Raiatea & Taha’a
15th - 26th August 2018.
It was a straight shot under motor across the windless calm sea from Huahine to Raiatea’s Iriiru Pass. As we entered the pass the local outrigger boys were waiting in the wings and started paddling their sleek racing outriggers towards our stern. We knew the drill. We’ve played it many times. These fellas like to push themselves to their limit paddling in our wake for as long as they can keep up. Sometimes we have one paddler but being a cat we often have two, one for each transom. It’s sort of unofficial training for competitions and we see it happening everywhere. They get a very good workout and if they look like they are doing it easy we ease the throttles forward just a smidge. Even so, they still follow until they drop their oar on their lap and can go no more.
In the fading afternoon light we headed straight for Vairami Bay and dropped the hook in 32 feet of thick mud. Then the heavens opened and down came the rain, by morning the mud flowing down from the hills was starting to infiltrate the dark waters of the bay. It was like a giant brown blob threatening to engulf everything in its path, including us, so we changed locations and moved out to the clear waters of the reef for the night.
Next day it was time to play tourist so off we went to Faaroa Bay to explore the Aoppomau River, the only navigable river on the island.
It’s not a long river but in places it gets quite shallow necessitating our dinghy motor to be lifted. The river wends its way towards the hills through thick overgrown jungle with low hanging tree branches just waiting to give you a good kick in the head if you’re not on the ball. While below, the waterline tree roots and submerged logs demand careful navigation. We travelled as far as we dared before the vines and trees impeded our path.
On the way back we stopped at a veggie farm we’d heard about from other cruisers. Andre the owner greeted us on the river’s edge and secured our dinghy line. He was more than happy and very proud to show us around.
He had quite a variety of crops growing, There were all the usual suspects, bananas, coconuts, mango and papaya, but he also grew beans, potatoes lychees and a long coffee been type fruit the name of which escapes me. Andre piled us high with fruit and veg and we left with a bagful for only 1000cfp which is roughly $10. Pretty good value we thought.
Next up on the must see list was Marae Taputapuatea, now unless you are Polynesian that’s a heck of a mouthful to pronounce. A marae is the religious, cultural and governing centre of a village, and this marae would have to be up there in the top two restored sites we’ve seen since arriving in French Polynesia. Also known as the “Heart of the Polynesian Triangle”, it dates back to the 17th centaury and is dedicated to Oro, the god of war who dominated the Polynesian religious beliefs throughout the 18th century.
Any marae constructed on the other islands had to include stones from this site as a symbol of allegiance and spiritual lineage.Taputapuatea was the centre of spiritual power in the Polynesian world and its influence spread far and wide to include the Australs, the Cook Islands and New Zealand.
With our brains spinning from the overload of cultural info it was time to head to the tiny motu of Nao Nao, a pretty little spot on the south east corner of Raiatea. We spent three lovely peaceful days anchored here on the sand flats. There were plenty of small reefs to explore just a short swim away from the back of GWTW. The water was lovely and clear and the fish life, although mainly the small guys, were as are always fun to watch..
Over the coming days we travelled further north along the west side to the island of Taha’a which is to the north of Raiatea but still inside the encircling reef which surrounds both islands, two for the price of one so to speak. Taha’a is relatively small compared to it’s big sister but no less impressive.
Inside the western edge of the reef are a couple of small motus. One has a rather ritzy resort with the usual overwater bungalows but between it and the next motu lies a small inlet from the sea known as the coral gardens. We had a late afternoon snorkel here, or rather a crawling snorkel. You beach or anchor the dinghy, then follow the trail to the ocean side of the inlet, wade in and float downstream back into the lagoon The water here is very shallow and the canyons of coral are like a maze with many dead ends. It was a lot of fun and there were a ton of fish but one run was enough for us.
That evening we celebrated our 33rd wedding anniversary, with a lovely meal of BBQ salmon, and clinking glasses of delicious NZ Matua Sav Blanc as the sun set over a backdrop of Bora Bora.
We stayed around this area for another few days visiting one of the two rum distillery's in the bay but no purchases were made this time time. We also did a tour of the Iaorana Pearl Farm which was excellent. I’d wanted to see the workings of a farm since arriving in Polynesia last year.. When you take a tour you realize just how involved the process from oyster to stunning pearl necklaces is.
This farm employs eighteen staff, three of whom are highly skilled Chinese grafters who every day harvest the 800 pearls from the oysters and then re- graft ( implant) the same shells with a new nuclei (seed). These oyster shells are then returned to the water for another two to four years before they are retired and various parts of the oyster muscle and shell are pensioned off for spare parts, mostly to the souvenir industry.
We spent out final night in Taha’a on a mooring ball just off the Hibiscus Hotel in Haavene Bay treating ourselves to a dinner ashore and some very fast internet. Liam had already dinghied in to sus out what was on offer and he was told that there was meat and fish and desert and to arrive at 7pm. The meal turned out to be a bit of a lucky dip as there was no menu, so no choice in the matter at all.
We sat for at least 30 mins before any action came our way and then plates of food arrived with no hint of what would be coming next. It was the strangest restaurant experience we’ve ever had but the food was very good. Lucky we like fish because their was no sign of any red meat. The two couples at the next table were equally as surprised as we were. But like I said the food was excellent. The fee for the mooring ball which we’d read in the cruising guide, was at no cost if you ate in the restaurant but that turned out NOT to be the case and to our surprise was added to our bill. The ball cost us an extra $15.
We left the following morning and headed back over to Raiatea and the main town of Uturoa where we stayed two nights on the town dock for free. No one came to collect a fee, so that was a bonus. We did a flurry of last minute provisioning and caught up for lunch with French cruising friends who we met during our stay in Guatemala four years ago. They have since sold their boat and have taken up residency here and built a drop dead gorgeous house over looking the lagoon with views across to Huahine. Seeing them after such a long time was great and it truly felt like we’d never parted.
It was time to get moving once again and with GWTW bulging at the seams with provisions and fuel tanks ditto, we bid Raiatea goodbye in our wake and pointed our bows towards the iconic island of Bora Bora.
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