side of the island has rocks & had quite a swell coming up. There was really no safe beach to swim on that side at all. We walked back to the wharf & caught our boat for our snorkeling excursion.

The boat headed back out to The Aquarium where there were still a lot of other boats out there, the glass bottom one & the a couple more boats of snorkelers. I was just about to get into the water when one of the guides said "shark!" That made me stop in my tracks & ask Scott if there was a shark down there. It was a hoax so I jumped in & joined Scott & the guide. The guide had a bucket of food with him & he started by getting us all together & then he fed the fish. Occasionally he threw the food past us so the whole school of fish suddenly turned tail and en masse headed towards. The first time he did it, it scared me to suddenly have these masses of fish heading straight for me. Some of them banged into my mask & some of them swam under my belly & tickled me on the way past. After a while the guide took the better swimmers of us on a tour of The Aquarium. We got to see different corals, including beautiful fire coral as well as a couple of sharks on the bottom of the lagoon. Just to prove that the shark didn't really want a piece of us the guide dived down & went to touch it, the shark immediately swam away. We basically went right around the coral outcrop & then it was time to get back to the boat.

Once we were onboard we were told that when the tide is on the turn the dolphins come & play in the waves of Tiputa pass & if we wanted they would take us up the pass so we could see them. We all thought that was a wonderful idea so we headed up the pass. On the way up we didn't see any dolphins but as we turned around & came down sure enough the dolphins were there, jumping & surfing on the waves. I am so pleased that we did the snorkeling at this time of day because the people who snorkeled in the morning didn't get to see the dolphins. After doing another cruise up & down the pass we went back to shore. By then we had had our fill of water activities & as there was nothing else to do on the atoll we caught the tender back to the ship.

Here's the link for the slideshow


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