Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Saving the best of French Polynesia for last?

Just 20 miles west of Bora Bora is the beautiful island of Maupiti, our second to last stop in French Polynesia. Like Bora Bora, it has a beautiful mountainous island surrounded by a coral reef. What is missing are all the hotels, cruise ships and tourists.  We have been in French Polynesia for 3 months and been to many great places. What we found when we squeezed in through the narrow channel in the reef at Maupiti, however, was the prettiest island and the most amazing blue water.

There is a town, where we went ashore and met up with Chuck and Lauri from Free Spirit. The town has a church, a couple of stores and a school, all of which service the 1000 residents. We walked along the road to the best beach. It was tempting to pick the mangoes and bananas we saw growing all over the place, but they all belong to someone.

Dina waved down a passing truck, and the four of us hopped in the back and got a ride to the beach. As promised, the beach was beautiful. After a little picnic, we did the obligatory snorkeling which was pretty good. As the afternoon heat started to build it was time to head back to the boats and make some cold drinks. This time we got a ride part way into town in the back of another pickup. We walked along the shore to our dinghies and Malcolm took several photos of Good as Gold and Free Spirit anchored in the beautiful lagoon. Unfortunately, he forgot to clean the salt water off the lens from the snorkeling so none of the photos turned out.

Dina, Chuck and Lauri headed into town early the next morning, to avoid the heat of the day, with the intention of hiking to the top of the island. Malcolm made sure that Dina had a camera and the lens was clean. At some point, a walk becomes a hike and at another point a hike becomes a climb. Our guidebook was good to recommended the lovely beach, but the publishers need to fix the phrase "hike to the top" in their next edition. Almost the entire hike was hand over fist, and there were some fixed ropes to help people! Needless to say, they made it and the view was awesome. Thanks to Malcolm ensuring the camera lens was clean, Dina's photos are great! Chuck used his hand held VHF to call Malcolm from the top. With the binoculars, Malcolm could see them waving. Due to the treacherous terrain, the descent took longer than the climb. The three of them made it back safe but tired.

We were anchored by the town, which was good for beach excursions and little hikes, but we needed to be anchored out near the entrance channel for what was next.

Months ago, back in the Marquesas, we talked to a French cruiser who has been cruising around French Polynesia for several years. Dina took lots of notes and wrote his recommendations on the little charts in our guidebook. The main item that stuck with Malcolm was that the island of Maupiti has a healthy Manta Ray population and they are easy to find near the entrance channel.

So, after a bit of rest for the three climbers, both boats moved a mile south. Rumour has it that the manta rays hang out every morning near the channel marker 200 meters from where we anchored. By then it was 4 in the afternoon, so we planned to find the mantas the next day. In the meantime, we snorkeled to check the anchor. Of course the anchor was fine, so was the big (5' wing span) manta ray swimming near it! It was just a teaser for what the morning would bring.

Before breakfast, we jumped off the back of our boat and we didn't have to go far before we saw a manta, then a second one and we still weren't at "the spot". We watched these two mantas for a bit and then swam toward the channel marker. Sure enough, we saw several manta rays swimming about 20 feet down and several scuba divers resting on the bottom (about 10 feet below the mantas) watching them. At first it seemed odd to have the divers down there, but it really helped us see how big these mantas can be. All the mantas were over 4' across and some were over 6' across!

The mantas were all swimming against the current so they basically stayed around the one spot. They swim with their mouths opens and filter plankton and tiny creatures for food. We positioned ourselves above them and also swam against the current. During this swim, we saw up to 5 mantas at a time. They would "fly" around each other and try to get in good positions for feeding. Malcolm took lots of photos, but didn't have the camera ready when a manta did a back flip!

With huge manta rays in your backyard, a gorgeous mountain vista and crystal clear water surrounding your "home", it is hard to pull up the anchor to leave, but we know more awaits.