My first surprise encounter on entering the Rarotongan lagoon, and almost chocking with surprise, was the bright blue starfish. I was soon to see even more of the almost comical looking beauties scattered along the sandy bottom or tucked into some stunningly sculptured coral formations.
A favourite pastime with my granddaughter in New Zealand is calling into the local sports shop and watching the beautifully coloured and patterned tropical fish swim around in their tropical tank.
Swimming amongst these fish, in the open ocean, and sharing their space was magical. However, the magic was only just beginning.
Our mission was onu-spotting and I was so excited to see my first, a male, resting on a rock ledge on the precipice of a deep water cavern, almost out of sight. Snorkelling across to the other side of the cavern, I saw another, named Charlotte by our guide team, the majestic turtle mother, as if on her coral throne. Her beautifully marked body and shell, so clear through the turquoise water.
I have played in the sea with Moko the dolphin from Mahia and hand-fed stingray off Gisborne’s East Coast in New Zealand - both scary and exhilarating, but nothing compared to what I saw next.
Floating so gracefully right beneath me, gliding so slowly but purposefully in from the open ocean, through the pass and into the deep lagoon, a brilliantly decorated onu, coming up right beside me.
It was so close I could see clearly its beautiful body and shell markings, the inspiration for tapa and pareu and other artworks around the world. Before it moved too deep to be seen, another and another came and swam beside it. Then they were gone.
“Super Yoga Granddaddy” Tuhe Piho our leader, along with two guides Ben Ngametua and Carl Marsters, had been paddling around us, watching and directing us and keeping us in safe waters. Piho offers the tour because he says it brings so much joy and pleasure and he wanted others to share it.
“My skill is in keeping people safe, and people should never go into these passages unless they are with one of the skilled guides or operators we have on the island,” he says.
Over an hour in the water seemed like a flash in time. I swam with a majestic serene and beautiful creature of the sea today and time lost all meaning. That was an experience I will keep with me forever.