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Perfect island paradise

Maupiti

sunny 28 °C
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It was love at first sight. Already from the air Maupiti looked simply perfect: a volcanic island with a high peak surrounded by an emerald lagoon and five rather flat coral islands.

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Despite the short runway on one of the northern coral islands, our landing was very smooth. Consequently, the presence of a large fire truck was only a reassurance and it was not required to take any action. The airport building itself was tiny, not much more than a covered passageway. But the waiting area was exceptional: small benches in the shade of palm trees right next to the lagoon.

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Once we had our baggage, it was only a really short walk over to the boat that should take us onto the main island. Once we, our baggage, a French couple that looked like honeymooners and a few locals were waiting in the boat, we soon realized that the boat also doubled as the postal service boat carrying all air freight onto the main island. And a bit later, we realized that it was also the employee shuttle for the whole airport crew of Air Tahiti – consisting of a total of six people.
The ferry ride was a good introduction to Maupiti and its crystal clear water. Before too long, we arrived in the village and were greeted by Sandra, the owner of Pension Tereia with flower garlands. We loaded our baggage onto her truck and she took us to the pension. She showed us around and we had some coconut and water before heading to the nearby beach where we stayed until after the sunset.

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By that time, we were already more than hungry and keen to have dinner which was to be served at 7pm. And it was simply excellent: for starters we had tuna sashimi with an excellent soy based sauce, followed by steaks of parrot fish with vanilla sauce and rice. And fresh mango from the tree next to the house as dessert. Simply perfect.
Sandra's son then showed us how to open a coconut with a single hit of a hand. Sam tried the technique successfully and we enjoyed the coconut water - at that stage we were too full to have anything else to eat.
The next morning, we had breakfast and were ready to leave at 8:30 for our excursion. Together with Claire and Adrien, the other guests in the pension we wanted to go snorkelling with manta rays and have lunch on a ‘motu’ – a small coral islet next to the only shippable pass into the inner lagoon of Maupiti.
Sandra’s husband Kété was steering the motorboat out into the lagoon supported by Max.

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Eventually we stopped rather abruptly, as there were manta rays underneath us. So we got our snorkelling gear and jumped into the water to have a closer look. The rays were enormous and it was hard to believe that Kété said that these were rather small, as their wingspan can get as big as 7m / 23 ft. Max and I preferred to have a look from the surface only, but Sam ventured down to the bottom of the sea at 5 or 6 m depth to have a look from below. It’s always impressive to see such gigantic animals and how small we humans are in comparison.

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After all of us were back in the boat and Kété’s son headed off with his harpoon to catch a fish for our dinner. And no worries, in Maupiti neither rays, nor sharks or whales are being caught – it’s not part of their tradition as we were told - there are way too many other fish around. And we simply marvelled at the sights around us.

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We then traversed through the only pass of Maupiti connecting the lagoon with the open sea. It is a narrow and rather long pass which is quite dangerous for larger boats. Consequently, in adverse weather the only freight boat coming to the island once per month will not attempt the passage with the result that it will only come back a month later and supplies in the stores might get low.

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Kété did a good job and soon enough we were out in the open sea. The waves were significantly bigger than inside the lagoon and we started making our plans just in case something would happen – after all it seemed that there were no life jackets available on the boat.
While we still wondered why we even went out to the open sea, suddenly Kété alerted us that just in front of the boat he had spotted the fountain of a whale and we got to see the backside of two humpback whales. When we thought already that they had dived down and would not resurface for the next couple of minutes, Kété turned and had us observe a spot and make sure that we had our cameras ready. And he was right: just seconds later one of the whales surfaced, blew air out (which was much louder than expected!) and showed his nice tail before heading down. Wow!

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That was already much more than expected, but we made one more snorkelling stop in a beautiful coral garden.

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After all these impressions, we headed for lunch on the small island east of the pass. And what a great location - just beautiful!

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Just like us, most other tourists on the island seemed to be there. After all, it was Saturday, the only day in the week when the typical Tahitian underground sand oven is put into action. Soon after we arrived, it was ceremonially opened and all the procedures and traditions were explained – in French, without any hesitation or thought about people potentially not being able to understand.

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So I unearthed my French skills to understand that we had pork, mussels and chicken as main courses together with cooked bananas and breadfruit. In addition, there was typical raw fish in coconut milk (which was excellent) and fermented fish with fermented coconut milk. The latter smelled much worse than it tasted. Without knowing what it is, we would have probably rather put it into the ‘cheese’ category than assuming that it is fish. For dessert, there was some kind of fruit jelly once again in coconut milk. All in all, the food was very different from what we know and had a distinct smoky flavour to it from the way it was prepared. Not bad, but it will also never be our favourite food.

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What followed, was not really what Sam and I are keen on: tourist entertainment at its best: it started with a competition in throwing coconuts into a hole 8m / 25ft away. The guests of all ten pensions on the island were to compete against each other. As we did not get into the round of the last three and consequently were done rather soon. While that exercise was actually fun, we both declined the next session of Polynesian dancing. We rather did it like the locals and took a dip in the water to cool off. We even spotted a couple of leopard whiptail rays while doing so.

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The excursion was excellent and we had really enjoyed our time on the trip. But after so much sun, we were glad to eventually to take the trip back home. That was fun as well - some of us had to sit in the back of the truck, including Kété who nicely played his ukulele along the way.

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We played a round of Farkle with Claire and Adrien before dinner, which was fun once again.
Even though Maupiti is small and remote and not nearly as touristy as all the other Society Islands, we were amazed to have excellent wireless internet in our pension. It seems that this luxury is a must have by now for all places hosting tourists. In comparison: drinking water on the island is available at five stations around the island where we often saw people or kids filling their canisters or bottles.

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On our last day in Maupiti, Sam and Claire climbed Mount Teurufaaiu (385m / 1280ft). A steep direct route secured by ropes led them all the way to the top to take in breath taking views of the island from above.

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In the meantime, the rest of us took it easy: we had a late breakfast and played some games. Once Sam was back, we went to the white beach and admired the beautiful water again.
We got food at the snack bar along the beach and soon enough had to leave towards the ferry and the airport.

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There we got the excellent hint from Claire to ask for ‘Maupiti’ stamps in our passports. After all, we had not even gotten any stamps into our passports upon our arrival – we’re in the European Union after all.
Still, the airport was clearly not up to the usual European standards and we simply loved sitting under the palm trees some 30m / 90ft from the landing strip (without any fence or the like in between). When it got hot, we just walked a couple of steps to stand in the clear water of the lagoon.

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With Max we were able to skip the line and get first onto the plane again and only realized when walking up to it that there had not been any security control. Life is beautiful and we decided that Maupiti clearly is a place to come back to one day.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:49 Archived in French Polynesia Tagged traditional mountain island paradise lagoon hike coconut snorkel whale coral manta ray islet oven motu Comments (0)

Kids, kangaroos and corals

Ningaloo Reef – Exmouth, Cape Range NP

sunny 28 °C
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In Exmouth, we met quite a couple of interesting people and nice families traveling around Australia.
One morning, we were joined by eight-year old Cooper for our trip to the skate park before heading to the pool. He is traveling with his parents for a year doing the tour of Australia. To keep up with school, he is spending about 30 min per day studying and learning, mainly to keep up his maths. While this sounds like not too much, Freya (5) and Pearl’s (9) mom told me that they are not doing any home schooling at all, as the girls learn so much while traveling. She’s sure that both of them will have no trouble at all catching up with their friends once they’ll be back after their year of traveling. And after all, they had done long trips like that already in the past…
Coming from Germany with its strict enforcement of all kids going to school, this is very, very different. In Germany parents are not only risking fines, but eventually jail if their kids don’t go to school. Whereas in Australia the government might cut subsidies / pensions for parents not sending their kids to school – but anyone who is not receiving any money from the government, there is no risk. And I fully agree, that kids do learn a lot when traveling and that at least in the first years of school probably an hour of home schooling a day is largely sufficient to keep up to date in line with the curriculum.
After another relaxed day and evening of editing pictures, eventually we decided to leave Exmouth to explore the Ningaloo Reef and the Cape Range National Park. We were shocked to realize that the local supermarket was closed – as it was Sunday, but headed off anyhow hoping that our remaining supplies would be enough such that we could stay for at least two nights.
As we headed from Exmouth to Cape Range National Park, we stopped at the first landmark along the way, the Vlaming Head lighthouse. From there we already got the first impression of the peninsula with its fringing reef close to the shoreline.

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After a quick stop in the dunes, we explored the displays in the information center. That’s also where we finally saw our first kangaroos. Specifically, Max was excited about them and kept watching out along the road to see more of them.

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But despite the excitement about the kangaroos, our key reason for coming to the Western Cape was the Ningaloo Reef. We headed to Turquoise Bay for snorkeling. Despite the fairly low visibility due to the heavy wind and subsequent sand in the water, we saw really nice corals and lots of fish. But not only the snorkeling was nice – it’s for a good reason that Turquoise Bay usually features as one of the tow three beaches in Australia.

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Eventually we had to head off in search of a place to stay for the night. Given the excellent reviews on our WikiCamps app, we chose Osprey Bay. What a great choice: we ended up coincidentally next to Max’ friend Cooper and his family and as such Max was happy and busy without Sam or me having to get inventive - excellent.
But we also had other friends visiting our camp: a legless lizard wound its way to our spot. He was very welcome - much more than a King Brown or other venomous snake would have been.

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The next morning, we could not resist to go snorkeling in Turquoise Bay once more. This time we went to the drift area. It was a pretty cool snorkel getting into the water and letting us drift along the beach for a couple of hundred meters. The corals were simply spectacular.

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After so much activity in the relatively cool water, we went for a hike at Yardie Creek. Fortunately, the flies there were just sitting on our cloths vs. bothering us. Otherwise the hike would not have been as much fun.

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After the heat of Yardie Creek, we were happy to be back at home at Osprey Bay to take a refreshing bath in the sea. And we realized that not only we were hot - the kangaroos were also seeking shelter in the shade of the toilet building.

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But best of all was our afternoon snorkel in Osprey Bay. We started from the beach just below our campsite. From there we discovered a sleeping turtle underneath a small ledge, watched a white moray eel wind itself along the edge of the reef and saw more diverse and colorful fish than in most snorkeling trips we had done so far.

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Obviously, we wanted to repeat this excellent snorkeling trip once more before leaving Osprey Bay the next day. But our morning snorkel was more than disappointing. In fact, with the big waves and wind, it was quite exhausting. In return we at least got to see a turtle swimming in the water, but that was about it. At least, this helped to feel less regrets about having to leave. After all, we had run down our supplies so far that we simply had to go shopping to stock up.
After another stop in the windswept dunes, we headed directly into Exmouth. Lunch, shopping and off we went to relax at our already well known caravan park with its nice pool and the emus.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 23:11 Archived in Australia Tagged fish national creek dune kangaroo reef snorkel coral turtle moray Comments (0)

‘Blowember’ – a good time to meet other traveling families

Coral Bay

sunny 34 °C
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After a couple of days in and around Exmouth, it was time to explore the southern part of the world heritage region of Ningaloo Reef. We drove to Coral Bay, a tiny town nestled next to a fabulous beach with a coral reef that is very close to the shore.

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At the caravan park, we set up camp and were a bit reluctant to go down to the beach due to the wind. In retrospect, that was a very smart move as we got to meet our camp neighbors Anthony, Max, Cassius (6) and Orson (3). They are on their way from Darwin to circle Australia anti-clockwise for the next year. Eventually, we ended up going to the beach together with them. Before too long, the kids headed off to play with other kids a bit further down the beach, such that their parents were able to sit together and have nice chats. All of us really enjoyed that moment (which was actually more than an hour) of quiet solitude without having to worry and actively entertain the kids.

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It was fabulous. Except that Max (Cassius’ and Orson’s mom) told us of her close encounter with a King Brown Snake at Ospey Bay, just a couple of days earlier than when we had been there. Lucky us that we only heard about that now, otherwise I would have probably had second thoughts about the otherwise just perfect camp spot right along the beach.
Given that the kids were so happy playing together and the adults were really enjoying being able to have a proper uninterrupted conversation, we headed down to the local pub ‘Fin’s’ after dinner. The kids had an ice cream, the adults some drinks – life is beautiful!

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So just in case you ever wonder why our blog constantly lags about three weeks behind where we are – this is it: we’re simply meeting way too many nice and friendly people along the way. In comparison with the ‘duty’ of keeping a blog up to date, we simply prefer enjoying life. And if that means that a blog entry gets published a day or two or three later than what we targeted, that’s just what it is… I’m not sure if I could do professional blogging when the blogging takes over the actual experiencing of a place, situation and fun evening.
The next morning, our new friends unfortunately had to leave already. As a good-bye breakfast, Sam treated them to his Kaiserschmarrn / ‘scrambled pancakes’, which was well appreciated, not only by them, but also by Max and me.
Once we had said our good-byes, we packed our stuff and headed off to the shark nursery. After a pleasant walk along the beach we arrived at a sand spit creating a sheltered shallow lagoon. And there they were, probably about 30 to 40 small reef sharks. Contrary to some other tourists, we chose not to get into the water and rather observed from the dunes next to the lagoon.

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Once we had observed for quite a while, we hiked back and even stumbled upon an enormous dead turtle.

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Unfortunately, the walk back seemed much longer and definitively much more unpleasant, as this time we had the wind in our face. And it was not just a light breeze, but really strong wind. According to the weather forecast, it must have been about 40 km/h. It was definitively strong enough to be just a bit unpleasant, which resulted just in the perfect excuse for the boys to head up to the roof top tent to play Lego.
The approaching sunset was eventually convincing Sam that it was time to leave the tent and to head off to take some pictures. Originally, Max and I were supposed to go as well, but as the wind continued to blow as hard as in the afternoon, Max simply refused to go. Which was fine for me.

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At least the good news is that all Australian caravan parks have camp kitchens that are not only well equipped for cooking, but usually also have a nice seating arrangement. This was also true for our camp ground. So, Max and I headed to the camp kitchen to have our dinner and to enjoy being sheltered from the wind.
The camp kitchen turned out to be also an excellent meeting place with other campers. There we met Jörn and Ines with their kids Fiona (5) and Fabio (2). They are from Munich using a couple of months of ‘Elternzeit’ / parenting time to travel through Australia.
And we also met Lucia and Guido with their daughter Emia (7) from Switzerland. They were the first family we met, doing a round the world trip like us. Actually, they are traveling the other way around and have been already to Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Mongolia, Borneo, Thailand and Nepal before getting to Australia. They will continue onwards to New Zealand, stay once more in Australia and are still a bit undecided if they should continue via Fiji, Hawaii or somewhere else. Letting the plan develop reminded us of our own style of traveling. With so many commonalities, we found lots of things to talk about. It was simply great.
The next morning, it was an easy decision to prolong our stay for one more night. We headed to the beach and were lucky that in the morning the wind was not as strong yet as in the days before. We went snorkeling and were amazed by the beautiful corals in the bay – nicer than most other places we had seen so far.
In the afternoon, we joined the fish feeding session which is organized three times a week. Even though it was mainly trevallys coming to the feeding, there were some nicely colored parrot fish as well.

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That afternoon, I also learned that the strong winds around this time of the year resulted in the nickname ‘Blowember’. And yes, this name fits perfectly. But even though the wind might be unpleasant, in the end it helps to keep the temperatures at bay. Otherwise we might have potentially complained about the heat.
After another nice evening with the other travelers in the camp kitchen and a final get together over breakfast the next morning, it was unfortunately time to say good bye. After more than a week at the Ningaloo Reef, it was time for us to head south.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 14:50 Archived in Australia Tagged world family bay shark reef snorkel coral wind travelers Comments (0)

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