Our Pacific Crossing definitely provided us with a major sense of achievement, but it was a lot like “groundhog day” or an endless “slumber party” once we got into the rhythm of it. Days were spent lounging around in our pyjamas on the saloon bed, which we make up for our passages, or in the cockpit. We thought we would have plenty of time to indulge ourselves with our favourite pastimes, like playing the saxophone and writing for Elaine, fishing and reading for Roy and refining our Celestial Navigation skills together, but reading was the only activity we managed. We realised very early on that preserving our energy for our watches was in fact the more prudent thing to do, so downtime was spent catching up on sleep, undertaking normal hygiene activities, cooking / baking and eating.
The beautiful sunny skies and deep blue, flat seas that we were expecting definitely eluded us though. What we got instead was, for the most part, overcast, dull days in a very high south-easterly swell which gave us plenty of challenges around which sails to fly. With our main sail continually slamming in the swell, we eventually had no choice, but to take it down to prevent breakages.
What helped break up the monotony were the dolphins that stopped by from time to time to play in Paw Paw's bows and the excitement around Roy catching the yellowfin tuna on the few occasions he was able to fish, Also, solving the mystery around the very strange lights we kept seeing at night over the horizon, at first thinking it was the moon rising or a cruise ship, only to discover they were associated with huge Chinese fishing vessels trawling with huge fishing nets.
Another highlight of our days at sea were calls to family and friends as far afield as in the USA, England, Ireland and South Africa just to say hello and put their minds at rest that all was well aboard. Our daily contact with the other World ARC yachts via the midday and evening SSB radio net broadcasts helped as well. Although we didn’t see another yacht or the comforting lights of another yacht for days, it was always lovely to hear the familiar voices out there and know that we were not alone is this huge ocean. Add to that a splash of humour during the evening net like Elaine indicating, when prompted, that the only wild life she's seen that day was "Roy running around the deck" and the day ended with laughter.
Our celebrations at sea were numerous. We celebrated everything from St Patrick’s Day to various milestones; the quarter way mark, the halfway mark, the 2000NM line, the 1000NM line.
For our celebration of the 2000NM line, a third of the way, Elaine cooked up a hearty full Irish breakfast including freshly baked soda bread to mark the occasion. For our halfway mark celebration it was the meagre toastie - Toasted cheese sandwiches at lunchtime, followed by a celebratory cocktail at sunset accompanied by smoked mussels, stuffed grapevines, brie on crackers, olives, assorted nuts and the last of our pineapple, to be sure, to be sure we had celebrated the milestone appropriately. For St Patrick's Day we enjoyed a movie night with a hearty homemade chicken soup to warm the cockles of our heart, accompanied by freshly baked soda bread to add some Irish flare.
It's also fair to say, that if anyone had told us 27 years ago, on the day our wonderful son was born, that we would be in the middle of the Pacific Ocean in the midst of a circumnavigation, instead of celebrating his birthday with him, we would have said they were smoking something, but indeed we were!
On Elaine's Dad's birthday, we resigned ourselves to the fact that we needed to slow down in order to ensure a daylight arrival and accepted another night at sea, albeit our last one for the crossing. With less than 60NM to go, we sailed under a moonlit sky, in the company of Waterman, another World ARC participating yacht, in order to arrive in Hiva Oa at daybreak. Our sense of achievement mounted with every new mile sailed and we definitely look forward to "Land Ahoy".
With the full moon dipping behind Hiva Oa, Marqueses Islands, to the west, the sun rising to the east and dolphins frolicking in Paw Paw's bows, we crossed the finish line and arrived in paradise. Our first ocean crossing completed in less than 22 days. It was a very emotional time indeed, although somewhat surreal, which was further emphasised when we discovered the most stunning and dramatic scenery as we entered the anchorage of Atuona - Not at all what we were expecting.
We were presented with garlands on our arrival and, during all the officialdom, we had time to catch up with folks from the other yachts who had already made landfall. We then decided that a nice long walk into town to stretch our legs was the next order of the day.
The following day we decided that the Hotel Hanakee Pearl Lodge for some R&R was not only deserved, but definitely needed. A day, high up in the mountains, in a beautiful hotel sporting the most spectacular views, a cool breeze blowing, an infinity pool to relax in and a delicious lunch was just what the doctor ordered, before getting stuck in to give Paw Paw a much needed clean inside and out.
We thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Hiva Oa, visiting the Paul Gauguin Art Museum and his gravesite, perched high on the hillside with spectacular views overlooking Atuona. Elaine also enjoyed her swim with some local children, much to their delight, in a rock pool of the river we had to cross when walking to and from town. The Easter Service at St Anne's Catholic Church which we attended was the most unusual service and it was lovely to hear the singing.
Having enjoyed what Hiva Oa had to offer and having recovered suitably from our crossing, we undertook the very long day sail to Fatu Hiva. Anchoring in Hanavave, the Bay of Virgins is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful bays in the world, with its towering rock formations. While ashore for some exploration and walking out of the little village, a car stopped to greet us and introduce themselves. What happened next was something very unexpected. The driver asked us if we would like a freshly baked baguette. Is the Pope Catholic? Of course, but when Roy went to pay him he said: "No, consider it a gift". It was such a lovely gesture coming from people that have so little and certainly placed Futu Hiva in our hearts.
The hospitality and generosity of this little settlement continued to surprise us. A number of World ARC yachts that were in the anchorage arranged a hike to a beautiful waterfalls about an hour from town. As the majority of our group made its way along the main street, a few folks branched off to trade a fishing lure for some grapefruits - a common practice around the islands. Not only did they successfully complete the trade, but they re-joined the group bearing the most delicious bananas for all of us to enjoy, complements of the man with whom they had just traded.
It was a lovely hike through lush vegetation and it didn't take long for all of us to strip down to our swimwear and take the plunge to cool off as soon as we arrived. We did, however, take the time to dry off on the rocks and enjoy a picnic lunch before heading back. Good times indeed!
Tahuata and the bay affectionately known as Stephen’s Bay was our next stop where we spent a relaxing few days before our overnight sail to Oa Poa and where we decided it was a good time to open the gift we had received from Galene (Rowena and Richard) in Bequia last year. Since it came with strict instructions not to be opened until we were "on the far side of the world", we assumed an ocean crossing met the criteria. Thank you Galene! Of course, when we discovered the content, it was only appropriate to toast all our absent sailing friends, as well as all our new found friends in the World ARC fleet, wishing them all fair winds and following seas!
Our arrival in Baie d' Hakahau, Oa Poa holds special memories, as it was here where we were greeted on the VHF radio by a familiar voice; we were meeting our friends Maria and Maurice, off Cattiva. Once settled snugly behind the breakwater, we wasted no time in getting the dinghy in the water and heading over to Cattiva to say hello. After lots of cheerful hugs and kisses, over a wonderful breakfast of freshly baked French pastries from the local bakery, we started the process of catching up on each other’s news and experiences since saying our goodbyes in Curacao. The whole situation was our second surreal experience, given that so much time had passed and we had all sailed such vast amounts of nautical miles in the interim. Needless to say, we had to force ourselves to take a break, but that evening, we were back on Cattiva for more chatter over wine and a delicious meal. Good food, good wine and great company was only matched by a school of 8-10 Manta Rays who "danced" for us in the water just off Paw Paw's bows earlier in the afternoon, as they performed their somersaults less than 10ft from us - A truly memorable day!
The next morning Elaine woke, just as dawn was breaking, to some very strange noises at Paw Paw's stern, only to realise it was Roy lowering the dinghy from the davits. He was heading to the local bakery having had it on good authority that if you didn't get there early, there would be nothing left by 0600. It was 0500. His eagerness paid off, as he returned a short while later, laden with all sorts of French pastries and baguettes for both ourselves and Cattiva.
Our second day with Cattiva was just as lovely, as we enjoyed a walk on the beach and a tour around the little town with Maria as our guide. The craftsmanship of the stone work and carvings evident on various buildings and in the church was remarkable, but being able to wonder the little streets, greeting the residents and being able to pick flowers as well as fruit from the abundance of trees was incredible. We have never tasted fresh guavas that were as sweet as those we picked and simple enjoyed standing right under the tree - a bountiful island for sure!
No sooner had we arrived, when it was time to say our goodbyes again in the hope of seeing them again somewhere along the Coconut Milk Run, as they too make their way to New Zealand.
We believe we saved the best for last - Nuku Hiva. Not only did we spend the most of our time while in the Marquesas Islands on this island, but we found the diversity of its landscape and scenery to be amazing. In Baie de Taioa, known as Daniel’s Bay, we felt like we had entered the “Garden of Eden” while enjoying our six hour hike to the 3rd tallest waterfall in the world. With our picnic lunch packed and after a short trip up the river in the dinghy, securing it to a tree alongside the river bank, we set off. The vegetation, flowers, fruit trees, rivers, mountain streams and finally the waterfall was just spectacular. We enjoyed our picnic lunch beside a small brook and, on our way back, stopped by the home of the family who had offered us fruit on our way to the waterfall. We could not believe the amount of fruit that was ready for our collection for the price of $10US - Grapefruits, oranges, bananas, ladies fingers, guavas, limes, starfruit - Unbelievable and absolutely delicious!
In Baie de Taiohae after enjoying a local lunch, it was tattoo time. However, at this point Roy still had no idea what he wanted; Then a moment of brilliance. While drinking one of the local beers, Hinano, it hit him. He decided to have a tattoo of the Hinano Girl. Elaine, on the other hand, decided to create a design that encapsulated some of wonderful memories experienced during our sailing adventures - A seahorse she saw on her very first dive in Bonaire and those she subsequently saw in the Galapagos Islands, a turtle for the many she has snorkelled with, as well as the huge leatherback turtles which we witnessed beaching in Grenada to lay their eggs, a dolphin for those she has dived with, swam with and enjoyed frolicking in Paw Paw's bows on so many occasions, a manta ray for those that " danced" for us while we were anchored in Baie d' Hakahau and the waves of the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean. The symbols the artist used to portray the sea life are those of the ancient Marquesan designs, a fitting reminder of these beautiful islands and their people.
We also had the opportunity to tour Nuku Hiva by car. First heading east to the Paepae called Koueve, which is Taiihae's best preserved Tohua. Next we headed towards Anaho, passing through the beautiful and the most fertile valley of Nuku Hiva, evident by the numerous waterfalls, the very lush vegetation and the 600 year old Banyan trees. En route we got to explore Paeke, an amazing archaeological site of a 12th - 14th century village. In Anaho we enjoyed lunch and the sacred eels being fed before exploring this scenic seaside village and it's most unusual church. In many ways it looked completely out of place, with its towers that resembled a fairyland castle rather than a church. Our route west took us to Toovii. The high plateau, with pine forests sprinkled with Sandalwood and, what looked like, Eucalyptus trees, had us feeling like we were back in the White Mountains of Arizona driving to our cabin. It certainly was a trip down memory lane as the landscape reminded us so much of Big Bear Lake near Greer. We completed our tour with a visit to the Cathedral of Notre Dame Des Marquises with her magnificent wooden statues, carved from trees that came from different parts of the entire archipelago.
As the katabatic winds swept down the mountains and over our anchorage, they carried with them the beautiful sounds of Marquesan singing from ashore, allowing us to drift off to sleep as if in a magical place, one which we knew we would be leaving behind the following day. These beautiful, clean islands, with their melodic Marquesan language, their rhythmic haka dances and songs, their traditional decorative arts of tattoos, beautiful wood carvings, stonework and sculptures, tapas and petroglyphs, as well as their generous and hospitable people, who stop to give you a ride without prompting and who love to garden, will definitely hold a special place in our hearts and, of course, be a permanent reminder on our arms, by way of our tattoos.
We decided not to visit any other atoll in the Tuamotos, except Rangiroa, where we had planned to stay at least two weeks in order to get some much needed respite. Especially, since after this particular four day sail, we were feeling tired, concluding that our ocean crossing and the busyness of the previous months had caught up with us.
The Tuamotos archipelago comprises a number of atolls which are essentially donut-shaped islands with surrounding reefs and a lagoon in the centre. There are passes through which yachts can gain access to the lagoons. What we discovered, as we anchored off the Kia Ora Hotel, was worth every inch of ocean we have travelled to get there. It was absolutely stunning! It epitomised everything one imagines the South Pacific islands should look like - Crystal clear waters of varying shades of blue, white sandy beaches, sunny blue skies and hotel rooms over the water on stilts.
“Land”, if you could call it that, was a 1/4 of a mile strip between the Rangiroa lagoon and the Pacific Ocean, where we enjoyed a Polynesian band and dancers, a stroll around the village, a walk to the luxurious Hotel Kia Ora for a morning grande café, as well as rent bicycles for the 24km bike ride that took us to the next village and the other major pass into the lagoon.
A highlight for Elaine was her spa morning at the Kia Ora Hotel - A Kia Ora Signature Full-Body Massage, followed by a facial. Her morning was topped off nicely with lunch at Josephine's, while watching the dolphins jump over the standing waves in the pass as the tide rushed out of the lagoon. Another favourite spot to have lunch was Snack Moetua. The food was delicious and confirmed why it was frequented by so many locals.
Our water taxi trip across the pass to the "Old Village" of Tiputa, a rather off the beaten track destination for most cruisers, was very interesting. It gave us a wonderful perspective on how and where the locals live in their neat and tidy homes, set amongst pretty gardens, surrounded by low stone walls. The old church, although in need of some maintenance, was so unique in its simplicity, yet charming - A complete contrast to the open air churches we saw in the Marquesas Islands with their beautiful stone work and wood carvings.
While we got the chance to snorkel the "Aquarium", the name given to the reef which surrounds the moto at the inner end of the Tiputa Pass, we, unfortunately, did not get a chance to dive it or to visit one of the Pearl Farms, since we had to leave Rangiroa for Tahiti earlier than planned.
Spotting “land ahoy", Tahiti, Society Islands, visible at roughly 60NM out, with her towering mountain peaks, was stunning enough, but arriving in Tahiti and particularly, having the opportunity to obtain fresh produce and decent provisioning at the Carrefour supermarket, was like entering heaven. However, the first order of the day was finding a Boulangerie and deux grande cafe au lait, deux pain au chocolat, un croissant, un chaisson pomme later, we were sure we were in heaven!
We can safely say we have never been so excited to see a tomato or a green pepper, not to mention a lettuce or a decent steak. Our mixed grill dinner aboard that night of barbecued "melt in your mouth" New Zealand angus beef, New Zealand lamb chops, a fresh green salad and some garlic bread, was eaten in total silence with the exception of a few blissful "uummms and aaahhs" from time to time.
We also had a fabulous Sunday brunch with Nina at the Pink Coconut, a restaurant right at the Marina Taina where we were moored. While serenaded by a local band, we enjoyed an array of food that was amazing and absolutely delicious.
Our arrival in Tahiti was extra special in that our friends, Olga and Denis, were flying in to spend time with us, an arrangements we had made a few years in advance, so, actually being in Tahiti to meet them, given how far we had sailed, was an achievement in itself. If anyone had told us when we first met Olga 35 years ago at the Weather Bureau in South Africa or at Olga and Denis' wedding 27 years ago, that we would all be meeting up in Tahiti after we had sailed across an ocean, we would never have believed them. However, after taking a bus to Le Meriden Resort, where they were staying, that is exactly what happened. It was only on our bus ride back to our marina later that afternoon that it hit us - What a wonderful, albeit another surreal experience indeed!
Then it was time for some serious sight-seeing. With Olga leading the charge and Denis navigating and directing, we decided to do the "walking tour" of Papeete which revealed a number of surprisingly lovely places. The tour commenced at the Notre Dame Cathedral of Papeete, with its stunning stain glass windows and beautiful flower arrangements in preparation for Ascension Thursday mass. From there we followed the route to the Aasemblee de la Polynesie Francaise with its beautiful Jardin de l'Assemblee and crafts fair, passing the Fresque de la Bounty, Maison de la reine Marau, Place Taraho'i and the Buste de Pouvanaa a Oopa en route. The tour then took us around a number of other historic buildings, museums and statues, including the Residence du Haut Commissaire and Banian de Paul Gauguin, before we completed the tour at the Parc Bougainville after enjoying the scenery and parks around Port de Papeete and Marina Papeete.
The following day we started our tour of the island by car, driving clockwise around Tahiti Nui, the larger portion of the island. Our first stop was the lookout point at Tahara'a, then onto Matavai Bay where Samuel Wallis first set foot upon Polynesian shores in 1767, followed by Venus Point, with the only lighthouse on Tahiti, built in 1867 by Robert Louis Stevensons' father. When we got to the Araahoaho Blowhole, which powerfully pushes air out and sprays seawater reminiscent of a geyser, we decided it was the perfect spot for our picnic lunch.
With tummies full, we headed to the east coast, passing Bougainville's Anchorage where two French ships under the command of Louis Antoine de Bougainville anchored in 1768. Our drive onto Tahiti Iti, the smaller portion of the island took us to the Taravoo Plateau. Other stops included the charming village of Teahupo'a, internationally known for one of the best surfing waves in the world, where only the most brave and experienced surfers dare to take on the challenge of the powerful tubes. A stop in Vaira'o at the pristine Maui Beach and Restaurant where we enjoyed an afternoon coffee, wrapped up our excursions for the day.
With daylight fading and dinner time approaching we decided that a "light" dinner from one of Les Roulettes (aka food vendors) was the order of the day and where we enjoyed a delicious inexpensive meal. It was absolutely amazing what came out of that tiny kitchen. Toss in a bottle of wine which Denis retrieved from their hotel room and another great day with friends was perfectly topped off!
Our tour of Tahiti continued along the west coast. First stop was the Grottos of Mara'a, a series of beautiful natural caves. That was followed by a visit to the remarkable Vaipahi Spring Gardens with pools said to have healing powers and a magnificent waterfalls situated in the heart of the lush tropical gardens. After lunch at the Gauguin Museum, our final stop was Paea and the beautiful archaeological site of Arahurahu marae, an ancient sacred place dating back to the 10th century. We wrapped up the day with a fascinating fire dance show, supplemented with Tahitian dancing, which never fails to mesmerise us.
Sunday Mass at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Papeete to hear the singing by the local choir was definitely a highlight of our stay in Tahiti. This was something which the Tourism representative had recommended and we were not disappointed - It was absolutely beautiful to hear and we'll worth the early start to the day.
Before we knew it though, we were saying our goodbyes to Olga and Denis and thinking about getting to Moorea, an island we could clearly see from Tahiti and had watched the sun set behind it on numerous occasions from the trampoline on Paw Paw, while enjoying sundowners. It was the only island that Elaine wanted to see in the South Pacific, but her back had to be sufficiently healed before we could set sail.
Patience paid off as we had the wonderful surprise of Cattiva arriving in Tahiti, picking up the mooring ball right next to us. Due to our delayed departure, they had caught up with us and it meant we were able to spend time together in Moorea as well. We were able to set sail a few days after Do Over and Cattiva had left and had the wonderful surprise of discovering all of us, including Nina, had ended up in the same anchorage in Moorea by sheer luck.
What we could see while sailing along the east coast of the Moorea, as well as the stunning scenery and dramatic spires that awaited us as we anchored in Opunohu Bay and the pod of dolphins we spotted to our starboard side as we entered the lagoon, it had lived up to its name. As we watched the sun set in the west and the full moon rise in the east, we would have to say that our wish has been granted. We had arrived in Magical Moorea!
The next morning, geared with her back brace and walking sticks borrowed from Cattiva, we were up early so that Elaine could get a head start on the walk up to the Tropical Gardens in the company of Cattiva and where we were meeting Nina and Do Over for lunch. We had no sooner started the climb, when a lovely lady stopped and offered us a ride. Grateful, Elaine accepted while the others decided to continue their walk. Turned out the lady was, in fact, the owner of the Tropical Gardens and Restaurant.
It was a perfect start to a wonderful day. Fruit cocktails followed by a delicious lunch of local cuisine, in the company of great friends, in the most beautiful setting, with the most amazing views. After we had finished our lunch the owner then offered to take Elaine back down the hill, albeit using a very unexpected mode of transportation, a quadbike, and proceeded to offload her right outside the local Creperie, where we all enjoyed crepes and café for dessert.
The following day, with everyone from Nina and Do Over split between Cattiva and Paw Paw's dinghies we headed in the direction of the Intercontinental Resort and Spa for one of the coolest experiences we've had on this adventure. En route we were welcomed by a pod of dolphins that played around the dinghies within arm’s reach of us.
That was not to be surpassed though by the experience we had when we reached our destination - swimming and feeding sting rays surrounded by black-tipped sharks in their natural habitat. The rays absolutely loved the sardines we'd bought for them and rewarded us with lots of hugs using their velvet soft wings - simply wonderful! The sharks stayed at bay and only came closer once we were all back in the dinghies and had given them the last of the fish we had.
En route back to the yachts, we stopped for a snorkel of the underwater tiki sculptures, before getting our food and drinks ready for our potluck beach barbecue. The fresh barbecued tuna which we all enjoyed, besides being delicious, was extra special in that it was a gift, dropped off earlier in the day, by our newfound friends on Kai Mona (Scott and Melissa). While relaxing we got to enjoy the company of the locals and watch the various pirogues, a local outrigger, compete. We rounded off our day with an evening at the Moorea Hilton Resort and Spa to watch the Fire Dance Show. Of course, the ladies didn't miss the opportunity to have our photographs taken with the very fit warriors. It truly was one of the most magical days we’ve experienced and definitely one for the memory books.
Prior to Maria and Maurice returning to Tahiti, we squeezed in time to enjoy a delicious lunch of Yellowfin Tuna Tartare (Elaine) and Poisson Cru (Everyone else) at the beach restaurant of the Moorea Hilton Resort and Spa and we spent our last evening playing Mexican Train Dominoes. A fitting end to a wonderful time together, given that they had first taught us to play the game in Bonaire. It will be an evening fondly remembered for lots of laughs and giggles.
Once Cattiva, Do Over and Nina had departed to their next destinations, we hired a car to explore the island. Our big decision of the day was whether to tour clockwise or anticlockwise. Our visit to the Moorea Fruit Juice Company, where we sampled various fruit juices, virgin or otherwise, was the deciding factor, so anticlockwise it was. Besides enjoying a sample of their Tahiti Drink made with rum, pineapple and coconut, we also got to sample their new juice, Watermelon and Passion Fruit - Delicious! In fact it was so good, we bought some and finished it before we even got back to Paw Paw that evening. The Banana and French Vanilla was an interesting flavour, but not Elaine’s “cup of tea” or rather, “glass of juice”.
Our next stop was the Le Belvedere, accessed via La Vallee de Opunohu. The views over Baie de Cook, Baie de Opunohu and Magic Mountain were absolutely stunning and well worth the drive up to the lookout point. En route we stopped at the Lycee Agricole, the agricultural school, where we sampled the various fruit jams made there. The pineapple jam won flavour of the day and just had to be purchased, along with some fresh pineapples.
We also visited the village of Papetoai, By then it was lunch time, so taking the recommendations of Albert at Albert Car Hire, we stopped at Snack Manaha and enjoyed Breaded Mahi Mahi in a Coconut Sauce (Elaine) and Steak and Chips (Roy), accompanied by fresh pineapple juice.
The remainder of our day was spent at the Tiki Theatre Village, stopping off at various lookout points to enjoy the fabulous views, including Point de Vue de Toatea, where we had great views of the reef, the turquoise lagoon, the Pacific Ocean and the island of Tahiti, snooping around some of the resorts on the island and getting a few errands done while we had the car. Unfortunately we were unable to stop at L'Eglise de La Sainte Famille in Haapiti, built in 1897, as it was being restored.
For us Moorea was indeed magical and the island we enjoyed the most out of all the Society Islands. The people were friendly; the scenery was spectacular, the anchorage beautiful, the food delicious and the water activities amazing. It was with heavy hearts that we said our goodbyes to this beautiful island and headed west.
After a rather slow overnight passage, we arrived in Huahine mid-morning and were delighted to find Nina and Do Over in the anchorage we had chosen off the main town, Fare.
As soon as we were anchored and settled, we dinghied over to Nina for morning tea and to catch up with them. Then it was a quick stop off at Do Over to say hi and back to Paw Paw for an afternoon nap in order to be refreshed for our evening ashore - Happy Hour and Dinner at the Huahine Yacht Club with Nina and Do Over. Surprisingly the food was actually very tasty and all mothers received 50% off their main course in celebration of Mother's Day in French Polynesia - Can't complain about that!
Huahine is referred to as the Wild One and it was clear how it had earned this description soon after we started our morning explorations. After snooping around the little town of Fare we headed northwards and eventually found a dirt road that brought us through to the beach. The powder soft white sands, dispersed amongst the volcanic rock that edged the coastline and the most amazing shades of turquoise waters that lapped over the coral reef and into the pools created by the volcanic landscape left nothing to the imagination. It truly was a sight we had never seen before.
A highlight of our time in Huahine was having Do Over and Nina aboard for a games night on Paw Paw - Teaching them all to play Mexican Train Dominoes. It's fair to say it was another night full of laughter and fun with the children on Do Over enjoying it as much as the adults. It was well after midnight before everyone crawled off Paw Paw, having thoroughly enjoyed another day in paradise!
Our next port of call was Port du Bourayne. Nina had left earlier and hailed us about the availability of mooring balls following their reconnaissance of the area. Once both yachts were safely on mooring balls, we headed out in the dinghies to explore the bay as well as to pass over a coral reef and under a little bridge to see Baie Maroe on the windward side of the island. It wasn't long before we saw Do Over coming down the channel. With the "mini-WARC" fleet reassembled again, the beautiful sandy beach off the anchorage beckoned - time for some snorkelling and sundowners. That’s when we met Siki, the caretaker of the little beach. It turned out he was a retired marine from the French Foreign Legend and after a very interesting conversation with him, he proceeded to give us a huge hand of bananas and massive grapefruits to share between us. This kind of unsolicited generosity never ceases to amaze us in this part of the world. Just so refreshing!
The next morning we moved to the very pretty anchorage of Baie d’Avea on the southwest coast. Anchoring just off the Ralais Mahana Hotel, with the coral reefs and the beach within swimming distance of Paw Paw, allowed us to snorkel at will. Ashore we explored the hotel facilities, the surrounding restaurants and shops. To say this is a small village is an understatement. In fact, "if you blinked, you will have missed it", but small is not necessarily bad. The hotel was lovely, the restaurant is rated the best on the island and the colours of the water lapping upon the white powder beaches, with the Coconut Palms and lush vegetation as the backdrop, was a sight to behold. A long walk on a beach before taking advantage of the break in the weather to enjoy a potluck beach barbecue with Do Over and Nina completed another fabulous day.
The highlight of our stay in Huahine though was our visit to Restaurant Chez Tara. It was an early rise so as not to miss them preparing their buffet which we would be enjoying for Sunday dinner - Pig Roast, Polynesian Style.
When we arrived the huge fire pit was already smouldering and the chefs were preparing the various local dishes that would accompany the pork, all of which gets cooked in the ground - Coconut Bread, Banana Bread, Chicken and Callaloo Stew, Stewed Red and Yellow Bananas, Roast Chicken, Breadfruit. Depending on the dish being prepared it was either wrapped in palm leaves smeared with coconut milk, placed in baskets woven from palm leaves, placed in large steel pots or just placed "as is" on bamboo in the huge metal rack.
Once that was all neatly packed into the metal rack, the sections of pork were added and the whole lot was covered with moistened palm leaves. The fully loaded rack was then lowered into the pit to rest on the smouldering coconut husks which had been sprinkled with sea sand to reduce the temperature slightly. The final process included the pit being covered with numerous layers of varying materials to ensure that the heat remained trapped, following which the cooking process of roughly three hours began.
By this time we were all hungry and definitely looking forward to the final results. We were not disappointed. With additions like Poisson Cru and various desserts added to the buffet, as well as the beautiful setting of our table on the water’s edge, the live music and the garlands that we were presented with, the day far exceeded our expectations. We were most definitely treated to an authentic Polynesian feast and a wonderful experience.
Unfortunately it was only a few days later that we endured the terrible storm that had us weather bound in Huahine for a week. During one small break in the weather, when the hotel was able to reopen the dinghy dock, we did manage to get ashore and take a walk to Marae Anini and stopped in at the little grocery store on our return. We think we must have been the most interesting customers the owner had seen in days, given the dreadful weather.
Huahine was an island we were going to skip, but we’re glad we didn’t. Regardless of the storm we endured, it was a lovely island and definitely one of our favourites. Although very rural, it was authentic and friendly, not to mention having great provisioning. That said though, as soon as it was feasible, we were up early and headed for pastures new, Tahaa and Raiatea.
We were both looking forward to visiting Tahaa based on what we had heard from other sailors, but it was a bitter-sweet experience in many ways, primarily because of the limited anchoring options and even fewer mooring balls to choice from. It didn’t help matters that we narrowly averted running Paw Paw aground only to discover that we actually have a problem with our depth sensor. These circumstances definitely reduced our enjoyment of our stay in Tahaa, but we still managed to have a very unusual experience all in all.
We had an interesting entrance through Passe Teavapiti, the access through the barrier reef to the lagoon at Uturoa, the main town on Raiatea. Once inside we had time to enjoy the very pretty scenery before making a beeline for Baie Haamene on Tahaa, to get settled before the sun dropped behind the mountains.
After snaking our way through the very long bay, we eventually arrived at a rather strange looking place, where we picked up a mooring ball, although we were the only occupied yacht there. We were very intrigued at what would await us the next day. Although the guide indicated the various buildings represented those of a village, it looked more like a prison or a military camp.
The first thing that struck us the next morning though, was all the birds we could hear. This was definitely the quietest and most peaceful anchorage we had been in since Salinas, Puerto Rico and the surrounding scenery just as picturesque. The mystery of the bizarre looking buildings was resolved and turned out to be a school and the village administration buildings. The tower that looked like it had a guard on watch was actually the steeple of a church that was being renovated. All in all, it was a delightful little place and definitely hit the mark when we discovered French pastries and plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables for sale.
After leaving Baie Haamene, we thoroughly enjoyed our "sail" around the island, inside the lagoon. It reminded us of Ireland in that every new corner we went around there was another postcard perfect view to enjoy, especially the view of the dramatic spires of Bora Bora in the distance. All Elaine kept saying was: "Oh my word, it's just so pretty" and definitely rivalled Moorea in this regard. Unfortunately we struggled to get anchored near the Coral Gardens, so we changed plans slightly and, instead, picked up a mooring ball owned by Vanilla Tours in Baie Hurepiti, where we enjoyed sundowners and a light dinner on Nina after their sail over from Huahine that day.
Our tour around Tahaa with Vanilla Tours was another highlight indeed. We had originally thought we would be getting a tour of the Vanilla Plantation, but it turned out to be so much more.
After dinghing to their dock we were met by Noah, our tour guide and son of the owners of the operation, as well as Tika, their very friendly dog. It wasn't until Elaine asked that we realised the property we were occupying was in fact their home, built using the traditional Tahitian methods, where more than one building is situated on the property and each building is dedicated to a particular function of the home i.e. the kitchen, lounge and dining room, for instance, are a separate building from the bedrooms, which can be separate buildings again per bedroom and bathroom.
The tour started with an explanation of the materials and methods used for the roof which is made out of woven palm leaves and the walls, doors, shutter windows and floors from woven bamboo, with the supports and timbers from the trunks of coconut palms. A walk around the gardens as well as numerous stops en route around the island provided an explanation of the uses of various plants, trees, fruits, flowers, nuts etc., from medicinal uses to natural paints and dyes to flowers used as a defogging agent.
A stop at the Vanilla Plantation left us in no doubt as to why French Vanilla is so expensive. Besides the two years it takes to wind the vines, once the plant starts to flower, each flower has to be pollinated by hand before a vanilla pod can be produced. Once the pods are ready to be picked, they then have to be massaged by hand during the drying process. A fascinating, but extremely labour intensive process.
Other activities included a tour of the Pari Pari Rum and Coconut Oil Factory, as well as a stop at one of the drying facility from which coconut milk is produced using the dried coconut flesh.
Not only was it one of the most interesting days we have had, but we also got to enjoy delicious fruits and coconut water picked along the way. To top off the tour we were served fresh pineapple juice back at base and Roy got to practise the correct way of removing the husk of a coconut.
Completely in awe of what we had all learnt and having had the wonderful experience of really getting to know the island of Tahaa, we celebrated a fabulous day with Pizza and Mexican Train Dominoes on Paw Paw.
Our move to Baie Apu in order to visit a pearl farm proved fruitless, but we did, however, take a walk ashore and stumbled upon a little Creperie where we each enjoyed a chocolate crepe. A fitting end to our experience of this very unusual island.
Raiatea on the other hand was a major disappointed. After picking up a mooring ball, to avoid the endless struggle of trying to anchor in yet another really deep anchorage with a rocky bottom, we headed to shore. First to explore the Careenage, drop off our propane tank, drop off garbage and then to inquire as to where all the other services were. That led us to the Opooiti Marina where Sunsail and Moorings are based. A quick snoop around there yielded very little, so we decided to stretch our legs and walk the 4km into the main town of Uturoa.
Once all our business was completed we hunted down a place for lunch and stumbled upon La Cabana where the locals were already enjoying the start of their weekend. Of course we had no other choice, but to join them. So, with live music to entertain us, we enjoyed some drinks and a delicious buffet consisting of Steamed Mussels, Poisson Cru, Fish in a Vanilla Sauce, Grilled Chicken, Lemon Chicken, Moussaka, Rice and a selection of salads - a very unexpected treat.
That said, Raiatea is definitely not a pretty island, but rather the ugly duckling of the Society Islands in our opinion. We definitely went from one extreme to the other within a very short "sail" over from Tahaa. It does serve its purpose of providing needed services, albeit that they are miles from the main anchorage area.
The strangest service we've experienced to date occurred when we went to collect our propane tank. We found it, unfilled, lying in a corner of the facility where we had dropped it off the day before. With no one in sight to offer an explanation, we decided the best course of action was simply to rescue it and leave.
Our sail to Bora Bora was fast, hitting 9.5 Kts at times, but it was sunny and that was an improvement on the weather. When we arrived, we were delighted to discover that Do Over was still here. We were fortunate enough to obtain a mooring ball right next to them at the Maikai Marina and Restaurant and have basically stayed here due to our depth sensor issue. Fortunately the location is close to the main village of Vaitape and within a dinghy ride of all the tourist attractions.
First impressions of Bora Bora was that it is not as sophisticated as we had expected, but rather seems to suffer from the same socio-economic issues as we saw in Raiatea. Apparently the island is still trying to recovery after it was severely hit by the down turn in the world economy, evident by a number of resorts which have closed down as well as the empty business premises we have seen.
What makes Bora Bora special though is the water in the lagoon surrounding the island. Not only do you feel like you are swimming and snorkelling in a swimming pool because there is not one grain of sediment in the water, but the colours are truly beautiful. It's not only the varying shades of turquoise we saw in Rangiroa or the other Society Islands, but rather the varying shades of deep blue as well. The water is so clear that you don’t even have to get in the water to see the sea life below. Combine the beautiful shades of the water, brought to life with the sunshine, with the rugged spire of Mount Otemanu and the lush vegetation in the background and it is easy to see why Bora Bora is considered the “Pearl of the South Pacific” and one of the most spectacular islands in this great ocean.
As we’ve dinghied around Toopua moto and the southeast side of the main island, we have been in awe of the huge manta rays that we’ve been able to snorkel with. One of the guides told us that they were at least three metres wide from tip to tip and they had just returned to the lagoon after being away for a number of weeks due to all the bad weather. We have also been able to swim with and pet sting rays again as well as snorkel the various Coral Gardens, where the guides free dive to coach the huge moray eels out of their hiding places.
While we have spent most of our time in the water or walking along the lovely Mitara beach whenever the weather has lent itself to doing so, we have managed to tour the island by car, enjoyed a games night on Do Over before they set sail for Palmerston and Nuie and enjoyed meals, although very expensive ones, at various restaurants around the island. A sunset surprise was getting to see the most vivid "green flash", the likes of which we haven't seen before.
But the highlight of our stay in Bora Bora has been the festivities of the annual Heiva. From traditional singing and dance competitions to pirogue racing, coconut husk removing competitions and tropical fruit races, amongst others. The Heiva is basically a month long competition or celebration with Polynesian flair that takes place on all the Society Islands, but we arrived too early on the other islands to see them. Fortunately we're in Bora Bora at exactly the right time.
It is amazing to see the productions that have been presented. What makes it more unique is the "stage" - the floor is beach sand, the roof open-air with fairy lights strung overhead. Three sides of the perimeter are cordoned off with rope and mats laid out for spectators to sit on or you can choose to sit in the grandstand, located on the fourth side, for a small entrance fee. Being shown to your sit in the grandstand reminds one of the movie theatres years ago, but, here, beautiful ladies, in traditional dress with flowers in their hair, escort you. There's no doubting the fact that you are attending a function in paradise. The Heiva is not "staged" for the tourists. It is something for the locals, supported by the locals and tourist can attend if they please. It is a rare opportunity to see these authentic traditions, which is simply priceless!
Our tour around the island, however, surprised us somewhat. While we knew about the impact of the economic downturn on some resorts, we were perturbed to see the overall level of poverty outside the touristy sections, poorer than we have seen on any of the other islands in French Polynesia. Obviously most of the island's income is going into the private coffers of the foreign hotel conglomerates and we imagine that most of the guests are not leaving these sprawling resorts at all, further restricting the flow of income to the island. It’s probably fair to conclude that it wasn’t just the economic downturn that forced the closure of many of the smaller hotels, but rather the fact that they were unable to compete with the multinationals.
While Bora Bora has been blessed with its natural beauty and we have definitely enjoyed all our activities here, we will remember the owners of Maikai Marina and Restaurant. Their hospitality, friendliness, helpfulness and welcoming environment has made us feel at home. Saying our goodbyes to them will definitely pull at our heartstrings.
And, while the writing of this article has certainly taken us on a trip down memory lane and brings to the forefront just how privileged we have been to make these islands our home for whatever time has been available to us, the experience is made that much sweeter by the passages we make to reach them. Where the brightness of the stars on a moonless night seem so close one feels one can reach up and touch them. Where the dolphins come to frolic in Paw Paw’s bows and add a smile. Where a huge leatherback turtle surfaces to take a peek at Paw Paw or where we get to celebrate Valentine's Day with only birds for company and Paw Paw surrounded in sparkles as her wake sets off the bioluminescence in the water. Add to that the modern electronics and communications which allow us to stay in regular contact with family and friends. Simply the icing on the cake!
Some might say we are nuts to be leading this life. Granted it's not an easy feat especially when dealing with Mother Nature at her worst. If it were, everyone would be doing it, but the rewards are truly beyond what you can imagine in your wildest dreams!