Skippers log 9: Tahiti towards Tonga
Tahiti with all her charms never fails to entice and yet elude, looking for culture can be a task in itself. The seemingly millions of motorcars which constantly encircle the double island create an isolating barrier which, with perseverance, can be penetrated. One street back we began to find some life.
The market in Papeete is a great place to start, the smell of vanilla and a myriad of fresh produce, the delightful sound of Polynesian song and ukulele is enough to lift even the most despondent of souls.
Stepping through the large portals, moving amongst the mass of people and colors, the banter is heady and energetic.
It’s a long time since Panama City, our last big city, so we move slowly, almost out of sync, we feel like bumpkins come to town for the weekend. Wow! that’s what a crowd feels like. Good to be ashore again.
Tahiti is one of those places that has a lot to live up to, and despite the effects of western life, she bears up well.
We lay with Yukon for a couple of weeks just outside of the city centre at an anchorage where we could sit and watch the magnificent sunsets over the neighboring island of Moorea.
Amidst outrigger canoes or “Va`a” paddling by, training for races. These custodians of Polynesian maritime culture proudly bear the marks of their forefathers both with tattoo and paddle.
A day trip rocking and rolling with an open four wheel drive into the central highlands give us a cool breeze in the hair and a chance to learn more. Our Guide Herve, a native of Fatu Hiva in the Marquises islands who has settled in Tahiti, inspires us with his energy and love of his land, showing us and telling us the whys and wherefores.
A people almost destroyed in the name of missionary religion, slowly reemerging and rediscovering their culture. With no written text, one displaced generation is enough to break the chain of oral tradition.
With bare feet and hats off we visit a small road side Marree and a small sacred place amongst the trees where Herve explains the symbolism of a sea shell from the other end of the island, placed amongst the stones high up in the mountains. A unison of mind and body. A uniting of the two extremes of this fabled island.
Toying with a Hinano Beer coaster at a road side bar visions of Brando, Bligh and Bougainville merge with the continuous sound of traffic. Enough!, let’s get out of here!
Moorea, our next target. Only 15 miles away it gives our hearts a bit of calm.
We anchor up with fresh voyage crew on board in Opunohu bay, and use the following day to hike up to the Belvedere to get a good look.
This truly is not only an exercise in cardio vascular motion, but one of patient parenting. Amidst the sweaty child motivation interludes and the continuous stream of open jeeps, trucking the happily waving, really white people up to the 750 meter summit, we made it.
The view over Cooks and Opunohu bays is a beauty even Aron had to admit “OK dad it was maybe worth it”.
The Society Islands are divided up in to two groups the windward (Tahiti, Moorea) and the Leeward’s (Raiatea, Huahine, Tahaa, Maupiti and the Pearl, Bora Bora).
Yukon’s time scale dictates as usual. Raiatea is a must, with its lovely Lagoon, as is a little trip up the Faaroa Bay – out of respect to our New Zealander guest Paul – reputed the beginning of the Maori migration to New Zealand.
We anchor in extremely low water on the edge of a coral shelf, so low that we snorkel around the ships swinging room just to make sure there’s not an unseen bombie lurking. All’s well. We enjoy the clear water and its fish before preparing to make the short sail to Bora Bora the next day.
There are some things that gladden the heart of the Mariner. Sailing into the lagoon at Bora Bora is, in my mind one of them. A large pale blue lagoon studded with outlying islands framing the majestic central core of rock that is Mount Otemanu.
This is one of the world’s gems, and the pace of life ashore fits the picture. We lay a couple of days at the Yacht Club anchorage – the legendary Club house – blown away in a Cyclone last year. Thankfully the only remnants were the bar and a well penned visitors book, the new owners working hard to rebuild were welcoming.
June 20th we celebrated one year away from Denmark with a cold Pilsner – feet up watching the sun set over the palm fringed lagoon.
Next day ashore the easy going tempo struck a chord with us all.
Essentially rigged for tourism, the town still held many of its charms.
Snorkeling was marred a little in the somewhat cloudy lagoon due to a heavy swell running over the reef. None the less a good time was had by all, and when the time to depart and say a final good bye to French Polynesia came, it was with a note of reluctance.
We had arrived in the Marquises almost three months previously so we had really gotten use to the area and have thoroughly enjoyed our time amongst the islands.
Next Destination Aitutaki in the Cook Islands almost 500 miles to the West. This low lying island is part of a nation of 15 islands with a total land area of 240 square kilometers, scattered over an area of 2.25 million square kilometers – so there’s lots of water!
Yukon picked up the easterly just outside Bora Bora’s reef and a fresh breeze it was! Around 20 knots pushed us along nicely, we covered the distance in just under 4 days with an average of 5 and a half knots.
Saturday the 25th of June 09:20 we let go anchor just outside the fringing reef. Unfortunately due to our draft, there was no chance of coming into the serenity of the lagoon.
So it was a bit of a character building anchorage, the rolling and pitching ship manned constantly with crew enough to heave the anchor aweigh and head to sea in case the wind swung around to the north east.
The other group could go ashore with the hand held VHF radio so as to maintain contact. It gave time to stretch the legs and (joy of joys!) enjoy a meat pie and an Aussie beer, we must be getting closer!
The next day, a walk to the island’s highest peak of 124 meters. This gave us a view over the surrounding reef and lagoon. All this climbing we’re doing and you guys just sit at home and get to see the photos, I really don’t know who’s the mug here!
As feared the wind backed and things were getting a bit hairy, so by early Monday morning it was time to split.
We managed to secure the boat, no mean feat in the swell, the vessel was in no danger but it was getting uncomfortable.
Anchor aweigh at 10:30 – good to get to sea, we square away and shape a course towards the island republic of Niue another 500 miles to the west.
Niue is refuted to be the largest coral island in the world and one of its smallest states. We had sewn the flag and made ready for landfall, but decided against it due to the heavy south easterly swell running.
Niue also possesses a very open anchorage so sadly the only sight of Niue was the loom of her lights 20 miles to the north, as we scudded along toward the kingdom of Tonga.
Tonga is a world apart – also called the friendly island – this island group is known for its traditional lifestyle and its monarchy.
We made landfall on Tuesday the 5th of July which immediately became Wednesday the 6th due to crossing the International Date Line.
Coming alongside the quay at Nuka Alofa in the early morning to complete the formalities we provisioned and headed out to a nearby island to rest and swim.
After 1600 miles in 16 days we look forward to the next 3 weeks at Tonga. I shall keep you all informed.