Lindblad Expeditions / National Geographic
EXPLORATIONS – A Lindblad Expeditions Blog

Expedition Recon: Makatea History & Wildlife

Sven-Olof Lindblad is in the South Pacific right now leading a reconnaissance trip to seek out never-before-offered experiences and ultimate snorkel and dive sites for guests on our five new 2018 South Pacific & French Polynesia expeditions.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

The view from Makatea, French Polynesia.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

Our team met with the Mayor of Makatea who led us to some sites on the island in planning for our upcoming South Pacific & French Polynesia expeditions. We’re eager to take our guests off the beaten path and we can do so by forming meaningful relationships in the places we explore. The mayor shared some of the island’s history, which includes a phosphate mine started in the early 1900s and was abandoned nearly overnight in 1964. At its peak the island was a hub of activity with hundreds of miners digging cylindrical holes about eight feet wide and 75 feet deep to extract phosphate.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

Meet the coconut crab, weighing up to nine pounds and measuring up to three feet leg-to-leg it is the world’s largest land-living arthropod. Our team spotted some in French Polynesia. What do coconut crabs eat? Why coconuts, of course. “Coconut Crabs are big and highly prized selling for 30 plus dollars each. Nocturnal, locals bait them with cracked coconuts and then catch them while feeding with great care as those claws can easily take off a finger.” —Sven-Olof Lindblad.

 

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

Meeting some of the next generation on Raiatea.

Expedition Recon: Magic with a Manta Ray

Sven-Olof Lindblad is in the South Pacific right now leading a reconnaissance trip to seek out never-before-offered experiences and ultimate snorkel and dive sites for guests on our five new 2018 South Pacific & French Polynesia expeditions. Joining him is journalist Chris Jones.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

By Chris Jones

Sven and Vincent, one of our dive masters, came back to the boat raving: They had just spent twenty minutes in the water with a manta ray. “That was maybe my most magical experience in the ocean,” Sven said. I wanted to puke.

I’d been snorkelling above them off Toau’s western shore during our mission to French Polynesia. There hadn’t been much to see, and I’d gone back to the boat. Then I’d missed the manta. I’ve wanted to swim with a manta since I started diving more than 25 years ago. To come that close… I tried to be happy for my friends, but if I’m being honest, it was pretty hard to take.

Vincent knew I was upset, and he saw a teaching moment in front of him. A few years ago, he had gone diving with a friend day after day, and one day the friend had reached his limit. He decided not to go out. Vincent did, and he spent the afternoon diving with three humpback whales. “After that, I decide never to miss a dive in French Polynesia,” he said. “Lesson learned.”

We prepared to dive in the same spot that afternoon. Mélo, our other dive master, told me not to get my hopes up. Just because there was a manta there in the morning didn’t mean there would be one there in the afternoon. The wild doesn’t work like a zoo.

We dropped down to the bottom and began swimming along the dropoff. Mélo was to my left. She stopped and turned her head and then began flapping her arms like wings. She was making the sign for a manta. My first thought was, That is one sick joke. Then I saw our own manta coming into view, flying over the edge of the deep blue and, later, just a few inches over my head. She was seven feet across. She covered me in shadow. Sven was right: It was maybe my most magical experience in the ocean.

Vincent was also right: Lesson learned.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

Expedition Recon: Vincent Truchet, Undersea Photographer

Sven-Olof Lindblad is in the South Pacific right now leading a reconnaissance trip to seek out never-before-offered experiences and ultimate snorkel and dive sites for guests on our five new 2018 South Pacific & French Polynesia expeditions. Joining him is acclaimed underwater photographer Vincent Truchet.

Meet Vincent Truchet

These are some of Vincent’s shots from night dives, drift snorkeling, and reef exploration. See more photos on Vincent’s website and follow him in Instagram. One of his favorite subjects is sharks, which can be found in abundance in these healthy reef ecosystems.

Photo by Vincent Truchet

Photo by Vincent Truchet

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Expedition Recon: Palm Isles of Fakarava & Night Dives

Update from Sven-Olof Lindblad, who is in the South Pacific right now leading a reconnaissance trip to seek out never-before-offered experiences and ultimate snorkel and dive sites for guests on our five new 2018 South Pacific & French Polynesia expeditions.

The black tips are still cruising our stern, the breeze is cool and the sunrise perfect. Part of me wishes we could stay here all week.

We pack up gear, lather on sun lotion, and head out to explore the motu, islets of sand and palms.

Photo Justin DeShields

The morning incoming tide starts at 11:30, bringing clear water into the South Pass. Everything here revolves around the tide. The flats around the motu are very shallow. They surround the islands with an incredible blue which feeds into our fantasy of Polynesia. “Be careful of standing under coconut trees,” our dive masters tell us. “I know, as once I was resting under one in the Seychelles and a huge one fell beside me. Lesson learned.”

We see a huge flock of white-capped noddies diving into the deeper water, which is so clear we can see their prey. It’s a dramatic sight as the sea boils with small fish driven to the surface by large trevalli.

Photo Kristin Hettermann

We head back to our boat to catch the incoming tide. This time we dive the outer wall and drift back into the lagoon. It’s a stunning site. Beautiful coral that the locals refer to as roses covers the bottom at 30 meters and then just falls off to hundreds of meters. It’s a deep, haunting blue and dozens of sharks—grey reef, silver tip, and coral—cruise this divide. We begin to drift into the channel, picking up speed. It’s magical, no effort needed. Fish everywhere, a reef that is so healthy that you get a feeling that all’s good in the ocean.

I wish I could just stay here for hours, but we are limited, requiring clumsy gear to be in this ocean realm, and, of course, air, 45 minutes at a time.

Photo Justin DeShields

We all finish the dive elated. A quick turn around and off to snorkel in the shallows. I’m convinced this is the best spot I’ve ever snorkeled in my life. A gentle drop off, almost total coral cover, all kinds of fish, Napoleon Wrasse, goatfish, paddletail snapper, angelfish and more. And always, the lab-like black tips cruising the shallows. The setting sun is spectacular, and for most the day would be done. For us, there is one more adventure.

Photo Vincent Truchet

There are at least 30 sharks cruising our stern. Vincent and Melo, our dive masters, brief us. “Diving with sharks at night is different,” they say. “They are hunting now and their behavior is very different. Of course they are not interested in us but nevertheless it is important to be aware.” We suit up and the adrenaline begins to pump as strongly as the current. “Keep your bodies tight,” says Vincent. “And let’s all stay together.”

Photo Justin DeShields

Down we go into the black. The boat’s underwater lights provide an eerie glow. Sharks dart in and out of the light with purpose. We sit on the bottom and look up. After a bit Vincent feels comfortable enough to move up into the water column. We are now surrounded by hunting sharks. It’s crazy, exciting, and beautiful. I’m somehow totally calm and happy to be in their realm right after lunch. We get back on the boat and the conversation over dinner was abuzz over accounts of our most spectacular day.

— Sven-Olof Lindblad

Expedition Recon: Fakarava South Pass

Sven-Olof Lindblad is in the South Pacific right now leading a reconnaissance trip to seek out never-before-offered experiences and ultimate snorkel and dive sites for guests on our five new 2018 South Pacific & French Polynesia expeditions. Explore this site, Fakarava, on our upcoming expedition Easter Island to Tahiti: Tales of the Pacific

Photo Vincent Truchet

There are more sharks than people in Fakarava. There are so many of them—black tips, silver tips, grey reefs, corals—they can blur the line between animal and architecture. The second day of Lindblad Expeditions’ research mission to French Polynesia began with an incredible dive outside the atoll’s southern pass. There were enough sharks stacked on top of each other between the lagoon and the ocean, they looked almost like a wall.

Countless other species call the pass home. Eagle rays fly against the current. Groupers sometimes school there. Barracuda and tuna shine in the light streaming through the turquoise water. A Napoleon wrasse, nearly a meter long, nosed in and out of the pristine coral.

Photo Vincent Truchet

But the sharks are the main attraction. The strange thing about diving with sharks—once you stop shouting “That’s a shark!” every time you see one—is how unmistakable they are. Even from a distance, even if all you catch of one is its silhouette out of the corner of your eye, the way they look, the way they don’t move through the water so much as they own it: That’s a shark.

Photo Vincent Truchet

And when there are so many of them, the experience is close to overwhelming. Because sharks have suffered for years from their outsized reputation for aggression, fear, at least a little of it, might crackle through the water. It takes only a few minutes for that fear to subside and turn into wonder. You realize that you might be looking at hundreds of sharks at once, but none of them is looking at you. You’re just one more fish in the sea, swimming between corals into the calm of the lagoon. You just happen to be swimming there together.

Chris Jones

Expedition Recon: Fakarava & Shark Paradise

Update from Sven-Olof Lindblad, who is in the South Pacific right now leading a reconnaissance trip to seek out never-before-offered experiences and ultimate snorkel and dive sites for guests on our five new 2018 South Pacific & French Polynesia expeditions.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

We entered the northern pass at Fakarava this morning at sunrise. It wasn’t the beauty of sunrise that heralded the day but the calm waters after 36 hours of banging our way east into the swell of the trades. It was a big relief for all and as soon as we dropped anchor in the south pass it became clear the next two days would be action packed. We instantly became surrounded by black-tipped reef sharks investigating the newcomers in the hope of getting an easy meal. The mood aboard was intense as we prepared for our first dive.

The current would begin to enter the lagoon at 10:10 brining in clear water. The dive in the pass is world famous and ours certainly did not disappoint. As soon as we entered the water and for the next 45 minutes we were surrounded by grey reef sharks. They ride the current and behave almost like labs, absolutely nothing to fear here. We went again in the afternoon and then later hung in the shallows with the black tips. This is shark heaven for the snorkels, the diver, and even for those who just want to watch from shore.

Fakarava is indeed a slice of paradise.

Sven-Olof Lindblad

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

Sven-Olof Lindblad surveys coral debris left from a recent storm on Fakarava.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

Expedition Recon: Exploring Huahine

Sven-Olof Lindblad is in the South Pacific right now leading a reconnaissance trip to seek out never-before-offered experiences and ultimate snorkel and dive sites for guests on our five new 2018 South Pacific & French Polynesia expeditions. Follow along for an inside look at the thought, planning, and passion that goes into creating Lindblad itineraries. Follow Sven on Instagram. 

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

Our recon team arrived at Huahine, part of the Society Islands of French Polynesia. It’s known for superb, healthy reefs near shore and dense, thriving jungles inland.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

We sailed past canoes paddled by local fishermen as we made our way to explore one landing site.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

Our team found a site where we may be able to offer guests on our French Polynesia: Beyond the Postcard expedition a chance to drift snorkel.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

Floating in a current that feeds nutrients to a variety of sea life we were afforded the opportunity to see a thriving ecosystem. Clear seas and bright sunshine make for ideal conditions.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

Colors of undersea life are brightest and most vibrant near the surface where the light is best. This site will offer our snorkelers a fantastic place to see and photograph the undersea.

 

Expedition Recon: Snorkeling with Rays & Sharks

Sven-Olof Lindblad is in the South Pacific right now leading a reconnaissance trip to seek out never-before-offered experiences and ultimate snorkel and dive sites for guests on our five new 2018 South Pacific & French Polynesia expeditions. Follow along for an inside look at the thought, planning and passion that goes into creating Lindblad itineraries. Follow Sven on Instagram

Photo Vincent Truchet

Just off the tiny isle of Moorea, which we’ll explore on our Isles, Atolls, and Pristine Corals: Southern Line Islands expedition in 2018, our recon team discovered a splendid place for our guests to snorkel with schools of rays and sharks.

Photo Justin DeShields

No need to be scuba proficient to swim with these sharks and rays. Our recon videographer Justin DeShields captures some of the schooling action with a drone.

Photo Kristin Hettermann

 

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Expedition Recon: Sailing the South Pacific aboard Hōkūle‘a

Sven-Olof Lindblad is in the South Pacific right now leading a reconnaissance trip to seek out never-before-offered experiences and ultimate snorkel and dive sites for guests on our five new 2018 South Pacific & French Polynesia expeditions. Follow along for an inside look at the thought, planning and passion that goes into creating Lindblad itineraries. Follow Sven on Instagram

Sven & team joined the Hōkūle‘a, a traditional Polynesia sailing vessel, to sail from Papeete to Raiatea on one of the final legs of their around-the-world journey. This is their first dispatch.

Photo Sven Lindblad

“A full day preparing the Hōkūle‘a and Hikianalia for our momentous journey Papeete to Raiatea tomorrow.” -Sven Lindblad, who will be joining one of the last legs of Hōkūle’a, a Hawaiian voyaging canoe, sailing across earth’s oceans to grow the global movement toward a more sustainable future.

Meanwhile Justin DeShields gets on with expedition preparation.

 

Photo Kristin Hettermann

Before sailing Sven Lindblad interviewed fellow Ocean Elder Nainoa Thompson as they prepared to embark the Hōkūleʻa and Hikianalia on one of the final legs of the three year Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage. Heading towards the completion of a circumnavigation of the globe using the stars and other elements of nature in traditional Polynesian fashion, they from Papeete to Raiatea. The goal of the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage is to cross the Earth’s oceans to join and grow the global movement toward a more sustainable world. The interview will be part of a video created at the completion of this recon expedition.

“Getting settled in with a good wind and 8 knot speed.” -Sven Lindblad

 

“Dolphins escorted us out of the port in Papeete and the adventure begins. Always a good sign to be beside these messengers of the sea. The Hokulea is underway and we will shadow to Raiatea.” -Kristin Hettermann

“Kalepa gazing out towards Moorea. A captain and a master navigator, he seems to be contemplating our course and everything that plays into our journey.” -Sven Lindblad

10% of World’s Mangrove Finches Aboard National Geographic Endeavour II

Hatched between 0200-0500 aboard National Geographic Endeavour II Thursday en route to the Charles Darwin Research Station.

It is the rarest bird in Galápagos with an estimated population of just 80 individuals—and 8 of their eggs were just safely transported to the Charles Darwin Research Station via our ship National Geographic Endeavour II. And even better news—one of the eggs hatched en route! Beau Parks, lead keeper at San Diego Zoo’s Avian Propagation Center, was aboard with the team from the Mangrove Finch Project who are bringing the 7 eggs and one hatchling back to the Charles Darwin Research Center. Thank you Fanny Cuninghame, Mangrove Finch Project Leader at the station, for trusting us with this precious cargo. The eggs and hatchling retrieved on this expedition, the latest in a multi-year collaboration between the San Diego Zoo and the CDRS to give the birds a a head-start. It’s a good day for conservation in the islands. We’re thrilled to be support this important work.

You’re looking at 10% of the world’s Mangrove Finch population aboard our ship in Galápagos.