Photo: A family of five at the south end of Uvea Island ride off with their groceries and baguettes
"...go out in the midday sun..." but maybe we should add bike-riding cruisers to that short, somewhat misguided list?
There are no taxis in Wallis and Futuna and even though many locals will pick-up hitch-hikers, this assumes that you have a specific destination in mind. To facilitate our exploration of Uvea Island, we took our folding bicycles ashore over a couple of days. By the time we had finished listening to the weather forecasts from Gulf Harbour Radio and got the bikes assembled on shore, it was mid-morning before we actually started exploring. This meant that on both occasions, we were riding around during the middle of the day and, with hills featuring prominently in both expeditions, it was inevitable that we got very hot and sweaty. Still, it was worth the effort and given that the car drivers were very courteous and gave us plenty of room, it was actually a pretty good way to travel.
On our first venture, we cycled north from the wharf along the coastal road which eventually curves up and inland. At the top of the first rise, we found a seafood restaurant where we booked dinner for Thursday night to celebrate Randall's birthday. We continued to slog uphill until we met the main road from Mata ´Utu to the airport, which is at the north end of the island. We had intended to go north but the road was surprisingly busy and narrow so instead we crossed it to continue inland and uphill.
Eventually we reached the top of the hill where there was the inevitable radio/cell-phone tower. Although technically we were not at the highest point of the island, we could see Mount Lulu Fakahega to the southwest and it really did not look much higher. If we could have climbed the tower, we would have had excellent views to the east across the lagoon but we had to satisfy ourselves with peering between trees and powerlines. Freewheeling down the long hill back to the shopping center, however, was very satisfying, and considerably cooler than the uphill grind.
Given the tropical temperatures, I was glad to be able to wear above-the-knee shorts on my bike without being concerned about causing offense. Older women all wore long pareu (lava lavas) or dresses in bold patterns but not generally with quite such bright colors as we had seen in Samoa. Women's clothing was expected to be below-the-knee in Tonga and the villages of Samoa, but in Wallis, as in tourist-oriented Apia, this custom appeared to be less strictly applied.
The calm anchorage at Gahi
We went on our second bicycle ride after we had moved Tregoning south from Mata ´Utu to a small anchorage in front of the village of Gahi. This bay was sheltered from the prevailing southeasterly winds and we could anchor much closer to shore than at Mata ´Utu, where we had to anchor off the wharf at the end of a long causeway that reaches out beyond the wide shoreline reef.
The line of floats appearing to block our entry into the anchorage at Gahi
We were a bit puzzled on approaching the Gahi anchorage to find a line of floats and flags stretched across the narrowest part of the entrance channel. Not knowing whether there were lines joining the floats, we crept around the end furthest from the shallow reef, careful not to swing too wide into the shallows on the opposing side of the channel. There were a couple of moored cruising-size sailboats in the anchorage so we were pretty sure that the floats were not intended to keep us out but their purpose did not become fully apparent until the evening. Then, a couple of six-person outrigger canoes were launched from the beach and it became obvious that the line of floats marked lanes from which the canoes approached the finishing line, which was closer to the shore. We were relieved that we had not anchored within the raceway lanes.
One of the out-rigger canoes paddles into Gahi Bay
After climbing a steep little hill inland from Gahi, most of our second bicycle ride was on the relatively flat, paved, coastal road around the south end of Uvea Island. We explored the southern Mua Village and were very impressed with the beautiful leis and displays of tropical flowers with which people were adorning the white-painted graves and tombs in the large cemetery. It was November 1st which is a public holiday in Wallis and Futuna for All Saints Day. November 2nd is All Souls Day which is a day for remembering the dead (technically, the departed Christian faithful) and presumably was the reason for the lavish decorations in the cemetery.
Fabulous floral arrangements in the cemetery at Mua on All Saints Day
Continuing clockwise around the south end of the island, we eventually came to a junction where the paved road turned left following the shoreline but a bumpy dirt road continued straight ahead uphill. We took the latter route and after cresting the hill we almost rode by our intended destination. With few free-roaming tourists on Uvea, it obviously seemed unnecessary to bother with signposts either for the roads or the interesting sites. Luckily, we did notice a short driveway to our right, which ended in the sheer drop in to Lalolalo Crater Lake. We were hot enough that a dip in a lake had seemed rather appealing but we soon realized that going for a swim in the dark-green water would be a one-way trip, as there was no obvious route for climbing back up the high cliff walls.
Lalolalo Crater Lake
At least 800 m (0.5 mile) across, this circular hole in the ground was a bit larger than the Tafua Savai´i Crater that we had visited in Samoa and obviously differed in having water rather than trees in the bottom. But like Tafua, Lalolalo also had a fringe of lush green vegetation leaning over the rim of the brick-wall-like sides of the crater. And like Tafua, we could hear plenty of birds. The aquatic species such as white-tailed tropic birds, noddies, and white terns were easily seen over the water, while we could only hear the pigeons and saw just a few Polynesian starlings in the trees. However, from our bikes we had seen many banded rails scurrying across the road and a barn owl intent on its hunting, which is not a particularly common sight during the daytime.
The sheer walls on the inside of Lalolalo Crater
After being suitably impressed by the size and depth of Lalolalo Crater, we continued north along the dirt road, intending to join the main, paved around-the-island road. We would then loop west and south by the coast, back to where we had turned off on the dirt road, before retracing our route back to Gahi. Unfortunately, my assumption that the main road was all paved was incorrect, so I had ignored the critical turn-off shown on our very crude map of the island and did not realize that we were continuing further north than we planned. This only became apparent when we made a left-turn and found ourselves at a large but very isolated church near Pointe Vaha ´A ´Utu, on the edge of a shallow but extensive bay. With very few houses in the vicinity, it was difficult to imagine where the congregation came from, but the church looked well-maintained so presumably enough people drove the dirt roads each Sunday to keep it going.
Randall was very patient with my navigational error but chose to return the way we had come, via the hill of the Lalolalo Crater, rather than continue the loop across the island to Mata ´Utu and then back south to Gahi. While the loop option attracted to me on an exploratory level, knowing that we would have to cross the island's central ridge near its highest point at Mount Lulu Fakahega during the middle of the day, did rather detract from its appeal.
Fortunately, we passed a small store in the first village that we reached by the sea so we stopped to buy ourselves a picnic-lunch of cheese, baguettes, and ice-cream. Eating this, while we and our bikes were sprawled in the shade on some grass by the store, we became quite the focus of attention for the steady stream of locals who came to pick-up groceries by car or moped. The latter were quite a popular means of transportation at this end of the island, and we were quite impressed by a family of five that pulled-up to get their bagful of groceries and half-a-dozen baguettes.
Randall enjoys the last downhill leg into Gahi with Tregoning waiting in the anchorage
During our explorations by bicycle, we did not find any "extensive archaeological sites tucked back in the bush" that were promised in the Lonely Planet Guide. So if we had been able to stay in Wallis for a while longer, we would have enquired at one of the hotels as to whether there was anyone prepared to give us a guided-tour of the island, focusing on the northern and central areas that we missed, and on the less-obvious sites of interest. Similarly, although we enjoyed a couple of snorkeling trips in the lagoon, using the dinghy to approach some coral heads near the outer reef and one of the shallow areas close to Gahi, if we had stayed longer we would have asked for some recommendations for better sites. Still, we managed to pack plenty into our week at Wallis and considered that we got a good feel for the place. Now the questions was, where to go next?