Apr 17, 2018 - National Geographic Orion
Early this morning we arrived off Makatea Island, which is also known as AuroraIsland. It is officially considered part of the
The island measures about 4.5 miles (7.5 km) north to south in length and rises up to 260 feet (80 m) in height above sea level with a spectacular vertical cliff around most of the island’s edge. The exposed rock represents hundreds of thousands or millions of years of coral growth that built up before the island was geologically uplifted on its volcanic core. Makatea
Our trek took us through some short sections of forest habitat, but mostly we walked across a flat, pock-marked, exposed plateau environment that is mostly covered with scrubby pissonia trees, pandanus trees (also known as screwpalms), banyan trees, Polynesian plum trees, and endemic Tuamotu palms, as well as beautiful ground orchids, tiger claw lilies, rosy periwinkles, and many other flowering plants. The road way gave us an easy transit through a very treacherous and rugged limestone karst deposit. At a place called The Belvedere, we walked off the main road to an overlook for an amazing view of the cliffside and lower landforms. A little ways beyond that, we reached a picturesque grotto where many of us swam in cool, clear, fresh water. The ceiling overhead was festooned with stalactites, and many of us worked our way far back into an awesome hidden cave system. The bird watchers among us were especially happy to see some interesting birds on the island, including endemic Polynesian imperial pigeons, Makatea fruit-doves, and Tuamotu reed-warblers, as well as brown noddies, crested terns, white terns, red-footed boobies, and great and lesser frigate birds. Many of us walked the entire distance, whereas others accepted rides on trucks, which cut down on the necessary walking.
In the afternoon, we enjoyed water activities with SCUBA diving, snorkeling, and Zodiac cruises. The water was gin clear and the coral was very rich and healthy-looking. Most of the fish life in the shallows, which endured significant swells breaking over the reef flat, was composed of small creatures, but when snorkelers ventured out over the dropoff and looked out to sea, numerous larger fish were in evidence, including a massive
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