Just before New Year we went to the furtherest islands of the twelve islands in the atoll. This island is called Nukurekia and is the wildlife reserve. Access is only permitted in daylight hours and overnight stays are punishable by a fine. To quote Richard Moyle " The ban on killing edible seabirds, which nest there in very large numbers, is periodically lifted by the Ariki, and an annual school picnic to the island allows children a chance to visit this remote location". Most of the edible seabirds are lakeha (the black bird I have already mentioned in an earlier post).
The first thing Zane asked me when we arrived was whether I had watched the Hitchcock film The Birds. Well no I haven't Zane, but of course I knew what he was getting at. There were birds in the thousands (and again I am not exaggerating about this) circling en mass above us. For the first twenty minutes my mouth was just open in astonishment and then I thought, "hey I better close it because I am looking up all the time and there is a very good probability that bird poo could land directly inside my mouth - if I am not careful".
Because I love birds, and because I have grown up with a father who knows every bird call in the forest, this place was pretty impressive. When standing underneath the shade of the coconut trees and other vegetation you are deafened by the heavy chorus of Lakeha squawking. Standing on the edge of the sandy spit you can watch the birds fly out onto the lagoon, diving and weaving through one another's flight paths. The larger birds, such as the Kanapu (gannets), show off among the smaller birds flying lower across the water.
In the very glaring fierce sun we worked solidly for about 3-4 hours filming the birds, while the family that accompanied us lay in the shade and took intermittent swims. I have already decided that if I ever get married perhaps this is where I would go for my honey moon. At one point I did think to myself, “If only we weren't working and we too were relaxing in this paradise... “ but in some way what we are doing is even more fun... I tried to remind Zane of this as he was looking pretty hot and tired.
Around mid day, we and our host family clambered into the unstable boat, following the edge of the reef back to Nukutoa. The reason for this route was because Sio was looking for turtles (unameia). It was the one time of the year when the people on Nuketoa are allowed to catch turtles around the wild life sanctuary. We spotted one and to attract its attention all the kids started tapping the boat (obviously this makes them come near). Then Sio jumped into the water, grabbing the turtle. After lifting it out of the water and inspecting its head and the markings on its back he said to us "this one we don't eat". I asked why and he briefly replied "its custom". I persisted further eager to understand why it was custom, thinking, perhaps this turtle is an endangered one and these people are helping to preserve it through their own customs.. but Sio didn't know why. I then asked him to wait before he let the turtle go.. Grabbing a snorkle and mask I jumped off the boat in all my clothes (but this is no big deal as I have to swim in my clothes anyway - people here don't wear swim costumes) and I looked at the turtle under the water. Sio let go of his grip and the beautiful turtle flapped its arms, swimming off into the deeper part of the reef. I still have the picture in my mind watching the turtle go further into the deep part of the sea, beautiful coral beneath me and again the water that aqua blue colour you get in the tropics. It was such an amazing sight although I know it sounds very cheesy the way I am describing it.
On the way back to the island I was overwhelmed with a sense of joy and peace after seeing that turtle. I just couldn't believe how beautiful the sea, the island and the people were. It made me feel emotional again, which is typical of me - making every beautiful thing or sad thing into some kind of melodrama or film scene in my head. I was so elated and energized that I stridently told our host family that I would hop off the boat and swim back to the island all by myself. We were about twenty or thirty meters away and I thought this would be a reasonable swim but not too far. Rose insisted I jump out closer
but I was like "no no its ok". So any way I jump out to realise swimming is much harder when you have a loose lap lap dragging at your body weighing you down and also, swimming is much harder when the current is going out. Meanwhile the boat had zoomed off and everyone had already forgotten about me, no one was looking back. I struggled to get in and had to remind myself not to panic. That was a lesson for being over zealous and a bit of an attention seeker or a clown...