E.B. GO Vision Media found two publications, the African Sun Times newspaper and U.K. E-Zine Travelmag, to publish an article by Michael Joseph Butler about the Lagoon Motu Picnic on Moorea, Tahiti offered by local tour operator Albert Tours. The highlight of the day involves feeding stingrays while Black Tipped Reef Sharks circle about looking to pick up food scraps and a video, filmed and edited by E.B. GO Vision Media, of the stingray-shark experience is posted below.
Honeymoon Before Wedding: French Polynesia & Tahiti Islands
by Michael Joseph Butler
Vacationing in French Polynesia and the Tahitian Islands, a dream trip harbored by many a traveler, offers a host of different destinations and activities. In fact, this vast archipelago has options enough to overwhelm even those with a good idea of their ideal agenda. One of the most popular islands in the chain is Moorea, which lies close to the main island of Tahiti and offers something for every kind of tourist. Taking advantage of local tours is part and parcel of just about any location that travelers choose to visit, whether in major cities or in the exotic wilderness.
Well, on the beautiful island of Moorea in Tahiti the local tour that is essential for everyone is the Lagoon Motu Picnic, which is available through Albert Tours and a staple in tour packages offered by Brendan Vacations. Along with getting a terrific boat ride down the coast of one of the most picturesque and serene destinations in the world, the fun-loving tourist will get a chance to swim with sharks, feed stingrays and enjoy a relaxing afternoon lunch on the beach of a Motu, which means small island in Tahitian.
After pickup by the friendly Albert Tours drivers, everyone is dropped off at the historic Club Bali Hai Hotel in the middle of Cook’s Bay for departure. The twin outboard catamaran, with a cover to protect from the sun, seats about fifty and is very comfortable. Hopefully your tour guide will be Ziggy.
Speaking in halting English and of slight stature, with a beard and dreadlocks, he looks more Jamaican that Tahitian, who tend to be taller and possessed with those classic Polynesian facial features.
Part comedian, part Tahitian philosopher, part knowledgeable guide and completely entertaining, Ziggy proceeds to identify who speaks what language, French or English, before explaining that Moorea is pronounced MOE-oh-ray-ah and that he was born and raised on the island.
Before moving on, while the boat sits idle in the middle of a quiet Cook’s Bay, he gets everyone to look at Mt. Rotui to see how a particular black rock formation looks like King Kong playing a piano, well maybe. Then they crank up the motors and you’re off to the races. Coming out of Cook’s Bay into the wide open South Pacific waters, more than likely with huge cloud formations playing across the horizon, the water goes from dark blue at the reef break to shallow, clear blue coastal waters backed by a white sand bottom dotted with a checkerboard of coral formations.
To the left the emerald jungle slopes steadily from the shore into a tangled interior of steamy rain forest. Plumes of white smoke are often seen drifting from the foliage as the locals burn the dried brush from their yards. Within a short time, about a half-mile off the coast and not far from the Sheraton Moorea Hotel, the first destination is at hand. With the front of the boat pointing out to sea, Ziggy moves forward and throws the anchor into waters that are about 40 feet deep and issues this order, “We are putting down the ladder and will feed the sharks, they are Black Tipped Reef Sharks, for safety hold on to the anchor rope, do not touch the sharks, they will bite, and do not pee in the water, that will attract the sharks. We stay here for 20 minutes.”
It is safe to say no one peed in the water. Those who wish to get in the water grab their mask and snorkel and move to the front of the boat to jump in the warm Tahitian waters, which on average amounts to about half of those on board. The cameraman for Albert Tours is the first in and he takes the chum for the sharks with him. The sharks, knowing this drill, have heard the motors and begin to gather for a meal, hopefully not human flesh.
The water is generally calm but can get a bit choppy at times, making it wise to hold onto the anchor rope. The sharks gather anxiously and it is a bit shocking at first, especially for the inexperienced. However, knowing thousands come through this tour every year makes it easy to believe all is well. For the most part the sharks stay on the right side of the boat, joined by large schools of tropical fish. With determined calm the sharks move back and forth in search of fish parts being doled out by the crew.
Some of the sharks are pretty big, giving one the thrill of danger and the fascination of viewing them in the wild. This is fun and interesting, until one looks around and realizes they are circling behind and under the boat in a pattern, causing most to pull in their feet so they are in view. Underwater pictures are part and parcel of this exercise, and all too soon Ziggy calls everyone to get back aboard. Once everyone gets situated, the route down the coastline continues. The breeze refreshes as everyone exchanges reactions to the being so close to sharks, the atmosphere is indeed one of joy mixed with wonderment.
Soon, on the left side, Opunohu Bay opens to a spectacular vista that includes a dark blue half oval bay surrounded by green mountains mixed with a variety of black rock formations. Within the context of this tour, the sight causes one to pause and reflect on such a singular view of loveliness in French Polynesia. Soon the Inter-Continental Moorea Hotel comes up on the left and the boat takes the slow path near the shore and adjacent to over water bungalows.
Ziggy gives some background on the dolphin pen at the hotel and then warns everyone, “We have many honeymooners staying here, so do not look inside the windows of the rooms, you don’t know what you might see.” Once the buoys have been cleared, the boat quickly moves to the next stop. The water is clear and about four feet deep with a bright white sandy bottom. In similarity with the sharks, a number of stingrays have gathered in anticipation of food.
Following a stern warning from Ziggy to use only masks and snorkels, no swim fins, he jumps in the water and four or five stingrays descend on him and begin climbing over his arms, chest and back in search of food. Soon the participants jump in and are given food to feed to the stingrays, and they too feel the soft underbelly of the stingrays and find their mouths to give them a snack. This is great, and even those who are wary soon overcome their fear and join in the process. Stingrays are cruising everywhere, with the occasional small shark moving through the crowd monitoring the situation. After a few minutes it becomes routine, with everyone aware of how to attract a stingray into their arms. These fish are fascinating, almost like big puppy dogs.
What a sheer ball of fun it is to stand in the warm water, look at the lush island close by, and dip your face in the water to view and touch stingrays all around. After a time Ziggy calls everyone back and the boat is en route to two small islands just off the tip of Moorea in the Tahitian Islands. As the water depth decreases, the boat slows down and eases into the lagoon between the Motus. Not only is Ziggy a great tour guide, but he is a highly competent boat captain. He eases the boat through the shoals to carefully bring it onto the shore like a bird landing with sore feet.
Lunch will be served in 20 minutes, while beer and rum punch are available immediately. But the real attraction is the snorkeling. A huge, calm lagoon offers a wealth of opportunities to explore and interact with fish of every color and description.
Many snorkel for 30 to 40 minutes, come in for a quick bite, and then get back in the water for more as the departure will not be for another hour. Scores of coral formations, in about five to ten feet of water, litter the landscape separated by small canyons that make for easy navigation. Colors abound everywhere as the sunlight refracts through the water and creates waves of blue and white light.
Occasionally a fish will cruise right next to you that is not averse to being followed, giving one a mini-tour of their search for food amongst the underwater garden. If you float above a coral formation and stay perfectly still, especially if pick one with lots of fish, they get complacent and go about their business.
Sometimes a large puffer fish will poke its head out, see you and zip right back into its hiding place. Or one can see tiny little fish with multiple stripes going every which way, often hanging around a number of other fish for protection. Medium sized black fish are fond of protecting their piece of rock and will race at your mask if you get close, then retreat, survey you again, waiting for another move to race back at you. You are in a massive aquarium ready to be explored endlessly.
Back on the beach, after lunch, Ziggy demonstrates the proper method for peeling a coconut, employing all his humor and knowledge in the process. Volunteers are brought up to perform various tasks and receive the appropriate applause at the urging of Ziggy, along with his warning, “Don’t stand under a palm tree with brown coconuts, they might fall on your head and that will be very painful.” A portable DVD player is set up to show the video footage of the feedings, which can be compiled into a personal DVD for those interested.
Albert Tours does a very good job with the DVDs and they’re worth the price. Then the day’s adventure ends at 2;15 pm. As the boat backs away from the shore, Ziggy yells with urging and triumph, “Ok, Are you all Happy?” Of course everyone is and they express it in unison. Those picked up at various hotels are dropped at the docks along the way. Albert Tours Lagoon Motu Picnic is reasonably priced and money well spent, and this reporter went on the tour again a week later because it was so exhilarating, fun and relaxing.