Rangiroa: In Love With Turquoise
The Blue Lagoon in Rangiroa, French Polynesia boasts a shade of turquoise so striking and ethereal it’ll stop you dead in your tracks as you are walking from islet to islet. Captain Martin Graser of the National Geographic Orion, a fully stabilized, ice-class vessel designed for expedition travel to the remotest corners of the world, expertly maneuvered us close to the silky, powder-white sand of this little slice of paradise. A first in expedition travel since this gem of an atoll is mostly visited by locals in their fishing boats to harvest coconuts.
The Zodiacs take us to the snorkeling platform in the dazzling blue waters for up-close encounters with blacktip reef sharks. They graciously glide in the shallow waters, only inches away from me. I take a few deep breaths, these are sharks after all, but I start to relax after a few minutes as the sharks and I swim together in the Pacific Ocean.
Plentiful marine life surrounds us on this voyage. I float silently through a world of underwater life and beauty, colorful fish abound.
The Orion is equipped with glass bottom Zodiacs for stay-dry underwater observations, but even if you are not an avid diver or snorkeler, dipping your toe into this shimmering, crystalline, and electric-blue water will let you experience the magic of the coral reefs. Their colors pop, they are so vibrant they seem surreal.
The water at the coral atoll Toau is so still and clear it mirrors the surrounding palm trees as well as the sky above. Stand-up paddleboarding gets me in touch with my inner core, I am finding my balance as I try to stay on the paddleboard soaking in the endless vistas of turquoise.
Later in the afternoon, as I chill out next to a coconut on the coral sand beach of Fakarava, I try to imagine what life on this island would be like.
Coconuts are a staple of traditional cuisine and a main agricultural resource in French Polynesia; the warning signs are clearly not intended for the native islanders, they know better.
Coconuts, hoisted on a 10-meter pole, are also popular targets of javelin throwing, a traditional sport of Polynesia. Old and young gather to watch this colorful spectacle.
Life as a passenger on the National Geographic Orion operated by Lindblad Expeditions is bliss. If you are a foodie, Chef Lothar Greiner and his team will take you on a culinary expedition that outshines the menus of some of the best restaurants in the world.
The staff seems to anticipate my needs before I even know what my needs are and they genuinely strive to turn this cruise into a once in a lifetime experience for me. The open bridge policy lets you take in the voyage from a Captain’s point of view, and as you are staring off into a tranquil blue sea you spot dolphins coming along for the ride with the Orion.
The expedition team gets you excited about the adventures ahead of you with the daily 7am wake up call, not necessarily my preferred time to get out of bed but hey, “This is not a vacation, it is an expedition!” according to our expedition leader. The enthusiasm of the expedition team rubs up on me as I am hiking with Paul North, an undersea specialist known for his polar diving skills, to the grotto on Makatea, a raised coral island.
I snorkel next to Paul in the crystal clear water of the grotto, his camera lights illuminate the underwater limestone cave system with stalactites and rare underwater stalagmites in a magical way.
As we continue to journey from island to island, it often appears as if the boats sailing around the French Polynesian islands are floating in mid-air.
Shades of green mix with shades of blue as we approach Huahine. I watch mesmerized as locals cross the emerald Mārō’ē bay past lush hillsides in their tiny fishing boat until they reach the bridge connecting Huahine Nui and Huahine Iti.
A tropical jungle awaits on shore. Ancient fish traps, sacred sites called Mareas amidst the rainforest and locals selling their harvest roadside add to the allure of this island.
The occasional tropical rain shower paints rainbows across the sky. Providing a backdrop for breathtaking vistas, its colors often reflect in the aquamarine waters.
The next day I am catching a few rays on Motu Tapu, a private island across from Bora Bora. While my footprints in the sand have long since disappeared, my memories of this beautiful sanctuary haven’t faded.
This private, picturesque island with its dazzling blue waters and surrounding talcum-soft white sand beach has basically everything that bucket lists are made of.
In 4x4s we are exploring Bora Bora, best known for its turquoise lagoon and luxuriant over-water bungalows. A stunning palette of sapphire, jade and turquoise unfolds in front of your eyes, sand-edged motu and soaring rainforest-covered basaltic peaks make for awe-inspiring views.
Throughout the island, locals sell their craft. In the front yard of their house, a local family business showcases the art of pareo making, the children add local designs to the colorful sarongs.
One last dive into the electric-blue ocean. I am taking Captain Martin up on his generous farewell offer letting us jump from the 4.5m high dining deck of the National Geographic Orion into the water below us. The Zodiac brings us safely back to the vessel anchored in front of Motu Mahaea, a private island across from Tahaa.
On Tahiti, our last stop of the National Geographic exploration cruise, the sun fell asleep, shielded behind mountains and clouds, adding hues of orange to the turquoise of my dreams.