June 27, 2020 ; 8:47 PM
16°78’S, 151°03’W – Huahine
I don’t think we had super high expectations for Huahine before we got here. Sure, we read our Charlie’s Charts and Lonely Planet Guide on the sail over and knew we’d have a blast. But it was really just another island to explore along the way to the main event of the leeward society islands (Bora Bora).
I am amazed how the beauty of God’s creation blows me away ON A DAILY BASIS. French Polynesia never gets old, it’s never the same, and I’m always in awe. I should remember that.
This island is drop dead, love at first sight, GORGEOUS. The diversity of the vegetation paired with the cliffs, the blue, blue water, and unique wildlife (spoiler alert: I FOUND NEMO) has me raving once again. The kindness and generosity of the locals fills my heart again. And the best thing? You could have a similar experience- because while tourism is down, Huahine is one of the least traveled spots in the leeward society islands of French Polynesia.
Let’s talk highlights.
POLY-WARRIOR CAPTAIN DAVE
Check out Captain Dave, living the dream in his Viper gear on a Polynesian canoe! This guy has talked of outrigger canoeing almost every day since we first tied to the dock in Pape’ete Marina. Months later we found a spot that was open! Jean-Luc, a Huahine champion, was happy to show us how it’s done. He let us switch around and try individual Va’as (Polynesian canoes- these were the most fun but also hardest to steer), an individual outrigger with foot pedals (this was the easiest to steer and most familiar), and a 3-man Va’a (where we had to synchronize as a team). After testing us across the boats, Jean-Luc told Captain Dave he’d gladly have him on his team… but none of the rest of us.
For the first mate, the most fun part MIGHT have been flipping over and having to climb back in. The experience was unlike paddling a canoe or a kayak because the balance was delicate and steering more difficult. Everyone aboard Amazing Grace and Influencer had a blast, and this $20/person activity is a can’t miss in French Polynesia in my book.
ANCIENT RUINS AND MODERN VILLAGES
This place is literally covered in Maori ruins of maraes, which are sacred meeting grounds. They were used for all sorts of things from celebrations to eating, educational, and religious spaces. Many of them come equipped with an alter for religious ceremony and animal sacrifices.
We learned from Mama Oohno (who we had the pleasure to interact with many times during our time in Huahine) about the nature of the island as an agricultural, peaceful place. Legend has it that ‘Oro, the Polynesian god of war, lead the Bora Bora warriors to Huahine to disturb their peace and take their land. But Hiro, the god of thieves and sailors, came to help the people of Huahine defeat ‘Oro and keep their gorgeous island safe, splitting it in two with his paddle to leave his mark.
We made our way through the museum Mama Oohno helped preserve. It was mostly in French, but showed some of the ancient Va’a with sails that were used in the voyager days of Polynesia. This life size replica looked just like Moana’s canoe! We also learned how the native people used everything from coconut fiber to human hair to build, hunt, fish, and live on Huahine.
Because Huahine is still home to a modest population and more limited tourism, the old culture shines through as you drive around the island. Some of these fish traps, which were built with rocks and designed to keep the fish in smaller areas as they flow toward the sea, are still in use today. Once the fish are congregated in smaller areas they can be gathered with a simple net.
There is a lot of Huahine pride for the way the cultural sites, homes, etc. look. Gorgeous hillsides are decorated with flowers and fauna and roads are kept up. But the people aren’t particularly wealthy. Many of them live largely off the land: growing, fishing, and gathering. Mama Oohno thinks this way of life is becoming even more prominent in her community while tourism is at a halt because of the pandemic.
But the feeling of community is strong. The adorable little village of Fare isn’t much, but it stole my heart that first evening stroll. There are kids flipping off docks and neighbors exchanging fruits and friends chatting in the streets. Everyone seems to know and support each other. Everyone seems to want us to learn about their island and get the best experience, and they’re willing to go out of their way to make sure that happens. Prices are more reasonable than Tahiti and Moorea, and the food and drinks are good (Chez Tara, Huahine Yacht Club, Bungalow Vaivaa). There’s even an impressive grocery store where we replaced the few provisions used since we left Tahiti.
We snorkeled and swam through clear waters that reflected every single shade of blue in the 64-box of crayons (sharpener included). We saw gorgeous coral and plentiful fish and I FOUND NEMO! LOOK AT HIM. HE IS PERFECT. Now please, Pacific Islands, open your borders to us so we can surf the East Australian current (duuuuuuude).
The clarity of the water (and shallowness of the coral heads) made for great underwater shooting. Say hello to our fishy friends!
EEK, EEW, EELS!
Have I mentioned that I HATE EELS? Because I really, really don’t like them. They’re too sneaky. They can swim forward and backward without any difficult. They’re slimy and they chomp at me from underneath rocks while I snorkel. They’re not cute, and they creep me out. But I faced my fears thanks to a little bit of FOMO.
Huahine is famous for its population of blue-eyed eels. They essentially look like other moray eels, but their eyes are blue. We saw a couple while snorkeling (see above), but the main event was the river eels that come to be fed sardines. Unlike eels in the sea, they stick together and come right up to the surface. I climbed down to pet them while Admiral Anne and Captain Dave only watched- that’s right, who’s scared now? Check them out, they’re pretty cool- but we’re still not friends.
Many an evening was spent on the beach watching the sunset and the surfers. None of us have ever seen waves like this in person. I’m talking tubes of water high over the surfer’s heads, crashing in around them as they approach the reef. And the surfers are impressive! There are a lot of surfers in what I think of as the traditional sense, but there are also body borders (literally on a boogie board with fins on) and paddle boarders out in the waves. One of the paddle boarders we watched was good enough to paddle into a wave, surf the tube, emerge on the outside, and paddle back over the wave to catch the next one without ever being knocked off his feet.
I could sit on the beach and watch the waves forever. In fact, if our visas get extended, I just might.
Just meters from the sandy, tropical beaches are lush jungles. Our soggy hike was limited on vistas and wildlife but included more maraes and diverse vegetation. We did see a few birds and crabs, and lots of spiders and chickens. I maybe haven’t properly accentuated how many wild chickens roam around every island in French Polynesia- but it’s enough that I wake up most mornings lately to a chorus of rooster crows.
Yes, I did try to swing from a vine. No, I did not pick well.
ALWAYS A PROJECT
On a sailing note, Captain Dave is always busy with a project. Currently? There’s water being periodically pumped out of the bilge. That means hours drying, observing, tracing hoses, and generally staring at the areas that have a leak. The good news is that we think we’ve determined it is coming from the air conditioning (which we ran for like 30 mins once in the last 2 weeks), and not from a through-hull. So Amazing Grace is not in danger of sinking. The bad news is that we haven’t fixed it yet.
The good news is that Captain Dave is always fixing things, and while he was found laying next to the bilge for a couple hours the other day, that night’s sundowners was full of exclamations about how much he loves living on his boat.
I’ve been more preoccupied with tending to the mold I found in the under-foot compartment in my cabin. Admiral Anne has been more preoccupied working on plans for where to leave the boat. All of us have been preoccupied with stuffing our faces with cheese each evening. It’s a hard life we lead 😉.
BE KIND, PLEASE REWIND
I finished my last post by letting you know we were Tahiti-bound to apply for visa extensions in person. While I was too excited about Huahine to write this post chronologically, that did happen. We spent a few days back in our old stomping grounds at Pape’ete Marina to apply for extensions, make some repairs, clean, buy a kayak, and reconnect with old friends. Highlights were a rooftop happy hour with Tri To Fly, Aurora, Influencer, and Laura IV, pizza with Influencer and Kathryn Estelle, a repeat visit to dad’s favorite lunch spot (L’Oasis du Vaima), and a trip to the pink protestant church.
We were told about excellent music at the church many times throughout our time in Pape’ete, but missed it our first time through because of COVID-19 closures. I can honestly say that for Christians and non-believers alike, checking out a Polynesian service should be on your list as a cultural event to remember.
Church attendance is high and Sunday culture is strong in Tahiti. We showed up in our loud Tahitian florals and pearls and were greeted by a congregation dressed completely in white. They welcomed us in no matter how out of place we looked. The service was in French, so we have no idea what it was about. But we felt the music in our souls. Throughout the service, song would begin from the congregation in different areas in the church. Sometimes it would start with a solo and then everyone would join. Sometimes the full song would be performed by a smaller group. They sang 8-part harmony, a capella, just sitting in their pews in the congregation. I cannot describe how wonderful it was to be surrounded by Tahitian rhythms and incredible voices in this little pink church with the breeze coming in through the windows and swaying to the music. It was a Sunday to remember.
We spent our last evening basking in the shadows of Moorea’s jagged mountains one last time at an anchorage in Cook’s Bay, before heading west for Huahine. Gazing up at those cliffs from some of the most beautiful bays in the world will always be my memory of magnificent Moorea.
First mate, Amazing Grace
TLDR: I found Nemo!!