From the Tuamotus it was a three day and night sail to the Society Islands, the last French Polynesian (FP) island group that we were to visit. As we didn’t have any business to do in Tahiti and my visa time for FP was soon coming to an end, we chose to sail past busy Papeete (the capital of FP) and head west for the quieter and less touristy Huahine.
Geographically, the Society Island group offers the best of both the Marquesa and Tuomotu groups: it has islands with beautiful mountains and lush, verdant bush, fringed by a protecting reef, which encircles a lagoon.
Huahine was simply spectacular and from where we were anchored in turquoise blue water inside the reef on the east side of the island, I could feast my eyes on the magnificent surrounding mountains.
When we walked ashore, we were surprised by the infrastructure on this small island, as well as the friendliness of the local people, several offering us a lift.
After two peaceful nights we moved to the west side of the island, to anchor in front of the main town, Fare. Judging by the number of charter catamarans in the anchorage, this was clearly the more popular side. We were happy to get some admin done and re-stock the larder before we headed south inside the channel to Baia d’Avia.
We anchored in front of a luxury hotel and enjoyed another walk ashore but, as we couldn’t find a good snorkelling spot, we headed back up the channel, stopping halfway just off a beautiful little beach at Huahini Iti. From there it was a short dinghy ride to Motu Vaiorea where we found some beautiful coral and pretty little fish in reasonably clear water.
Tahaa and Raiatea are sister islands, enclosed by one reef, about 25nm west of Huahine. We had a pleasant sail in light wind with our colourful genneker and arrived in the early afternoon at the easterly pass to Tahaa, the northerly of the two islands.
Here we spent some time with a group of cruisers, mostly American, whom we had met in the Fare anchorage. One of the boats, Liward, gave a local lady, Isabelle, and her American boyfriend a lift to Tahaa.
We had an interesting snorkel in the pass, which offered a bigger variety of coral than we’d seen in the Tuamotus, and for the first time we saw anemone fish, better known as ‘Nemo’ fish, hiding in some brown leathery anemone. The water was clear and the drop off beneath us into the blue depths was impressive.
As Pete lost a filling in a tooth, we hurriedly headed south one morning to Uturoa, the main town of Raiatea island, for a dental appointment. It turned out that he had to go back the following week for another session.
We spent a day scrubbing the hulls which were covered in a velvet green layer of algae, and doing minor repairs to the bridge deck. As this sandbank at first seemed quite deplete of sea life, we were pleasantly surprised to see a few stingrays around the boat as well as black tip sharks who foraged around us at night.
We also made use of the Uturoa’s public internet to submit my visa application for New Zealand and get up to date with our admin.
With a few days to spare before the next dental appointment, we decided to sail to the iconic Bora Bora, with hopes of spotting manta rays.
We once again had a peaceful, down wind sail with the genneker and anchored just after three o’clock in front of one of the upmarket resorts that the island is so well known for.
Pete had just poured our early sundowners when friendly Francis on his powerful motorboat came by to break the bad news to us: the resort had bought the concession for the whole area up to the outer reef and they didn’t want sailing yachts anchored in their domain. We would have to move from what possibly was the best ‘address’ a sailing boat can have to the mooring field about 1km north.
Obliging him, we moved immediately and from there we explored the island over the next three days in our dinghy. The size of the turquoise lagoon that stretches like a massive swimming pool between the mountains and the outer reef was very impressive, but the whole of Bora Bora is not as you see in holiday brochures. In between the many five star ‘over the water’ resorts there are humble homes and derelict buildings. The snorkelling was mediocre, especially compared to the Tuamotus, and once again we found the best snorkelling in the pass.
BACK TO RAIATEA
We caught a timely north westerly breeze to have a pleasant morning sail under main and genoa back to our previous anchorage, close to a small motu, opposite Uturoa. The next day we started the clearing out process at the local Gendarmerie (police station) and Pete went for his dental appointment. After doing our final provisioning, more passage meal cookups and small boat jobs, we finished clearing out, stored our dinghy on the aft deck and next morning set off with favourable winds for the expected 16 day passage to Tonga.
We were quite sad to leave French Polynesia after three delightful months. Little did we know what a difficult passage we would have to Tonga!