Rangiroa, Tuamotu Archipelago
Early on January 22 the Amsterdam “shot the hole” into the lagoon of Rangiroa. Actually, it was a little too early, since we had gotten up early to watch this operation, but the Captain betrayed us by getting there a half hour before he had told us we would arrive. So we felt the ship rocking while still washing sleep out of our eyes and missed it by about 5 minutes.
Rangiroa is an atoll, one of the biggest in the Pacific. It is a sort of circular line of closely spaced, long & skinny coral islands more than 200 kilometers in circumference. The center is all water & it is big enough to hold Tahiti inside. A lagoon is the relatively calm water protected from the ocean turbulence by a reef. the “hole” is a narrow pass between islands and the one we “shot” has constant surf coming in from the ocean side. It is full of fish, with a strong current toward the lagoon, and dolphins are often seen playing in a ship’s wake when entering the lagoon. Indeed, we heard from others that there were dolphins the day we were there. But we were too late for pictures.
Coral atolls are created when a volcanic island erodes away beneath sea level leaving only its surrounding coral reef above ground. Charles Darwin was the first to realize this & he was berated for this theory for many years (it seems there is always somebody ready to berate Charles Darwin). Many people of a certain age who hear “atoll” think of Bikini Atoll where the Americans tested nuclear weapons in the 1950’s. Actually, a couple of atolls at the other end of the Tuamotus were the sites of French nuclear tests well into the 1990’s. But that’s another story. The current danger to low-lying islands like this is the rise in ocean level that may result from climate change. You can see from the picture above that it would not take too many feet of rise in ocean level before this island would sink under the waves. This is a major concern that was highlighted at the recent climate summit.
We had been scheduled to anchor on the left side of the “hole” (called the Tiputa Pass) in the 1st picture above and tender to the island that contains Avatoru, the biggest town in Rangiroa. But it turned out that spot had been given to an Oceana ship doing a world cruise, so we anchored off the island on the right side of the pass and tendered to the village there called Tiputa (which you can see in the 2d picture above). We thought that was actually better, since there is at least a little village on that side, whereas Avatoru would have been several miles away on the other island.
So by now you may be thinking: all right it’s a big ocean with lots of water, but where is the sea life? Well, in the morning Rick went on a snorkeling trip to an area called “the aquarium,” not because it is enclosed by glass (it isn’t) but because it is teeming with colorful fish. It is located near what looks like a sandbar called Motu Nuhi Nuhi that is a little way inside the Tiputa Pass. We went out on a small but covered boat, donned our snorkeling gear & climbed down a ladder into the water. Swimming fins were not provided, ostensibly to protect the coral from damage, but since the coral was on the bottom about 20 feet down there was little danger of that (we were surface snorkeling, not diving).
As advertised there were LOTS of colorful fish. I can’t tell you what their names are, but they were great fun to see and swim with. They came quite close, completely unafraid, though I never noticed any of them touching me.
I could see various kinds of coral on the bottom. And there were also sharks down there! They were Black Tipped Sharks (I think that’s the name), which are supposed to be harmless to people. But still . . . kind of creepy to be in the water with sharks. I couldn’t get a good picture of one, unfortunately, because they were too far away & I didn’t have enough control of my position without fins, but here’s what evidence I have.
We sailed back to the tender pier, where Rick took the tender back to the ship to change clothes. On the way a cell phone began ringing & our guide/pilot (whose name I have forgotten) took his phone out of a box on the ceiling of the boat & conversed in French. He told us it was “mama,” & apparently she wanted to know where he was. He was very good, helping people into & out of the water & towing a large orange float for those who got tired with no place to stand up. I swallowed a lot of salt water but had a great time.
In early afternoon we tendered back to shore in the little village of Tiputa, the second largest village in Rangiroa with a population somewhere below 1,000. They probably don’t get many cruise ships coming to their village since most ships seem to go to the other side of the Tiputa Pass. There were a number of handicraft and drink stands around the dock area and a group of Rangiroans was playing & singing in the shade as you exited the tender. Their music was very sweet sounding.
We walked through the village, which really didn’t have many notable buildings. There was, of course, a church, one of the few buildings notable from the ship. And we saw the city hall, which had a decoration on the top of its garden walls that looked like a caterpillar. Later we came across a cemetery, with a lot of flowers on the stone covered graves. Many of the grave stones had photographs of the people buried there.
We walked out to the ocean (not a long walk as the island is quite narrow). There were sand beaches with a lot of coral and crashing surf. We were warned not to walk into the water here without sandals or shoes with good soles, because the coral is sharp and hard and can do a lot of damage to your feet.
We walked back toward the lagoon. The atoll is small but quite lush, with lots of palms and other trees. One tree had fruit that looked like a ball of twine (or maybe worms). Another was the Noni tree, whose fruit is said to have miraculous healing powers. Of course, this is a tropical island so there were plenty of beautiful flowers.
We walked out along the shore toward the Tiputa pass. We saw many people swimming, especially local children. We were given lemonade on the tender pier then returned to the ship. When the ship left we went up on the aft deck to take another shot at seeing the dolphins, but no luck. However, the shore looked nice in the setting sunlight & we watched the Oceana ship shoot the hole behind us as we sailed away.
As we sail off toward the Society Islands we will leave you with (of course) some towel animals.