Tahiti, Moorea, HuaHine, and Bora Bora
The Society Islands, French Polynesia
In 1958 my parents took me to see the award winning movie South Pacific which was based on James Michener's book Tales of the South Pacific. They bought the album and it played continuously in our house
until these tunes finally gave way to rock-n-roll. The movie was filmed on location in Hawaii but many of the scenic backdrops which introduce the film and framed the intermission were taken throughout the South Pacific and in particular the Island of Moorea. Since we were in the neighborhood, we took the opportunity to borrow the movie from friends and ever since we have been singing or humming these great show tunes as we make our way through the Society Islands.
Our first port of call was Papeete on the island of Tahiti. This city of 24,000 people and acts as a transfer point for tourists coming to enjoy the South Pacific. When one speaks of the Society Islands Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora usually come to mind, but actually there are twelve islands in this volcanic archipelago. There are many misconceptions about Tahiti; the beautiful beaches on local postcards are not on Tahiti but on the motus from other islands, the glamorous over-water bungalows are actually in Bora Bora and the glimpses of sharks cruising past colorful reefs are in the Tuamotus. And if the truth be know, Gauguin he didn't even fancy the place. Most of his paintings reflect the Marquesan Islands. But Tahiti does have the only international airport in the Society Islands and for cruisers, you must stop in Papeete to check in to and out of French Polynesia. You wouldn't want to spend your holiday in this crowded seaport. Even though there are many luxury hotels on the island, to see the best of the South Pacific it is necessary to get out of Papeete.
With this said, we must acknowledge that there are a number of things to do. Since Papeete is the capital of French Polynesia it is home of the Polynesian games which are held during July and August. These events pit communities from many of the islands against one another in competitive endeavors such as racing outrigger canoes, singing or chanting, dancing, stone lifting, javelin throwing, foot races with the participant carrying a heavy sack filled with fruit on the end of a pole and certainly there are others we don't know about. We attended the stone lifting contest for mid-weight women. The smooth stone for this contest weighed 130 pounds and was covered with coconut oil to make it more than a contest of strength but also of technique. The stone must be hoisted to rest upon the shoulder of the contestant for a few seconds and all this was done without grunting. Three men timed the lift and somehow a winner was selected. Needless to say these were not the same ladies we saw competing in the dance competition we attended. We think you will find the ticket price of 15, 25, or 35 FCPs to be reasonable for such an elaborate event.
We were anchored off the marina Tahini and during all daylight hours paddlers were practicing in outriggers. The canoes are configured to hold anywhere from one man up to eight. We also saw practice for a relay race where a crew change was accomplished. A relief crew of four treaded water and after the primary crew jumped overboard they lifted themselves aboard and headed out. And all of this was done in synch and very quickly.
Anyway our advice is to catch one of the dance competitions and then get out of Tahiti and move on. Okay you can stop by McDonalds for a Hamburger Royal (yep even in French Polynesia you're reminded of the line from Pulp Fiction ), but for the most part Papeete is too expensive and to focused on the tourists.
Moorea may be the best example of what you anticipate the South Pacific to be. It was our first shallow anchorage since we have been in the Pacific, we could actually see the sandy bottom in the not too crowded anchorage. We skipped Cooks Bay and headed for Opunohu. It was blowing like stink when we arrived so we chose the anchorage just east of the cut. There is an anchorage to the west which was closer to the attractions we enjoyed but offered little protection from the fronts that were blowing through. Not far from this western anchorage you will find six to eight huge stone tiki's in about six feet of water. As the story goes when the missionaries came they insisted that all tikis be destroyed. These survivors were taken to shallow water with a sandy bottom and deposited. It makes you think that the local inhabitants were stashing these away in case Christianity didn't work out as they had hoped. Anyway they are still there.
A little further down the channel is a sand bar where the sting rays gather to be fed by visitors to the island. On our first visit there were only a few tourists. It was the kind of close encounter with nature that you would like to think of as a gift for having traveled so far. We forgot to bring our camera so we weren't preoccupied with the right shot but only with enjoying the moment. However the next day, we returned with camera in hand and while we were there two large tour boats pulled in and it became a different type of experience. There were still thirty or so sting rays swimming about looking to be fed but now they were joined by at least ten black tipped sharks in the periphery. Attracted by the activity and food in the water, the sharks (large sharks) would swim within three feet of us. We got back in our dinghy and watched the antics of the tourists. The "Liki Tiki" tour boat assigned a crew member to herd (?) the sharks to the back of the boat and away from the central location of the tourists. However once the sharks were spotted by the tourist most removed their snorkel gear and went back on the boat to take pictures . A few brave (?) souls actually headed toward the sharks with food in hand.. Without incident everyone soon departed and we were left with just the beauty of the place and the rays while the sharks returned to the deeper water. These larger boats come on Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays so you have a choice.
If you would like to watch a movie of Steve feeding the rays, just click on the island......
It is an easy dinghy ride from Opunohu Bay to beautiul Cooks Bay. If you take your boat you will have to anchor in 60' of water with a muddy bottom. We decided to take the trip because Rene has been humming "Bali Hai" ever since we watched South Pacific. We were hoping that a trip to the Bali Hai Hotel would break the spell. Actually the Bali Hai Hotel is located on the North coast of the island with a smaller subsidiary located in Cook's Bay where on every night but Wednesday the owner of the hotel invites his guest and cruisers to join him at the pool for a question and answer session and to learn more about the history of Bali Hai and Moorea. Bring your own drink as the bar is not open at night.
We left Moorea around 4:30 in the afternoon, expecting light winds which would put us into Huahine after daybreak. Friends recommended we enter thru Passe Avapehi, which is wide and well marked. Once inside the reef we headed to the most southern tip of the island via the channel, also well marked. After sailing all night it was a long seven miles of motoring. But the trip was beautiful. From this picture you can see the deep blue water in the channel, the lighter blue of the sandy shoal, and in the distance the waves breaking. In the background you can see the island of Raiatea.
Huahine is actually two islands (Big Huahine and Little Huahine) which are connected by a road bridge. Legend has it that the god, Hiro, ploughed his mighty canoe into the island, creating two bays and dividing the island. The island is famous for the Hawaiki Nui Canoe Race, that it is equivalent to the "Super Bowl" of canoe racing. The event last for three days with sixty teams of racers from around the world competing in six-man piroques. The race course is more than 116km.
We cut our visit short due to a number of reported thefts from boats. It is believed that HuaHine was where surfing was invented and the primary target for the ring of thieves is surf boards. Surfers are very territorial and we suspect that this was an attempt to keep the surfing areas for locals only. But the thieves didn't mind also trying to steal a dinghy or fishing rods. We didn't experience any problems but heard several being reported on the radio.
Bora Bora may be the most beautiful of the Society Islands and therefore luxury resorts and expensive restaurants are well placed along the waters edge. In fact we were asked to move our boat one day because a famous movie star, who was paying at least a thousand dollars a night, didn't want to look out her window and see a half dozen cruising boats on the horizon. Can't say as I blame her. But since there are so many good anchorages leaving was not without its reward.
South Pacific encouraged one entrepreneur to open a bar and restaurant named Bloody Mary's, a principle character in the film We dined there one night and in front of the restaurant there is well maintained billboard listing the names of famous people who had eaten there before us. From the size of the list you can tell that Bora Bora is not so remote. When you enter the restaurant and meet the owner, who was from Arizona, you know even more about how small the world really is. Jumbo jets unload 400 passengers in Papette and commuter flights bring them to the outer islands of the Society chain where they can enjoy the Polynesian adventure for a week or two. Imagine what they missed by traveling here at 600mph instead of 6mph. Yeah, I know it's all about having the time.
Departure from the Society Islands is the beginning of the cruiser fleet dispersing on a variety of routes to a variety of destinations. Hurricane season is three or four months off and boats are now starting to scatter to New Zealand, Australia, Fiji, Hawaii, American Soma and destinations beyond to avoid any blows that might come to this beautiful but vulnerable area.
If you would like to see a slide show of more pictures, just click on the arrow below or go to Photo Gallery and click on the camera. This will take you to Flickr and choose the South Pacific set. Enjoy
If you're headed that way:
- In Papeete it is necessary to check in and out with immigrations and customs. Even though you may not be departing French Polynesia from Tahiti you still need to clear out. When you leave from another island just stop into the local gendarme for the last stamp on your passport which will give the actual date of your departure.
- Call in on channel 12 before entering the Papeete Harbor to request clearance and also ask for clearance around the airport if you are headed to the anchorage at Mavea Beach.
- FCP's are local currency in French Polynesia. Current rate is about $.90 USD to the FPC
- "Le Truck" provides transportation from the outlying areas to downtown Papeete. At this writing the fare is between 1.3 PFC's to 2.0 per person depending on the time of day.