This was our second time in Raiatea, the first being last October. But it was raining for most of that day, so we focused mostly on Mike’s diving excursion. Today, however, we walked around the little town of Uturoa and followed the ocean boardwalk and pathway for a while. The views were lovely. Mike went diving in the afternoon, and he saw several black tip reef sharks, possibly some of the same ones he saw at the same dive spot six months ago.
The visibility was good and the dive site, known as Mira Mira by the locals, is pretty colorful, with a good variety of sea life, but the reef sharks are the stars of the area. The last time Mike was there he was surprised when he saw two of them swimming near him as soon as he put his mask in the water. This dive was pretty similar. They were there for most of the dive, circling around the divers. At one point, early in the dive, the dive guide was pointing out a white tip reef shark sitting at the bottom between rocks, as they often do, when he pointed over Mike’s shoulder. When Mike turned to look, one of the black tip reef sharks was passing a few inches from his head. It startled him for an instant before he saw that it was just an old friend.
As is common with these volcanic atolls, there is a reef a distance off the mainland, which juts close to or above the surface. That is true with the Mira Mira dive site. As the dive master said he might do before the dive, he led Mike close to the point where the waves were breaking and they floated a few feet below the surface and enjoyed the sensation of the wave surge. Then they returned to deeper water and the sharks before finishing the dive.
A few thoughts about sharks: they do bite people from time to time and occasionally even kill people, but it is a rare occurrence. Far more people are killed by falling coconuts each year than sharks. When scuba diving, especially in the South Pacific, there is a lot of discussion about sharks, but it nearly always focuses on where one can find them and how to get close to them. In a recent dive in Sydney, Australia, Mike was listening to a dive guide’s pre-dive briefing to a group of divers about lemon sharks. Lemon sharks can grow to 11 feet in length, and a few unprovoked bites to humans by them have been recorded. Australia is known as one of the more common areas of the world for shark bites. When the guide spoke about the possibility of seeing lemon sharks on the dive, his face and voice became very serious and he tried to catch each of the diver’s eyes to make sure they were paying close attention. His next words were, “If you see one, approach it slowly. If you rush toward it, you will scare it away.” Mike smiled, and thought that these were statements one would hear said only to divers.
Raiatea means “faraway heaven” and “sky with soft light,” and they seemed to have nailed the name! It is the second-largest island in French Polynesia after Tahiti, and seems to have been the jumping-off spot for early explorations to New Zealand and Hawaii. We looked for, but did not see, the strange, rare, local flower that grows only on this island – tiare apetahi. Google it – it looks like it forgot to finish growing, as it has five petals forming a half-circle. When it opens each day at dawn, it is with a slight crackling sound.
The biggest revenue on Raiatea comes from the production of Tahitian vanilla, which is supported by a local research facility. Coconuts and pineapples are also grown, of course, and pearl farming provides income to the locals. The island, indeed, proved itself to be a faraway heaven, with glorious water and deep blue sky. It was a delight for our senses in all ways.
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