17 Nov 2014

17 Nov 14 - Back On Dry Land

Finally, we were at the end of the sea section of the Pitcairn & Tuamotu Sandpiper trip. A final chumming session off Mangareva hadn't produced anything noteworthy on the Seabird side, but a pod of Blainville's Beaked Whales just off the back of the Braveheart for fifteen minutes was very exciting. It was then time to sail into the small quay at Rikitea on Mangareva, which is one of the Gambier Islands. The Gambier Islands have a small airport, with flights to Tahiti a thousand miles away. Part of the reason for the airport are the two islands of Moruroa & Fangataufa about 250 miles to the East. These were used by the French for around 175 nuclear weapons tests up from the mid 1960s until 1996, when the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was signed.
The small town of Rikitea on Mangareva: We saw our first people for eleven days since leaving Pitcairn
Claymore II: This is the sister ship to the Braveheart & is the main supply ship for Pitcairn Island
While we were getting our passports for our official re-entry into French Polynesia, the crew had the chance to start loading supplies for their next charter & moving stuff between the two boats. The Braveheart crew had been supplemented with Neil, who was the skipper of the Claymore II & he finally had the chance to return to his boat now our trip was over.
Rikitea looks a small sleepy town: The population of Mangareva is around 1200
Once the passports were sorted, we had time to wander around the town. Despite extensive patches of forest, we saw no landbirds apart from an introduced Feral Pigeon. Given how remote the Gambier Islands are, it would be hit or miss whether any landbirds ever arrived on the islands. The island has been populated by Polynesian islanders for at least a thousand years & it is quite possible than any endemic species could have been eliminated followed the likely introduction of Polynesian Rats, well before any Europeans arrived with their additional introduced predators. So, while the forests look interesting, the place to a Birder was very quiet with the landbirds missing. But there was a steady movement of White-capped Noddies, White Terns & Crested Terns which were breeding on the island.
Looking back on the town
White Tern
Crested Tern: There were a couple flying around the bay
Crested Tern
As we walked around the bay, we found a few Wandering Tattlers & a couple of Pacific Golden Plovers to photograph.
Pacific Golden Plover
Pacific Golden Plover
Pacific Golden Plover
Wandering Tattler: There were a few along the foreshore
Wandering Tattler: This individual was feeding on small Crabs
Eventually, the light rain got worse & it was time to head back to the Braveheart. Our flights weren't until midday on the following day & so we had one more night on the Braveheart. There were a few drinks on board that evening & a chance for the crew to let their hair down, after all their hard work to make the cruise such a superb trip. The wind & rain had got up during the night & it was thirty knot winds by the morning & I was glad we were tied up to the quayside. The following morning, I took the opportunity to sort out the final packing, catch up on notes, sort some photos & say the final goodbyes to the crew, before we had to leave the Braveheart. It was only a few metres walk along the quayside to where the small ferry departed to take us to the airport: which was located on a small flat offshore island. My only worry was if the small plane would arrive to take us back to Tahiti. However, the locals all thought it would, although it did arrive a couple of hours late.
The windsock shows how windy it still was: I was pleased to be leaving given the weather
Our plane back to civilisation

Arrival into Tahiti after a four hour flight
We checked into the hotel in Tahiti with just a few minutes before heading off to get dinner.