The Society Islands - June / July 2016
We left the atoll of Fakarava in the Tuomotus in the middle of June and made our way for The Society Islands. The Society Islands consist of two group of island chains called the Windward Islands and the Leeward Islands. We were making our way to the Windward Islands first as these are the ones closest to the Tuomotus. Our first stop would be the city of Papeete in Tahiti. This is the largest city in all of French Polynesia as it has the largest port and all goods typically come to Papeete first and then get shipped to the other islands/atolls.
It is about 230 miles from Fakarava to Tahiti. We had a very nice 2 day passage. When we first left, we thought there would be no wind, but low and behold, a squall came and delivered several hours of rain and good wind. We did not see any winds higher than 25-30 knots, so it was nice to get wind to push us along especially after the rain stopped. Our first stop was to the most northern point of Tahiti called Point Venus. This is where Captain Cook set up an observation point to watch Venus pass in front of the sun. It was a very calm and beautiful anchorage. We were so excited to see houses and buildings built into the mountainsides. It was wild coming from vastly empty atolls and the sparsely populated islands in the Marquesas to an actual city! Of course Tahiti is not large by any means when comparing to a city like San Francisco, but it had a good amount of lights and cars and also airplanes.
Blue Raven and Meridian Passage both joined us in the anchorage for the night and then we all made our way to Papeete the next day. The Port is large considering we had to call the Port Captain and gain approval to even enter the channel first as, there are many ferry boats, cruise ships and tanker ships that make their way in and out of the port. Also, the airport is across the channel from the airport, so sometimes you have to wait for traffic and planes to clear before you can enter. Fun stuff, but actually really easy.
Entering the Port of Tahiti
Entrance toward the Port of Tahiti
Point Venus Lighthouse
"Most Extreme Elimination" Tahitian Style
Kids Jumpy playground at Point Venus
Canoes at Point Venus
We docked at Marina de Papeete right in the middle of town. It was a great location as we could walk to almost everything we wanted to see. The Central Market was only a few blocks away. A place that sells fresh vegetables and fish and also has vendors that sell flower leis, flower arrangements, pareos (cotton or silk printed wraps), wood and shell carvings, Tahiti Manoa oils (coconut oils with Tiare flower oil or other island flower oils), and lots of black pearl stands. Black Pearls are the specialty jewelry of the South Pacific. The most exciting thing we learned about was the Roulottes (Food Wagons/ Food Trucks). They set up EVERY night at a square next to the visitor’s center. We definitely had to try it immediately. The selections ranged from seafood, steak, chicken, crepes, Asian (mostly Chinese style noodles and dishes) and ice cream. They specialize in Steak Frites. Steak and French Fries. Talk about yummy. Everything comes with frites. Chicken, fish, eggs, with frites! The most interesting treat was a Casse-Croute. It is basically the same thing, but served on a baguette. Steak and fries baguette, chicken chow mein (seriously, chicken noodles served on a baguette, egg and cheese and fries on a baguette. Of course we had to try it and it was actually really good. Most “Snack” restaurants, which we would consider more like a take-out/fast food, serve the casse-croutes and are definitely less expensive(ok, expensive is a relative word, considering everything is French Polynesia is expensive, especially compared to Mexico) than eating in a sit down restaurant.
Roulottes - Food Trucks
Church in downtown Tahiti
A typical can of soda costs $2-3, a can of beer costs $5, head of lettuce $4, fruits and vegetables are limited and 2-3 times more expensive than what we would spend in the US. Grapes would cost about $11-15 dollars for a bunch, celery would cost $5-7. Items that they don’t grow, which is very limited to pampelmousee, coconut, papaya, bananas, long runner beans, and bok choy, are typically shipped in from New Zealand, so the cost is expensive. In Tahiti we were happy that they had a very large grocery store called Carre-Four. If you’ve been to Europe, you would see many of these stores there. Some folks in Tahiti say it would be similar to a Target or Walmart superstore, one that carries groceries. I think they are nicer than that as the choices and selection seem to be more upscale. But maybe that’s just because the brands come from France/Europe and we don’t know any better! It was just refreshing to actually be in a real grocery store with a selection and have choices!
We rented a car a drove around the island. Of the approximately 280,000 inhabitants of French Polynesia, 120,000 of them live in Papeete area. It took about 2-3 hours to drive around a stop and visit some sites. We saw beautiful waterfalls, the surfing town of Teahupoo, and took in the sites of the beautiful green mountainsides and lush greenery. It is very laid back and no one seems to be in a rush to go anywhere. It was certainly a different feel than being on an atoll in the Tuomotus, or even a village in the Marquesas, but it still had the relaxed vibrations of being on island time.
Grotto in Tahiti
Mist over a mountain town in Tahiti
Teahupoo - Big Surf town
on the beach in Teahupoo
Waterfall in Tahiti
Waiting for the water at the blowhole, (it was very tiny!)
Moorea - Tahiti Moorea Sailing Rendevous
We came to Tahiti to join the Tahiti Moorea Sailing Rendezvous. It was a three day party for sailors or anyone interested in sailing and learning about French Polynesia. We originally did not think we were going to make this event as it was planned for a certain date and sailing is always not exact due to weather conditions and ability to travel by boat. So, we thought if we made it to Tahiti by that time frame, we would attend. We are glad we did. This event was so exciting and very well planned out. It started with a rally/sail from Tahiti to Moorea (about 2-3 hours sail). They had Tourism boards and port/marina representatives from French Polynesia, Tonga, New Zealand, Fiji and Australia. It was more than we expected. We had cocktail parties with Marquesan and Tahitian dancers performing for us, very good food, canoe (va’a/vaka) races for the participants and tug of war, coconut husking competition and coconut carrying and stone lifting! It was a fun filled three days. We got to meet other cruisers and the kids got to hang out with lots of other cruising kids. Such a fun time for them as there were more kids than we had seen in all of the Marquesas and Tuomotus combined.
Coming into Cook's Bay - Moorea
hotel at entrance of Cook's Bay - Moorea
(almost all of the hotels have over the water bungalows)
Kids! Lots of kids
Next day Canoe races
Geoff racing with Blue Raven
Team Enough getting ready to race
Team Enough - postcard drawing style
Horatio's team off to a good start
Noah getting ready to paddle
Stone lifting contest
Local showing how it's done
Tug of War
It was kids against the adults
How to crack a coconut
Horatio husking a coconut
Better than the "Thunder from Down Under" or "Chippendales"!
Miriam and the ladies learning to move their hips
Horatio's boys canoe team won their division
Receiving their awards
Horatio holding his trophy
Geoff receiving a trophy from Miss Moorea
Horatio and Geoff holding their
carved shell trophies
Vaka tour boat
Eating pasta with Nogal
Swimming with Nogal kids in Cook's Bay
View from our anchorage in Cook's Bay
The kids want one of those! Slide off a huge boat
Agricultural farm - they had jam tastings and ice cream
with Oponohu Bay on left and Cook's Bay on right
Lots of green foliage
How you make Tapa - pounding the wood fiber
Bird hanging out on a cow's back
We toured a little of Moorea after the event and we really enjoyed Moorea. It has such a beautiful relaxed and friendly atmosphere. Truly beautiful island. We swam with stingrays and black tip sharks! More than a little exciting when some tourist was feeding the sharks chicken! Seriously! It is illegal to feed sharks and this area is full of tourists snorkeling with sharks and stingrays, so when you are being circled by about 20 black tip sharks, it’s time to get out of the water! It was a little too scary! So mad at that dumb tourist for feeding the sharks roasted chicken. One of the tour guides told them off and I think they still didn’t understand!
Noah on the bow
Took the dinghy sailing to the Stingray and Shark site
Getting ready to swim with the rays and sharks
Stingray swimming up to the dinghy
Geoff with ray behind him
Black tip sharks
the kids with a stingray
stingrays swimming toward Geoff
Horatio and Miriam laughing about almost getting attacked by roast chicken eating sharks
Tahiti and back to Moorea and the other Leeward Islands
We went back to Tahiti to pick up Geoff’s parents as they came for a two week visit. It was nice to have them come and see what living and traveling on a sailboat would be like for two weeks without having access to a marina or offsite bathrooms and showers! We wanted to make sure that sailing would be all during the day, and no overnight travel would be required. It was very cozy but doable and nice. We attended one of Tahiti’s largest festivals of the year called Heiva. It is an all-island competition for singing, dancing and drumming. We got tickets and attended one of the, what we think, was the nicest shows of the event. There was no cameras allowed and they had very tight security that would take peoples phones and cameras away if they saw any recordings. We really wished we could have gotten photos, but I think if you YouTube, “Heiva”, you would be able to get an idea of what we saw. Spectacular and so heart pounding! Definitely worth the money! The costumes alone were such an amazing site. They are all handmade and look like hours of work to produce.
We went back to Moorea and spent a couple of days there and made a visit to the Rotui Fruit Juice factory. That was actually really neat. Not only do they process all of the islands fruit for juices, which is absolutely delicious (passionfruit, pineapple, coconut, papaya, mango, and pampelmousse) they are also a distillery. They make their own rum and also made this incredibly delicious pineapple wine! It was quite tasty, so we had to buy some along with the rum!
Horatio giving Geoff a haircut on the dock
Cruising tour sailboat at sunset
Puffer fish at the dock in Tahiti
Huahine – The Wild One
We made a very early, 4 am, departure from Moorea so we could sail the 80 miles to the Leeward Island of Huahine. We made it just as the sun was setting and anchored outside the Avamoa Pass, near the town of Fare. We had a nice dinner on the boat and were happy to be anchored as the swell was pretty high and the wind was pretty much on the nose. It wasn’t too uncomfortable, but not easy and calm. But happy to be anchored in calm weather inside the lagoon. The next day, we were going to motor around the island, but we could see a storm was coming our way and decided to head to the Island of Tahaa, which was about 20 some miles northeast. We beat the weather and could see Huahine covered in storm clouds, but nothing was coming to Tahaa. We wished we could have stayed longer and seen more of Huahine, because we have heard how beautiful it is. We saw surfers and some snorkelers before we left, so we are guessing it would have been a nice place to visit.
Tahaa – The Vanilla Island
Tahaa is known as the Vanilla Island. They grow about 60% of the worlds Tahitian Vanilla beans here on this island. We anchored in front of the town of Haamene. We took a tour and it was fascinating. We learned there are 4 different types of vanilla; Tahitian, Mexican, and Bourbon/Madagascar and Ugandan. For Tahitian vanilla beans, they have to be hand pollinated (!), hand-picked, hand tossed and air/sun dried, and hand massaged (to distribute the seeds around in the bean pod). Vanilla is grown from an orchid. It is not the most beautiful or scented orchid, but it does produce an amazing vanilla bean! Now we understand why it is so expensive for high quality vanilla beans. The long beans are worth more, because to grow long beans, the pod will die and not reproduce. If you pick them a little shorter, they will reproduce. The long beans are for the vanilla bean/seeds. Any beans that end up curly and not straight are for extract.
We motored around to the Tapuamu village and anchored in front of a private hotel. They had a coral garden which we thought would be touristy with not a lot to see as we know that coral is not as good as anything we will see again like in the Tuomotus. But we were pleasantly surprised by the amount of fish in this coral garden. The coral was not bright with different colors like in Fakarava or Tahanea, but it was surprisingly full of beautiful fish! The snorkeling and swimming was fabulous!
We also tried to get wifi and thought we would go to the hotel and get something to drink or eat at the café, but you had to be an official guest since it was a private hotel. We asked if we could pay to eat, and boy did we pay. We didn’t know that trying to get wifi would cost of $60 dollars each for a buffet breakfast! Talk about expensive wifi! The hazards of needing to be connected!
on the way to Tahaa
Tour of the Vanilla plantation
Orchid that grows the vanilla bean
Vanilla beans on the vine
Vanilla beans that have just been picked
Vanilla Bean drying
Ylang Ylang tree - apparently this tree is pretty abundant here
One of the most common florals used for perfumes, as in Chanel no.5
Bora Bora – The Pear of the Pacific
We made our way to Bora Bora and moored in front of the Bora Bora yacht club for the evening. The next day we picked up a mooring ball in front of the famous Bloody Mary’s restaurant. Apparently people like Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffet, movie stars like, Brigitte Bardot, Keanu Reeves, Reese Witherspoon, etc. have eaten here. Now we know why. We were invited, along with S/V Red Thread, to our friends from S/V Sarita’s, daughter, Katya’s 13th birthday! An official teenager! The boys were happy to see their friend again. Katya and the boys had been spending time in the Tuomotus doing art projects together. So, it was good for them to see her again.
What a great restaurant. It has sand floors, and everyone has to put their shoes in a cubby! So funny, like being in pre-school! But there was nothing pre-schoolish about the food! Of course it was expensive, but it was absolutely divine. We had been eating on the boat for so long and had forgotten what a gourmet meal tasted like. The seasonings, vanilla cream sauces on fish! It was just fabulous. The desserts were also to die for. It really was a fantastic night and we are happy that Geoff’s parents got to partake in that with us! Certainly not typical of cruising life, but once in a while you get to eat at a really top shelf restaurant with amazing friends and family!
We spent several more days anchoring around Bora Bora and swimming and snorkeling. The weather was not picture perfect every day, but we had some very nice days.
Sunset over Bora Bora from the island of Tahaa
Entrance to Bloody Mary's restaurant - Bora Bora
Geoff and Miriam with Geoff's parents, Peter and Theresa
Group photo with friends from Sarita and Red Thread
Katya celebrating being an official teenager
Horatio doing Tarzan in the lagoon - Bora Bora
Everyone enjoying the beautiful weather and clear water
Raiatea – The Sacred Island
Raiatea is the largest island and nautical base for the Leeward Islands. It is almost connected to Tahaa, but a pass separates the two islands. We went to Raiatea to drop Geoff’s parents off at the airport and get provisioned and check out as our 90 day visa was now coming to an end. We motored around the island a little and made our way to the main town of Uturoa. We grabbed a mooring ball, which we only had to supply a 6 pack of beer for, and made it to town. It was nice to have Geoff’s parents with us and we are glad they stayed. The kids were excited to have their grandparents to hang out with for a while and see how they lived. The kids of course did very limited amount of school work if any while their grandparents were here, so it was going to be back to hitting the books when they left. I think the kids will miss having them here!
We provisioned and checked out and actually made our way back to Bora Bora for a good weather window to leave for the Cook Islands. While we were back in Bora Bora, we met up with our friends from Nogal and shared a nice dinner with them at the Lucky House. We hope to see our friends Sarita and Nogal again soon.
Harbor at Raiatea
Enough at anchor in Raiatea
View from our anchorage in Bora Bora
Bora Bora Yacht Club mooring
Dinner with our friends from Nogal
Maupiti – The Natural Island
Maupiti is a small island about 30 miles from Bora Bora. Most people don’t make it here due to the pass being narrow with huge currents that can cause lots of breaking waves. We decided to make the attempt and were able to make it into the pass. It the current was very fast, and we went in full throttle, and made it through! Beautiful little island. We never went ashore, but just snorkeled and swam and got ready with food prep for the passage to the Cook Islands.