There are 5 archipelagos in French Polynesia. The Gambiers, The Marquesas, The Tuamotos, The Australs, and The Society Islands. Papeete the capital, is in the Society’s and also French Polynesia’s most famous island Bora Bora is in the Society’s. Most people who come to French Polynesia fly into Tahiti and then fly straight to Bora Bora which is a shame as there are so many more islands to see but because they are spread over such an enormous area it’s hard for people to see much more. We sailed into Tahiti and dropped anchor in the airport anchorage. We had to call the authorities and get permission to sail past the airport as we can’t go past if a plane is due. The anchorage was about 3 kms from the town but it was huge and comfortable and we anchored in only 2 meters so it appeared that we were floating in mid air.
We caught up with Paul and Kirsten from Ikigai and then headed into town. We were docking someone grabbed my line – it was Christian from Mare. Somehow we had all ended up in Papetee at the same time. Because it was a Sunday everything was closed except the bars so we went off and had lunch together. We are in Tahiti during the Heiva festival which is an annual festival held throughout French Polynesia. Thousands of artists, singers and dancers come from all over French Polynesia and they all compete to be the best.
We went to some spectacular dancing, very colourful and loud. There were about 4 or 5 different groups and I thought they were all as good as each other but only one could go through. These competitions go on for the whole month until one troop are declared the winner.
We caught up with Michelle and Glen SV Rosie Skye who we last saw in Fatu Hiva in the Marquesas. It seemed that all our cruising buddies had ended up in Papetee at the same time. Tahiti is not that interesting but has everything. We managed to get a high pressure hose for the watermaker made up here and all sorts of bits and bobs that Ian had been looking for. They also had great provisioning which was a great after 3 months of very basic stores.
There was lots going on including Rock the Dock party which was a band playing in one of the main docks at the marina. We all took along a chair and nibbles and listened to the music.
A few days later we went over to Moorea – only a few miles away but very different from Tahiti. We anchored in a beautiful bay and walked the 5km to the village. We were expecting restaurants and bars but there was only a shop and coffee place. On our way back to the boat we got a lift with a lady who gave us three huge mangoes which came from her garden. The Polynesians are so welcoming to their visitors.
The next day we went to swim with the stingrays with Paul and Kirsten. These rays are so tame that they come right up to you and expect you to feed them. It was a bit nerves wracking at first but after a while we relaxed and let them play around us.
We spent only a few days on Moorea before heading back to the airport anchorage and this time we anchored in only 2 metres so we had a great view of the ocean bottom. The manta rays and turtles came by and just hung around our boat. It was brilliant just watching them.
We had only a couple of weeks left on our visa so we decided to head off to the other islands in the Society islands. Huahine was our first stop and what a special place it was. We stopped outside the village of Fare and had dinner in the Yacht Club – not so much a Yacht Club as a restaurant. We dined with some other Aussies and had a lovely boozy evening. Sadly Fare has a reputation for theft and many a dinghy has gone walkabout here so we were a bit wary and locked ours up every night – the only time in French Polynesia we did this.
While we were there a huge swell came up and we were told by the authorities that we were not allowed to go out to sea. They were expecting 8-10m but we don’t think they got that high. We were inside the reef though and the size of the waves crashing on the other side of the reef was incredible so maybe the swell did hit 8m. Either way we stayed tucked inside and just took the dinghy along the inside reef to explore a bit more of Huahine. We passed lots of the little huts over the water that French Polynesia is famous for and eventually found a magnificent anchorage which was more like a mini harbour.
After 4 days we were allowed to leave and we headed off to Raiatea – arriving later on in the day. Our first anchorage was lovely but we were too close to the shore for comfort so we left and found a smaller bay where we dropped the hook. About 2 hours later a French lady knocked on the side of our hull and told us we had to move as the fishermen would damage our boat when they returned in the night. We didn’t want any more damage so we moved but decided that we would not hang around more than the one night as we didn’t really feel very comfortable. That’s a rare feeling on our boat but just sometimes cruisers are not really welcomed for many reasons and on this island one of the reasons was rubbish. In fact all the rubbish bins on the island were locked due to a political argument between the authorities and the waste industry causing rubbish to be spilled over into the footpaths. The last thing the islanders wanted was cruisers rubbish added to their overflow.
Above Raiatea was the island of Tahaa where we decided to spend a few days anchored on the west coast with a magnificent view of Bora Bora. We literally sat on the reef and spent a couple of days snorkelling the Coral Gardens and enjoying the views. Having our sundowners on deck watching the sunset over Bora Bora was a truly magical experience – and both nights we had a fabulous sunset
The sail to Bora Bora was quick and uneventful. We had to wiggle our way through the reef but found a mooring ball outside the yacht club and only about 100m from sv Rosie Skye. This was to be our last port of call in French Polynesia but having checked out of Papetee a couple of weeks before we could just leave whenever we wanted to. Bora Bora’s beauty is the setting rather than the island. The blueness of her water and the palm fringed beaches made it feel like paradise. There are many over-water huts here catering for honeymooners and lots of daytrips by boat round the island – a photographers dream. We went around on our scooters to get provisions for the trip to Fiji and found the tourist shops very overpriced and not very good quality so we didn’t buy anything.
Together with Glen & Michelle and their daughter Kelsey from Rosie Skye we went to lunch at the very well known Bloody Mary’s restaurant. Many rich and famous people have dined here and there are two large boards outside with the names of their famous visitors. We spent at least 20 minutes finding the names of our favourite actors and artists but many were American sports stars who we didn’t know.
After lunch we went for a walk. Some of the resorts had blocked the beach access from the road but where you could see through – the water was bright turquoise and so crystal clear. We walked along the beach and found a friendly sting ray literally playing on the waters edge. It was practically tame and let us put our hands into the water right beside it. Most rays will shy away so this one must have felt very safe with us – a good sign that they are well protected.
We spent a few idyllic days here but our time in French Polynesia was up and we needed to take advantage of the good weather window and head west to Fiji. We were leaving behind some good friends and taking some with us but with many more adventures to come, we upped anchor early in the morning and set off for the 10 day sail.