July 12, 2020 ; 10:00 AM
16°42’S, 152°29’W – Maupiti
Maupiti: The land where all your mantaseas come true.
I LOVE IT HERE. IT IS PURE PERFECTION. MANTA RAYS ARE PURE PERFECTION. THIS PLACE IS A DREAM.
The saga of coming to Maupiti was a little more complicated than we may have liked because the weather windows shift quickly this time of year in the Pacific. The pass through the reef and into the lagoon is narrow and turbulent. Boats our size are cautioned to enter only when the swell is less than 2m. But after a couple of weather-related changes of plan, we put our sails up early one Bora Bora morning for a beautiful day of sailing in about 15 knots of wind. Unfortunately, that meant we were “stuck” here because of strong winds for a full week. BEST. NEWS. EVER. For me and my mantas 😊.
As soon as we were firmly on a mooring ball we wasted no time jumping in the dinghy to explore the manta cleaning stations. I was determined to see every manta in this lagoon. The cleaning stations naturally occur because they’re simply coral heads where certain fish live. That afternoon we only saw one, “little” manta. And by “little” I mean 8 feet wide and wonderful. I chased him around the lagoon until I couldn’t keep up, but I had enough time to request that he return the following morning at 8 AM with his parents, friends, cousins, siblings for a little fun swimming with humans.
Lucky for me, while I don’t speak whale, my manta whispering is up to par. Every morning we could we swam with the mantas, and every morning there were at least 4 (sometimes up to 9). The biggest were about 12-14 feet wide!
Watching them clean was fascinating. They hover over the coral head while little fish do all the work in this mutualistic relationship. Some of them even have remoras under them all the time, similar to many sharks. As one manta was cleaned, others would literally queue up behind and wait their turn. When they had enough for the time being, they’d around the coral head and get back in line.
The best thing about the cleaning station was that it meant they stayed put for hours at a time, so we really got to dive down and observe them cleaning, swimming, and even eating. When they did decide to swim away, I loved swimming underwater behind them as they soared. They are the most graceful, magnificent creatures I’ve ever seen. I was able to soar with them underwater for a while, but when they decided to take off, I couldn’t keep up- even with my fins on.
Captain Dave and Admiral Anne literally had to drag me away on a daily basis.
Unfortunately, this morning we had to say goodbye to our mantas on our last swim, but not before attempting to rescue one that was caught up in a wire and obviously hurting. I think the manta knew he needed help, because he came right up to our friend on Cathryn Estelle and allowed him to unwrap the wire a couple times. But taking off the wrap in his mouth also meant removing it from a cut. It was likely painful and the manta got scared and took off. I swam back to the boat as fast as I could to get some wire cutters, because it would make it easier to help him get untangled. Or, if nothing else, we could cut off the 15 feet of wire behind him to keep him from getting it caught on a coral head and getting further hurt. By the time I got back, the rest of the snorkelers had lost him. It was absolutely heartbreaking.
While mantas are the most magnificent and important thing here at Maupiti, I MEAN SERIOUSLY I LOVE THEM SO MUCH, we also had a blast exploring the gorgeous island.
We dinghied to the best beach and did some snorkeling on the coral drop off. We rented bikes with Inflencer and Cathryn Estelle and rode all the way around the island, leaving no road unexplored. We ate a couple lunches at Tahona, a small beach bar near one of our anchorages with excellent poisson cru and plenty of ice cold Hinano. We were basically the only tourists on the island (again), so we were surrounded by the locals. Like on Huahine, they live a simple but beautiful life. Everyone seems happy and kind. Since the island is only about 10 km around, most people travel on bikes or motor scooters. We explored the Motus as well, and came face to face with the largest, spookiest crabs I’ve ever seen. While we dinghied to the coral gardens for more snorkeling, they were unfortunately much less fishy than those in Bora Bora. That said, they were much more natural, and we saw some eagle rays, a sea snake, giant clams, and many small fish we’ve seen around the other islands as well.
The locals are excellent fishermen so there’s always fresh caught that day tuna to purchase. $10 bought us a blue fin tuna that fed all three of us on Amazing Grace for 2 meals (sushi one night, pan-seared with red wine sauce the other). Since tuna are deep water fish, we didn’t have to worry about siccoterra, which keeps us from fishing ourselves too close to the reefs.
The other big highlight (besides the mantas) was the hike to the top of the mountain. It was steep and rigorous but only a couple hours and it took us to incredible vistas and through gorgeous vegetation. The ferns, tall trees, and leaves covering the floor reminded me of traipsing through the woods in Michigan. It was certainly the first vegetation that did that in many months!
There were volcanic rock faces to conquer and trees to climb and I loved every moment of it, right up to the view at the top. We again had the whole place to ourselves and I got to spend 20 minutes up there all alone before the others caught up. Breathtaking.
On the bad weather days, we worked on Fiji paperwork (led by Admiral Anne), read, played games, and cleaned the boat. And you better believe I’m not above snorkeling with the mantas in the rain. Every day is a good day for manta swimming.
There were dinners and sundowners with Influencer and Cathryn Estelle on the boats and beaches, and even a snuggly movie night (Bohemian Rhapsody).
The anchorage by the mantas was so stunning it rivaled the San Blas, south Fakarava, and Moorea. THIS WORLD IS SO INCREDIBLE. I can’t believe how lucky we are to be out here exploring it.
First mate, Amazing Grace
TLDR: Maupiti is the land where all your mantaseas come true <3.