“The first experience can never be repeated. The first love, the first sunrise, the first South Sea island, are memories apart and touched a virginity of sense”
Robert Louis Stevenson In the South Seas
Rairora, Kon Tiki island
Longtitude: 16’4 S
Latitude: 1422’2 W
Some things are worth repeating. Raroia was our coup de foudre in the Tuamotus, as Fatu Hiva had been in the Marquesas. The crew of La Cigale would be hard pressed to say which of them tops the list for Polynesia as we love the craggy, mountainous Marquesan giants as much as the the low-lying Tuamotus, a mere twinkle in the sea, blink and you miss them.
The memorial to Thor Heyerdahl has been erected at the centre of a small motu, barely an acre large where he ran aground on the reef exterior to the atoll. It is a small plaque with a couple of beams from the Kon Tiki raft propped up in front, and a few Norwegian flags in the trees around. As we approached two dozen fairy terns, like white dove with black beaks (where was the olive branch? wondered Isabelle), part hummingbird, part seagull, circled above our head. Island spirits flitting above, they conjured up an ethereal atmosphere, a regular fairy turn and midsummer (well, nearly!) day’s dream. As the sun set on the island, we built castles and flamingos in the rose-coloured coral sand. And the light. An artist would have a field day here. Constable springs to mind. As we passed over the transparent water, as still as a millpond, I spotted a splash of royal blue and called a halt. I thought, as did he, that we had somehow dropped our swim towel and manoeuvred round to pick it up. On closer inspection we realised it was coral, deep azure. In other parts, violet.
We had five days in Rairoa with our Norwegian friends on KEA, C'EST SI BON and JOVIAL, and it was so much fun. Each evening they would get a bonfire going on the beach, and, keen on spearfishing, barbecue the catch of the day. I imagined Thor Heyerdahl looking down on his fellow country-folk, there in his honour, and smiling. Meanwhile we brought the sausages. That in turn would bring the sharks - the first surprise for me in the Tuamotus was learning in what shallow water they could swim! We also toasted dough sticks, cracked open coconuts (just add rum!) and had a wonderful time. A couple of days later BAJKA (sailing-bajka.ch) arrived and the Norwegians downloaded for us the award-winning film Kon Tiki. It was all in Norwegian, but we got the gist and had great fun doing our own interpretative voiceovers! The film begins with a flash back to ten years before when Thor and his wife live in Fatu Hiva - another link in our journey - and he has a revelation about the Tiki that prompts this whole endeavour.
For the first few days the water was blissfully calm, great for snorkelling, especially in the hoa or channel between two motus. Catherine can swim perfectly well unaided but a life-jacket was the right call to allow her to bob along exploring the underwater garden there, the drift current was quite strong, while Isabelle was overjoyed to see a sea snake darting into a rock. She has always loved snakes! I loved the giant clams with the metallic blue or jade creatures in the lining. Meanwhile back on the boat Francis was especially enjoying the science element of his home education science lessons, examining the how of generating energy from our solar panels, and looking at the function of rope pulleys to explain the gearing principle.
Rairoa, then, was paradise for us. Eventually though, the wind picked up, the waves became choppier, and that restricted our movement out and about on the paddle boards and kayaks. It was time to move on.
In a neat twist, our bridesmaid Heather and her husband Alex were holidaying in the Lake District, and while touring round Beatrix Potter’s house bumped into Øystein Kock Johansen who was on the Kon Tiki expedition with Thor Heyerdahl, and his closest co-worker over the years. Xavier had just posted a drone photo of Rairoa on Facebook, which they were able to show Øystein in turn. “Very, very boring place” he observed drily, and walked off. I’m not sure how long he had to wait before being rescued from the island, but I think we lucked out with the company there and had lots more fun!