National Geographic Traveller (UK)




“Limon! Limon!”

Captain Hiro’s cry isn’t an offer of refreshmen­ts. He’s excitedly alerting his passengers to something.

On his instructio­n, we’ve left the safety of the moored boat and are wading towards shore. The waist-deep water is calm, clear, bathtub-warm. The only obstacles are the sharks.

They dart about in their hundreds, weaving at torpedo speed around our nervous steps and butting the occasional ankle. Most are modest-sized reef dwellers, as skittish as they are kinetic. The lemon shark now joining them is twice the size and much less timid.

Navigating this welcome party feels a fair price for entry to a beauty spot whose inaccessib­ility keeps crowds mercifully away.

The Lagon Bleu is a lagoon within a lagoon, one geological quirk inside another. This secluded corner of Polynesia hides in the fringes of the much larger Rangiroa atoll, a remarkable location in itself — a narrow ring of fragmented land with an expanse of ocean in the middle. Its 120-mile perimeter traces the shape of an ancient fringing reef that once encircled a towering volcano. Millennia after its peaks sank into the Pacific, today’s Rangiroa sits just feet above sea level. Its 360-degree horizon and sleepy pace make for a distinct edge-ofthe-earth vibe.

On the giant atoll’s western reach, where stretches of continuous land give way to a patchwork of motus — small coral sand islets — the fauna of the Blue Lagoon lives its quiet life.

Hiro offers ironic applause as we make it to the lagoon’s outer beach, where the next guardian awaits: an albatross floats over the boiling sand, keeping a close eye on the visitors. Just beyond the seafaring bird’s outsize shadow lies our destinatio­n.

Photogenic scenes aren’t rare in Polynesia, but this one merits a gasp. Marked out by a border of coconut palms, the lagoon’s centrepiec­e is an immense pool where legions of coloured fish and yet more sharks cruise around in glassy clarity.

As we marvel, Hiro joins us on the beach for an impromptu lesson in Polynesian heritage. Using his own arm as field guide, he proudly points back and forth between his tattoos and the sea life. Revered turtles, rays and eels depicted in ink are matched by real-world examples, though none are quite as sacrosanct as the abundant mano (sharks), venerated across the Pacific as embodiment­s of ancient strength and divinity.

We wade across the lagoon to explore the far shore, where the reception is chilly. Emerging from the foliage comes a clan of nesting white terns, which look angelic, but prove formidable as dive bombers.

When the sun sets over our homeward journey, the boat is buzzed by what looks like another squadron of seabirds. On closer inspection they’re flying fish, skipping across the wave crests for remarkable distances. They fall gradually back as Rangiroa’s harbour comes into view. It’s as if they’d been escorting us back; the wildlife of the hidden lagoon, it seems, tolerated our presence for the day but is still making very sure to see us out.

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