MEMORIES OF RANGIROA, sans touristes.

One of my most treasured travel memories is of a visit to the great atoll of Rangiroa in the Tuamotu Archipelago of French Polynesia.

It was 1969. There were no tourists because there were no hotels. I stayed with Tahitian-French friends who monitored the seismographic station. I had just completed six months work at the Club Mediterranee on Moorea. Responsible for a team of five lazy Tahitian hostesses who spoke no English and several hundred tourists, mainly American, who spoke no French. On learning it was not Club Med policy to carry luggage, one lady even flew straight back to LA. At Christmas the housemaids went on strike and it was left for me to deliver fresh laundry to the guests. It should have been a dream job on an island paradise, but it nearly did my head in and when someone suggested Rangiroa at the end of season, I booked a flight from Tahiti the following day.

Few people had heard of Rangiora before Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon Tiki raft grounded there following its epic voyage from Peru in 1947.

The largest atoll in the Pacific, its 300-mile-long coral reef encloses a lagoon, sometimes turquoise, sometimes jade, or aquamarine and literally teeming with fish. On a visit to the Tuamotus, the French marine explorer Jacques Cousteau declared Rangiroa’s lagoon the most beautiful aquarium on earth.

Life was very laid back when I visited in the sixties. Coconuts dropped off the trees and needing to eat, locals plucked a lobster off the ocean side of the reef, or speared a fish in the lagoon. To me, all those years ago, it offered a glimpse of the simple life immortalised in Gauguin’s paintings of Polynesia.

Today, predictably, there are hotels and dive centres so rather than spoil my memory of Rangiroa, I shall find another atoll in the Tuamotus, as yet untouched by tourism…

Roads exist in Rangiroa’s two small villages, Avarotu and Tiputa, but outside these communities, transport is only by boat within the great lagoon.

 

The sweet scented tiare, or Gardenia taitensis, grows on Rangiroa. and is woven into flower crowns by local Paumotuan women.
A scene reminiscent of a painting by Paul Gauguin taken on Rangiroa in the sixties. Population today is estimated at 2,700 mainly Paumotuan. Note the small dog.
Tropical storm clouds gather over Rangiroa’s great lagoon. The dark patches in the water are coral. You just dive in straight off the reef which is what I did, every day.
Sunset over the great lagoon of Rangiroa, with fish rising.  The Tuamotu Archipelago, is a French collectivity scattered over the Pacific north-east of Tahiti.
I don’t normally post pictures of myself. But here I am, way back in in the sixties, enjoying the simple life in French Polynesia.

 

Copyright photos: Christine Osborne Pictures

About Travels with My Hat

Australian photojournalist and author. Used London as a base for nearly forty years while freelancing in the Middle East, Arabian peninsular, Africa and South Asia. Have written and illustrated more than a dozen books and travel guides. Operates a well regarded religious images stock photo library: www.worldreligions.co.uk. Live in Leura in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney.
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6 Responses to MEMORIES OF RANGIROA, sans touristes.

  1. Colleen O'Brien says:

    A beautiful account of a past paradise, I looked it up on Google maps and found only a pin in the ocean – amazing, even today no image of it to be seen by technology! It sounds and looks idyllic, the sea and the freedom suits you so well it is hard to understand how and why you chose instead one of the most crowded cities in the world and reporting on events in what is largely and mostly desert lands, a conundrum no doubt.

  2. Colleen O'Brien says:

    P.S. Great photo of you – you look so free!

  3. Julia Osborne says:

    An exquisite place and aside from some negatives of your 6 months beforehand, it certainly was worth your visit. Beautiful photos. I don’t recall seeing the one of you, I wonder if you dived in from the boat. Good memories, eh.

    • CO says:

      Thanks Julia. I dived a lot, almost daily. Photo was on taken when I was hôtesse en chef at Club Med, Moorea. I am wearing a frangipanni flower crown.

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