12/15: Arrived in a light rain. We were met by the Tahiti Nui people, who gave us our vouchers for the trip. Our flight to Moorea was delayed about 45 minutes while waiting for now-powerful rain to let up. We finally left for Moorea. Not sure they ever retracted the gear. From the time we left the runway in Papeete until we set down in Moorea was 6 minutes. This has to be one of the shortest commercial flights in existence.
We got a beach bungalow, even though we only paid for a garden bungalow. The room was nice, but far from new. No air conditioning despite high humidity and hot temperatures. We snorkeled in the rain a bit. The water was amazingly clear, even in the rain. The entire bay that the hotel sits in has a fringing reef about 200 yards out. So, the water is always calm.
After a couple of meals, we knew that the days of traveling cheaply and eating for nearly nothing were long gone. Tahiti is pretty expensive in general. Additionally, many places are secluded so that you do not have many options about where to eat, etc.
12/16: Another rainy morning. Rented a teeny weenie car (a.k.a., a "spec") for the morning. Drove around the entire island. Not counting a stop for lunch and shopping, the entire drive took less than an hour. We saw some waterfalls as we neared our hotel. We stopped to look at Tahitian black pearls. The prices did not seem good at all (we saw better prices in Papeete). The prices at home seemed better to us.
Did some snorkeling in the waters just outside our bungalow. There's something really nice about walking out of your bungalow and straight into the water :) There were many different species of fish in the water. Some highlights: 2-3 species of triggers, parrot fish, puffers, box fish, angel fish, and too many others to list (or know).
12/17: Raining again. Sensing a trend? We've learned that December is the rainy season in Tahiti. However, the guy at the dive shop told us that in his 6 years there, he has never seen it rain for so many days in a row. Must just be our weather luck!!
We went on a single-tank dive in the morning. The rain was pounding as we headed out in the boat. Everything got much better when we entered the water. The visibility had to be close to 150 feet. It basically could not be measured. Dawn described the water as being like glass. At 70 feet on a cloudy day it felt like we were snorkeling in 10 feet of water. It was beautiful!! The highlight of the dive was a moray eel outside of its hole. The guide went towards the eel, which took off swimming for its hole. It's kind of rare to see eels swimming freely unless they are being fed. It's scary how fast they are. There was a moment of surprise when we surfaced into the rain. It was so peaceful under the water that we forgot about the bad weather.
The sun came out in the afternoon. We lounged in the infinite pool for a while and did a bit more snorkeling. We also took a canoe out into the bay. It was like snorkeling without getting wet. The water was so clear that we could see the fish as plain as if we were diving. On the way out to the reef edge we spotted a large stingray floating along. We followed it for a while, but then it left us. We also spotted a sand-colored small eel. We were happy to see the eel from the boat and not from the water.
12/18: On to Bora Bora this morning. It was actually not raining. Hurray!!! Bora Bora was amazing, even from the air. The entire island has a fringing set of islands of sorts. The fringe has many different colors around it, then there's deep blue water in the middle, and finally more shades of blue near the main island. After a shuttle boat ride to the main dock, we were taken to our hotel by shuttle bus. The room here was nicer, with tiled floors and AC. Unfortunately, no upgrade from garden bungalow here.
Ate lunch at the hotel. Our table was right next to the water. The fish ate almost as well as we did. We started quite a few feeding frenzies during our meal. Snorkeling was not as good. The water looked clear from above, but was a bit cloudy below the surface. We did see an eagle ray swim by, which was really cool. Walked to some random place for dinner. We were getting tired of $50 dinners at the hotel. During dinner a small puppy came around begging. He was adorable. Between us and the table next door, the puppy ate pretty well that night.
12/19: Departed on a 2-tank dive in the morning. The first dive was at a manta ray site. Unfortunately, the water was very cloudy. We saw 3 rays, but not very well. We also saw a rather large black-tipped reef shark swim by. He was there and then he was gone into the haze. The second dive was a lot clearer, but did not have as many exciting animals. We did see several clown fish in anemones, which was nice. We realized after the dive that the flash on our underwater camera gave out sometime during the day. So, the underwater pictures from this point on are not as colorful.
Went deep-sea fishing in the afternoon. The boat was barely large enough for the captain and the two of us. The game was chasing birds around, trying to get into the feeding frenzies. We saw a few tuna, but mostly we encountered bonito. They put up some fight, but not a lot. We probably caught about 10 bonito. Don also caught a barracuda. Lots o' teeth!!
We walked towards a pizza joint for dinner, but it was closed. We decided to walk on to a place called Bloody Mary's. Our friends Paul and Susan spoke highly of it. The place was apparently close for reconstruction until this day. We walked for about an hour. After we arrived, quite sweaty from the humidity, we remembered someone telling us that it was 6-7km from our hotel. We later learned that they will pick you up for free, so walking was unnecessary. Oops. The restaurant was nice. The floor was sand and the theme was very tropical. They even had a wall of cubby holes to put your shoes in. Don shed his quickly, on principle. Before you sit down, they take you to a table of sorts with many types of fresh fish on it. They tell you what each item is and what it will cost. You then tell them what you want and go sit down. No menus except for desert. Wonderful concept. While we were ordering, a guy we met while diving came by to chat with us. He told about how he sat next to Natasha Kinski on the ride to the restaurant. Don thinks she smiled at him while we waited at the bar, but it's questionable at best!! They sat us right next to her. We're not really sure it was her, but it certainly could have be. Our dive guide told us earlier that he sat next to Wesley Snipes on the flight in. The meal was wonderful. The local ice cream was even better!
12/20: Off to Manihi today. We had to stop in Rangiroa on the way to switch planes. The weather was not good at all, and our landing was a bit dicey. The plane we will take finally arrived about 15 minutes late. About the time we were ready to leave, the sky opened up. After another 15 minutes, they offloaded the people who came on the plane from Papeete. About 20 minutes later they told us that they could not fly all of us to Manihi (about 30 minutes away) because the plane would be too heavy in the rain. The people from Papeete got to go first and the rest of us waited for the plane to come back. So, the 10 or so from Papeete left and we just hung out. We did play some form of cards with a little local girl. She really enjoyed it. The plane finally returned 90 minutes later. Then they told us they had to refuel the plane. About 40 minutes later, and around 4 hours after the scheduled time, we finally left.
Manihi is a medium size atoll pretty far away from the main islands. It's basically a ring of land around a central body of water. There's one main passageway into the atoll. Outside the atoll is deep blue, dropping of to thousands of feet in a hurry. The airstrip seems to barely fit on the land. The airport must be one of the smallest commercial airports in the world. It's just a hut with a couple of benches. The Pearl Beach resort is the only resort on Manihi. We're met by some people with a golf cart. They take us to the resort and bring our luggage later.
This resort is the best by far. It's just great everywhere we turn. It has its own lagoon with small islands. There are many fish in the lagoon, including at least 5 sharks that we saw (actually saw the 4 larger ones all at one time). There are hammocks in some of the trees. Our room is far beyond the others also, even though there is no AC. The room itself is clean and simple. It's the bathroom that wins awards. You step down into the bathroom, which has a stone floor. The shower is totally open (i.e., no walls). There's a door from the outside, so you can shower off without going through the room. The back part of the bathroom contains plants up against a tall wall. There's no roof over this back section. That usually would mean sun could flow in, but it sadly meant our plants would be watered well during our stay. This is just a great bathroom!! One day, we encountered a crab walking around in our shower. After we got him out of there, he wandered around the rest of the room until he finally crawled out under the door.
12/21: Went diving in the morning. Weather is terrible. It seems that we have caught up to the same storm that originally delayed us into Tahiti and dampened our stay at Moorea. The dive site this morning is just outside the passageway. We dive into the shallows at first and the visibility is very good (about 100 feet). From there, we go over a wall and head into the passage. The tide is going out and we're looking for any large animals feeding on the smaller ones in the current. Since the current is so strong, we cannot swim. Instead, we deflate our BCs and pull ourselves along the bottom using the dead coral as hand grabs. Unfortunately, we do not see much in the way of large animals. The visibility is bad because of the current, but this was expected. Despite the vis, it was an interesting dive. We decide immediately to make the afternoon dive also.
The afternoon dive was quite eventful. This dive was inside the passage, but in the current. Visibility was not very good, but we could probably see 30 feet or so. This was scheduled to be a shark dive, and it did not take long. The guide brought down a small metal cage with a fish carcass in it. We sat at about 70 feet watching the sharks try to get into the cage. Many other fish appeared, including several large triggers, the biggest we had seen. They were a bit scary just because they have teeth that are always out. They use the teeth to eat coral, so a finger would be easy prey. After 10 minutes or so, we headed out to explore a bit. When we returned to the cage, the fish was out and there were moray eels seemingly everywhere. There were at least 6 of them in the area around the case. We saw some of them swimming freely. These eels were absolutely huge. The biggest was probably 8 feet long with a head 14-18 inches in diameter. This is a scary creature, especially when we watched him thrash around eating the fish carcass. We later learned that the videographer on the dive had taken the fish out of the cage so he could film the eels. We bought the video, which shows us diving and most of the interesting things we saw, including the sharks and eels. We ended the day watching Mrs. Doubtfire while the rain poured.
12/22: Another dive trip in the morning. This dive was outside the atoll, and it also started with shark feeding. Most of these sharks were gray sharks, which are bigger than the reef sharks from the prior day. They must be a little more dangerous too because the guides put us in specific places behind some coral to watch the feeding. The prior day they were not as concerned. The sharks were definitely braver and often swam within 2 feet of our heads. There were probably a dozen or so in the water. They did not look very dangerous as their mouths seemed pretty small. This view changed as soon as the guide gave a fish to one of them. The mouth grew very large and the shark took in the fish that was about the size of our head (even Don's oversized noggin).
The feeding lasted about 10 minutes and was done in only 15 feet of clear water. Then we went over the wall and descended to about 70 feet. We cruised left along the wall, with nothing but deep blue to our right. The site of deep blue is always majestic yet unnerving. Just about anything could come out of there!! Our guide led us away from the wall and into the abyss. It was neat. There was nothing below us nor around us to give any sense of depth or direction. We flipped upside down a bit and just floated about. Sort of like being in space. We looked back towards the wall and saw the other dive group from our boat moving along the wall. It was a great site. They were moving in a horizontal line, with their air bubbles slowly floating above and behind them. You don't often get to see divers from 70-80 feet away and see their bubbles. This is a picture we would love to have.
We spent the afternoon in the pool during a rain storm and watching Ghost in the movie room. They only had 5 English movies. We suppose that there are usually better things to do than watch movies. We did not dive this afternoon because we are flying the next day. In the evening, we got to watch our dive video, which we quickly agreed to buy. We have never before had the opportunity to buy such a video, so we figured we should take it.
12/23: We set our bags out at 6:30am for pickup. All check-in is done by the hotel (since there's no airline presence on the island) so they take the bags early. The sun finally comes out. Imagine that!!!! Dawn was laying in the sun by 6:00am. Do you think she is thirsting for sun??
We got into Papeete about 11:00am. This was bad because our flight home is not until 1:45am. We were on the only flight from Manihi. Fourteen hours is a bit long to hang out at the airport. So, we checked our bags into this baggage check area. It's a nice setup. You can check in your bags after any domestic flight. The facility opens up two hours before all international flights. So, you can pick your bags up at midnight if necessary.
We rented a car and went shopping for souvenirs and such. We then headed to the Paul Gauguin museum. It was interesting, but not fantastic. Would you believe that it is pouring down rain again. We had heard rumors a few days before about a cyclone (i.e., hurricane in the southern hemisphere) coming to Papeete. We continued around the island, stopping in one spot to watch some blowholes and explore some waterfalls. About 20km from Papeete, traffic stopped. After a 45 minute or so wait, we got to see the problem. The rain had caused a tree to slide off the hill and onto the road, knocking down some power/phone lines.
Once back in Papeete, we had a long dinner to kill some time. Then back to the airport. We were pretty tired by this time (about 9:00pm). We tried to sleep in the car. Dawn did quite well at it, but Don did not. So, Don wandered around the airport until check-in started. We picked up our bags, checked in, and headed for the business class lounge (the only way to travel this much). It was still only about 11:00, so there was plenty of time to wait. The inbound plane was scheduled in early, so everything looked good. So, we took advantage of the free beers to celebrate our trip.
12/24: About 30 minutes later, people started flocking around the windows watching emergency vehicles go down the runway. Another 30 minutes later, buses started pulling up to the terminal with people in them ... people wearing life jackets. After many rumors, we finally learned that a Hawaiian Airlines flight from Honolulu slid off the end of the runway, putting it's nose into the water (article). The passengers and crew all slid to safety from the forward doors. The plane was sitting at the end of the runway. Don saw the crew in the lobby and they were all wet; many did not have shoes on. Almost everyone was wearing a lifejacket. It seemed we might be stuck for several days while they figured out what to do. One guy who works at the airport said he thought it would take 8-9 days. Our plane, coming in from Auckland, was diverted to Rarotonga. Normally, being stuck in Tahiti on someone else's nickel would be a good thing, but it was Christmas Eve, it was going to rain for the foreseeable future, and we had now been gone for exactly 12 weeks. We were ready to get home. At 2:00am, they announced that our flight would land at 6:00 and we would leave at 7:00. You've never seen people so happy to sleep in the airport. We crashed on the floor. All couches in the lobby were full of sleeping people.
We finally left the gate about 7:45 the next morning. All plans to do Christmas shopping on the way home were gone, but that's OK. We were just happy to be going. Our plane had to take off with the wind so that we did not take off over the stranded plane. This abnormal procedure required a bunch of extra calculations and such. We taxied towards the plane and turned around. During the turn, we could see the plane. The tail was stuck in the air. The back wheels appeared to be about 10 feet from going into the water also. It was very close. A flight attendant told us that someone on the ground crew told him about three options for the plane's future. 1) Drag it out and hope things don't break too bad; 2) Get a crane and barge to lift it (in case you don't have a map, Tahiti is pretty far from everywhere, so cranes may not be very available); 3) Blow the back off and push the plane into the water. Maybe we'll go back and dive the plane wreck someday!!
After clearing customs, we were met by our mothers, with lovely painted signs and all. We were very happy to be home and with family. Simon (our dog) did not recognize us at first, but he quickly remembered who we were. For several weeks, he was pretty wary every time we left. We think he thought we were going to leave him for a long time again. Poor guy!!
Some summary info on Tahiti: As mentioned before, Tahiti is expensive. Everything costs more than it should and there's rarely any alternative. The place is gorgeous, so it may be worth it. Something in the Caribbean might be a better option, but we have not been there much to really know. Mexico would certainly be cheaper. A Swiss couple we met in Manihi told us they spent more in two weeks in Manihi than they did in the prior 12 weeks split between Vietnam and New Zealand.
Bone up on your French. We had our greatest difficulty communicating while in Tahiti. This is funny considering everywhere we went. The greeters at the hotels spoke English, but it got dicey after that.
Be careful with travel times. We booked a package and did not look into the travel times at all. As it turns out, the inter-island flights tend to be in the middle of the day. So, they take your bags at 8:00, the flight is at 10:00, and you arrive at 12:00. If any delays occur, and they seem too more often than not, your day can be shot. Either write off the travel days when you plan or visit fewer island so you do not lose days.
Don't go in December!!!! And maybe not November or the months right after December. It rained all but two days we were there. If we had not pre-paid for the package, we probably would have left a few days early. The rain was depressing. Despite the weather, it was a very beautiful place and we had fun diving and exploring.