Our overnight passage from Tahiti was fast and bouncy, and once again we had the problem of slowing Pipistrelle down enough to ensure that we arrived in daylight. The wind shadow from these islands extends a long way, 4 miles in the case of Tahiti, so one moment no wind, and the next 25 knots!
Huahine is 8.5 by 4 nm (or 75 sq km), lush with forest cloaking the four mountains which rise to a maximum of 2200 feet. There are lagoons inside the reef on each side of the island, which is also divided into two, Huahine Nui (Big Huahine) and Huahine Iti (Little Huahine). On the east side are cuiltivated motus (islands).
The main town of Fare lies just inside a pass through the reef on the north west, and as we entered we spotted a couple of whales blowing just outside the reef. It was Sunday, and when we went ashore for a reccie found a ghost town, similar to the Tuamotus on a Sunday. Everything was closed, even the restaurants and bars. But there are only a couple anyway!
Fare told a different story the next day, Monday. It had woken up for the week and we discovered excellent provisioning in the ‘Super U’ supermarche and at the small waterside fruit and vegetable market. After restocking we set off along the lagoon inside the reef to the southern end of the island. Whilst our pilot book showed that the passage was blocked by coral, it had obviously been blasted out a long time before to enable larger vessels (even cruise ships) to safely navigate at least part of the channel and was extremely well marked. Here in the south we met up with our friends Stephen & Heidi on SV Narama anchored in Avea Bay, which has a beautiful white sandy beach. We dropped our hook opposite the dinghy dock for the Relais Mahana Hotel, which has several attractive beachside bungalows for its guests. Having been denied a wedding anniversary dinner the night before, Elaine & Bob enjoyed lovely meal in the hotel’s restaurant.
The following day we all set out in the dinghy with the intention of visiting the small village of Parea. After a fairly wet ride around the headland, we saw nowhere to land safely, or the picturesque village we had in our mind’s eye, so headed back. But weaving our way through the coral heads we did go ashore at the large and imposing Marae Anini. This is one of the many sacred sites on Huahine and is made of massive coral blocks.
We also briefly explored the lagoon that bisects the islands, but the 100ft + depth of water persuaded us to anchor just outside, where we found clear water, a pleasant beach along with the ruins of a hotel that had been destroyed in the last cyclone to hit the island in 1998. We have found that most of the lagoons and especially the bays that cut into the interior of these islands are very deep, then shallow with a perpendicular wall of coral. Navigating after 1500 or before 1000 is tempting fate because the sun is too low in the sky to distinguish the different colours which denote the depth of water – dark blue for deep water (no problem), turquoise for shallow water with sandy bottom (no problem but watch depth!), brown for coral and coral outcrops or ‘bommies’ (on tenterhooks watching depth on chart, eyeballing and moving very slowly).
Another brief visit to Fare was on the agenda, which included a delicious dinner at the New Te Marara overlooking the lagoon with Abora, Elbe and Wasabi, followed by a 10 minute walk along the dark main road to a dance festival that was taking place in a hall near the fire station. Ten minutes turned into thirty but sure enough we found the fire station and the hall which was a hive of activity with dancers in elaborate local costume preparing for their performance. We enjoyed a great spectacle to mark the end of the month-long Heiva festival that we would not have known about had we not been to the Mairie a couple of days beforehand to try to extend our 90 day permit ….. but that’s another story!
After the excitement of the evening before, we motor sailed against the trade winds round to the windward side of the island, to enter through the main pass, and then anchored in 3.5 metres of aquamarine water sheltered by Motu Murimahora. Very shortly after our arrival we were greeted by 3 young girls in a speedboat, one of whom, Samantha, invited us to the property belonging to her boyfriend, Toriki, on the motu. So later that afternoon we duly dinghied ashore and walked through the property to the windward side of the motu – a mere 500m! A fabulous beach and great shelling greeted us.
Within 24 hours, our German ‘fleet’ had arrived too having found out where we were. With Abora, Wasabi, SuAn, Sailaway and Elbe, it was the first time ever we had all been together in the same location (Pipistrelle being an honorary German yacht!), so we organized a BBQ in Toriki’s garden overlooking the lagoon – clearly with his permission and invitation to join us.
Toriki who is half French and half Polynesian, had bought the property in a run-down state from his aunt, and it is now neat and tidy, with pamplemousses, bananas, lemons, limes, coconut palms, tiare de Tahiti blossoms and vanilla growing in profusion. Vanilla in Polynesia is a major export, and is grown in huge cages similar to those in which we grow raspberries in the UK. The cages are covered with closely meshed black nylon netting, to protect the plants from the sun. Toriki showed us how the plants are trained, and also how he had to pollinate them by hand, a daily task that takes time on each flower.
We arranged to buy fruit from him, and he and Samantha arrived for sundowners on Pipistrelle with two huge carrier bags, and bananas that were so plentiful we shared them out amongst our friends. We were also given some of Toriki’s prized vanilla pods.
Strong winds then arrived, dissuading us from leaving our sheltered spot, but it did enable us to do more socialising, snorkelling, return to the coral beach on the far side of the motu, where we found some unusual shells, and also gave Elaine and Bob the chance to climb Mount Pohuerhi, 1516 ft above sea level. Quite a trek but the view from the summit was breathtaking.
With the strong winds abating we took the opportunity to take our leave of this beautiful island and day sail to Raiatea. Surprisingly we had stayed for two weeks. Are we slowing down?