Sunday, October 31, 2010

Back to the future

Our time travel journey started yesterday at 5am with a 15' transfer by van to Papeete's air-port, for the first jump of our voyage, arriving in Los Angeles 3h into the future, after having hung 7h30 in the sky.

After a short Starbucks break, we boarded another, less comfortable but more efficient time machine, fast-forwarding us to Paris 9-1h* into the future in only 9h30. (* Losing one hour due to a seasonal irregularity, i.e. summer time returning to winter time overnight.)

From Paris to Munich time remained un-stretched, meaning we flew one hour and arrived exactly one hour later too. In time for our 2h earth-bound shuttle to Sonthofen.

Simply said, it took us 30h to get back home from the other side of our blue planet. With all our luggage. And some jet-lag.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Fakarava - Tahiti

Shortly after breakfast we're brought back to the atoll's populated north by boat (1h40) and pickup (25'), where after check-in at the airfield we're treated by our host to a plate of spaghetti so as not to travel with an empty stomach on the short (1h) flight to Tahiti.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Napoleon

Burning ear

Worrisome. As soon as we submerged my right ear started acting up: a slight discomfort and constant crackling noises at first, a painful burning sensation later on. So much so I had to abort the dive after having endured it for 44', my ear by then claiming my full attention.

Frustrating. Now that we at last enjoy warm sunny weather, with a beautiful reef full of sharks at our doorstep and curious napoleons begging to be photographed, I can't put my head below the waves.

Gray parade

The incoming tide today graced us with great viz and a stream of at least a hundred grays flowing by supremely.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The passage

Tetamanu's tidal passage is a less demanding and thus more enjoyable dive than Rangiroa's high-flow Tiputa. Not only that, the local gray reef sharks can be observed here within recreational depth limits, that is, between 20-30m. Special encounters are less probable though.

Besides the resident grays (carcharhinus amblyrhynchos) and the occasional blacktip (carcharhinus limbatus, not to be confused with the more common carcharhinus melanopterus, a.k.a. blacktip reef shark), the healthy reef's alive with smaller & bigger fish, most noteworthy of these being several napoleons, which, like sharks, have alas become a rather rare sight these days in asian waters a.o.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Rangiroa - Fakarava

Short 1h30 flight from Rangiroa to Fakarava*, via Manihi, followed by a 25' pickup ride and 1h30 speed-boat transfer to Tetamanu Village, a basic but friendly resort located on Fakarava's south end, right beside the Tumakohua passage, French Polynesia's #1 dive spot.

[ 1 ] [ 2 ] [ 3 ]

We're warmly welcomed by Annabelle, Tetamanu's charming hostess. The two french guides though seem a lot less enthusiastic. Both are here temporarily. Not surprising I guess given the rather isolated nature of the resort and the fact that there's only one great dive site.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Polynesian black pearls

Today we visited Gauguin’s Pearl Farm, where we got shown around the sweat shop and informed about the pearl cultivation process.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Silver banquet

Got my mask knocked or kicked off upon back-roll entry. Luckily another diver saw it sink and caught it before it disappeared into perdition. Not quite the close contact with wild-life I had in mind coming here.

After several no show dives, our guide once again took two frozen tunas down with him to attract some action, desperate to offer us some entertainment. This time on Avatoru's reef edge, under slightly better controlled circumstances.


Guest list: one large & one medium silvertip, besides a couple of smaller ones for good measure and some gray reef sharks.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Forbidden attraction

Forbidden shark feeding dive off the coast so as not to upset the local fishermen? The sharks weren't hungry though, with just one silvertip and less than a dozen gray reef sharks joining our party after hanging around in the blue for almost half an hour.

I'm no expert, but hanging down some boxed bait from a bobbing boat while having a dozen uncontrolled divers hovering all over the place waiting for some feeding action, just doesn't feel safe right to me.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Eye-contact!

This morning we've been split up in two teams. A deep six team and a shallow four team. I'm in the latter by choice. No way I'm diving to 50m on a single tank of air with unplanned decompression and possibly strong currents, just to get a bit closer to the gray sharks congregating down there. Not to mention with a bunch of unknown, probably unqualified, and thus for me unreliable divers.

Soon after submerging, we're passed by a tight pod of seven bottle-nose dolphins and get approached by the resident school of large barracudas. Still wowed by these wonderful sightings, Yann suddenly points upwards. At the surface, two dolphins are taking a deep breath before plunging 25m straight down towards us. WOW! They appear to be two adolescent males undecided about play-figthing together or taking a look at us mesmerized tourists. So they show off both to each other and us, swimming real close to me several times. Once even close & slow enough for a brief eye-contact!

Afternoon slack-tide dive without anything worth mentioning. That's just the way it is with action diving. Either it happens or it doesn't.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Easy diving

Two nice & easy dives today, one at Avatoru and one on Tiputa's outer corner reef.

Avatoru sightings: handful of relatively small silver tips plus a larger one, schooling juvenile barracudas and big eyed jacks and a dozen or so of very serious looking african pompanoes.

Tiputa sightings: seven gray reef sharks coming up from the blue hoping to get fed, two chasing tunas trying to catch a meal, a lone napoleon and some heard but unseen dolphins.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Shock treatment

We're ten divers plus two french guides and a polynesian boatsman on a big zodiac from The Six Passengers. It's overcast and the sea's kind of rough for our first dive at Rangiroa's famous Tiputa passage. Not what I'd call ideal conditions nor site for a check dive...

We're all supposed to jointly roll-back into the ocean at 1-2-3-GO! Standard procedure, but with empty BCDs to be able to submerge immediately upon entry. As I roll-back on GO! I can see the diver on my left still sitting on the boat. Splash! I'm about to pop back to the surface, surrounded & buoyed by bubbles, when I suddenly get knocked on the head by a tank. Shocked, I need a moment to recover my dislodged mask and my bearings as waves keep rolling over my face. Except for Petra, everybody has immediately submerged, including my hit-and-run man, and is already carelessly playing with a couple of dolphins down below. Luckily only the side of the tank made contact and chafed my hooded head, and I'm able to dive and enjoy some nice sightings too, e.g. a school of big barracudas, five mantas in a row flying by beneath us and a carpet of gray reef sharks down below around 50m. The dive's end though is again rather stressy, as we get sucked through the passage by the incoming tide.

The late afternoon sunset dive is a much more relaxing and uneventful happening, on top of a very nice reef with plenty of life, several schools of juvenile barracudas, two eagle rays flying by and various relatively close encounters with bottle-nose dolphins :o)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Moorea - Rangiroa

Early pick-up at 4:50am in front of Linareva for the 40' bus ride to Moorea's airfield and short 10' hop to Tahiti's airport, in time for our connecting 1h flight to Rangiroa and short ride to the Maitai, a modern impersonal 39 bungalows resort. Room to room a 5h transfer.

The Maitai's restaurant serves good but expensive food (1500-3000 CFP/meal). Across the street are a small store, selling baguettes, cheese, tomatoes, chips & water (110 CFP/1.5l bottle) a.o. and a small restaurant, serving pizzas (1250 CFP), meat & fish dishes.

Dive briefing by Yann at 14:30 for Tauchertraum's group of ten divers.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Sightseeing tour

Half a day island sightseeing tour (4000 CFP/pers) in a 4x4 pickup-jeep together with a couple of americans and two mexicans.

First stop: a small business cooking up various strange tasting jams from exotic fruits. More interesting and informative though is their experimental vanilla plantation. Note that most of French Polynesia's vanilla normally comes from Tahaa, Raiatea or Huahine.


Next: quick photo shoot at the Belvedere, for a panoramic view of Moorea's imposing land- & seascape. Followed by a look at some jungle overgrown ruins. There being no written language, except for body tattoos, there's not much known about the past of the people here. Last stop: fruit juice and liquor tasting in a tourist shop.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Catering

As already mentioned in a previous post, we get a generous breakfast served on our terrace each morning at 7:00 (or later if you so wish).

For lunch we do with bread, cheese, sausage, tomatoes & cucumber.

Most evenings, we enjoy a tasty (*) dinner at Linareva (2000 CFP), ordered upon request from an excellent catering service by our hosts.

Alternatively, there's a small but good open-air pizzeria two minutes by foot from the resort, where Daniel quickly prepares ones choice of pizza (1300-1500 CFP) in a matter of minutes. It's also possible to get picked up for free by several restaurants further up or down the coast, but we haven't felt like trying any of those out yet.

For those in a cooking mood, each bungalow has its own kitchenette. There are two mini-markets about 5-10' by bike up & down the road from the resort. Check your change though in the one down the road, otherwise you'll unfortunately get ripped off big time.

Bruno, living besides Linareva, makes various ice cream flavors for several restaurants & hotels on the island, but also sells to passersby's (500 CFP for ½l).

* Except on thursdays (& saturdays?) where it seems to be another cook at the stove. Alas that's also the closing day of Pizza Daniel.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Feeding frenzy

Overcast but nice weather. Still un-showered after my morning dives. Fresh load of fishy left-overs delivered today. Camera battery fully charged. Wetsuit dry. 16:45. No time to loose to get ready for action!

My favorite nurse is already waiting for me food from the sky as I carefully slip into the water and position myself below the jetty. Five minutes later Roland appears above and performs his mesmerizing magic. Small fish explode in numbers, remoras wriggle by, briefly clear space when the head nurse swirls by, blacktips in feeding mode zooming in & out, snapping at morsels & splashing with their tails to get away with it... all that right in front of my mask running camera.

Tiki

Pregnant lemon shark slowly passing by on the first dive and great viz at Tiki for our second dive, with enough blacktips and gray reef sharks to actually keep me attentive the whole time.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Together

Overcast windy weather drives us to Moorea's north side, past Cook's bay, without a single blow to be seen two hours into our watch.

Jerome's hunch proves to be a good one though, when two plumes suddenly greet us not too far off. First dip's in vain, but on the second drop, in barely 10m of water, I get to see an imposing humpback mother with calf in her wake gliding by right beside me! Nobody else got in the water in time. Back on board, we wait for the baby to breach again. Sure enough, a few minutes later it briefly surfaces in our neighborhood and we all slip in.


Luck's with us as the mother no longer seems to see us as threat and decides to hang around. Letting her baby pop up every few minutes while remaining below. Only when she needs to come up for air too, about every twenty minutes, do we need to climb back onto our boat to be dropped off where she dives down again. An adult whale easily covers hundred meters or more between ascent, 3-4 breaths and descent. Four times we had the privilege to float in the water near mother & calf, before having to head back to base, due to time-out.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Lemon valley

Training dive with a couple of lemons, blacktips & a gray reef shark.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Stingray city

Whale song

Michael having flown back home, I've taken his place as spotter beside Jerome. Watching is one thing though, seeing another. We've been cruising for almost an hour when, as I take a look behind us, a movement way back briefly catches my attention: a tail gliding into the ocean? Jerome immediately turns the boat around and heads towards the place I've pointed out.

As we approach the supposed dive spot, there's nothing indicating the presence of a whale. I'm already doubting my imagined sighting as Jerome stops the engine and jumps overboard, soon popping up again saying the magic word: singer! And from the sound of it relatively near. It's just a matter of waiting for it to surface. Incredibly enough it indeed breaches about 20m away for 3 or 4 breaths before diving down again to continue its song.

video

As soon as it submerges we slip into the water too, head below water we're immediately engulfed by the whale's strangely beautiful song.

The whale itself is nowhere to be seen, so I just let myself float around while listening and staring at the sun's rays plunging down in the ocean's unfathomable depths.

Twenty minutes later the whale re-surfaces for an encore...

Friday, October 8, 2010

Family day

Double shift, meaning morning & afternoon watch without a break, a good 8h at sea on a small boat. Early sighting of a solitary whale, but no luck seeing it below the waves. Later on we find a mother with calf and male escort. They're not in a playing mood though, shying away from the boat each time we approach and diving down when we slip in the water and swim towards them.


After a short pit-stop at Linavera, we return to the same spot and soon find both the lone whale and the family again. This time we're allowed in the inner circle and get to swim close to the baby as it slowly comes up to the surface for a couple of breaths, while its mom and her escort remain below.

Baby humpbacks can measure up to 6m and weigh about 2 tons at birth... so keeping a respectful distance isn't a bad idea, unless you don't mind being accidentally bumped into. [ → humpback whales ]



UPDATE: Yesterday a tourist tried to pat a baby humpback. It patted back. The lucky tourist got away with only a few broken ribs.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Feeding time

Every day, at 5pm, Roland strolls to the end of his jetty, a bag full of fishy appetizers in his hand. Awaiting him eagerly, besides his guests and resident small fish, are some local big girls and cool guys, a.k.a. nurse and blacktip reef sharks.

Today, the sun being in a shiny mood, I decide to dip into the water myself, 5 minutes before show time, for a closer look at the action below the waves. Positioned right below the jetty, I ask Roland not to throw the morsels too far off, the viz not being that great, i.e. less than 5m. He gladly obliges and I'm promptly rewarded with a nurse slowly swirling around and around in front of my camera, trying in vain to get a free snack, while a handful of blacktips keep darting in for a quick snatch, when not outdone by a few opportunistic remoras.

Sometimes there are up to three nurses in attendance and a dozen of blacktips all competing for a bite, not to mention some daring seagulls snapping the food away in mid-air or as it hits the water.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Close encounter with two giants

Two impressive close encounters with a pair of 10-12m humpbacks.


I actually had a sensory overload as once both slowly rose up from the blue right in front of me, my still jet-lagged brain alas rather unable to fully register that overwhelming moment.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Plumes, dorsals & tails

Fortified by a big french breakfast, consisting of an extra-large cup of coffee, home baked bread & jam, baguette, croissant or chocolatine, plenty of fresh local fruit & juice, we set out at 13:30 for our first whale watching tour, together with four other german tourists, boat captain Jerome and Michael, owner of Tauchertraum, accompanying us as guide & spotter.

Basically, whale watching is scanning the horizon while cruising along the coast, in this case the outer reef, until somebody sees a plume, dorsal or tail of one or more breaching humpback whales, then head towards it, wait for one to come up for air, then slip into the water and snorkel in its direction, hoping to intercept it, for a brief look before it plunges down again on its endless journey.

Our first dip was in vain, with no whale to be seen underwater, but on our second try we actually saw two shapes slowly gliding by below us.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Check dive among blacktips

We're picked up at 07:45 by Catherine from Moorea Fun Dive, for the short drive from Linareva to the dive center, where her husband Greg is waiting for us to gear up and board the dive boat.


Moorea's reef suffered a lot of damage when cyclone Oli blew over Polynesia last february and is in a rather desolate state. Luckily the sharks are still there: blacktips, grays and lemons. The latter are currently in mating mood, meaning they're mostly busy elsewhere, i.e. in deeper waters beyond recreational limits. One paid us a courtesy visit though, attracted by the irresistible smell of a frozen tuna head, which Roland, acting as dive guide today to help out his wife's nephew Greg, brought down to get some special attention.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Résidence Linareva

Our 37h journey started yesterday at 6am, by car to Munich, jet to Paris, jet to LA, jet to Tahiti, aircraft to Moorea and finally bus to
Résidence Linareva, our first stop on this three islands tour.


Owned, managed and run by Roland & Edmée, two very hospitable and friendly Alsatians, Linareva is a small garden resort located right at the coast on Moorea's wild south-west side.