We spent most of July in Huahine, one of the Society Islands 100 miles northwest of Tahiti. We were back in volcanic mountain territory surrounded by amazing reefs and blue, blue water. Definitely one of my favourite islands so far. It has a gentle beauty to it; very green, covered not so much by coconut palms (although they were still around) but more by banana plants and graceful umbrella-like trees (I still haven’t been able to find out what they are) and a whole host of vibrant flowers – gardenia, hibiscus, trumpet flowers, bougainvillea… The friendly locals take a pride in their home making it one of the best-kept islands we have had the privilege to visit.
As elsewhere, the waters around Huahine are simply stunning. The sea is so clear and pristine that we could easily see our anchor 10m down on the seabed as well as the bommies (coral heads) which sometimes felt just a little too close for comfort. That said, we did miss the fact that our chain had become tangled up at one anchorage, only noticing when we hauled up an old motorbike when weighing anchor!
The reefs are abundant with life, giving us one of our best snorkelling experiences to date: the “Nursery” at Motu Vaiorea in Bourayne Bay. As soon as we entered the water we were surrounded by hundreds of the most colourful and varied baby reef fish. Initially we were surprised that they seemed to be “nibbling” on us, but it soon dawned on us that they were used to being fed. On our second visit, we took some old bacon along and delighted in them eating out of our hands. I’m sure there are mixed feelings about this, which I understand, but such close interaction with nature really was a thrilling experience.
On day three, seven of us decided to do the 60km circumnavigation of the island by e-bike. We had perfect weather for it and, as there is basically only one road, there was little chance of us getting lost. The bikes were brilliant; there is no way I would have made it up those hills without the assistance and the views from the top were well worth the small amount of effort required to get the bike’s battery to kick in. Half-way round the pull of the sea got too much for the boys and they insisted on a “John Smith” bombing-style entry into the lagoon (one, in particular, in his underpants! Has he no shame? Apologies for the next photo.)
To our surprise (and contrary to seasonal norms), there was a lot of rain during our time in Huahine, but that did nothing to stop our fun. Being a small island, we had ticked off all the “must see” attractions on our bike ride: the ancient Marae (temples), the ancient village meeting hall, the ancient stone fish traps (still used to catch fish today) and the sacred blue-eyed eels (which can bite, as one of our friends discovered to her detriment). This left food and drink as our entertainment for the rest of the stay, and the yacht club, local café, Izzy’s burger bar and the local hotel (complete with pool which they allowed us to use as they had no other guests!) got to know us pretty well. Probably too well! And when we weren’t ashore, we had each other’s yachts to socialise on. What more could we ask for?
The weeks flew by and before we knew it, it was the middle of July. Time to make a decision. Do we continue to hang around in French Polynesia in the hope that the way west opens up before the cyclone season or do we leave the yacht in Pape’ete, fly home and hope to return next year to continue the circumnavigation? It was looking less and less likely that Australia would allow us in and, although Fiji had opened up, it would be a big risk to sail there and find ourselves stuck. Fiji is very much in the cyclone belt and, without a secure pit for the yacht, the risk of damage was much greater than in Tahiti. There was also the question of limited flights out of Fiji; at least French Polynesia had a direct link to Europe. Our decision was quite easy: fly home. We were lucky. We at least had a choice. Our American friends, on the other hand, found themselves in the unenviable position of expiring visas and being told they had to move on. Several are on their way to Fiji now, still hoping that New Zealand or Australia will open up to them later this year. We wish them well.
The current situation in the world has meant that we have possibly seen French Polynesia at its best. There were very few cases of Covid, we were in lockdown for less than two months and normal life returned very quickly. We have seen the sights without the crowds and had the seas to ourselves. We were so lucky to be where we were.
So, thank you / mauruuru French Polynesia. It’s been fun. Goodbye / nana / au revoir for now. We hope to visit more of your beautiful islands next year.