Well, despite the weather being crappy we made the most of our holiday and tried to get into the water every day. And we pretty quickly learned that the guide-book we bought at the airport was pretty much 50/50 on accuracy. Big chunks of the reef in Rarotonga are over-fished and pretty sparse on the wildlife front.
Fortunately there is a ra’ui (“marine reserve”) on some parts of the island, and the fish life was beter there. Just in front of our resort for example! The other ra’ui was on a part of the reef called Black Rock, and I’m thinking that it’s not observed very closely… That or it’s very new.
So that was the snorkling. And it was in point of fact a lot of fun. I saw more fish that I can remember, and they’re all pretty tame on account of the resort feeding them baguettes every day. They also have one surviving giant clam, which is impressive. There were more, but they were killed by tourists (seriously, what the fck are these people like!). The photos here are all lifted off the web.
The highlights of the inner reef are to the right. There were some pretty trippy looking critters in there, and you can hover the individual pic to get the name of the fish.
As I say, the weather on the first couple of days was atrocious. The waves breaking on the reef must have been 4 or 5m high, and the wind was very strong. Consequently my first dive, to see how the old heart reacted to being under all that pressure, was… not so good. The visibility was approximately what it is here in Wellington. Which was great for here, but crappy for there. The trainee dive master on the trip even said that it was “the worst ever”. And we didn’t really get to see all that much. The lionfish in the location was hiding in a rock, so all I got to see was it’s backside, and we happened to bump into a turtle.
So I stayed on land, and/or snorkelled for a few days, and almost didn’t go out again at all.
This means we got to see all the usual critters, like the Moorish Idol to the right here. And like butterflyfish. Dozens of types. The Cook Islanders have the right idea, and just call them Taputapu. Westerners have to get all Victorian though and name every singe variety. Which is crazy, because they’re basically the same fish with a few different spots!
By the 4th day of wind I was thinking that it just wasn’t going to happen. But, under gentle encouragement from Second Chef I signed up for a double-dive the day before we flew out. And, it wasn’t too bad!
The first thing I noticed was the colour of the water. Here in New Zealand the ocean is a dark jade-green. But in Rarotonga it’s blue like the background in the photo to the right. At first I thought it was a trick of the light, but the water really is deeply, deeply blue. And the visibility is so great that you can see the seabed from the surface.
I mention this because on the last days’ dive I was glancing into the water and thought that I was looking at high, shallow coral (we were otuside the reef), and that it was making the water look light blue (I think “aqua” is the right name). But, in fact, it was white sand 15m under the boat!
We stopped and dropped the anchor, which the guides dives down and ties off to the reef, and swam along one of the sandbeds between two large ridges of reef. The ridges were covered in lots of different types of fishes, but nothing too unusual. I did see the critter to the right though. Nasty looking little bastard.
We also saw turtles and the like.
The real story is of course why we were there. Thing is, water washes over the reef all the time. So, it needs to escape somehow, and that means that holes form and water rushes out them in what you’d call a ‘rip’ on a surf beach. We were heading for one of these called the Avaavarua passage.
And here’s where it gets interesting. No more wee pretty reef fish for us. We had to swim into a very strong current, on one tank of air, and swim through the reef. This involved diving down to about 15m and crawling through the reef. Kicking against the rip is useless, you just wear yourself out. But, by grabbing the rocks with your hands you can drag yourself through a hole in the reef maybe 2 1/2m wide. Naturally it’s full of fish. Big fish. We saw a Giant Trevally, and those guys are BIG.
The target though was the things just above. Eagle Rays. With the constant flow of water through the reef these guys can grab a spot and let the water flow past them, so they can relax a little. Once we’d swum through the passage we climbed up a stone face, and then down again, to the bottom of a 20m high sand-dune underwater. And there, high above, were Rays swimming in circles. The most beautiful and graceful things you’ll ever see. We saw them again outside the reef when we were returning to the boat, a big group swimming in circles. Amazing.
After we’d seen the rays we headed back out of the passage, letting the current drag us out. Basically I just made like I was sitting in an armchair, and the water pushed me through the reef and back out.
But, not before I got a good look at our other quarry. Something much bigger and much more frightening, seen from no more than 2m, at least half a dozen at once, the biggest about 2 1/2m long, and looking me straight in the eye.