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Sea kayaking in the Tuamotu lagoons
is simply beautiful, even with all the sharks. It
is a world of intimate awareness of the sea. The white
coral sand beaches, azure lagoons and green coconut
palms are the quintessential South Pacific landscape.
The rich shades of blue water provide a backdrop for
the vibrant tropical fish. “Paradise”
is a wimpy description.
Seventy-eight tiny islands, or “atolls”
make up the Tuamotu archipelago, which lies northeast
of Tahiti, about 4,000 miles from the nearest continent.
Atolls are rings of narrow coral reef forming a circle
of small islands, barely above sea level, with a lagoon
in the center. The lagoon usually has one or more
“passes” into the deeper ocean outside.
Strong currents make these passes potentially dangerous
Here southern trade winds blow consistently,
and large swells roll in from the southern ocean off
Antarctica. An early European explorer once called
the Tuamotus “The Dangerous Archipelago”
because of all the hazards for sailing vessels. Captain
Cook made the area famous by visiting a nearby neighbor
island group, the Society islands, whose principal
islands are Tahiti, Moorea and Bora-Bora. And Thor
Heyerdahl, on his well-known 1947 “Kon Tiki”
expedition, finally made landfall on the Tuamotus
after 101 days at sea on a balsa wood raft. It is
a wild and remote place to be traveling in a boat.
|© Peter McBride,
The largest Tuamotu island, Rangiroa,
is 40 miles long, 17 miles wide, and is the second
largest coral atoll in the world. While it is the
most developed island in the archipelago, it is still
a beautiful and peaceful place.
Rangiroa, or “Rangi,” as
the locals call it, was the first atoll we visited.
Giggling softly in my scuba regulator, I slowly zen-breathed
the sweet oxygen as I locked eyes with a grey reef
shark lazily swimming parallel to me a few feet away.
We stared at each other easily, respectfully, then
he drifted back into the group of 50 plus other sharks,
all pointed into the current. I watched wide-eyed
as they swam that charismatic shark way, their bodies
sculling slowly from side to side. A graceful shark
ballet. I felt only excitement, connection, wonder,
but no fear at all. We descended to the coral covered
sea floor, a world of wild colors. Schools of barracuda
circled in the hundreds. The 2- to 3-knot current
quickly took us on to other walls and caves. Our depth
reached 100 feet, my deepest dive. The surface appeared
like a sky far above.
Another dive was a drift through Tiputa
Pass, one of the top ten dive spots in the world.
The water here is 79 degrees year around. I watched
dolphins swimming by, circling up above us like sunbeams.
The dolphins lept into the air and splashed down,
back into our realm under the surface. Sea turtles
let us hang next to them as they swam or chomped on
coral. Spotted eagle rays winged by, each a bit smaller
then the solo manta ray that glided by minutes later.
I found myself slowly kicking in pace with a black-tipped
reef shark ten feet away, trading glances from different-looking
eyes, then playing with a free-swimming green moray
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