Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Tuamotus

We felt like we'd found the pot of gold - The Tuamotus are the South Pacific as we had dreamed.  We spent 6 weeks, visited 5 atolls and snorkeled pretty much every day. 

Typical motus (islands), scattered along the encircling reef of the atoll. The lagoons enclosed by the reef are much larger than we had visualized; as much as 30 miles x 10 miles in area.

The lagoons are generally 20 to 40 meters deep but dotted with numerous coral pillars (bommies) rising to the surface. Or often just under, which makes them very difficult to see. Good light and a sharp lookout are required!

In company with our Aussie friends on "Pelagic" we explored dozens of motus.  Most of the time there was no one else within sight.

The cairn that marks the spot where the Kontiki raft ended her voyage from Chile on the reef.  Thor Heyerdahl and crew were safe and proved that the Polynesians could have descended from early South American sailors. Later DNA evidence disproved the theory..

Weekly supply ship being unloaded

A real store!  We were able to find a couple of mangoes and a few potatoes. Too late for the baguettes. Very welcoming - they gave Cathy a frangipani lei.

In search of baguettes and brie. Nice road - all the larger villages have benefited from the French government's investment in infrastructure.  And they are kept very clean.

Hi from down under in the Tuamtous! 

A wet suit makes long, 2 hour snorkels more comfortable. OK we're wusses - the water temperature is 78 - 80 degrees F (26 C) 

Finally, the truley unspoiled, vibrant reefs teeming with more brightly colored fish over healthy corals than we could have imagined.  Sadly, the compressed, repressed and depressed images required for the narrow bandwidth available, seriously diminish the quality of the photos.

  Moorish Idol.  A common but reclusive fish.

A Dot Dash and a Speckled Butterfly fish cross paths.

This Bignose Unicornfish was enjoying our table scraps off the stern of 'Idyll Island'

Neon Chromis cloud the branching corals but slip instantly within when predator or diver approach too closely.

Twin Chromodoris, a 3.5 cm nudibranch which raises and lowers it's mantle (skirt) as it crawls along giving a doubled effect.

Very cute little guy about 1.5 cm

Raccoon Butterflyfish.

Orange Striped filefish

Sixband Wrasse (aka Candy Wrasse)

Chevroned Butterflyfish

Ornate Butterflyfish

Pearl oyster in the wild.

A very friendly pearl farmer gave us a tour of his topside operation.  The oysters are grown on buoyed longlines in the lagoon.  Another hazard for the boater to avoid, but a simple, eco friendly industry for the islanders.

This imported Chinese expert implants a plastic nucleus in the correct part of the oyster to produce a French Polynesian black pearl.  And yes, Cathy couldn't resist a purply-green iridescent pearl pendant.

Tridacna, a smaller cousin to the famed Giant Clam.  This species embeds itself into cracks in the coral. They are prolific on the shallow reefs.  Their mantles are jewel-like iridescent, blues, purples, and greens.

Tridacna settled in the reef surrounded by a stunning bit of coral.

Hermit crab feeding frenzy. These guys are everywhere - we even saw one 6' up in a tree! Here they clean up the remains of a coconut.

Can't quite fly yet but this little branch is getting uncomfortable.  Brown Boobie on shrubby motu.

Rescued by Iris and Graeme as our outboard seized in the pass at Makemo atoll on our way to a dive.  We still did the dive and it was fabulous!  Low, rolling, unending hills of live coral sloping into the depths, with masses of fish darting in and out every which way, other fish forming a 1 m cloud above the coral and larger fish appearing suspended in the transparent water above us.  Truly awe inspiring.  We know about 100 species by now but there are always new ones to look up.  For you Caribbean divers - Paul Humann and Ned Deloach have written guides for Pacific fish and invertebrates - hurray!  The Pacific Ocean is much richer in both numbers and varieties of species than the Atlantic/Caribbean and, they are more colourful.  These authors consider their substantial books as mere starting points for Pacific species identification.

It shrank! Derek running the tiny 3.3hp outboard so generously lent to us by s/v 'CD' when it turned out that our 15hp was not repairable - kept us mobile until we could get to Tahiti.  Thanks Dave and Cris!

Regal Angelfish

Orangespine Surgeonfish

Herd of Yellowfin Goatfish

Whitecheek Surgeonfish

Humphead Wrasse. About 1.5m long and must weigh 50kg. Just cruising slowly through the crystal water. Luckily they are completely docile.

Black Tip Reef Shark. About 1.5m in length. They were constantly cruising the reef.  Not at all aggressive but would always come by to check us out. Though when Derek tried spearfishing and shot a small gouper, 3 of them showed up in about 5 seconds!

Saddled Butterflyfish

Steephead Parrotfish and others, just hanging in the crystal water.

A shy Moray Eel keeping an eye on us.

A tasty little Peacock Grouper. Tasty, but you have to be aware of which atolls are ciguatera free before taking one for dinner. Ciguatera is a neuro-toxin found in some species of algae that is concentrated in the tissues of fish. 

You won't see a unicorn on land, but in the South Pacific, there are herds of unicorn fish roaming the reefs. This is a Spotted Unicornfish.

Just dove the South pass of Fakarava Atoll in the background. We glided through with the current while hundreds of Black Tip, White Tip and Grey Reef Sharks hung over the bottom. The little cafe suspended out over the water sold us their last 2 beers! 

Another deserted motu.

Small but tasty. A Peacock Grouper, one of half a dozen fish Derek caught in 15 minutes off the back of the boat. You want the smaller ones to minimize the risk of ciguatera.

Bastille Day celebrations on Fakarava. A whole morning of coconut based competition. Here the winner is finishing up the 30 coconuts he has opened and extracted the "meat" from - in about 5 minutes!

The winner of the coconut frond weaving competition.  We didn't stay for the second day of coconut sports.

After 6 weeks its time to leave the Tuamotus for the big city of Papeete and the Society Islands. Wish we could have spent another 2 months lost amongst the atolls!