From the abundant waterfalls of Tahiti Iti (Little Tahiti) lashing down the steep verdant hills to the iridescent shades of emerald across the palm fringed lagoons, the Society Islands have it all. This archipelago perfectly combines the dramatic scenery of the Marquesas with the deadly necklace of corals encircling the lustrous turquoise of the lagoon around the islands, specific to the Tuamotus.
It looks indeed like the perfect holiday destination, although sadly sun is not guaranteed. For some it is the perfect cruising ground. Not for us. We very much preferred the authentic Marquesas and The Tuamotus. Anything spoilt by tourism does not have the same appeal for obvious reasons: – people are not as friendly, busier, noisier, pricier, etc.
We spent more than a week in Tahiti. We drove around the island and appreciated its beauty. We gazed at deadly waves of Teahupoo, where the Billabong surfing championship is held. We’ve seen for the first time purple water lilies and tombs in people’s gardens! We spent time with old friends and made new friends. We also attended the impressive Heiva groupe dance competitions on the 14th of July in Papeete.
After a pit stop in Cooks Bay in Tahiti Iti, we stayed in Marina Papeete for a week – a week of primarily catching up with maintenance work on Mehalah. Also a week of frustration as nothing that we planned to do involving the much needed internet worked. So, there I was in tears with frustration for the first time in this voyage! As a friend consoled me, I guess the lack of internet is a small price to pay.
We were relieved when we set sail to buzzy Moorea. We anchored inside the barrier reef in Opunohu Bay, surrounded once more by verdant towering precipices. We kayaked 6 km to swim with big sting rays. We walked across ancient villages in the thick jungle to reach pineapple plantations that we took for aloe vera plantations! We ventured to the neighbouring Cook Bay for provisioning and spoilt ourselves with fresh shrimps from a local shrimp farm.
After catching up with our friends on catamaran Itsara over a scrumptious dinner (thanks Carol!), we sailed north to Huahine. On reaching the west side of the island we were welcomed by playful dolphins and puffing humpback whales. We felt so fortunate to have a sight of these unique spouting giants.
Huahine is very rural. It rained for most of the time we were there. We remember our stay there with pleasure mainly because we had the opportunity to spend time under and above the water with our friends from the boat Bagherra.
We were happy to move on to sunny Raiatea. More discoveries along the only navigable river in French Polynesia, and more catching up with friends. Sailing inside Raiatea’s lagoon was the best sailing experience so far. Gliding on the azure glassy surface protected by the coral reefs, nudged by a gentle breeze under the sun felt like heaven. The roaring of the cascading surf on the barrier reef, contrasting with the calm lagoon was a constant reminder of the reality of the ocean.
Raiatea’s little sister, Taha’a homed by the same coral reef, was as inviting. We had a roller coaster like drift-snorkelling experience. We were pushed by the current between two motus just above the coral garden at an exhilarating speed. I just managed to get to the other end unscratched. When Sorin suggested a second round my answer was a categorical ‘no’.
We gazed at sea planes taking off and landing on the ocean surface. We learned the secrets of the vanilla plant:- of the orchid family with manually pollinated flowers.
With anticipation we sailed north to our last stop in French Polynesia, Bora Bora. We had mixed feeling about Bora Bora, but it did not take long before we were totally charmed by its beauty. Dominated by Mount Otemanu, the island is shaped as a lying down pregnant ‘vahine’ (woman).
Despite its popularity Bora Bora (Pora Pora in Tahitien) retains its absolute charm. The tourism is kept at bay inside the chain of motus that surrounds the island. These are sprinkled with lots of Polynesian style top class hotels, suspended above the gin clear lagoon.
We spent my birthday cycling 32km around the island with a stop for lunch at Bloody Mary’s, the setting of the movie ‘South Pacific’. With every pedal we were leaving on our left the ever-changing shades of blue and on our right the dramatic green ravines. The unmatched beauty of the scenery fuelled us on.
After a day recovering we thought it was time to challenge ourselves again. So, with newly made friends, we took to the highest pick of Bora Bora. It was an extremely daunting ascent, ducking under tree trunks and hiking big boulders, helped by ropes. As I was going up, all I could think of, was how on earth were we going to get our tired bodies down. However, refreshed by the breathtaking 360 view of the azure paradise surrounding the island (that none of us could get enough of!) we eventually made it back down.
As soon as we had a favourable weather window we set sail to Palmerston, one of the Cook Islands.