We finally swam with the mantas! They are more beautiful than I anticipated, gliding slowly and smoothly below the surface. I had 10 seconds alone with them in the water with no chance to take any good photos before being descended upon…
We were the only boats anchored in the lee of Drawaqa island on the first night. We planned to get up early and try to beat some of the small backpacker resort boats to the ‘Manta Ray pass’, which was just a couple of minutes away by dinghy. When I poked my head out in the morning, I was concerned to notice a cruise ship had pulled in overnight and was dropping tenders into the water.
As we got the pass, two ‘spotter’ boats were already there and one of them had just seen the mantas arrive. They generally come every day at high tide. We were ready with our snorkel gear on so hopped in the water and swam towards them. I had my first amazing view of the four giant rays as they swam underneath me.
Then suddenly – Wirrrrrrrh! The sound of engines. Splash! The sound of people jumping in. Ooh Ahhh Cool! The sound of chatter in the water.
In less than 20 seconds, no less than 40 other people were in the water. My view was obstructed by a big white bottom in a g-string bikini. A flipper flopped in my face. The mantas swam faster away and the pod of snorkelers followed them.
So, we gave up. The rays were beautiful, no doubt, and I’m very happy to have seen them, but the crowd was just too much to handle. Instead, we let the current pull us and the dinghy back through the pass. It was wonderful! We swam effortessly with schools of hundreds of small fish and over colorful coral.
Although we didn’t try to see the mantas again, the snorkelling in the pass and just off Drawaka island was enough to keep us very well entertained. Will and I agree that it was second best underwater life we’ve seen in the South Pacific. Our anchor was set in a big sandy patch, but Hydroquest settled back over the coral with her stern to the reef – a perfect jump off for glorious fish and coral viewing. The anchorage is a new favorite for us – second only to Fakarava’s south pass.
We’re now at Vuda Point Marina (first time in a marina since Mexico!). Ironically, this is where we had planned to leave Hydroquest over the hurricane season before we decided to sail all the way to Australia in one season. It’s a great little marina. Very tight in terms of space, but nice facilities and it seems like a wonderful place to get boat work done (labour is $6 Fijian/hr). We don’t have any major projects to do so we’re looking at a weather window next week to leave for Vanuatu.