16 March, 2024

Two islands, two days, all in one atoll...

SCUBA divers heading off to a site. [4989]

Pearl farm in the lagoon of Ra'iatea. [5024]

On a fine and hot day, we anchored in a beautiful bay in Rai'iatea in the Society Islands. A traditional name for this island is Havai'i, homeland of the Maori people. Ater a long 17 minute Zodiac ride, we landed within an easy walking distance of Taputapuatea, maybe the holiest place in all of Polynesia, as explained to us by our Cultural Specialist, Matahi. This flat 6ha site includes several marae (sacred ceremonial and political places of worship, physically stone covered rectangles) for various purposes (one of them was human sacrifices), the first marae dating back to 1400-1500AD. Ra'iatea is more or less the centre of the Polynesian triangle, and significant meetings of all the peoples (chiefdoms) within that triangle took place here. Taputapuatea is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. One historical map of Polynesia shows Polynesian islands as lying on the tentacles of a giant octopus. Rai'iatea is at its heart and body.

Matahi, our Tahitian born cultural specialist introduces us to the sacred site of Taputapuatea. [5010]

Raiiatea is a populated island with several villages and scattered houses, all clinging to a paved ring road around the coast. [4988]

A view of marae Taputapuatea, reserved for cermonies of political alliance and some religious rites. [5014]

After contemplating the importance of this place, for exercise in blistering heat, we then hiked about 2-3km up steep and muddy Matarepeta Hill, a place also steeped in Polynesian mythology, being a part of Mount Rotui in Mo'orea stolen by pwo (master) navigator and demi-god Hiro. It took some time to get the clay-like mud off our walking boots after this climb.

At Taputapuatea, the most significant of the marae. It is dedicated to the god of peace and war. [5016]

The marae Hauviri is centred by an Investiture Rock, known as Te-Papa-tea-o-Ruea. [5028]

Taura'a-tapu Beach where canoes of younger chiefdoms would pull up. [5033]

View over the marae, and the lagoon and reef, from the climb up Matarepta Hill. [5042]

Kilometer-post on Ra'iatea ring road. A broken street lamp hosts some budding foliage. [5059]

Sunrise over a motu (islet) near Taha'a. [5069]

Half a dozen divers leaving for an early morning SCUBA. [5078]

Visited on the next day, a close neighbour of Ra'iatea is Taha'a. Both islands share the same coral reef. Taha'a is known for vanilla beans and pearls, but the fertile valleys of the island grow watermelon and copra, which is the dried white flesh of coconut, used for aromatic and cosmetic oils. Taha'a was of strategic importance 2-300 years ago when there was conflict between Bora Bora and Ra'iatea.

A gnarly old farmer explains the intricacies of vanilla bean production. [5095]

Vanilla beans being dried in the hot sun, on corrugated iron sheeting. [5092]

Nearby the vanilla farm on Taha'a. [5098]

A random flower in a Taha'a garden. [5099]

Girl and her dog relaxing in precious shade on Taha'a. [5101]

A peek at someone's bedroom getting aired in Taha'a. [5103]

Fishing odds and ends on a rustic pier on Taha'a. [5104]

On Taha'a, we had a fantastic barbecue lunch, and many hours to relax, on a private motu (small sandy island) which had white sandy (finely broken coral, actually) beaches, swimming and snorkelling, as well as facilities and, most importantly, lots and lots of shade. The NatGeo Orion hotel team worked hard to enhance this paradise for us, and after they had fed us, many of them cooled off in the sparkling clear water.

The French Polynesians refer to the little islands in atolls as motu. This one had sandy beaches and clear water and coral for swimming and snorkelling. [5115]

We spent a whole afternoon at this privately owned motu, looking for sting-rays in the shallows. [0692]

Stingrays patrolled the shallow waters of our motu off Taha'a. [0722]

Catamaran anchored offshore our motu, little coral bombies in the clear water. [5145]

A small school escaping the gaze of a pursuing snorkeller. [0716]

These tiny blue-green chromists disappear into the coral if they feel threatened. [0704]

The highlight of the day was a chance to snorkel with black-tipped reef sharks. The previous night Rachel, the expedition's underwater specialists, exhorted us to ditch our preconceived notions about sharks, and to accept that these local guys were harmless. A lot on board remained unconvinced, but by the end of the day, all were happy that these black-tipped sharks were benign, curious but rather aloof. A private operator took us to a secret place within the atoll's shallow waters, where we could slip in and view these handsome beasts, maybe 1.5-2m long.

The highlight of this particular dive, the black-tipped sharks. [0738]

Boat of the private operator who took us out to snorkel with the sharks. No doubt he feeds the sharks on other days to keep them interested. [0754]

NatGeo expedition staffer with his GoPro. [0755]

This shark is cursed with a large fishing hook in his mouth. [0756]

There must have been a dozen black-tipped sharks with us in this dive. [0771]

Getting in for a closer look. [0787]

Deckhand on the shark snorkelling boat as we return to the Orion. [0823]

Two islands, Taha'a and Ra'iatea, encompassed within one atoll, and both very close to Bora Bora.

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