Tahiti: Finding Nemo was thrill enough, thanks

By Rebecca Barry Hill

Watching as your friend is attacked by a fish is not what you want to see when you're snorkelling in waters known to harbour sharks.

And even if the attacking fish is smaller than a human hand, there's something disconcerting about the way it repeatedly launches itself at her leg. She screams, I laugh, then the little black Nemo has a go at me too.

We are floating in the deepest water we dare on Rangiroa, a beautiful atoll off Tahiti, where skindivers once braved the sharks in pursuit of pearls.

We've opted for the wimpy version where we can explore from the surface just a few metres from shore, but even here there are thousands of fish of all shapes and colours.

But after being stabbed a few times by this aggressive little fella, we head back. Better to be safe than sorry.

Rangiroa, which means "boundless sky", is an hour's flight north-east of Tahiti. Situated on the Tuamotu archipelago, it is the largest atoll in Polynesia. Drive along the main road and you'll have a view of the untamed coast to your left and the azure of the vast lagoon to your right. The point where they meet is a surging channel where dolphins play, sharks feed and divers flock.

New Zealand tourists are more likely to stay closer to Tahiti, so it's a nice surprise to learn that our hotel is called Kia Ora. Legend has it that not far away, the first canoes bound for New Zealand set out around 950.

Kia Ora has 63 gorgeous thatched bungalows, some of them jutting out over the bluest water I have ever seen. For those who aren't so keen on swimming with the fishes, they can watch through the glass-bottom bar.

A superyacht moors in the lagoon on our second day. We decide it must belong to Bill Gates but our discussion is overheard by two of its crew who have a few days off. They tell us it's owned by a wealthy American family whose most recent guests were a group of snooty New York teens. Oh, and Beyonce and Jay-Z.

Rangiroa is so sophisticated that it even has its own vineyard, Vin de Tahiti. A half-hour boat ride takes us to a tiny motu (island) that looks deserted.

Another half hour of bumping along a dirt road in a truck with no windshield and finally, the vineyard appears, 12ha of flourishing vines - with coconut palms in the background.

Meticulous planning went into this place, which was founded by French entrepreneur Dominique Auroy in the early 90s.

The salty air and the coral and limestone-enriched soil are believed to help keep insects and disease at bay.

It's thought to be the first successful project of its kind in the world, and exports to the United States, Japan and even to France.

Sure, the wine lacks the body and colour of New Zealand vintages but it has a light fruity flavour that would go well with fish. And heck, it's not every day you get to taste a drop from the tropics.

Back on the mainland, talk has turned to fish of another kind.

The superyacht guys have been diving at an area known as the Aquarium where they were surrounded by about 400 sharks.

It was so amazing, they want us to check it out tomorrow.

Don't think so. Nemo was scary enough.

* Rebecca Barry was a guest of Tahiti Tourisme, flew Air New Zealand, and stayed at Hotel Kia Ora, Rangiroa.

Checklist

Tahiti

Package Deals

House of Travel have deals flying Air Tahiti Nui from Auckland, three nights in Hotel Kia Ora, Rangiroa, plus two nights in the InterContinental Tahiti Resort at either end of the visit. $2599 each from June to November and $2559 in November and December. Call House of Travel on 0800 838 747 for details.

Gullivers have seven-night packages on Moorea from $2229 each twin share, including return economy class airfares Auckland-Papeete flying Air New Zealand, five nights at the InterContinental Moorea Resort & Spa, two nights at the InterContinental Tahiti Resort and return catamaran transfers to Moorea from Papeete (June 30 - November 15). Call United Travel on 0800 468 648.

Further Information

More about holidays in the islands of Tahiti at www.tahiti-tourisme.co.nz

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