Saturday, July 23, 2016

Huahine, Raiatea, Tahaa and Bora Bora. French Polynesia

We all loved French Polynesia on arrival but the more time we spend in the Society Islands, which are a subset of French Polynesia  - see below - the more we believe they are a special place. Not only are the islands all stunningly beautiful but they are mostly unspoiled by the tourist industry. Yes, most islands have tourists but not bus-loads of them. Many of the islands are void of international hotels and everything that goes with them and even Bora Bora is unspoiled as the hotels that do exist have been sympathetically designed. There appear to be very few multimillion dollar holiday homes on any of the islands which maybe due to a French Polynesian law making it difficult for non Polynesians to own land. 
Society Islands

The villages on the islands are simple but all, without exception, are immaculate and litter free. They have excellent schools, and services with all islands having wifi and cell phone services. The islanders are welcoming, proud and generous and don’t resent our presence, quite the opposite.

The Society islands of French Polynesia are made up of Tahiti, Moorea, Mehetia, Tetiaroa, Maiao, Huahine, Raiatea, Tahaa, Bora Bora, Tupai, Maupiti, Mopelia, Motu One and Manuae
Having visited the capital of French Polynesia, Tahiti, and Moorea it was time to venture to some of the other less populated islands.

South West anchorage  - Huahine
Huahine – Departing Tahiti in the afternoon we sailed past Moorea and into the night. Winds were light and at times we drifted along at a mere 1.5 knots. As dawn arrived the winds freshened and we picked up speed towards the lagoon entrance. Rather than anchoring off the village of Fare we decided that we needed some quiet time, having been in Papeete for a while so we entered the lagoon and headed to the south west of the island and found a quiet anchorage where we were the only boat there. The winds were still fresh but the reef surrounding the island protected us from the waves. 

Over the next few days we explored some of the southern part of the island and swam in the clear waters and generally relaxed, not that it has been at all stressful recently, thank goodness.

We motored up the lagoon to check out Fare, the main village on the island which was reasonably interesting and had a festive atmosphere given there was a canoe regatta going on. Unfortunately, our time in French Polynesia is running short and we still have lots of places to see so we have to move on. I don’t like having to move on before we are ready, having traveled so far it seems a shame to rush our stay but we must.

Raiatea – Once the capital of French Polynesia the island of Raiatea is the second most populated to that of Tahiti, the new capital although the services are somewhat limited. We fueled up and filled our propane tanks and did a small provision.
Raiatea and Tahaa
We met up with our dear friends Neil and Jesse on SV Red Thread whom we first met on the west coast of Vancouver island in 2013 when we all had an impromptu BBQ on the beach. We met up with them briefly in Mexico and then they headed south to Panama and the Galapagos and of paths converged in Tahiti. Its GREAT to see them again.
Neil and I went diving on the wreck of the Nordby, a 100 year old wreck of a two mast coal transport ship which was still in pretty good condition with is masts and bowsprit still attached.
We spent a few evening catching up, playing all manner of board games and having a lot of fun, perhaps a few too many sore heads the morning after.

Neil diving the wreck of the Nordby

Tahaa - Time to move on again so we spent one quick night on Tahaa, a sister island to Raiatea to the north we headed out to the legendary Bora Bora.

Bora Bora
Bora Bora at dawn - SE anchorage

Bora Bora
Not so boring Bora Bora is one of those places I drooled at seeing spectacular photographs in sailing magazines and travel guides and it did not disappoint. Again the island is fringed by a reef creating a lagoon with some of the clearest waters I have seen to date. We ended up anchoring in three different spots around the island: the main anchorage off the town of Vaitape, an anchorage to the South west and an anchorage to the south east. The South east anchorage was a little dicey given the shallow waters and poor charts. We ended up briefly stuck on a sand bar before hailing a passing panga and having to be pulled off while having the sails up to heal us over to one side. It was nerve wracking to say the least. I had visions of us stranded on the sand bank for some time but we were extremely lucky. I now just had to think of a way of getting back across the sand bar.

We did lots more snorkeling on the fringing reefs, swam with more sharks and sting rays and Neil and I did another dive before we headed over to the SW anchorage to see if we could find some manta rays, but without much luck.

Neil, Jesse, Jude and I all did the Coral Garden dive which had lots of wildlife, beautiful coral, as the name suggests and even got to see a few large conger eels peering out from their cave homes and snarling at us as we watched them. After that dive Neil and I went out side of the reef and did another dive to see the lemon sharks – these sharks are pretty big and we saw one longer who must have been 8-9 feet long and had a very large girth and scared skin but thankfully he took no interest in us. We the saw another three lemon sharks swim in front of us about 20 feet from us. These are the first large sharks I have seen in FP and they look pretty menacing.

Katya’s 13th birthday arrived! She is now officially a teenager although we all feel she has been a teenager for a while. We booked a table at the famous Bloody Mary’s restaurant and our friends on Red Thread and Enough kindly joined us. What a great evening in a great venue with great food and great friends. It will be a birthday I will remember – Bora Bora for your thirteenth birthday. 
Katya's 13th birthday - Bloody Mary's Bora Bora

Sunset - Bora Bora SW anchorage

Maupiti -Again we sadly departed Bora Bora and we have to keep moving and headed out at 1am for our passage to Maupiti, its only a 30 mille passage but it has a notoriously challenging pass entrance which must be entered at slack water, low water being best and that was around 7am. We sailed through the night with Red Thread as a buddy boat arriving at the pass entrance just as the sun was coming up. The pass entrance was calm – no breaking or standing waves as the wind was from the east along with the predominant swell although after my grounding in Bora Bora I was a little more nervous than I usually am. The current against us was only 2 knots where at peak it can get to 9 knots, more speed than we can go in Sarita so looks like our timing was spot on. NB there is no full slack as there is always water coming out of the lagoon due to the waves crashing over the reef.

We anchored just inside the pass to the west. We could only see one mooring buoy and Red Thread had taken that, later we found two others but we were happy with the anchor spot we found. After catching up on a little bit of sleep we dinghied over to the spot where manta rays are supposed to hang out – a cleaning station as it is know – where they wait to have their parasites removed by smaller fish. Sure enough a couple of manta rays glided underneath us and we marveled at their grace and beauty. What magnificent creatures. These manta rays can grow up to 9 meters across although these ones were only about 2-3 mts across. They did not appear shy and were quite used to us hovering above them.We went back to the boat and crashed out – our first night passage is always so tiring so we did not do much for the rest of the day.

The following days we went again to see the manta rays with Neil and Jesse, and just as before there they were but six of them this time. This is really a life dream to do this without a crowd of people fighting and jostling each other. Quite, quite spectacular.

Katya swimming with the manta rays

The town on Maupiti
In the afternoon we moved Sarita over to a mooring buoy in front of the village where there was only one other French boat. We dinghied to shore and walked around the whole island which took about 2 ½ hours. Maupiti is one of the least visited islands and therefore totally unspoiled, there is a single road around the island and its flat as flat can be. On the way around we chatted to the locals, marveled at all the mango trees, Banana plantations and lime groves. We visited a few ancient sites of the French Polynesians dating back to the early 1700’s 

On the hike around the island

Like all the other islands in the region they are the remnants of extinct volcanoes and Maupiti has a mountain, or hill, that you can climb to get an amazing view of the island, reef and lagoon. We hiked up the trail with Neil and Jesse, a steep trail with parts requiring the use of a rope to haul yourself up the hillside. We were quite exhausted by the time we reached the top but the view was more than worth the effort.            

Hike up to the top of the mountain with the help of a rope

View from the top towards the pass

Half way up

Neil and Jesse

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic guys !! Lovely photos and great to hear how much you are enjoying it ! I hope we get to catch up in oz ! Stay safe x