Tahiti to Huahine
19 August 2016
Put the Marquesas and the Tuamotus together and you get Tahiti and the Society Islands. Lush green islands with stunning steep-to mountainous backdrops ringed with reef coral crowns, giving protected anchoring and fantastic snorkeling. Paradise. The only downfall is that the more popular islands are full of tourists, charter boats and large hotels. Luckily all hotels are low level with a lot over the water, thatched with palm fronds, so quite attractive. We certainly understand why these islands have become a favourite holiday spot.
Captain Cook named the Society Archipelago when he landed in 1769. There are two groups of islands the Windward and the Leeward. Four in the windward south including Tahiti and Moorea, and nine in the north, not so large with Bora Bora being the most popular.
Our first stop was Tahiti, famous throughout the world. More than half of the inhabitants of French Polynesia (120,000) live in and around Papeete the main city. It has the only big port and international airport for French Polynesia, and is the administrative center.
It was magic, after four months at last we could find everything we wanted, or nearly. We enjoyed HUGE supermarkets with incredible yummy French food, at a high cost, but oh so wonderful after being without for so long. Pig out, you bet, and we will probably see the extra love handles in the next few months. However, live for today is our motto and with our lifestyle they will no doubt disappear before we get to New Zealand.
We anchored off the Tahiti yacht club and got to spend time with several other boats we had not seen in a while. Catch up time, tall stories to share over a beer or two or three, was in order. It was a great place to spend a week with friends.
The whole of July in French Polynesia is spent celebrating Heiva. This is where all the islands compete in a dance and music competition, plus outrigger racing. Each island has a team of up to 100 dancers with an orchestra of approximately a dozen drums. The dancing is done to pulsating drums and singing.
We went to one competition and the talent was incredible, synchronized with not one person out of step. All the dancers were decked in elaborate costumes made from natural fibers, with large fancy headdresses. The females had layered skirts with hip bustles and coconut/leaf bras; the males were bare chested and looked great with all their tattoos. Polynesians are large people especially as they age and not all of the dancers were young, your imagination is required here, but needless to say it was quite the spectacle. After each song everyone changed into new and even more beautiful outfits. The men dressed as warriors doing the scissors step with bent legs, while the girls flipped their hips until their leaf bustles were a blur and began to fall apart. It was wonderful to experience the energy and pride that the Polynesians take in their heritage, a memorable evening. Sadly no pictures are allowed so we are unable to share the experience, although I am sure one can find some on the Internet.
We were also lucky to enjoy Bastille Day while we were in Papeete with lots of parades, flower competitions and races which included running whilst carrying huge 52 kilo banana plants - crazy. To be closer to all the festivities we decided to splash out and dock at the Town Marina. What a treat, we even ended up getting eight nights for the price of five, so spent lots of time immersing ourselves in city life. It was a great marina, not noisy, as we had thought, with free wifi another treat after being so long without. I loved visiting all the pearl shops, the black pearls here are gorgeous and of course I now have some new jewelry.
While in Tahiti we rented a car with friends and spent a day driving around the island. We went to the Tahiti museum where they were having a cultural festival, which included javelin throwing, other games, and more dancing. We had lunch down at Teahupoo, the famous surf beach, on the south coast and on the way back stopped at the Trois Cascades (lovely waterfalls) for swimming.
In Tahiti we learnt that the locals see themselves very much as Polynesians and not French, even though the majority speak French. In fact the French are not liked as many Polynesians lost their grandparents due to the nuclear testing that happened in the islands. The local people are very proud of their history and the art of tattooing ones body is seen everywhere. With the colour of their skin and being part of their culture tattoos seem to blend in and are a part of the people who live in these islands.
After a few more days at anchor it was time to have our last meal ashore, at "The Trucks" with about a dozen of our friends, before leaving for Moorea. The Roulettes, or Trucks, are where locals serve food from a Truck with seating all around. Outside the marina there were only two with about a dozen tables, however in Papeete there is a whole square on the quayside filled with at least twelve trucks serving a variety of food. Our favourite was one that sold fish with the most delicious rice done with garlic, coconut and cheese.
Moorea, what a truly beautiful island. We have heard it called Fatu Hiva on steroids, a perfect description. Our favorite anchorage was off Coco and Dream islands (what great names) with friends on Ednbel with Tony of Tactical Directions joining us. We had a lot of fun together with beach fires and BBQs, a night out at the Intercontinental to enjoy their spectacular Saturday night entertainment and lots of shared dinners. Our days were spent playing with the ever-friendly stingrays, kayaking and snorkeling. We even got to swim the underwater Tikkis at the anchorage where we spent our last couple of nights.
Next stop the less touristy island of Huahine. We had an excellent overnight sail and spent our first night in the town anchorage of friendly Fare. There is a large supermarket, with local veggie stalls with fantastic produce. Then a quick catch up with email before we headed south to Avae bay to link up with our friends on Tika. What a wonderful spot, even though the weather was not so great. Fantastic Marae on the SE side, there are lots on Huahine; which used to be quite populated. Apparently the large stone platforms were used for human sacrifices in days gone by. Delightful. I found a Polynesian guy who specialises in massage and joint manipulation, so had to try him out. My friend Greer was in heaven after she saw him. He managed to sort her out after years of pain and treatment, got to love the natural touch.
We hid out the worst of the weather just outside the large bay of Bourayne. Huahine is in fact two islands with a bridge that connects them and Bourayne is the western bay. It was a fantastic sheltered spot with great snorkeling, beach, and hiking to panoramic views. We came across forest-covered ruins and found out that there used to be a large hotel with 43 cabins just behind the beach from 1995-98 when it was flattened by a cyclone. The only thing apart from the odd stone staircase and vine-covered walls left were the flowers, I now have a lovely tropical arrangement on Ta-b.
Back to the town of Fare where we enjoyed company with other cruisers and a night out on the town listening to Steve of Leeward and his band play at the "Yacht Club". Can't believe we have already been here a month in fact over 90 days in French Polynesia. Luckily having EU passports we do not have to leave like many of our friends who only have a 90-day visa. Our plan is to spend up to another month before we head off towards New Zealand.