Saturday, October 25, 2014

A Few Days in Huahine

The weather has been very funky since one week into Griet and Wim’s visit to Irie. This resulted in each sailing trip becoming “slightly” different from how they usually are in this part of the world where the wind predominantly comes out of the east (going west should be a breeze!). Our days of departure were now based, not on the best day to go, but on the least awful day to go…

Bluuurgh

Sailing from Moorea in the Windwards group to Huahine, in the Leewards group of the Society Islands, should be done overnight, since the 80-something miles cannot be covered during daylight hours and you do not want to arrive in a new, reef strewn anchorage in the dark. It would be Griet and Wim’s first ever overnight passage and they were looking forward to it and the assigned night watch. For Mark and me, new territory lay ahead. We thoroughly prepared Irie the day of departure and around 5pm, we lifted anchor and left Opunohu Bay in Moorea, for the main town of Fare in Huahine. As we sailed NW alongside the sunset –and close to the wind, since a rare north wind was predicted for the whole weather forecast! – deceived by the mellow conditions, I went downstairs for a nap, while the rest of the crew stayed up.

Not much later, the first squall hit us and the sea state deteriorated, with stronger winds to come. Mark and I made sail adjustment after sail adjustment, while getting wet by the rain, and in my case: becoming more and more seasick with every movement of myself or the boat. A couple of hours into the trip, I was pretty much useless! Wim was eager to do his shift, but after ten minutes, he had to wake us up, since another squall popped up out of nowhere, and we needed to adjust the sails again. Mark decided to be on watch the whole duration of this crappy, squall ridden night, while I had my head into the toilet and the others rested in their bunk. In the morning, the wind had shifted so far north, that we couldn’t make the reef entrance on the NW side of Huahine and a couple of tacks were needed to safely reach the choppy anchorage of Fare.

Biking around Huahine Nui

The day of our arrival in Fare, everybody was exhausted, and a relaxing day on Irie was had after a late breakfast. The following day, our guests explored town and went for a snorkel on the shelf nearby, while Mark and I focused on some work before going shopping in Fare’s decent and “affordable” grocery store (Super U) and obtaining water on shore. In the evening, we took advantage of the Friday night vibe in “the city”! We joined happy hour (5-6pm) at the beautifully located Huahine Yacht Club and had a tasty dinner there as well. It was the most buzzing atmosphere Mark and I have experienced in all of French Polynesia!

On the next day, Griet, Wim and I rented bikes to circumnavigate Huahine Nui, while Mark worked again. The rain cleared once we went ashore, but the clouds hung around for most of the day. This meant that the temperature was all right for our sweaty expedition, but the pictures came out relatively dark. All the important sights are located on Huahine Nui, while Huahine Iti, the smaller island to the south (both are connected by a bridge) has mostly peace and beaches to offer. The bike proved to be the best way to explore the island – there was only one massive hill where we needed to jump off and push our wheels vertically in front of us. :-)

The road is paved all the way and started out flat. We followed it in a clockwise direction, passing a big lake on the north side of the island, before we arrived at the extensive marae of Maeva. We visited the ruins and the on-site museum, where big signs provided information about the set-up of the platforms and the ancient royal site. We skipped the hike up a hill to see more of the stone remnants and peddled on to the Maison de la Vanille. There, a friendly woman showed us vanilla plants and beans and explained the time intensive work of vanilla production. Our French vocabulary received a good boost! Then, the rickety mountain bikes brought us past interesting looking V-shaped fish traps before we reached a little harbor in Faie, from where a free pearl farm visit was possible.

The three of us hopped in a local boat to reach Huahine’s only pearl farm in the middle of the lagoon on the east side of the island. Here, some women explain the process of pearl farming and offer you a chance to buy your favorite pearls or jewelry, for more money than I can afford. The owner of the farm, an American called Peter Owen, also has his pottery on display and for sale here. We continued on to a place next to the river, where sacred blue-eyed eels hang out. These massive, slippery creatures do have blue eyes and look impressive, but are docile. A crowd gathered, while some of us tried to take pictures and touch the slimy animals.

Hoping and expecting to find a sandwich for lunch or at least a grocery store, we searched and asked around in vain. The only place to find food, apparently, was all the way back in Fare, so we struggled up the hill to the Belvedere – from where the view is pretty nice – with empty stomachs and kept on biking afterwards. We completed our loop, screaming down the hills, once in a while jumping off for easier progress uphill, and slowing down towards the end of the journey because of decreased energy and sore bums. All the roulottes (food vans) and most stores in Fare were closed, despite it being Saturday… Lunch break? Short work day? Luckily, the Super U was open and saved us (me) from starvation and crankiness! :-) It was 3pm and the sun had come out. After the late lunch, we stocked up on more water and retired to Irie for a deserved shower and cocktail in the cockpit! For Sunday, we planned a nice and extensive brunch, followed by snorkeling and relaxation… 

Dinghy dock in Fare, Huahine, with Irie in the background

Nice hotel with pool on the beach in Fare

Drinks and dinner at the "booming" Huahine Yacht Club

Marae in the settlement of Maeva

Museum on the grounds of the marae

General information about a marae

Vanilla beans on the vine

Vanilla plants at la Maison de la vanille

Little store with vanilla products and souvenirs at the "vanilla house"

Fish sheds in the V-shaped fish farm

V-shaped fish farm - the fishermen trap the fish in the points of the V

The only pearl farm in Huahine

Oyster and her pearl

"Sacred" blue-eyed eels

Vanilla plantation on Huahine

Biking around Huahine Nui

Pretty stretch of water between the two islands in Huahine - the weather is clearing up!

Another vanilla plantation in Huahine's interior

Raiatea seen from Huahine Nui

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Moorea with Visitors

Mark and I – and probably most cruisers – prefer Moorea to Tahiti, so we tried to leave the “big island” as soon as possible, once our guests Griet and Wim arrived from Belgium. The wind predictions were favorable (about 15 knots from the east), but, as usual, none of that materialized. Instead of the funky west winds from last time, we didn’t have enough wind to keep the sails full this time, so we had to motor sail most of the 25 miles to the Opunohu Bay area in Moorea. All of our eyes were focused on the horizon is search of whales, but none were to be spotted.

As we were driving in between the channel markers of Opunohu Bay, we counted seven masts in our (small) anchorage of choice, so we steered towards the alternative and bigger anchoring area near the beach. I saw something in the water approaching us: “Whale!” Fifty feet forward of our bow, a big humpback whale surfaced, followed by her calf. They were leaving the channel, into the ocean. Dumbfounded and thrilled – a combination between awe (wow, amazing!) and ouch (wow, don’t hit us!) – we grabbed our cameras, but the pair dove down and didn’t pop up again until they reached safer waters, out of camera reach.

The following days, Irie sat in the clear waters of the two reef anchorages and the darker, brackish water of Opunohu Bay. We took our visitors up to Magical Mountain for the amazing view over the surrounding reefs, buzzed amongst a pod of dolphins with our dinghy, hiked through the forests and into the hills to reach a couple of viewpoints, and swam with reef sharks and stingrays. While we took care of some boat errands and daily life chores, Griet and Wim donned their snorkel gear and explored the underwater world. Our last day in Moorea was filled with boat preparations (cleaning of the hull, hauling Mark up the mast, securing a whole bunch of things, separating the outboard from the dinghy, etc…) for the overnight trip to Huahine, our next destination.

Whale "footprint", where she dove down

New Zealand "green lip" mussels with Griet and Wim

These $900 a night bungalows have the same view as Irie! :-)

Dolphins in the bay, let's go play!

Irie's anchorage NE of Opunohu Bay, as seen from Magical Mountain

Reef view from Magical Mountain

Marae along the way to the Belvedere

Big trees and big people

Mount Rotui and Cook's Bay seen from the Belvedere viewpoint

Mount Rotui and Opunohu Bay seen from the Belvedere

Posing with my cousin Griet and her husband Wim in front of Moorea's most famous mountain

Interesting looking tree along the hike back down to the valley

Some new scenery on the downward part of our hike

And, we had a few more challenging and adventurous sections as well

View of the valley on the way down

Pineapple plantation

Majestic Mount Rotui

Sunset in the mouth of Opunohu Bay

Kite surfer near the "ray feeding" area

Stingray

Griet's first snorkel with sharks - a bit intimidating!

But not for long... Well done!

The stingrays have been fed here for over 20 years and are very docile and "sweet"