Sorry about the absence of blogging activity for the past few weeks – to quote our good mate Pembo from WA, we’ve been ‘in heaven with the door shut’ and there ain’t much internet inside the pearly gates!
They’re known as the Dangerous Archipelago and for sure they would have been extremely dangerous in the time of the square-riggers and before the advent of GPS. Even now, the reefs and passes can pose hazards for unwary players, but the upside is that the Tuamotus are a group of some of the most beautiful coral atolls we’ve ever seen. The most dangerous aspect for us was too many sundowners with our buddies from ‘Rehua’!
Our first stop, Raroia, wasn’t even on our itinerary, but divine intervention (in the form of wind from the wrong direction) guided us to this particular slice of paradise.
Our guide books led us to believe there were no services here, but in fact the village boasts an airstrip, a school and medical facility as well as three (three!!) magazins or shops. And some of the friendliest people we’ve come across yet. On our first foray into the village we were invited to the primary school’s end-of-year concert. What a delightful night of traditional dancing and singing, mixed up with some zumba for good effect. We felt very privileged to be welcomed into the local community with such warmth.
We also met Chris and Jess from “Silent Sun”, both keen divers who told us about their drift dives in the pass and outside on the reef walls. With our appetites whetted, we ventured out of the pass and did the north and south walls. Wow! Some of the clearest water I’ve ever seen with viz up to 30 metres, and an amazing amount of hard coral and fish life, including plenty of reef sharks on the northern side. Sadly, we never quite got the timing right to do a drift dive through the pass – slack water only lasts a matter of minutes and at other times the tide rushes in or out at up to 4 knots, so you need to be absolutely certain of your timing!
The other hazard of anchoring in coral lagoons is… well, the coral – coral bommies are numerous and in some places it’s impossible not to get your anchor chain wrapped around one or more coral heads as the boat swings with the wind shifts. Mostly you can drive yourself off them when it’s time to leave, but in the anchorage near the village at Raroia there were just too many and our anchor chain looked like a demented macramé knitter had been at work below. In fact, all five yachts in the anchorage needed a diver below and someone on the surface directing the helmsperson which way to steer. Sometimes having a dive compressor and tanks on board is very handy, not just for recreational diving!
After finally freeing ourselves from the clutches of the coral, we motored across to the eastern side of the lagoon, dodging massive bommies that rose sheer from 40’ to the surface. It goes without saying that you need the sun above or behind you and a lookout on the deck in order to spot them.
The eastern shore was just heavenly – three perfect little motus (palm-fringed islands) sheltering us from the prevailing easterlies, gin-clear water, lots of interesting snorkeling around the bommies and the most exquisite shades of blue and turquoise from the differing water depths.
I couldn’t have picked a better venue for my birthday if I’d tried, and we had a wonderful beach barbeque with our friends from “Rehua” and “Nelly Rose”, complete with bonfire, a full moon and great company.
We spent our days here doing very little except beach-combing, collecting coconuts, snorkeling and diving (Bruce was teaching Audrie from ‘Rehua” to dive, so I accompanied them as official photographer!)
We also paid a visit to the local pearl farm. Black pearls are big business in the Tuamotus, and most atolls have at least one or more pearl farms (the pearl floats scattered throughout the lagoons create just one more hazard for visiting yachts). Unfortunately the farm we visited didn’t have any pearls they could sell us but it was fascinating to see the farming process, including the seeding of the oysters.
After a couple of weeks in Raroia, it was time to drag ourselves away so we could experience some of the other atolls in the Tuamotus before heading to Tahiti. As non-Europeans we’re only eligible for a 90-day visa for the whole of French Polynesia which includes the Marquesas all the way through to Bora Bora in the Society Islands. It’s possible to apply for a long-stay visa of 6 months, but you need to have it in place before you arrive, and with all the preparations for Panama and the Galapagos it was something we stupidly overlooked and are now kicking ourselves about. Even though we can’t stay 6 months here because of cyclone season approaching, it would have been nice to have had a few more weeks’ up our sleeve. Oh well, ‘C’est La Vie” as they say….