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


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"

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tahiti in a Day

It was raining on the day after my cousin Griet and her husband Wim arrived in Tahiti, but we rented a small car from Eco Car – across from the airport in Faa’a – anyway. While my three companions stocked up on fresh baguettes in the store, I effortlessly hitched a ride to the rental place and picked up our 4-door Dasia Sandero. Under grey skies, we started our anti-clockwise tour of Tahiti Nui, the biggest and northern “round” in the figure eight making up the island of Tahiti. The bottom part - Tahiti Iti - would have to wait for another time…

From Taina Marina in Punaauia, we drove south to the wet and grey beach at PK18. The silhouette of Moorea loomed across the channel, shrouded in clouds. Our raincoats were still needed at the impressive marae (ceremonial platform) of Arahurahu, where panels informed tourists about its history and tikis in three languages. Soon after this cultural and archeological stop, the rain subsided. The four of us had a quick look at the lush Mara’a caves before continuing along the south coast to the Vaipahi water garden which consists of an extensive park with a beautiful layout of plants, flowers and a pretty waterfall, and a set of hiking trails. Since we planned to go all the way around Tahiti Nui in a day, there was no time for long walks, so we enjoyed the sights in a relatively quick manner and without much exercise.

At Taravao, Tahiti’s second largest city, we turned northwards and watched out for a picnic area, which we “stumbled across” near Maha’ena. A few tables and an ocean side park were hidden behind a fence, invisible from the road. Even from the parking lot, another fence prevented us from walking onto the grass and towards the facilities. This country is proud of their fenced in parks, without any – or with closed – gates! The chilly breeze did not take away from an enjoyable outdoor lunch, but it did put doubts in Wim and Griet’s minds about Tahiti being a tropical and hot island paradise!

At PK22 (kilometer post 22), a pleasant walk brought us to the three waterfalls of Fa’auruma’i, also called the “trois cascades”.  Mark and I visited these three beauties before with friends and I think they are one of the highlights on Tahiti. Impressive and with the appropriate sound of rushing water, they tumble down vertical mountain cliffs. A little bit further west and across the street, the Arahoho blowhole only produced a whispering gurgle. While I was awaiting a photogenic “puff”, camera at hand, I joked to Mark that he should keep a lookout over the vast ocean, where he might spot another kind of blowhole: the breathing spout of a whale. As we were about to leave the site, he took my suggestion seriously and… saw a humpback whale surface not far from shore. That encouraged us to scan the horizon for a bit longer and to observe a few more “humps” and flukes (tales) in the distance!

For me, the only new thing to do on our daytrip was the track into Papeno’o valley, which started at PK18 (the “pointe kilométrique” began counting down again from Taravao back to Pape’ete) and ran inland. Not knowing how far into the valley we would be able to proceed with our little car, we took our time avoiding potholes and enjoying the scenery. The green surroundings sported high elevations, Tahiti’s biggest river and scattered waterfalls. While we progressed at a snail’s pace – the many potholes on this dirt road were unavoidable – the truck drivers (carrying groups of tourists) returning to the main road smiled at us and gave us the thumbs up. The trip was adventurous to say the least – we had to cross narrow bridges, streaming rivers and “scary” areas with steep ascends and descends – before we were forced to turn around about 16 km into the journey, because the road down another hill was too steep and muddy; we were worried we would not be able to get back up afterwards. And, we needed to head back to reach the main road before dark anyway.

Our last stop was Point Venus, were the backdrop of the black sand beach was gorgeous and the sunset over Moorea concluded a nice, but tiring day. Dinner was had at the popular roulottes (food vans) in Pape’ete, before we arrived back at Taina and Irie, exhausted but satisfied, and with the knowledge of a favorable weather forecast for the coming days. Before we left for Moorea, however, I had to return our car – with a broken fuel gauge – spending much more money than expected on the already expensive gasoline. I will just hope that Eco Car does not rent their vehicles out with this kind of issue on purpose… 

Wim brought a couple of Leste - home brewed by him -  for Mark

A table full of goodies, brought by our guests from Belgium - the water bottles do not contain water... :-)

Griet in front of the beautifully restored marae

Mark and I behind a tiki replica
Beautiful flowers in the parks



Natural waterfall in the water garden

Another pretty flower

And the very interesting looking "jade vine" from the Philippines

The four of us in front of one of the trois cascades

Another one of the pretty waterfalls

Arahoho blowhole

A truck crossing the Papeno'o river

One of the many waterfalls in the valley - the water in the basin is not too high for safety yet!

Scenery in Papeno'o valley

Papeno'o valley

Driving steep down to the cross the river

Driving over a potholed road in Papeno'o valley

Scenery in the valley

Small waterfall along the way

During the rainy season, the water level on the road gets pretty high

Better be careful!

Another waterfall in the valley

Point Venus at dusk - black beach and mountainous interior

Sunset over Moorea, with the men talking and Griet taking pictures
Dinner at the roulottes in Pape'ete