“Tahiti, Tahiti .. We are well fed here too!”
This is probably the first association that arises in the imagination of a person with Soviet childhood at the word Tahiti – a quote from a beautiful cat from the cartoon about Prostokvashino.
“By the way, have you been to Tahiti?” I have been to Tahiti, but only in transit. There was a transfer, and the final destination in French Polynesia was the island of Raiatea – the fourth largest island in the country, the mother of all islands, Hawaii-Fanaura-Fenua (Hawaii-cradle) – the cradle of Polynesian civilization.
At the beginning of this year, at the Moscow Dive Show, I finally got to know Sergei and Nina Sinitsyn personally and their project “Friendly Regatta”. The guys arrange sailing trips around the world, teach both adults and children to sail, arrange regattas and family camps. And even then they said that they had a trip to French Polynesia planned for October on catamarans, and it would be cool to integrate freediving into the program, taking an instructor with them.
Several months have passed, the thought that I want to go there never left my head, and finally I made up my mind, bought tickets and confirmed to the guys that I would go with them.
12 hours drive to Los Angeles, from there another 8 to Tahiti and a little over an hour by minibus plane to Raiatea with a landing on the way to Huahine Island. This is a very long and exhausting journey, and more than once I was convinced of the correctness of my decision to take a few days off in Los Angeles to rest, get used to the time and at the same time see the west coast of the States, where I had never been before.
At first glance, the island of Raiatea seemed to me very similar to the Filipino Camigin. Very green, volcanic, with a small mountain next to our home marina, where we rented catamarans. Marina looked very simple, if not poor. The catamarans that we got were of varying degrees of shabby, I ended up in the crew of the smallest (Catana 41) and the most “experienced” ship Albinoni in the company of Captain Mikhail, fellow travelers Misha and Venus, as well as the cockroach Anatoly and his brothers, sisters and children. This is so that you can imagine the level of luxury almost immediately 🙂
Our plans were to have time to visit 4 islands of the Leeward Islands archipelago – Raiatea, Tahaa, Bora Bora and Huahine. We never got to the last one, it was the most distant, and not everything went according to plan from the very beginning, when 9 people flying through Tokyo were delayed there for a day due to a postponed flight.
However, for most of the assembled company, the main purpose of the trip was the very island of Bora Bora. It is considered one of the most beautiful islands in the world, surrounded by an atoll with incredibly beautiful reefs, bungalow hotels located right above the azure clear water.
Bora Bora really turned out to be very beautiful. In addition to the above, the silhouette of the island itself amazed me – a very beautiful mountain, towering in the middle of the island, which we observed from different points of our camps, constantly attracted attention, demanded to photograph it and admire it!
Raiatea and Tahaa are called twins, although they are very different in relief and character.
Raiatea is a sacred island, the cradle of the Polynesian civilization, it is very neat and, having driven through it, it seems that this is all someone’s big manor – well-groomed, with bushes and trees planted along the roads. Tahaa is a vanilla island, vanilla is grown here, and this is the main business of this place. The island is much smaller than Raiatea, it looks like its satellite, rather a younger brother than a twin brother.
There are a lot of dive spots in French Polynesia. But all the islands actually occupy a fairly large territory, and if you come here for a limited amount of time, like one or two weeks, you can only have time to visit a few islands of one archipelago. Therefore, you will have to choose an archipelago and explore it.
The one that we visited has more than 15 famous dive sites, among which, in addition to beautiful reefs, there is a manta spot, a sunken ship, and underwater caves.
In fact, apart from the reefs themselves, the rest of the dive spots will be more interesting for divers than for freedivers. They are located at depths of more than 25 meters and are only suitable for fairly experienced freedivers. In addition, very often the visibility in such places (for example, at a manta spot) leaves much to be desired (in fact, that’s why mantas come there – there is something to eat). Since I did not have a sufficiently experienced partner in fries, we did not go to deep spots, but rather enjoyed the cleanest and warmest water on the reefs.
The underwater world of French Polynesia is rich and diverse, which, by the way, cannot be said about the fauna on the islands themselves. There are also reef sharks (at depths over 20 m), eagle rays, giant manta rays, and dolphins. And of course the whales. But, to my great regret, I could not see a single whale.
Whales come here from July to November to give birth to their young and feed them in the warm waters of the South Pacific. And French Polynesia is unique in that they come very close to the shores of the islands. The fact is that the natural enemies of whales – sharks and killer whales – do not come close to the shores, so it is safest to raise only newborn babies here.
Now I know that it is really not so easy to meet whales, which, it would seem, should be teeming with waters around any island in French Polynesia. In order to dive with whales, you need to go to Tahiti, and from there take a ferry to the small satellite island of Moorea. There, whales can indeed be found right off the coast, leaving the island on a sapa, for example. In addition, a wonderful couple lives on the island who are studying sharks, spreading knowledge about them among the local population, diving with sharks and whales in free mode. And here you can meet Guillaume Neri, who calls Moorea his second home and comes here just in the “whale” period.
If (or when) I’m going to get to the other side of the world again, I will go there and with one single purpose. Whales.
Summing up, I want to say the following. If you suddenly dreamed of visiting Bora Bora, and in your head there was a picture of ideal water, a bungalow above it, that’s all, then you can safely go to the Maldives and get it all there (they say that nothing is worse, or even better , plus it is much closer and cheaper to fly). Polynesia is beautiful, but it really is very far from us, and it is not at all a fact that you will get complete delight from what you see. It is cool here to realize that you are on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, there is no big land hundreds of kilometers from the archipelagos, you are on an atoll (which is doubly cool) and it is very, very beautiful here. But the service, to be honest, leaves much to be desired, almost everything on the islands except local fruits (there are almost no vegetables) is very expensive, there are no unique plants (except for the tiare flower) and animals here.
If you want to swim and dive with whales – yes, you are here. You just need to clearly understand that if you want whales, you will have to devote your trip to meeting them, and then success awaits you. Combining “hanging out on Bora Bora”, diving at different spots and finding whales will most likely not work, unless you come here for a month or more.
There is one general conclusion – French Polynesia is beautiful, you have to come back here and you just have to figure out how and when to do it.