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Tahaa – the island of vanilla and rum

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.

Touring the island in the land rover

Maupiti – one of the remoter Leeward Society Islands

Maupiti from a motu

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!

Hiking in Bora Bora

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.

Panorama view from the summit

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!

Sunset in the lagoon

A magical arrival at Bora Bora

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.

An untenable stay at Makatea

With strong winds due in a week (probably remnants of the cyclone near New Caledonia recently) we decided to sail onto Makatea whilst the wind looked mild and we had a calm window to be at Makatea. It sounded an interesting island, the only atoll which has cliffs. After a 125nm passage and a night at sea we approached Makatea around lunch time. It was slightly surreal, as it looked like we were sailing towards the Isle of Wight!

After months of seeing only flat atolls — barely half a metre above sea level, it was a shock to see cliffs that soar 80m into the sky.

There are only three moorings at Makatea and it’s far too deep to anchor, so you slightly hold your breath as you round the island and hope that there aren’t three boats already there.

Good news there wasn’t, but the one boat we could see, a large 80+ft schooner, had it’s masts weaving around all over the place, not a good sign – it didn’t look like a settled anchorage!

We managed to pick up the mooring in front of the very close rocks and stood, rather alarmed, watching the crashing waves at the entrance to the “harbour” area. There was no way we were trying the entrance in a dinghy and the anchorage felt like we were still sailing at sea with a strong swell from the west.

Waves crashing at the entrance

It’s a reminder that you are in the middle of a vast ocean with little or no protection, in cyclone season.

After getting another up to date weather forecast from the coral expedition boat behind us, like them, we made a decision to sail on — next stop was another 200nm to the Society Islands. Unfortunately even though the wind was going to be okay in 24hours time there was a large swell coming from the west and we had no protection in that direction. It would only get rougher. So unfortunately we haven’t seen the old phosphate mining craters, caves, vanilla plantations, lagoons or rock climbing but I gather it’s a great tour round the island if you are luckier with the weather and swell than we were.

We managed to stay long enough to eat a bouncy dinner before setting off on another long night watch. But the next stop is Bora-Bora, how exciting is that, even if it is two more nights at sea!

Wonderful welcome at Toau, Tuaomotos

We stopped for a relaxing few days at the atoll of Toau and met the kindest hosts Valentine and Gaston. They welcomed us into their home and island as we explored the land and sea around them.

The water was gorgeous and clear, full of amazing coral and teaming with fish and sharks. Large napoleon wrasse swam inquisitively around us with their bulging round eyes eyeing us up. The sharks were sometimes all around the boat too which made for some exciting times whilst Felix’s was fishing! (Yes he did catch one…)

Water based life

We forget that our life totally revolves around water. We shall miss the sea when we get our land legs again but for now we are enjoying swimming practically every day and exploring the underwater gardens and sealife.

Getting out of the atoll passes is always interesting with the tide roaring away even at slack tide — and depending on the previous weather the water does what it wants and ignores tide timetables anyway.

We are always careful to time it to the minimum tide possible together with the sun directly overhead so we can see the shallow water and coral bommies. Even so it’s quite exciting entering and exiting them.

Once inside the water is so clear you can see exactly how we float our anchor chain to avoid the coral bommies. Which means you can anchor off delightful reef anchorages like these. Perfect cruising life!

Parcel collected —Christmas presents in February!

We finally picked up our parcel in Fakarava which has been waiting for us for awhile…which contained valuable spares; water maker parts and winch bits and to the boys delight Christmas presents from Grandad. Thank you Mac, the luminous scribble-on T-shirts are an amazing success and we all love the games too.

Hugo got his prize from his junior RYA letter of the month (a year ago!) so more fun things to play with too. Very happy boys.

We’ve decided to wait in the village for the next supply boat to arrive, in the hope that a) this one actually does arrive (the last one didn’t turn up) and b) it has fresh fruit and vegetables on it. Which is not always guaranteed in these COVID times. There is a limit to our delight surviving on tins and we are dreaming of anything fresh now.

The boys did a hike to the old lighthouse and even managed to find some geo-caches too complete with exploring the outside of the reef.

We also managed to find the only restaurant on the island and bonus, it was actually open for dinner. A splendid treat for a night out and no cooking for once!

Diving Fakarava south pass

Of all the atolls in the Tuaomotos, the south pass of Fakarava is renowned for its sharks, the shear volume of them. Literally hundreds. There is a small dive resort at the south pass to cater for this phenomenon and we happily dived with them.

We were not disappointed, I’ve dived around the world and this has to be the biggest grouping of sharks I’ve ever seen. I’m not exaggerating to say we saw well over a hundred and fifty sharks. A mixture of grey, black and white tip sharks. They hang out in the atoll pass in the strong current that rages through. Our dives were timed with the current so we could drift past them in amazement at their vast numbers. The water is crystal clear and the coral was stunning too. Fabulous dives and well recommended.

The boys sat and did homeschooling whilst we dived, to the owners amazement! They did get to feed some fish ends to the smaller reef sharks beside the restaurant. Even the huge napoleon wrasse were swimming amongst the sharks vying for bits of food. It’s quite a spectacle to behold.

The next day the sunshine was swapped for torrential rain and winds. The rain was gratefully received and we managed to fill our water tanks, hurray! Fresh water showers for a change 👍.

We waited for sunshine and visibility before sailing on!

Tahanea wildlife park

Our next stop after saying a sad goodbye to our new sailing friends in Amanu and Hao, was the atoll of Tahanea. No one lives in the vast atoll and it’s been designated a wildlife park as a a result.

The water was stunning aquamarine blue and beautifully transparent. I’ve had worse visibility in a swimming pool than here! We snorkelled and swam to our hearts content and the boys made dens and looked for shells on the fringe of the atoll.

We snorkelled the entrance pass into the atoll and were treated to a magnificent array of stunning fish and coral. It was truly breathtaking and some of the best coral we have seen. We saw numerous reef sharks too and even a bull shark and her young one which was a bit alarming but they disappeared rapidly off into the blue. Not that we have underwater cameras, this is just the marine life swimming beside the boat taken from the deck!

We greatly enjoyed our stunning stay in this amazing atoll, sailing across its vast interior and quiet beauty. Raw Pacific splendour at its best.

Time for some winch repairs before tackling the infamous atoll passes, with the boys on coral/bommie lookout, on our way to explore another island in our Pacific paradise.