French Polynesia – Makatea and Rangiroa- December 2-3, 2014
The first pictures are of Makatea which is a coral uplift and rich with phosphate which was mined extensively. There are a lot of old rusted parts to mining equipment on the island. The picture of the pearl culture expert and the speared coconut high in the air (a game) are from our walks in Rangiora.
Rangiora atoll is the second largest atoll in the world—so big you cannot see across once you are inside the lagoon. We anchored for the first time in days. Up until now when we went ashore, the captain kept the boat in place with motor & bow thruster because it was too deep outside the other atolls to anchor. But, now inside the lagoon it is beautiful and calm with extremely clear water. We took zodiacs to one part of the island where there is a school, church and a few homes. A very sleepy town with only a few residents, who, we surmised, must work at local resorts. Alan and I walked through the neighborhoods admiring flower gardens, an occasional satellite disk, and some outrigger canoes for racing. We also admired people playing a spear coconut game where contestants throw spears into a coconut that is placed high in the air on a pole. Hot after our walk, we plunged into the water alongside the cut coming into the lagoon where currents ran strong. The afternoon we drove to another pearl farm learning a few new things about the pearl farming on this island. They are sometimes able to keep the oysters producing pearls after three seedings. They keep their oysters in the water longer for 3+ years, and the colors are more variable. Snorkeling around the interior island here is primo with clear water, beautiful reefs and lots of fish, big and small.
Makatea Island was very different. Once a phosphate mining operation from 1917 to 1964 there are still lots of signs of the mining operations: rusted rail lines, trains, gears and other rusted equipment. This is an uplifted coral island one of only two in the south Pacific. About 70 people still live on the island in fairly nice homes. The school was small but we sat outside and listened to the children sing. As in Mexican schools art and music is a very important part of their curriculum. The dominant language is French. However, most residents speak their Polynesian language to each other.
The highlight of this island was a walk—a very long, hot 6-mile (10 Km) walk in blazing sunshine to a Grotto where we could swim. I called the walk the “death march,” but once at the grotto, there was no way I was going to miss this very steep climb (hand under hand and backward) into the dark cavern to luxuriate in the fresh cool water. We climbed backwards over very steep rocks down into the cavern and then plunged into this beautiful deep cool water. Pretty close to heaven after the long hot hike to the grotto! Fortunately, we loaded into the flatbeds of local trucks to get back to the landing for the ship.