The water colours vary around the island of Raiatea from the nutrient rich river water running down the high mountains into the sea to the water beside the coral reef reflecting off white sand. It makes for a kaleidoscope of blues which are spectacular, and even better to sail through.
Bizarrely we have sailed past a few houses in the sea, literally in the middle of nowhere. New COVID living?! Sea view anyone? (They are probably involved with Pearl farming but not that we saw many Pearl buoys to indicate as such).
We were also accompanied in the lagoon by a group of dolphins which was most unusual (normally too shallow and enclosed for them I suspect) but magical as always to have dolphins playing in our bow wave.
Time to drop the anchor, explore the motus and swim with the fish.
No, I can’t pronounce it either but it’s the most sacred site in French Polynesia and recently made a UNESCO world heritage site.
We anchored in a lovely bay called Hotopuu and walked around the headland to explore the marae. A short hike up the hill gave us a bird’s eye view of the ruins together with a great view of the aquamarine water surrounding the coral atoll.
The marae are places of ceremonial worship. When they were built the priest would allocate each family an amount of paving they needed to provide. These stones are massive and look very heavy, so it must have been quite a feat for them to be built in their time.
The boys loved climbing the large the banyan tree and even found an unregistered geocache in its branches – what are the chance of that! Another great land day whilst 30kts of wind still howled at sea (and anchor).
We then sailed round into the south of the island to get some respite from the easterly winds.
With the wind howling we sailed to Raiatea and took ‘shelter’ in the valley of Faaroa. It was still blowing up to 30kts so although we had limited waves inside the reef and valley, it was pretty windy. But as the borders are still shut the yacht charter company here is having to store all their un-rented catamarans — unfortunately this means many of the anchorages are full and the mooring buoys taken where they have dumped their boats.
Never mind we headed elsewhere. At the head of the valley lies the Apoomau river which is the only navigable river in French Polynesia. We anchored and decided to explore further by rowing up the river.
The river was very peaceful with the birds singing away. We rowed up to a small and very well maintained botanical garden. It was slightly surreal seeing manicured paths, mown lawns and neat picnic benches after the wild jungle of the river banks.
A perfect spot for a picnic lunch though admiring the beautiful tropical flowers.
Back on the river we got chatting to André who was working on a farm beside the river. He kindly offered us fruit and we happily went with him round the farm (although picture semi chaotic jungle rather than ‘farm’) picking bananas, rambutans, coconuts, avocado, guava, papaya, cucumbers and even green beans. We were so delighted and rowed the mile back carefully balancing all our hoards of goodies and five people in a small inflatable dinghy!
Later we spotted André paddling his battered outrigger and fishing in the river head near our anchored yacht. We quickly sorted out some spare fishing gear and paddled over to give it to him. Delighted, he promptly gave us fish – still alive. We are not going to go hungry in this valley!
As we sailed to our new anchorage a large manta ray swam past us and shortly afterwards we saw a turtle scurry past too. The water is so clear that you can see everything so clearly, it’s beautiful. Great for avoiding coral bommies too!
We picked up a mooring outside the small ‘La Pirogue Api’ private island and promptly went snorkelling to find the manta and turtles. We weren’t disappointed and spent a lovely half an hour snorkelling with the most graceful huge manta ray. As we swam back to the boat we saw a few small turtles and sting rays amongst the coral and fish. A great welcome to another gorgeous motu in Tahaa.
The hotel was unfortunately closed as French Polynesia still has its borders shut, but we enjoyed the gorgeous anchorage for a few days and explored the small islands around before heading to Haamene bay to stock up on much needed food. We also managed to eat out at Hisbiscus bay restaurant, which was a real treat, the most tasty fresh grilled fish with vegetables (rarely seen lately!) and kindly used their great WiFi!
All the hotels, resorts and charter yachts are closed due to a COVID shutdown, so life in the lagoon is very quiet (not that there are many resorts anyway).
We’ve been exploring the motu’s around the west of Tahaa (motu’s are the small islands around the edge of the reef).
This motu is called Tautau and it’s right beside the coral gardens, which are great for a drift snorkel through the pass at vast speed! We snorkelled the pass a few times so that we could actually see the fish and coral as the first half of the pass goes in an instant as the current rapidly carries you through.
It’s stunning here and I know I keep using that word, but it really is. The blues of the ocean and sky, contrasting with the greens of the palm and coconut trees together with white sand make it all utterly breathtaking. I’m not sure any of the photos really do it justice. The Pacific islands really are landfalls of paradise.
We are enjoying having some quiet time here and making our own entertainment as there is barely anyone around.
The boys love being towed on the paddle board behind the dinghy, and Felix decided to dress up as a pirate and paddle across to conquer the neighbouring boat ‘Peregrine’, much to Micheal’s (single-hander) amusement.
Random Polynesian trivia; we went to a place called Faaaha on Tahaa, (and no, miraculously I’ve not made a spelling mistake) but the thing is, in the Polynesian language you sound out every ‘a’! It’s quite a job to pronounce the place, “Fah-ah-ah-ha” on “Tah-ah-ah” without sounding like you are singing the Sound of Music!
We spent ages, years even, talking and deciding on what boat to get for our adventure. Once we set sail we found miraculously other families had made similar choices, so much so, we soon became part of a WhatsApp group called “48 CC” (48ft [long] and centre cockpit [yachts]) with our sailing friends.
Choosing the right boat for you is a personal decision but it is always a compromise on what you want regarding; space, speed, safety, affordability and great design. But a 48ft centre cockpit boat seemed to top all the families list. Our personal list of no-compromises-in-a-yacht include;
1. Centre cockpit (safety)
2. Straight spreaders (better for downwind sailing)
3. Large water and fuel tanks (essential for long cruising, we have 1000 litres of water and 700 litres of diesel aboard when full)
4. Powerful engine (110hp gets you out of trouble when needed)
5. A well designed and carefully built blue water cruiser —Boat Category A – Ocean
6. Cavernous storage for storing all the family fun essentials…bikes, scooters, paddle board, surf boards, buckets and spades along with all the spares, ropes, fuel, oil, cleaning products, games, school books, food….
A centre cockpit is key for safety and a secure feeling at sea with a young family (also when anchoring you can hear the person sorting the anchor with a centre cockpit as you are that bit nearer them which results in less shouting- always a good thing when trying to anchor!).
A comfortable cockpit with a decent foldaway table to eat at — is also a must. You spend so much time in your cockpit — sailing, eating, homeschooling and also entertaining, we chose one with high sides so you get decent back support too. A godsend, which I would never have thought was so important before I lived aboard a yacht.
Once we’d established our list of non-negotiables, we then looked for boats that met that criteria and went and saw them. Our personal list thus narrowed to the following type of boats;
Hallberg-Rassy, Contest, Oyster. Then it’s a case of finding one for sale in your price bracket and desired condition / age sometimes easier said than done! We knew we wanted new electronics/navigation and new rigging for our own peace of mind so we were happy to buy a boat and get the upgrading done. We also fitted a new generator and water maker for our cruising plans.
I can honestly say we’ve been delighted with our choice. A Hallberg-Rassy is a beautifully built boat, she’s kept us thoroughly safe in gales, storms, high seas and yet also sped speedily across oceans and long passages. We are the envy at anchorages as she is stable and doesn’t roll like the lighter yachts and we sleep like babies aboard. We came first in our group in the Arc 2019 rally across the Atlantic and fifth overall out of 200 boats (and we were family cruising not racing!) so she is both fast, sleek and sea worthy.
We were the envy of most with our 17 day speedy Pacific crossing too. She is safe, fast, beautifully designed and built by true craftsmanship. I’ve felt safe and secure with our young boys growing up aboard her and exploring the world. I am gutted that our sailing dream is slowly coming to an end but I know she will go on to make new dreams come true for someone else.
Until then we will keep cruising the Pacific to all the places still open (we’ve sailed over 14,000 nautical miles so far, not bad sea CV mileage for seven and nine year-old children) and we will keep living our dream. 😁😎⛵️⚓️🏝🐬🤿🐠🐟⛵️☀️🦈🎣🧜♀️🐡🐙🦑🦐
90% of the world’s vanilla comes from the South Pacific, and we were lucky enough to sail to the island of Tahaa which produces three quarters of the Polynesian production.
Noah guided us round the island, showing us the flora and fauna of where he was born and brought up. We learnt about the lengthy process for growing, harvesting, fermenting and drying vanilla. We even got to pollinate the vanilla flower, something which took the west 300 years to work out!
We bought mangoes, ranbutan, and pamplemousse from roadside stalls and ate bananas, star fruit and coconuts from the trees we passed.
We learnt about the medicinal properties of tamuru and sugarcane and saw the Pari Pari rum distillery in action.
We even broke down when Noah accidentally drove a wheel off the track up the mountain, but by the time we’d eaten our picnic lunch and walked the remains of the way up the hill to the viewpoint, he had roped in some friends to pull us out and get us on our way.
A great tour and loads of fun, wonderful to see the islands lush interior.
Not too far west from Bora Bora is the quiet island of Maupiti, which has remained a peaceful non-touristy mountain atoll. We decided to head there for a few days before coming back to Bora Bora. Maupiti is beautiful with a lush green central mountain and a serene blue shallow lagoon and fringe reef around the edge.
White sand beaches are dotted around and there a handful of “pension’s” to stay in but the rest are locals’ houses who live a traditional life, fishing and harvesting the coconuts to make copra.
We managed to hire some rusty bikes and set off on a tour of the island, all of a grand eight miles.
We stopped at a small beach where you can walk across the water to the “motu” island opposite. It’s a fantastic half hour walk with the warm water never going higher than your waist. The water is delightful, so transparent and you can see the occasional curious sting ray or baby shark swim past.
Maupiti has a manta ray protected research area and we snorkelled with giant mantas at their favourite feeding stations, namely coral bommies in the entrance passage current. It was a magical sight to see these magestic creatures seemingly fly with ease in the current.
On Saturday we joined in with a Polynesian feast on the nearby motu. A large hole is dug in the sand on the beach and made into an oven lined with banana leaves and fuelled with coconut husks. The oven is left to cook all night, flames put out at 2am and covered carefully with more banana leaves. At midday the oven is ceremonially opened, the layers carefully removed and the packages — wrapped in tinfoil and intricately woven palm leaf bundles, placed onto dishes, et voila – the feast of roasted bananas, breadfruit, clams, chicken, pork and fermented fish is ready! With a plate load of mostly unrecognisable food from our western eyes, we sat at tables on the beach and duly ate with our hands, much to the boys delight.
A great Polynesian experience for us all, complete with live music!
We decided to explore the verdant green land and managed three hikes on the island seeing a mixture of old banyan trees, ruins, World War II armoury and a massive hike up Mount Pahia, — one of the two high volcanic peaks on the island.
The King’s Valley walk turned out to be a lush valley walk full of unexpected fruit trees and we managed to eat passion fruit, bananas, star fruit, mangoes, avocados and pamplemousse as we walked along. This was a true delight for us sailors who have been without a ready supply of fresh fruit and vegetables for the last few months in the Tuaomotos and Gambiers.
On Sunday we tackled Mt Pahia (2168 ft / 661 m) and it was a truly an epic climb, not one for the faint hearted. It is a non-stop vertical climb for three hours. The path hasn’t been cleared for months so there was a lot of scrabbling over roots, vines and rocks. Some sections have ropes, others don’t and it’s a very long way down for a wrong step!
But we all managed it up, even Felix aged 7 with the shortest legs, and the view was spectacular to make up for the pain of getting there. The heat and humidity was the worst and I’m not sure we have ever been so hot and sweaty!
The colours of the water in the lagoon are spectacular, the blues ranging from turquoise to sapphire and surrounded by islets with white sand beaches. Seeing them from this height was amazing, like our own helicopter tour.
We then had the arduous job of getting back down and due to Mt. Pahia’s steepness it took three hours to get back down too. It didn’t help that as we started to leave the summit a rain cloud covered us and made the path a shear wall of mud and stone! Never mind we were soon in the tropical rainforest with its own micro climate. With the town at the end of the walk we replenished our empty water bottles and had a well earned ice-cream to celebrate. We will all sleep soundly tonight!
We arrived at Bora Bora in the early hours of dawn having sailed slowly since midnight to try and arrive in daylight. The sun rose majestically above the mountains in the centre of the island — and as we sailed through the atoll entrance a pod of dolphins came to welcome us, playing in our bow wave. The colours – muted reds of the sunrise, the greens of a dramatic mountain and the shiny darkness of the dolphins in deep blue, all jumping around us made for a truly magical arrival. We were all very excited and delighted to have arrived in such a beautiful place.
We sailed straight down to the south of the atoll, to a quiet anchorage where there is access to one of the few beaches which is not private. The water was breathtaking (both its shallowness and its colour). The moorings were mostly empty and all the hotels – luxury huts on the water, are shut as there have been no tourists here since February. It’s very quiet and peaceful. The locals and us alike are loving it. Everyone we’ve seen has been super friendly and welcoming, it seems a magical place.
The boys played with the French children on the neighbouring boat and Josef (also aged 9) kindly lent them a go on his “Tiwal”, an inflatable sailing dinghy. It was amazing fun and super fast. A great warm water sailing dinghy for children. We enjoyed the coral gardens and swimming with the rays and walking across the atoll rim to the Pacific facing edge. The trees and their bark were amazing too.