24 June 2008 | Cook's Bay, Moorea
We had heard about a place here in Moorea where you can "swim" with Stingrays. Okay! Sign us up! The way it goes is this: you take your dinghy from Opunohu Bay waaaaayyyy around to where the Hotel Intercontinental is. At a shallow spot not far from the hotel the rays will come to you. They hear your outboard and after many years of being fed by the tourists who are carted back and forth from the hotel they know the drill.
It's a bit tricky if you're not sure where you're going- you could easily end up with your dinghy high-centered on a coral head. Ask us how we know.and how Blue Plains Drifter knows. and how Tin Soldier knows. but I digress. Once you figure out that someone has thoughtfully placed a large number of upright markers (channel markers if you will) along the path from one bay to the next, and that these markers outline a passable route through the treacherous coral, the rest of the trip is easy.
Once we got to the specified location we discovered that what we'd been told was true. The stingrays came right up to our dinghy. They are quite large, easily 3 feet across and 5 feet long with their tails. Frankly it was a bit freaky at first, especially if you've been told about the "Stingray Shuffle", a sensible way to walk in shallow water to avoid accidentally stepping on a ray slumbering beneath his blanket of sand and thereby eliciting his innate defense mechanism and getting a nasty and very painful barb in the foot.
But I'd heard about other cruisers who had this experience, and I'd even seen video footage of several people standing in the shallow water (about waist deep) surrounded by a large number of inquisitive rays. When I was certain I wouldn't land on one I jumped out of the dinghy. I had some tuna from a can that I was tossing to them in an effort to be neighborly (tossing AWAY from me, I might add) and they seemed interested. John jumped in soon after, just in time to see one swim right to me and actually brush me as he swam past (no sudden movements, no sudden movements!).
After awhile we were all in the water and we even got brave enough to reach out and touch them as they swam up to us. Their undersides were amazingly soft, almost velvet-like. Their tops were a bit gritty, from salt or sand I suppose. For their part they seemed to have no problem with our presence or our contact. Many of them would brush us with their "wings" as they swam by. A few were even bolder still. John and Jim discovered that as a few sort of swam up their bodies from legs to torsos, even coming out of the water a bit when they were at waist-height. All very gently and friendly-like. It was really quite an amazing experience. something we'll remember for a very long time.