Moorea: Fear and floating in Tahiti
Water has an undeniable ability to render even the best set of lungs utterly useless.
For that very reason, the idea of diving into an ocean to swim with sharks and stingrays, two creatures known to cause their own issues to the humble human from time to time, seemed preposterous.
And yet, here I was, standing on the sea bed hundreds of metres from the nearest shore, holding my hand out to feel the slime on a stingrays back.
Tahiti makes you do funny things.
On a day trip to the island of Moorea, a 45-minute ferry ride from Papeete, you'll find yourself doing all sorts of things you hadn't expected to at the beginning of the day.
Heading off on a lagoon excursion with Captain Taina and her glass bottom boat, we do everything from turtle spotting to learning roughly 27 of the 99 ways to use a coconut.
The main event, of course, is rubbing shoulders, flaps or fins with stingrays. The sharks were too shy to come too close.
Here's the thing when it comes to these close encounters - and yes, Captain Taina gets you swimming with rays more than once.
My first memory of life is sinking to the bottom of a pool, staring at the surface, water seeping into my lungs. If you were having a competition for worst first memories, mine would have to be in the top three.
Hence the reason the idea of swimming, let alone mixing with a the creature that killed the Crocodile Hunter, was not something I was jumping for joy about.
What a waste of worries.
You've heard how clear the water is Tahiti, and that's a big reason why diving into the death liquid is so easy.
There isn't a single moment during our six-hour incursion that the sea floor isn't visible. No matter how deep it gets, you can still see every detail of the beautiful coral claiming the sea floor.
The water in Moorea is clearer than bath water. It's the most inviting water you'll ever set eyes on, luring you on in with its sparkle, and its warmth.
It also helps that Taina leaps in first. She's carrying bait to draw the rays in closer, proceeding to feed them while darting around you, pulling a pirouette of slimy swimmers around you.
As soft and gooey as the ray feels, the tail is something else. We're told not to fear the stinger, and when Taina grabs one ray by the tail to explain, you get the idea.
The tail is like sandpaper, and often rubs your body as the rays circulate, chasing the bait Taina is dishing out stingily.
Sharks are there too, watching you from a distance. They're more cautious than the rays and won't be fed by Taina.
After 15 minutes watching rays and schools of fish circulate around you, hands extend out to try and touch the sharks themselves. Fear has disappeared.
Instead they dart around the group, keeping a close eye. The closest the ever come is a metre or two away.
Given my now public past with water, there came a moment when I panicked after touching a piece of coral. You hear stories of people crashing into coral and ending up with awful sea ulcers, or coral basically growing from their feet. I was thinking the worst.
Fortunately, fellow Kiwi Marty, enjoying a 60th birthday trip with his family, advises me to rub half a lime over the affected area, as vigorously as possible.
At the earliest opportunity, at Taina's private motu, or island, lime is scrubbed over the wounds. The stinging is intense, but any worries about infection dissolve as the acidity goes to work.
Swimming, conquering fears and worrying about coral works up quite the appetite, and that's the reason we are on Taina's private motu.
The lunch menu is coconut heavy, as can be expected, and opens your eyes to just how many uses Tahitians have for the popular drupe.
To start you're offered some fresh coconut, accompanied by a beverage of your choosing. Hinano, Tahiti's national beer, is a popular choice.
Soon you'll be munching into a traditional Tahitian treat, raw fish soaked in coconut milk and served with vegetables on half a coconut shell. Somehow, it's delicious.
Fish and chicken kebabs, cooked this time, soon follow, again incorporating coconut and fresh fruits. Coconut bread is served on the side, which is basically French toast but with coconut milk instead of eggs.
Dessert is banana coated in coconut, as well as fresh pineapple. The cooks start cleaning the barbecue with coconut husks of all things. There are so many uses for this plant it's unreal.
A day with Captain Taina isn't a simple excursion onto the water. It's an opportunity to conquer fears in an environment that couldn't feel safer, or more fun.
It's an experience that can't be missed.
More information tahiti-tourisme.co.nz
Getting there Air Tahiti Nui offers five weekly services direct from Auckland to Papeete. Return economy flights from Auckland to Papeete with Air Tahiti Nui are priced from NZ$1049. Flights are available from Christchurch and Wellington for an additional cost. See airtahitinui.co.nz
Staying there Experience authentic Polynesian hospitality at Fare Ylang Ylang in Tahiti. Priced from €90(approx. NZ$150) per room per day (min 3 nights). See fare-ylangylang.com
Doing there A ½ day with Captain Taina costs 7500xpf per person (NZ$96). A full day (including motu picnic) costs 11,000xpf per person. Children under 12 receive a 40 per cent discount. See glass-bottom-boat-moorea.com.
The writer travelled to Moorea courtesy of Tahiti Tourisme and Air Tahiti Nui.