Raiatea: Tahitian Pearls, Coral Garden, & A Vanilla Farm

After docking in the main port town of Uturoa, on the island of Raiatea, we quickly disembarked the ship and made our way to a small dock just about 50 yards away from the ship to meet up with today’s shore excursion “L’Excursion Bleu” and Bruno Fabre, our guide for the day.  Bruno has been in the business for 15 years and comes with a lot of positive recommendations so we were excited for what the day would bring.

We quickly realized that there were only going to be 4 people on the entire trip today, which was really great as this meant more room on the boat and more time to do the things we wanted to do.

Bruno arrived and we got started promptly at 8:30am in the morning.  We boarded the “Bleu” and began a northerly heading towards Raiatea’s sister island Taha’a and would spend the next 8 hours circumnavigating the island with a number of stops in between.

Our first stop was to a working pearl farm, where Bruno himself introduced the concepts and using real oysters showed us how black pearls are cultivated, how the colors form, and what makes a great pearl so in demand.  The ability to see and interact with all of this hands on really made for a better understanding of the unique nature of the product and we had a much better understanding of its value.

Following this demonstration, we walked up the path from the pearl farm to a gorgeous beachfront home, with a open air porch, and met Monique, who has been in the business for decades.  She presented us thousands of pearls, individually, in settings, on necklaces, and let us review each as we better understood the differences in quality, size, color, and style.  We knew this would be the place to pickup the pearl that we wanted and found a beautiful choice in a simple, but elegant setting and the price was very competitive given comparisons we had seen.

After getting the pearl we wanted, we enjoyed a few more minutes on the shoreline of this gorgeous tropical property (Darin wants the house, Natalie can keep the pearl) we made our way west and north to the edge of the reef surrounding Taha’a, where a beautiful resort of over-water bungalows sits.  We made our way to an amazing coral garden where Bruno personally lead our group through the coral offering amazing opportunities for the fish to feed right out of our hands (they love bananas!) and to carefully guide us through the ecologically sensitive area without damage to the reefs or to ourselves (there are some nasty sea urchin in the reefs that you do not want to encounter).

In the span of just an hour, we snorkeled our way through the coral garden seeing no less than 1000 fish, all of beautiful colors (yellows, blues, greens, blacks, etc.), saw enormous schools of fish that swam right with us, and with a small chunk of banana, became their best friends…  In addition, we also got a chance encounter with a moray eel, who basically left us alone, but was a huge monster of an eel and provided a fair amount of intimidation for the group.  Bruno, who I have dubbed a perfect mix of Jacque Cousteau and Captain Ron, was helpful, guided us successfully through the coral garden and ensured a fully enjoyable trip in the water with us for the entire duration.  In addition, he was taking pictures with his underwater Olympus camera, so we might end up on his Facebook page one of these days.

From the coral garden, we took a long and easy ride around Taha’a as we just enjoyed the warm breeze and the ever-changing colors of the amazing water surrounding the boat.  From dark blue (deeper water) to an amazing jade green (shallow water) and everything in between, the color of the water below us was just as amazing as the sights to see above the water.

We worked our way to a motu on the east side of the island and made a stop for lunch at a small hotel that was situated on the beach.  Here, there were outdoor tables covered in colorful pareus underneath palm frond huts to provide shade.  At this location we were presented with a buffet lunch with local foods including rice, taro, sweet potato, coconut curry fish, posisson cru, and fish fritters.  The meal couldn’t be complete without some rum punch (which was really good!) and we sat and talked with Bruno and the other folks on our boat as we enjoyed the lazy sun and the good food.

Right where the boats were tied up to the dock there was a makeshift aquarium with a few different local species of aquatic life. Good ol’ Bruno just hops right into the water, up to his chest, and comes to the surface with a giant snail, a sea turtle, and introduces us to the famous Japanese fish that can kill you if not properly prepared for eating.  He was fun and we enjoyed the chance to see some of the local wildlife up close.

From here, we worked our way back to the island itself and docked up a few minutes away from the motu where we had lunch.  We walked a short ways to Valle d’ Vanille, a local Tahitian vanilla farm, where we were introduced to the process of growing, pollinating, harvesting, drying, and preparing vanilla beans for sale.  Though Tahiti can’t make enough to export (just too darn much demand and costly!), we walked through a small open-air hut with vanilla items for sale.  Under the protective shade of tall palm trees and with a gentle breeze blowing through, the smell was amazing as the vanilla permeated through everything as we looked at Vanilla Sugar, Vanilla Soap, dried vanilla beans, and vanilla coffee for sale.  As much as we like and use vanilla, we still decided that picking it up from Costco generally provided still a better bargain, as the beans here were running upwards of $6-8 a bean!

As this was our last stop of the day, Bruno offered us a chance to do some more swimming at a nearby reef on the edge of the bay, however, given all of the sun exposure and the remaining time in the day, we elected with our tour-mates to head back to the dock.  We had been out and about around the island for nearly 8 hour, and the sun was really wearing everyone down.

We arrived back at the dock, thanked Bruno for a great day, and worked our way slowly back to the ship (it was less than a 50 yard walk, so it didn’t take long…) and re-boarded.  One of the other reasons we wanted to be back on board on-time was to enjoy another performance by the locals, and this one certainly didn’t disappoint.

At 5pm, poolside, the deck was packed with people to see an outdoor show of “The children of Uturoa.”  Local children as part of a dance troupe for the island of Raiatea (Rye-E-a-Tay-a) came on-board and shared their song and dance.  Again this was a multi-generational group of mamas, papas, uncles, aunties, and kids as young as 5 up through teenage, carrying on the great tradition of song and dance to tell stories.  They all did a marvelous job and Darin was pulled up on stage for part of the audience participation portion.  Be thankful it was just a short dance segment and not a part of the male pareu fashion show!

Dinner, as always, was well done and we continue to be well taken care of by our wait staff and the dining room management.

We headed to bed shortly after dinner as tomorrow we have another full day of swim, sand, sun, and Bora Bora!

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