Monday, June 10, 2013

PERSONAL: Journey to Polynesia

As a second blog post, I would like to tell you about French Polynesia, where I made my best dive ever. It was about a year ago, I wasn't a proffesional diver yet. My father and I went on holiday to Polynesia, mostly to dive. Polynesia is a big group of islands in the South Pacific. It is a long, horrible way to get there, but the rewards once you get there are amazing. Unfortunately, it is French territory, so people speak only French and Polynesian. And about ninety percent of the tourism is French. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against French people, but they speak no other language than their own, making it hard to communicate with locals and fellow travelers. Polynesia consists of five groups of islands: The Marquesas, The Society Islands, The Tuamotu Archipelago, The Gambier Islands and the Austral Islands. On our journey we visited several islands in the Society group and in the Tuamotus. The Society islands are mostly big, volcanic islands. The Tuamotus are made up of hundreds of atolls, big and small ones. The islands we visited were: Raiatea, Bora Bora (most of you will know Bora Bora, considered by many the most beautiful island in the world), Tikehau, Rangiroa, Fakarava and Tahiti (the biggest and main island).

Polynesia: ever so dreamy.

RAIATEA is the seconds biggest island of the Society group close to the main island of Tahiti. Raiatea shares the same lagoon with her sister island of Tahaa; the vanilla island. Raiatea is often referred as the 'mystical island', because people believe the island swarms with ghosts. Diving here is very versatile. And deep. Like most Polynesian dives, they go very deep. This requires at least an advanced certification in my opinion. In the waters of Raiatea is something very special going on. Between Tahaa and Raiatea is an underwater cave, in the lagoon. The dive shop we dove with, Hemisphere Sub, usually doesn't dive there with tourists. So it was really exciting to dive there! It was going to be my first cave dive. It is also a real cave, not just a cavern. It is not a complex cave, just one big chamber. The cave has a maximum of 70 meters. We only went to 50 meters. That day I discovered I'm a big fan of cave diving and I would like to specialize in that area one day. The darkness and quietness is something that appeals to me in cave diving. It's amazing to be perfectly buoyant, floating through the cave seeing only the lights of your buddies. Amazing.

BORA BORA is supposed to be one of the most beautiful islands in the world. To tell you the truth, I didn't see it. We stayed on the main island of Bora Bora. In the lagoon are several motu's (little islands) filled with incredibly expensive luxury resorts. That's why Bora Bora is a popular destination for many celebrities and disgustingly rich people. The main island is just boring. You can definitely notice more tourism, also a lot of Americans. There is a lot of garbage and street dogs. And there is supposed to be this one very famous, beautiful beach, but we just couldn't find it, I think because it wasn't there. Ok, maybe I sound spoiled but I was disappointed about Bora Bora, because everybody said it's number one in everything. The mountain and the lagoon are impressive, but that's it. The island looks nice from the air, but unfortunately not down there. We didn't dive on Bora Bora.

View on Bora Bora from Raiatea.

TIKEHAU was an absolute haven of tranquility. Almost no tourism and no big hotels. We stayed in a small pension that held up to twelve guests. The dive shop was beside the pension. Tikehau is an atoll in the Tuamotus, so it is not a  big island where you could drive around, but only small motu's at the edge of a massive lagoon. Here I made my deepest dive till now! It was on air, a single-tank dive to 208 feet (63,4 meters). This is also where my blog title comes from. I have a very deep fascination for deep diving. One of my dreams is to go to a hundred meters (330 feet). But after I made the deep dive in Tikehau, when I became a Dive Master, I realized that what I did was irresponsible and stupid. But more importantly, very stupid from my instructor that time. She went even deeper and I don't think she noticed I was in narcosis. Next time I go that deep, or even deeper, I need the proper training, use the proper equipment and go with an experienced buddy. One of these days I'll be writing a post about technical diving. 

Sharks! The seas of Polynesia are filled with sharks. Not one, not two, but sometimes hundred of sharks you are able to encounter on one dive. As a big fan of sharks, I love this. 

RANGIROA, an island I fell in love with. Not necessarilly above water, but under water it is simply amazing. The most dives we did there were in the Tiputa Pass. Like the name says, it's a canal, or a pass where water from the ocean flows into the lagoon. The lagoon is the second biggest in the world and the pass is relatively small, making the incoming current very, very strong. First, we made a couple of dives outside the pass with outcoming current. I was surprised in the wonderful state the coral was, the abundance of small and big fish and the visibility. The Tiputa pass is famous for her dolphins. On one dive we saw two dolphins swimming next to each other. Beautiful. Of course the many sharks, manta rays and eagle rays are a feast for the eye. On occasion there is a possibility to see Great Hammerhead sharks and in the other pass, the Avatoru Pass, there will be Silvertip sharks.  
The day I did the dive with incoming current, I was a little nervous. It was going to be a deep dive and when I saw the current at the surface, it was definitely strong. We were dropped of in the big blue. When all divers were ready to enter the water, the captain counted to three and on three we were all supposed to make a roll-back from the boat.  Because the current was already strong, this method prevented us from drifting away from each other. Once in the water, we were told to descend immediately. Once you do this, the first seconds you will lose your orientation. You are upside down, descending into a blue world, not being able to see the bottom of the ocean. After a few seconds I located the instructor and I gave him the okay sign. We went down to about 150ft/45m. Down at that depth we saw amazing things! Dozens of sharks, schools of barracudas, three manta rays and two eagle rays gracefully swimming next to each other. We were drifting with a mellow pace towards the pass. Once we were actually inside the pass, the current started pushing us inside the lagoon faster. I think this is the closest humans can come to flying. When skydiving you're just falling and not many of us have the opportunity to go to space! It was amazing to fly at speed through the water and not as scary as I first thought. When we surfaced I litteraly couldn't get the grin off my face.

A Dolphin over the Tiputa Pass.

FAKARAVA is a very quiet atoll close to Rangiroa. Diving here is amazing, just like anywhere in Polynesia. Here we dove in two passes. The one closest to the dive shop was not as excited as the Tiputa Pass and sometimes the current got a little scary. On a day-trip to the Tetemanu Pass at the other side of the lagoon, we saw hundreds of sharks! Crystal clear water, and a hundred sharks passing, that was a good day. The boat trip took about five hours but it was worth it.

TAHITI is the biggest island of Polynesia. We stayed close to the capital of Papeete, which is a nice city. Papeete knows already a lot of tourism. Along with Moorea and Bora Bora they are the most popular destinations under Americans. We made one dive in Tahiti. It was a beautiful wall, and of course, a deep dive. Sometimes, there is a possibility to spot whales. After the dive we made a trip to the tropical rainforests  and I was surprised how beautiful it was. No tourists come here, so there is no garbage, big hotels and herds of people. Only huge mountains, rivers and waterfalls. Absolutely stunning. 

I learned a lot from my trip to Polynesia. The local people respect the ocean, in fact, it is everything they have. It is their source of life. As a traveler we have to learn to appreciate that. Especially as divers, we are every day in, or on, the ocean. As a diver, it is important to learn to respect the ocean. She is big and  unforgiving. And if we keep destroying our oceans the way we do, the people of Polynesia may not have a place to live in ten years. This is why I like to spend a moment after every post to write about ecological traveling or sustainable diving, if appropriate. 

Photo copyrights:
Dreamy Polynesia - Bert J.
Bora Bora - me
Sharks - Bert J.
Flying Dolphin - Bert J.
Tahitian inlands - me

No comments:

Post a Comment