Island of Rurutu
|RURUTU, a Whale Watcher's Paradise|
Hundreds of miles to the southwest of Tahiti lie the Austral islands. From the limestone grottoes of Rurutu to the near isolation of far off Rapa, these islands offer an exotic paradise for the adventurous spirit.
These volcanic islands are sometimes also known as the Tubuai Islands. The group comprises seven islands, plus islets, with a total land area of c.115 sq mi (300 sq km). Tubuai, the largest island (c.17 sq mi/44 sq km), was visited by Capt. James Cook in 1777 and was annexed by France in 1880.
European diseases and slavers very nearly wiped out the native Polynesian population of the islands, especially on Rapa. In 1938, French authorities imposed strict regulations on immigration and tourism.
The Australs are famous for their arts - elaborate woodcarvings and enormous stone tikis - although the missionaries succeeded in destroying the ancient techniques and today there are almost no traditional artisans. The Australs are quite varied, although they have none of the fecund vegetation of the Societies to the north, and feature limestone caverns, ruined temples (maraes) and hilltop fortresses (pas) on the territory's southernmost island, Rapa.
Far removed from the distractions of civilisation, these hard working fishermen and farmers live quiet, contented lives in their villages where houses and churches are often built of coral limestone. Coffee, arrowroot, tobacco, and copra are produced on the islands.
Rurutu is a small island of about 36 square miles, an hour and a half by plane from Tahiti. The Australs' highest mountain peak is on Rurutu and reaches an altitude of 1270 feet (385 meters). Its geological structure is unique in Polynesia as this island features a smaller lagoon and is surrounded by steep cliffs with several caves with stalactites and stalagmites created by water drops over millions of years. This is why it is sometimes called the “Troglodyte island”. Those caves constitutes one of the major points of interest.
In the main village of Moerai there is a gendarmerie, a post office with telephone facilities, an infirmary with doctor and dentist, two branches of Tahiti banks, four small stores and two bakeries, a couple of snack bars and a butcher shop. An electric station provides 24-hour service, a radio and TV video station gives news and entertainment, and there are primary and high schools. Moerai and the villages of Avera and Hauti are home to the island's 2,015 inhabitants.
Activities include horseback riding and hiking to waterfalls, where refreshing showers cascade into fern bordered pools. Circle island tours by four-wheel drive vehicle wind over rutted roads into cool valleys where fields of wild "miri" sweet basil scent the breeze. Picnic lunches can be packed for these trips or to play in the sun on deserted white sand beaches.
A special cultural event on Rurutu occurs each January and July when the young men and women of each village prove themselves in a show of strength. Following a custom called "amoraa ofai", unique to Rurutu, they attempt to lift huge volcanic stones to their shoulders.The village champions hoist one sacred stone that weighs 330 lbs. (150 kg.). This accomplishment is followed by exuberant feasting and dancing.
Because of the lack of lagoons, few beaches are available in Rurutu except for the white sand beaches of Naairoa, Avera and Arei.
The real draw of Rurutu are the large pods of whales migrating there with their calves between July and October.
Humpbacks inhabit all the oceans of the world. But, at the end of autumn they leave their cold, rich feeding ground for warm tropical waters, fasting until they return to the cold again in early spring. It was soon discovered that Rurutu was a place for pregnant females to give birth, feed their young and let them gain enough weight and strength for the long journey home around October/November. Rurutu's shallow waters are free of deep-sea predators, and in case of a storm there are calm lagoons on both sides.
These magnificent creatures grow to an average of 16m in length and weigh approximately 40 tonnes. For your whale encounter you will be guided by professional divers to experience the wonder of these magnificent creatures. It is not uncommon to witness a mother tenderly playing with her young calf.
These snorkeling trips also bring to life the privilege of being an audience to a veritable underwater opera: the power and tonal range of the songs of the males, amplified by the coral sea bed, is truly an unforgettable experience. The singing is hauntingly beautiful, overpowering. Humpback Whales sing the most complex songs in the animal kingdom, consisting of many themes sung in a specific order. A song can last half an hour, then the whale begins the same song again, repeating it for hours, even days. This vocal display is probably related to breeding, attracting females or announcing territory, to maintain spacing between adjacent males or to advertise the fitness of the singer. Sound travels better and faster in water than in air, so the sea is a perfect place for acoustic advertising.
Aside from swimming with the whales you can also scuba dive on the beautiful reefs of Rurutu where you will see many different species of fish as well as sharks.
The island itself is very pretty and lush, with a small local population very attached to it's culture and traditions. The visit of some of Rurutu spectacular caves is a must.
Accommodation is limited as there are only 3 small hotels/lodges with garden or beach bungalows.
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