Society Isles are a diving, snorkeling joy
Since early August my friends and I have been sailing around the Society Islands trying to see marine animals. I say trying because the weather has not cooperated with this goal.
If we weren't putting out a second anchor to hold the boat against the howling wind, we were pitching and rolling in enormous swells that clouded the water and created swift and scary currents. When the wind, waves and rips died down, it rained.
We're a determined bunch though and got in the water anyway, shivering, squinting and swimming against the current. We saw some beautiful fish during those brief forays. But still, after all I've heard about Tahiti and her neighbor islands' underwater beauty, I was disappointed.
Then, not five days from putting the boat in dry dock and flying home, the Pacific Ocean took a nap. The lagoons turned so calm and the water became so clear, we didn't have to get in the water to see the fish. Not only could we see them from the deck of the boat, we could identify the species.
"Look, a stingray," shouted my friend Scott from the bow of the boat, startling me. He was guiding me through some shallow coral heads at the time, and I thought I was about to hit one. Then he called out, "Another one!"
"What?" I said.
"Just tell me about the coral heads," I snapped.
Later, after we were safely through the tricky spot, he apologized. "Sorry about that. It was just so amazing."
That it was. Suddenly, like someone had flipped a switch, the waters of the Society Islands had become a snorkeling and diving paradise.
Our first anchorage in these perfect conditions was near Tahaa, the large island that shares a lagoon with Raiatea. Minutes after dropping the anchor, Scott and I were snorkeling.
Almost immediately we found Nemo, a plucky little anemonefish that boldly defended its pink anemone home when I dived down to say hello.
Hypnotized by the beauty of it all, we swam until the setting sun and shallow water made us turn around and head back to the boat. Tomorrow morning, we said, we will dive.
And did we dive. Damselfish of a dozen species and colors drifted in the water column like confetti in a parade. When we drew near, some fish dived for cover in the arms of nearby coral heads, hunkering down until the bubbling monsters passed by.
Once, I peeked inside a stand of rose coral and found a family of cardinalfish new to me. Our eyes bugged out at the aptly named regal angelfish, and we found an equally elegant turkeyfish snoozing under a ledge.
From watching an octopus jettison between coral heads to playing with hairy hermit crabs in their auger shell homes, the underwater wonders of the Society Islands seemed endless.
I'll be home in Hawaii Sunday, but I won't be saying goodbye to these legendary islands. They have shared with me their full range of weather, their gracious Polynesian hospitality and their marine life in all its glory. Next April, I'll be back for more.
See the Columnists
section for some past articles.