The Other Society Islands - Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea, and Tahaa
15 July 2016 | 16 31.645'S:151 4.77'W, Bora Bora, French Polynesia
After the Puddle Jump Sailing Rendezvous in early July, we headed over to Opunohu Bay, the prettiest bay on the Island of Moorea. We walked up a steep mountain slope that took us though pineapple fields, archaeological sites and tropical forests. The pinnacle was the belvedere, a viewpoint overlooking the lovely anchorage below. We stopped for cold fresh coconut water, fresh mango sorbet and a tour of a large fruit farm.
The highlight of our time on Moorea was being in the ocean and feeding the rays. In shallow water which we could just stand up in, we were surrounded by tame rays and sharks that seemed completely at ease with our presence. The sensation of touching a ray is truly remarkable. Their rippling grey wings feel like soft wet leather. And the rays bring their bodies so close that you feel they're trying to climb on you, with their wide eyes staring intensely at you. The rays were quite tenacious, and I had wished we'd brought more sardines as the crackers I offered held no interest all. Certainly, being so close to sharks took me out of my comfort zone. Although we'd been snorkeling near sharks a few times on this trip, it was unnerving to put my hand out to a ray and have a shark come forward instead. I loved feeding the rays, and we went back for a second encounter the next day.
Our overnight passage to Huahine was easy, and this Island quickly became our favorite in the Leeward Island group. The small town of Fare (650 people) appealed to us immediately due to the friendly greetings we received from everyone. We rented a scooter and toured the perimeter of the Island and its little adjoining Island, or Iti. Almost every roadside and oceanside home and property we saw looked immaculate with lush, well-tended gardens. Plantations of vanilla, breadfruit, taro and pineapples were everywhere on Huahine, and tourist development was not.
The highlight of our time on Huahine Island was the opening night of the local Island Heiva dance competition. We'd seen professional Polynesian dancers, but this competition was a true celebration of local Huahine community and culture. I expect that every Fare family was in attendance at the sand floored stadium, and the performers were local musicians, singers and dancers of every age, shape, size. After a plethora of colourful ceremony and speeches and a Huahine version of the Frozen song, at least 80 locals danced with passion and costume changes galore. Dance teachers helped with costume readjustments in situ, except with one young man who lost his sarong and danced bashfully in his tight brown jockeys, to the humor of the audience. But don't get me wrong, these locals could dance - every single woman skillfully gyrated and shook her grass skirt, while gracefully moving her arms and keeping her upper body upright and still. We enjoyed the atmosphere in the audienc e as much as the performances, and the unsolicited car rides we received to and from the stadium added to our experience as well.
Next, we were off to Raiatea and Tahaa, where we anchored in stunningly beautiful anchorages. Faaroa Bay is a gorgeous anchorage in view of a mountainous valley. We headed toward the Appomau River at the end of the Bay and almost immediately ran into James, the friendly kayaker who offers tours of his farmland. After completing our cruise of the river which was lined with papaya trees, ornamental ginger and beautiful tropical blossoms and plants, James showed us the sights and flora on his family vanilla plantation. With a fresh coconut to go, we headed home with more papayas, passionfruit, oranges, bananas and herbs that we could have imagined. For $25, we gorged for several weeks on the sweetest and most delicious fruit that we'd encountered in French Polynesia.
Our anchorage near the the second largest town in French Polynesia, Uturoa, offered a new experience. With other catamarans exclusively, we braved a very narrow and very shallow pass that led to the most stunning aquamarine shallow water anchorage we'd seen. We'd been given helpful local knowledge about this anchorage from Pierre, a French catamaran sailor. It was equally scary and exciting to see how closely a catamaran can sit overtop the sand. At this and other anchorages in Huahine, Raiatea and Tahaa, we had the unusual experience of being amongst the majority of types of boats on the water. Many charter boat companies operate in these waters, and catamarans appear to be the vessel of choice for their customers.
The Islands of Raiatea and Tahaa also provided us with the opportunity to anchor adjacent to over-the-water bungalow hotels. To begin with, I was fascinated with these picturesque accommodations, as every South Pacific dreamer is. However, after viewing hundreds of these bungalows in various resorts through the South Pacific Islands, I feel fortunate that my bed doesn't cost me $1000+ per night. Well, actually, any new part we need to repair Speakeasy will easily cost us that amount and more. Either way, the views from these bungalows and from Speakeasy do not disappoint.