Day 125: The Bounty Hunters

Sun. 16th December 2012

A little bit of paradiseWe came in search of paradise – and, fortunately, there weren’t any chocolate coated coconut bars. We did, however, find blue skies, tropical islands, warm, clear water, coral sand, birds, fish, stingrays – oh, and a lot of sharks.

Following the success of our car rental in Easter Island and continuing to want to avoid organised tours, we agreed to share in the hire of a boat (and skipper) with Scott and Raquel (our neighbours here in Rangiroa) along with a couple that they met whilst in Bora Bora. This takes a bit of organising as Nuno and Andrea are in the other resort hotel, just down the road, and neither the phone or the internet work well here.

Haven't even got to the blue lagoon  yetThe boat arrives at 11am and we jump on board, minus Raquel who is not well this morning, and head off parallel to the shore but inside the lagoon. Once past the small (and only) town of Avatou and the break in the atoll there are only a few signs of habitation – the odd shack or hut and a few fishing boat and markers for fishing nets (particularly opposite breaks in the atoll where fish are likely to swim through from the ocean). We passed white sandy coves breaking up the rocky shore, all the while, backed by coconut palms. Apparently, the going rate is 20 coconuts for 1 Euro!

Just loving the sunshine and warm watherIn the breaks in the atoll, we can see through to the darker blue of the Pacific and the waves crashing onto the ocean-side shore. After around 45 minutes we stop for a swim in one such cove. After the noise of the powerful engine the silence is wonderful and the water is clear and warm. It is so good and so relaxing that we are reluctant to move on.

Black tipped reef sharksOur skipper has been mentioning ‘Shark City’ since we left the hotel’s jetty. ‘Yeah, yeah’, we thought. We’ve seen the reef shark swimming by in front of our cabin so we aren’t expecting much. We get our first inkling that we might have under called it as the boat stops inside a semi-circular reef and we see brown shapes in the water. By the time he gets the boat moored up to a buoy, there must be 30 or more sharks circling round the boat black-tipped dorsal and tail fins visible. We have swum with these sharks before in the Maldives and so we know that they are not dangerous. Nevertheless, it is with a bit of a gulp that we don the snorkelling kit and jump in.

IMGP0625It was an incredible experience. I have swum in the middle of shoals of fish before but never in the middle of ashiverof sharks. Whilst they didn’t come as close as the sea lions in the Galapagos, they swam by on all sides paying us no attention whatsoever. It was a bit disconcerting but it never felt threatening. Scott lent me his spare underwater camera so I was able to take some photos and video of the scene. The video below, whilst low on production quality and camera work, gives a pretty good sensation of what it was like to be in the water with the sharks all around.

Swimming with sharks from Dave Hornsey on Vimeo.

And we were swimming with them just a minute ago!It is only after we get out that the skipper dangles a fish on a rope over the side of the boat. Immediately, the water is a churning mass of sharks as they all try to get at the fish. In a couple of minutes it is all gone. I’m glad that he waited until after we had finished swimming before doing that or else I think we would have had second thoughts about our swim. It is only later that Scott tells me that the skipper was ‘chumming’ the water with pieces of fish whilst we were out swimming!

On the shore of the Blue LagoonNext up, says skipper, is the Blue Lagoon and ‘my island’. We know by now that we should take him at his word and that is how it turns out. The Blue Lagoon is indeed a vivid shade of blue. He anchors the boat in shallow water just off a small island (motu) at the entrance to the lagoon and tells us to put our wet shoes on as we are going for a ‘water hike’. The water is no more than calf-deep as we head off and as we get closer to the shore it gets warmer and then positively hot – we have had many showers in colder water than this.

Stingray!We skirt the closest motu and ignore the two boat loads of tour groups on it and head across the shallow water separating it from the adjacent motu. This is my island says the skipper – apparently he has a 99 year lease from the government (no building taller than the coconut trees and no iron roofs). We then spend half an hour meeting some of the residents of the island and the lagoon – ‘Bob’ a crab that is very shy but very interested in the chunks of fish on offer; frigate birds and white terns(?) who are also hungry for pieces of fish; a baby shark (ditto); and a lone stingray (not so much).

This really fulfils all of the clichés of a tropical island. As we enjoy the sunshine and the water we talk with the skipper for a while. He reminds us that Marlon Brando, famously, owned an island near to Tahiti (somewhat bigger than skipper’s motu) and that Brando starred in the film version of Mutiny on the Bounty which both historically and on film is set in Tahiti. Another film for us to add to our list to see when we get home.

Going fishingOn the way out we skirted round the lagoon by the coast of the atoll in a ‘C’ shape. For the return trip, the skipper warns us to put everything loose in a cupboard and to get a good seat as we are going to head back across the middle of the lagoon. Sure enough, it is a bit of a rollercoaster coming back with the big engine powering us up the back of waves only to come crashing down on the other side. The trip back takes an hour and we try to wedge ourselves in and hold on tight – whilst trying to keep bare skin in the shade as the sun is behind us and low enough to negate the shadow of the canopy. I feel that my ‘solar panel’ is pretty much fully charged by now. We are all very relieved as the far shore comes into view and we are dropped off back at the hotel’s jetty.

Later that evening, over pizza (and the obligatory red wine), we reflect back on yet another very special day. We saved a little bit of money by sharing the hire of a boat as opposed to going on an organised tour but we had much more flexibility over timing and where we went. There are pros and cons of both (we’d have had a barbecue lunch on the tour) but ultimately the pros far outweigh the cons. We had both Shark City and the Island to ourselves – from what we could see of the tour boats, they only watched the sharks, they didn’t swim with them. Our ‘Don’t Be A Gringo’ motto has paid off once again.

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One Response to Day 125: The Bounty Hunters

  1. Ah pacific island picture postcard style.

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