|2008/08/24 French Polynesia|
π 2008-08-24 01:01 in Diving, Ntrips, Trips
Since I had been wanting to see French Polynesia for a little while now (what people often mistakenly refer to as Tahiti, which is a single Island, and quite frankly not the most interesting one), so Jennifer and I both having a little time off work at the end of summer turned out to be the perfect opportunity to go.
Unfortunately, by then it was a little late to be able to book within pensions (low key housing managed by locals for a much more reasonable price), so we had to go with the expensive resorts. The resorts per se were fairly good, but felt pretty overpriced when food and diving were extra and cost up to $120-$150 for 3 meals and $150-250 for 2 to 4 dives per person per day. In other words, that was not cheap. But eh, that was the price for going last minute and being able to go was at least worth it.
Credit goes to Ellen Clark from Value Vacations on getting us everything booked at the last minute and allowing me to pay in Euros and not in USD which were worth near nothing at the time. Ellen had also valuable insight about the different locations in French Polynesia since it's one of her specialties.
After conferring with Ellen, our itinerary took us to Tahiti, Bora-Bora
for 3 days, Rangiroa for 5 days, Fakarava for 4 days and then on board the
Aquatiki for 8 days to sail to nearby atols and protected biosphere that aren't
accessible via plane. Some Islands only had 10-30 people on them.
PapeeteAnyway, about 3 weeks after the trip was booked, we were on our way to Papeete in Tahiti to connect to Bora-Bora. Quite frankly, Tahiti is mostly a fly through Island, but we at least visited Papeete a little bit while we were there by going outside for dinner that evening and going to the market the next morning.
For the fun story, I should also add that we left a bit quickly, and after not having done my homework on the local currency, I went to an ATM and withdrew 5000 CFP (francs polynésiens), which I thought would be a reasonable amount of money. Turns out it was just $70, so that didn't bring us very far :) They have nice bills though.
Bora-BoraWe then got to Bora Bora, which is the prettiest Island from the sky since it has some mountains (most other ones are pretty flat). It had ok diving, and the most non diving related activities. Outside of diving, we did parasailing, a 4WD tour of the island, and jetskiing around the island while having a snack on a small Island we went to.
We stayed at the Maitai, which was a decent location with view from heights. Since it was in Bora-Bora, it was overpriced and eating all meals there would have been silly expensive, so we shopped at the nearby store and made several of our own meals the best we could.
Below are a few pictures from the Bora Bora picture library (Flight, Maitai, Parasailing, Safari Tupuna, Waverunner). link to the diving pictures from Bora Bora. All in all diving was pretty good (2 dives each morning), and the guys at Top Dive were good, albeit maybe a little bit rushed for getting their 2 morning dives done as quickly as possible and be back in time for lunch.
Unfortunately I lost my first camera there (Panasonic DMC TZ3) after the strap must have slightly prevented the seal in the underwater case and got the camera wet underwater when the case leaked. I got back up right away to give the camera to the boat driver, but unfortunately I didn't get out of the water to remove the camera from the case myself and assumed he would do it after I told him there was water in the case and after I rushed back down the water for the group waiting for me. While it's hard to say after the fact if the camera could have been salvaged, I'm pretty pissed that the boat driver did nothing with it and just let it sit it its sea water for the 60mn that it took us to come back, ensuring that the camera (and even the SD card) would be well dead when we came back :(
Top Dive said that they weren't responsible for cameras or doing anything to the cases and that I should have opened it myself. I suppose it's the easy way out for them, but honestly a better boat driver would have at least opened the case to drain the water when given a camera in such condition, and it's a bit lame that Top Dive wasn't even willing to compensate us with a few free dives in return, considering that we bought 50 from them at full retail price. In other words, they didn't have to do anything, and they didn't. Would have been nice if they had though.
RangiroaRangiroa is more out of the beaten path as far Islands go. It's pretty small occupied space: a 12km strip of land with passes you can dive on each side.
There again, it was too late to stay at a moderately priced pension, so we stayed at the Novotel. The bungalows were a bit cramped and the beach bungalows were kind of a scam since there is no sandy beach (just rocks) and that people from other bungalows just put chairs in front of your ocean view door and sunbathe there. However, on the flipside, they had wireless internet in the rooms (yes, yes, I need help, I know :) )
Here is a link to the rest of the pictures from Rangiroa.
FakaravaBy the time we flew to Fakarava, the weather was raining with low overcast and we had strong winds, currents and sea during our time there.
Fakarava is even more off the beaten path: it's more spread out land-wise but there are only 700 people across all that land. Quite frankly, there isn't much to do other than diving, which is ok since we were there just for that :) Unfortunately, we were greeted by rain and strong winds which prevented us from going diving the next day.
We stayed in the Maitai Dream there, the sole hotel (again because all pensions were full). The Maitai Dream was probably the best place we stayed at in comfort, decor, and secluded area, but unfortunately no internet, which made for a long day when we were stuck all day in the room due to torrential rains. Oh well, we had to find other things to do :)
Below are a few pictures from the pictures I took in Fakarava
This made our time in Fakarava somewhat disappointing, and shows that their site is really weather dependent when Rangi mostly isn't.
All that said, here are the diving pictures from Fakarava
By then, we were down to 2 cameras (out of 4) and only one that could still go underwater (we had two panasonic TZ3s).
AquatikiOur reason for being in Fakarava was mainly because we had opted for a liveaboard as our last leg of the trip: we had an 8 day trip on the French Aquatiki. I thought I'd give a quick review of the boat and staff:
The staff of 3 (captain/engineer, hostess/cook, and divemaster) was great. They were all very good at what they did and the divemaster was specifically knowledgeable and able to find a good balance between safety and enjoying great but sometimes difficult sites.
The boat itself has the basic amenities: you do have a shower/toilet per cabin (3 cabins of 2) but you have to pump your own seawater in the toilet and pump out the shower water in the drain (it also makes a not so nice sloshing sound all the time, which isn't great when you're already feeling queezy). We did get hot water in the shower at least (which I hear is not true of all smaller boats), and basically it was adequate but not recommended for people who require a somewhat better level of comfort, or feel a bit claustrophobic in a cramped cabin.
The boat is actually pretty slow, it uses a combination of low power engines (72HP) and sailing which give anywhere between 4 to 10 knots depending on the wind and currents. This made for some long rides in rough sea to cover distances that weren't that great, so the Aquatiki only goes to 4 places or so over the week and does multiple dives and activities at each location. This in contrast with boats in the great barrier reef that motor to 4 to 5 dive sites per day at twice the speed, or more.
It however turned out to work out since each anchor point had interesting nearby dive sites to visit. The Aquatiki does bring you to Atolls that you wouldn't be able to reach otherwise, and it mostly depends on the sea, currents and winds: they can make a different itinerary each time they go out. While some boat rides can be a bit long, the upshot is that the boat is eco friendly and doesn't dump a lot of diesel in the water, especially when it's sailing :)
The aquatiki only offers two dives a day which is either more relaxed or less than some other boats that do 4-5 per day depending on how you look at it. The main reasons for that are that they only have air (no nitrox), and some of the dives can be pretty deep (30m is almost routine, 40 to 50 metres is possible if the divers are qualified and the site warrants it). Because the Aquatiki also offers bigger 15L tanks, you end up being very tired when your body gets rid of all that nitrogen from the deep dives on air and you wouldn't want to do more than 3 dives a day anyway.
As for language, the crew is indeed French and speak basic English as needed, but a single English speaking guest might feel out of place as everyone else would be speaking french all day and during meals. It was a bit tough for Jennifer at the dinner table when everyone was chatting, but that's the price you pay for going in a foreign country.
While they are indeed the only boat available either way, we don't regret our trip at all, despite the pretty rough sailing, and all other guests were also very happy with the combination of diving and time to visit remote Islands and totally deserted Islands.
Here are all the pictures taken from the Aquatiki.
ConclusionWhile this wasn't the ideal trip money-wise due to more affordable pensions being filled up (and quite frankly the expensive resorts not being worth the money they charge), it did just fine considering the little advance notice and planning we had.
Ellen Clark did a great job finding us what was still available last minute, and getting us the whole trip designed and booked in 4 days. The mix of Islands she recommended, worked well, the only disappointing part was bad weather in Fakarava, especially in the winter where weather is supposed to be better, but there isn't much anyone can do about that.
All is all, the trip went quite well, even if it sucked to lose two cameras in the process. While it was very nice, I would however say that French Polynesia is not great value for your money: there are places that are just as nice, and much more affordable, but for me it was fun to see parts of France, how it used to be 50 to 100 years ago and I'm guessing that Tahiti can still more or less afford its current prices because it's French speaking and it's the top destination for French speakers. For English speakers, it does remain a great place to see, but there are other ones that can be seen too for less money.
In parting, here's a link to all the pictures of the trip to french polynesia, and one to all the diving pictures.