The Whales of Rurutu

Taken by Vincent LACROIX & Valerie COLMAIRE

Rurutu is a magical island. Located 572km south of Tahiti, this relatively small place is most known for whale watching. From July to October, it’s very common to see majestic Humpback whales swimming and jumping out of the water along the horizon.

My family was generously hosted by our relatives Virginie and Jean-Claude who own the newly built Vaitumu Village, a luxury pension on the island. Jean-Claude is truly a jack of all trades; he has captained a ship, run a grocery store, run a bakery, and now has this resort to add to his repertoire. After reading numerous books on architecture, Jean-Claude hired three of his buddies to help him build the establishment in just two years. It contains seven ocean-facing bungalows, a large entertainment room, a beautiful pool, beach, and soon a pizzeria and spa.

“Vaitumu” means “source of water”, or “special place.” It certainly lives up to its name.

Uncle Joe and brother Ryan harvesting fresh sea urchins right in front of our bungalow


Ryan proving to Jean-Claude that he makes an excellent taro-picker
The family has multiple properties and farmland that grows mangoes, guavas, sweet potatoes, bananas, litchi, giant papayas, and much more. They also have pigs, chickens, and a couple of horses. We had the pleasure of touring the whole island and getting a feel of what it’s like to live there as a local.
Every night, our relatives cooked lavish meals with dozens of dishes. My favorite specialty? Freshly harvested taro from the family’s farm topped with foie gras. It may seem heavy, but it was utterly AMAZING.
How many does it take to bolster someone up a mountain?
During the day, we ventured around the island on excursions. The first one was the famous Rurutu hike, which Auntie Virginie swore, “is no big deal.” Um, understatement! This was by far the most challenging trek I’ve been on because it involved traversing water (and timing our strides to coincide with the crashing waves), climbing up cliffs, and walking along pathways bordering the cliff.
Grandma at the monster mouth cave
Rurutu has over 30 different caves and it has actually been completely submerged multiple times. The rock we climbed on was actually dried up coral.

I’ve always known my 80-year-old grandma was strong, but wow, did she impress us all. She was the first one in line and finished as the oldest person to have ever conquered the hike. The tour guide even posted a photo of her conquering the mountain online.

Taken by Vincent LACROIX & Valerie COLMAIRE

The other excursion we went on was… believe it or not, swimming with whales. It was undoubtedly one of the most magical experiences of my life. I think my family members would agree. The beautiful–and completely unedited–pictures you see here were taken with an underwater DSLR by fellow Parisians Vincent and Valerie. I’m glad they were so open to letting me share these captures with you all.

We really were that close to the two wild whales you see above. They are very curious creatures, so when they caught sight of our tiny group, they turned around… stared straight into our eyes for a good 10 seconds… and went about their own way. I admit to being a little frightened even though I knew they wouldn’t eat us! It was really surreal.

Vaitumu’s fire pit (not ma’a)

On our last day, a delicious Tahitian ma’a was prepared. We dug a pit in the ground with volcanic stones and wood. Fish, taro, soup, and other dishes were wrapped in banana leaves and placed into the underground oven, which was then buried with sand and left to cook overnight. It was such a neat ritual to witness.

What an incredible end to our Tahitian vacation. Virginie and Jean-Claude, my family can’t thank our relatives enough for such an unforgettable time.

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