The Leeward Islands
John’s sister and her husband flew into Tahiti to join us on Rhythm for a week. After a few days in the Windward Islands, we decided it was time to explore some of the less-visited islands of The Societies, the Leeward Islands. We made a fast overnight passage from Moorea to Huahine. Despite being only 80 miles away it felt worlds apart.
Huahine is actually two small islands, Huahine Nui and Huahine Iti, that are connected by a small isthmus. From the boat, it was easy to slip into the turquoise water for a swim, a snorkel, or a paddle. Small parks and gardens have been established by the community throughout the island and provided a place to stretch our legs. The Leewards Islands are known for their vanilla production and we got a lesson in the process. It takes years of dedicated maintenance before it is ready to cultivate; it’s no wonder Tahitian Vanilla is so expensive!
The main town of Fare is a good port for supply boats and one seems to pass through daily. So despite the island's small size, there were ample groceries. Local vendors sold fruits/veg on street-side stands and there were food carts, called roulettes, that sold baked goods, lunch, and dinner. There were a handful of souvenir shops on the main drag but the best was a cooperative artisan shop that sold locally made jewelry, hats, and sarongs. I couldn’t resist buying yet another necklace from one of the sweet, older women minding the shop that day.
John and I enjoyed some time at the Huahine Yacht Club. Locals and yachts gathered there for cheap happy hour, good food, and live music. We were introduced to the music and art of Bobby Holcolm, a native Hawaiian that lived on Huahine for most of his life. It was said that he brought a higher appreciation of Polynesia culture to the outside world.
On our own again, we left Huahine and headed for well known Bora Bora. This island is known for its dramatic landscape but the real gem here is the lagoon. Two-thirds of the space within the atoll is water. This is the place where the travel photos of overwater bungalows come from. The island has so many to choose from but they come at a price, an expensive price. Luckily we get those same views or even better from our boat. Unfortunately, we don’t have quite the same amenities or luxuries;)
Bora Bora recently established a mooring system and is discouraging anchoring. The moorings come at a fee, and it’s difficult to want to pay when the anchoring here is so damn easy. I would happily pay and use a mooring if the intention was to preserve coral, but it seems that it’s meant to keep the yachts ‘out of the way’, to get them (us) to congregate away from the resorts. The safety of the moorings is questionable, some appear well serviced/maintained and others not. We heard of 2 boats that broke free of their moorings this season and they both had considerable damage; not exactly a selling point.
The other thing that was a bit strange was that most of the shoreline was considered private. We’ve become used to walking on the beach at waters edge almost anywhere we choose, but here it wasn’t permitted? No worries because the action was in the water anyway. Bora Bora was the land of rays: eagle, sting, and mantas. To me, nothing is more majestic than watching an 8-12 foot manta ray glide through the water!
Bora Bora was the last place in the chain for international check-out formalities. So we headed to the Gendarmerie, the police station, and took care of our paperwork. It felt sad to be saying goodbye to French Polynesia but the sailing season was running short and we still had a few 1,000 miles to travel before reaching the safety of New Zealand.
We did, however, make one last stop at the island of Maupiti. And what a way to end our stay! Maupiti has it all: remoteness, kind people, turquoise water, rays, whales, and hiking. In the week we spent in Maupiti we did a lot of exploring but also a lot of reflecting on all we’ve experienced since arriving from Mexico 5 months ago. We’ve picked up bits of French, Marquesan, and Tahitian languages and understand more about the culture and the geography of the South Pacific. There’s still a lot ahead of us but for now, we’ll be content with what we’ve accomplished thus far.
Mercí, Mauru’uru, Ko’utaunui! Thank You French Polynesia.