Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Snorkelling With The Sharks in South Kauehi ….. May 2016

19 – 27 May 2016:  Sth East Kauehi, Tuamotus – 15 57S  145 04W



Time for Underwater Adventures

Skipper had enjoyed snorkelling with the sharks in Raroia, (personally I am quite happy with all the colourful little tropical fish with much smaller mouths) so we went in search of sharks.  We moved Balvenie from the village anchorage in Kauehi down the lagoon to the southeast corner and anchored in yet another superb spot.

Preliminary underwater investigations in the neighbourhood found some excellent live coral bommies with a huge array of fish but no sharks.  P5210010So we went on a long dinghy excursion right along the southern motus west to the last teeny one where we found one palm tree and a small wrecked sailboat ashore and several small black tip sharks in the shallows. Now we just had to find their mums and dads - and we did!  We left the dinghy on the beach off the adjacent motu, donned masks and flippers and off we went.P5210031

P5210008Shark Alert!

A colourful bommie here, another there, hundreds of fish over there, just like being in an aquarium, magical.  Then a big black tip spotted, another there, gosh more over there – think we just entered the aquariums shark tank!  They started just swimming by, minding their own business, then the numbers increased and they got curious and came back for another look.  When we had 7 circling us we were starting to feel like we were being eyed up as “catch of the day” and made a speedy retreat back to land – just in case! P5210045

We made several stops in the dinghy on our return to Balvenie, the bommies were colourful and the fish life plentiful, we only spotted one other shark, so maybe we had entered their territory and they hadn’t liked the intrusion!  We found one bommie covered in Christmas Tree Worms, they are multi-coloured and if you get your fingers close they close entirely up and just disappear, fun to do. P5230058

At the bottom of one bommie tucked away in recess was a chunky eel, he poked his head out for a quick look at us then quickly squirmed backwards into his hiding place.

P5100082In between our busy schedule of snorkelling there was time for games of boules ashore – made somewhat challenging due to the extremely uneven foreshore.  The nearby sandy spit became the perfect spot for sundowners or pot luck dinners around an open fire, a great way for us all to get together at the end of the day.  We had a great bunch of cruisers, a stunning anchorage and a superb spell of weather, just magic.

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Time to Head for the Tuamotus Most Famous Atoll - Fakarava

Monday, 30 May 2016

A Pearl In the Pacific – May 2016

08 – 12 May:  Ngarumaoa Village, Raroia, Tuamotus – 16 02S  142 28W

P4210071Off Shark Spotting

More calm winds were forecast so we picked our way through the coral gardens in bright sunshine and returned to Ngarumaoa Village anchorage from Northern Raroia.

We were keen to snorkel the pass but honestly just didn’t think it would be do-able after our first hand rather lively experience of coming through on Balvenie.   Reassured by Chris and Jessica on Silent Sun who are keen divers and photographers and dive the pass almost daily, we kitted ourselves out and along with the crews from Mezzaluna and L’avenir we headed for the pass about 30 minutes before slack low water.

DSC00964-Edit-3The pass was still quite choppy and the waters turbulent when we arrived but safe enough to take the dinghies through.  We headed to the outside (ocean side) of the pass, by the time we had put flippers and masks on the current settled and the pass lay down to a glassy pond.DSC00905-EditIn we jumped, dinghy in tow behind us.  First time through was rather leisurely, almost slow motion as we took in the splendour of the underwater world below us. P4210116 Within minutes we were through into the lagoon so we jumped back in the dinghy and zoomed back out.

Second time there was more tide flooding in and we flew through on the surface.  It was so much fun that when it ended we quickly got back into the dinghy and did one more run outside before the pass became too lively.

This time we felt like torpedoes being shot through the water, it was a real blast and we were back into the lagoon in record time.  We then headed for the first red channel marker which sits atop a wonderful coral garden.  P4190040The sharks were cruising around down in the depths but just below the surface thousands of colourful reef fish went about their daily business.P4210065Where do Black Pearls Come From?P4220146

Taking time out from snorkelling the pass on 3 consecutive days we took a tour to the local Pearl Farm.  Pearl Farming is huge business in French Polynesia and although the number of farms has dramatically reduced in recent years it is still a big industry.

A snapshot overview of how it all works isn’t so easy as it is a much more lengthy and complicated process than I would have ever thought and it has given me quite an appreciation of why they cost so much.

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Here’s what I understand – first they grow the oysters, it seems that these are generally out sourced.  At a certain age (maybe 18 months) they are harvested, brought ashore, cleaned and then opened just a small amount and a man made round ball of natural shell (imported from Mississippi) is placed inside the mantle pocket.


Then the oysters are strung up and placed inside a protective netting so they won’t be eaten, loaded back into a boat and returned to the water for another 18 months.  After this time they are harvested again, cleaned, reopened and checked to see how progress is going, any defective ones get taken out and a new white shell ball put in.  Same thing happens after another 18 months, the pearls are growing all the time and some grow faster than others.


On the final harvest the shells are cleaned (these are sold for Mother of Pearl jewellery and ornaments), the pearls are removed and the muscle meat sold, the actual oyster meat is fed to the awaiting fish, I was told it is too gritty for eating.

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So that's the life of a cultured pearl in the Tuamotus, I’m sure the odd detail is wrong cos I wasn’t taking notes!!  One question I haven’t had answered is why the pearls here change colour to silvers, greys, greens and almost black.

And what are they worth?  In this photo the small are USD50 each, the large USD500 each, the others anywhere in between.  They are flown to a wholesaler in Tahiti then exported worldwide.  The photo at the top with all the pearls was one days harvest, so the returns are huge but the outgoings and time spent before reaping the rewards are large.


Weather is Settling – Time to Nurdle West

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Roaming Around Raroia ….. Apr/May 2016

23 Apr – 08 May 2016:  Several Stunning Spots in Raroia – 15 55N 142 20W

P4240021Beach-combing for the Kon-Tiki 
After a few restful days in the village anchorage on the atoll of Raroia in the turquoise waters of the Tuamotus we moved across to the eastern reef of the lagoon and spent our first night anchored off a teeny sand atoll with 2 coconut palms and a sandy beach, it was just gorgeous.  Next day we had Mezzaluna, L’avenir and Silent Sun coming to join us, and a beach bbq was planned.  This cute overgrown sandcastle had no wood so we did a big move 1 mile south and anchored off Kon-Tiki Island.
In 1947 Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl made this tiny motu famous when the Kon-Tiki, a hand built reed raft he had sailed about 4,000 miles across the Pacific ended its journey on the reef. P4240031 He was trying to prove that ancient mariners had possibly first arrived in these waters from South America.  So the Kon-Tiki craft crash landed on the reef, he and his crew survived,  waded across the reef to this teeny island, lit a fire to attract attention and were eventually rescued by surprised residents from the village 8miles across the lagoon.

Walkeling & Snorkelling
We were having an exceptional spell of fabulous weather, the convergence zone with cloudy skies and squalls was sitting further west so we had the perfect excuse to stay and play.Raroia North Anchorage We headed to the north of the lagoon and anchored in another picture postcard setting, tiny motus with towering coconut palms pebbled the inside of the reef, their white sandy shores a magnificent contrast to the ever changing shades of blue, just magic.
The reef walking here was superb, off one motu we felt like we had returned to the Galapagos with waves of molten lava butting up against each other fighting to reach the ocean.  The rock pools were bare of life except for some curious crabs, it felt like a deserted wasteland.
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The following day we dinghied ashore to the adjacent motu, not more than 100 metres from its neighbour.  P4300103We didn’t really expect to see anything different but a whole new underwater world appeared and we didn’t even have to get wet.  It was here skipper invented a new word, and the pastime of walkeling was born!  (trademark Balvenie pending!!!)

We walkeled in our reef shoes, wading in a foot of water out to where the reef meets the mighty ocean and found vast sunken pools full of fish and coral stranded there by the out going tide.  Baby black tip reef sharks cruised on by, all manner of brightly coloured tropical fish scattered to stay clear of the sharks, even eels darted from pool to pool, it was just fantastic, and such a novelty just standing looking down on it all and taking photos from above.
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A large coral garden not far from Balvenie provided an opportunity to don our flippers and masks and get acquainted with some colourful South Pacific beauties.  All the black and white ones were my favourites here, desperately need a South Pacific fish guide so we can start identifying them all.
Eventually our beachcombing and walkeling minibreak had to end and we moved back down to the village anchorage, we still had the pass to snorkel and the pearl farm to visit!  So much to do on such a small atoll.
Welcome to the South Pacific -Truly Feels Like We Are Cruising Again