Going on a Turtling Safari...

Saturday October 06, 2018 Written by Published in Weekend
Green sea turtles can hold their breath for between four and seven hours, allowing them to rest on rock shelves underwater. 18100501 Green sea turtles can hold their breath for between four and seven hours, allowing them to rest on rock shelves underwater. 18100501

As a small lad I remember being reduced to tears by documentary footage of baby turtles - just hatched from eggs – struggling to make it to the nearby ocean across a very wide expanse of sand.

 

They were tiny, and cute, and ever so vulnerable to the ever-increasing line up of gulls swooping down on them for a feed.

I was traumatised, thank-you Sir David Attenborough, but from that moment my life-long love of turtles (testudines) was born.

Now courtesy of mostly living in the colder climes of the world – New Zealand, Britain and Victoria in Australia – there have not been many opportunities for this fellow to encounter sea turtles in the wild.

That changed this week when I donned mask and fins, grabbed a sea-scooter and then, courtesy of Ariki Adventures at Muri Beach, went on a Turtle Safari near the deep Avaavaroa passage on the southern side of Rarotonga.

Our group met at the Ariki Adventures HQ and off we road-scootered to where the Green sea turtles had been seen near the Youth With A Mission compound.

The gear vehicle was already on the coral-sand beach and we all quickly were given our equipment, pre-booked wetsuits and had our safety chat.

Those of us with GoPros then had them attached to the sea-scooters. For safety you are not allowed to have anything loose that could be caught in the guarded blades of your sea-scooter and that includes camera straps. So it’s Go Pros on the front of the scooter or nothing. And those with long locks need to tie them securely otherwise, if your hair gets caught, the guides have sharp knives to free you.

Then it was off into the un-Rarotonga-like cool waters of the lagoon. I was very glad I was in a wetsuit for my first swim of the year – the water must dipped down to at least 23 degrees.

Anyway, our instructions were to fin out to the lagoon passage with the current and only use the scooters to get back into the beach against the strong pull of the outgoing tide.

Surprisingly - not having snorkelled for a year - the journey out was easy and we were soon in the presence of those majestic turtles.

Well, to start with it was a single turtle having a bit of a kip on a rock ledge. It seems turtles can hold their breath for up to seven hours which, it has to be said, is about 420 times longer than I can.

Then we saw another, a larger one, and then one swam through us. It was so graceful it barely seemed to be making an effort at all, but my legs were powering away like mad things to keep up with it.

And here is a bit of advice to people going on these Turtle Safaris – be at the front of the group. The reason is this – snorkelers in the presence of beautiful sea creatures (turtles, manta rays, sharks) tend to forget anything and everything around them and you will be lost in a sea of fin-created bubbles, or cop a flipper or two in the face.

Excited folk aside, swimming with sea turtles is just one of the most magnificent – and serene – things you can do on holiday.

The turtles just seem so laidback and cruisy – very much like the character Crush from the Finding Nemo movie.

Their shell colours are rich and the patterns are varied. From a distance in stirred-up water the turtles seem brown but if they swim near the surface and the sun hits them they turn into living works of art.

I could have happily swum with them all day.

There was one surreal moment as a very large turtle, which looked almost exactly like Crush, swam by and blinked slowly in that turtle sort of way. I half expected it to turn to me and say: “How are you going dude? Having a nice time?”

Yeah, great time Crush … ah, Mr Turtle.

And I reckon that everyone who went on the Ariki Adventures Turtle Safari with me would agree.

In our 90-minute session with turtles we saw nine of the amazing creatures and I can thoroughly recommend it as a tourist must-do on Rarotonga.

Thanks to Kura Happ for her excellent safari leadership, owner Kave and Jules Tamaariki for coming up with such a terrific adventure and the rest of the safari team for looking after us so well.

Ariki Adventures Turtle Safaris are $99 per person. www.arikiholidays.com  

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