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Rapa Expedition: Off the Ship, Into the Jungle

A few days ago, as we left Tahiti and began making our way south to study the undersea life around the island of Rapa Iti, forecasts and our own senses told us we were in for a storm. Still, writing in the first post in this series, I said with confidence, “Even with the incoming bad weather we know exactly when and where we will make our landfall at Rapa.”

Luckily I didn’t mention how we would arrive.

The seas had been steadily building through the day and by nightfall we were rolling heavily to the underlying oceanic swell and pitching violently to the high wind-blown waves, both motions conspiring to make work impossible, movement risky, and sleeping a challenge (especially when the occasional big pitch made me airborne).

The Journey on Land

We found shelter on the north west side of Rapa, close in to the high cliffs. The instruments on the bridge showed winds of 52kts (65 mph) but we only had to look to the cliffs and see massive waterfalls blowing upwards to know that it was a wild day. With these conditions on the sheltered west side it was clear that entering Ha’urei Bay on the exposed eastern side of Rapa would be impossible.

A view of Ha'urei Bay at Rapa Iti.
The foggy view of Ha’urei Bay at Rapa Iti doesn’t quite capture the danger we would have faced trying to enter the bay by ship. (Photo by Jerome Petit)

That said, we could not miss our appointment with the Island Council and so Poema du Prel (our Rapa liaison), Scott Ressler (our film producer), Jerome Petit (our partner from Pew), and I landed by Zodiac (the small inflatable boats that run us from ship to shore) to make the short two-mile walk across the island.

Five wet, muddy, exhausting hours later we arrived at the village with deep gouges on our legs from sharp tree roots, mud-caked from head to foot, hungry, happy, and feeling lucky to have not spent the night lost on one of the countless confusing ridge lines.

We received a wonderful, warm welcome, hot showers, and great food, and we just made it in time for our meeting.

Pristine Seas expedition team members Paul Rose and Scott Ressler consult their map and compass to navigate to the village on Rapa Iti.
Wet, but not too worse for the wear, Scott Ressler and I consult our map and compass as we make our way by foot to the villiage. (Photo by Jerome Petit)

Meeting the People of Rapa

After our presentations the Island Council announced their full support of the expedition and I was delighted that my offer to take two Rapa people aboard with us was accepted. We feel a real kinship with the people here and we can learn from each other when we are at sea together.

Our next meeting was with the Rahui Council as they are the team that has responsibility for the Rapa waters. Rahui is the traditional system for regulating people’s use of land and water, and the plants, animals, or other resources they hold. It is now used in part to organize sustainable fishing, so before we could begin our work we needed the council’s permission. Not only have they given us permission to dive in the “open” areas but we have also been given the very rare permission to dive within the protected rahui areas.

At the service.
After the outward excitement of the parade, people’s attention turned inward at the church service. (Photo by Scott Ressler)

Today is a special day for Rapa “youth”—which means a parade before church of all of the people between 16 and 40 years of age, and a real sense of occasion during the fully packed church service. On days like this, music is provided by the ukulele and drum players and everybody sings whilst swaying to the rhythm. It’s exuberant, no-holds-barred, loud, joyful singing and the people say that when they travel to the other Austral Islands for singing competitions they always win. (Listen to the Tahitian Choir from Rapa Iti.)

Back on the water, our team aboard Hanse Explorer are happy and they are reporting beautifully clear waters, coral reefs in excellent condition, tiger sharks, and even freshwater eels as a measure of how much water has been running off the island. With these conditions at sea, and these people as our partners, I do believe this expedition is going to be a winner, too!

 

Read All Posts From the Rapa 2014 Expedition

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The Pristine Seas expedition to Rapa is sponsored by Blancpain and Davidoff Cool Water.