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987 Polynésie Française: October 2018


Huahine - Society Archipelago (240 km and 7 days)

Huahine is not a mainstream destination within French Polynesia. Indeed, at the airport we were asked twice if we were really disembarking here or if we were continuing the flight to Ra'iātea …
Far from the hustle and bustle of Tahiti, the nonchalant pace of the small “town” of Fare (the island’s only business center) gives the impression that time has stopped here. 

Once you’re there, you understand why it’s called the "Garden of Eden": everything is well cured, neat and cherished on the island. Driving along the circular road, it’s like driving across a botanical park so pristine it is, and each village has its own green recycling booths. An amazing landscape, dense tropical forest is covering most of the island’s steep and eroded mountains, many secluded white beaches, a sea that is so intensively turquoise that one thinks it has been photoshopped. The friendly residents greet you with a big smile, on the road and in the supermarket ... you really feel welcomed here and your smile gets a little wider with each greeting. No large resorts are disfiguring this island ... one of the 2 hotels of the island, the Sofitel on Motu Oavarei is abandoned and only a ruin of the main building remains. Most of the 6000 residents live traditional lifestyles, fishing and growing a small amount of crops for themselves and to sell, they really don’t care about making business with tourists.

Similarly to Tahiti, Huahine consists of two islands, Huahine Nui and Huahine Iti (large and small), which are connected by a small bridge.
Our house is located along the Mārō’ē, the channel dividing Nui from Iti. We’ve a huge garden, a small car and a own boat anchored directly in front of the house!

After having circled Huahine Iti on our first day, we’re up for a tour of Huahine Nui. In the morning, our first stop is near the bridge in Faie to see the sacred blue-eyed eels. We walk into the creek starting at the concrete stairs. Walking upstream, we see a couple of small eels (60 cm), then a big one (1.5 m) under the concrete border. A little bit further up the creek, we see suddenly tens of very big eels (up to 2 m length with a body diameter of 25 cm!). They’re coming from all over the places directly at us waiting to be fed. Can be pretty scary … The locals feed them daily as they’re considered sacred!
Our second stop of the day is at the Huahine Nui Pearl Farm to see how Tahitian pearls are farmed. Tahitian pearls are black pearls from the oyster Pinctada Margaritifera. They have a dark color with many hues, shading from green to red, from purple to blue … simply magnifique. They look so different from the classical white pearls we’ve seen in Broome. We could not resist and bought one of 12 mm with some dark shades of green … awesome … drilled and mounted into a necklace on site.

Maeva is one of the largest archaeological sites in French Polynesia. Prior to the European arrival, Maeva was the seat of royal power on Huahine. There are more than 30 excavated marae along the shoreline and up the hills. The village of Maeva constituted the residence of 8 dominant families, each with their own marae. Such a concentration of dominant clans which shared the entire island in one single place is only observed in Huahine, not on any other islands. The great marae Manunu on the motu opposite Maeva, and the marae Anini near Parea, acted both as community marae for Huahine-Nui and Huahine-Iti, respectively. Both marae have two levels. The marae Anini was built in XV century in honor of two high ranking divinities: Oro the Tahitian god of war and Hiro, the god of thieves. The communities of Huahine Iti used to visit the marae during ceremonies where humans were sacrificed. In 1818, the last priest could recall the celebration of 14 human sacrifices.

Tane, the dominant god of Huahine, was worshiped on the marae Manunu, which served the community of Huahine Nui. Tane was the god of war and fish of Huahine. When Tane was defeated, the Tahitian god Oro, was worshiped on this marae.

A long time ago, Maeva’s indigenous people figured out how they could make their lives easier if instead of going out to the ocean for fishing, they would bring the fish to them … The principal natural wealth of Huahine is the vast lagoon Fa’una Nui that is connected to the ocean through a narrow channel. The Eastern end of the lagoon and the upper part of the channel are characterized by the imposing construction of fish traps (āua i’a). The fish-traps have been here for centuries and some are still in use. The tips of the V-shaped traps are towards the ocean. As the fish are pulled towards the ocean by the ebb tide they become trapped in the basin at the endpoint of the V, where they are easily caught, usually by net or harpoon.

It’s our 5th day in the Garden of Eden and we have a commercial boat tour around the entire island on the program … We start navigating from Fare to a nearby floating platform to see tens if not hundreds of blacktip sharks.
From there, direction South to the Bay of Bourayne for a second snorkeling near the Motu Matahiva. Not the greatest snorkeling spot for us but some webpages report that scuba diving at Motu Matahiva is exceptional (in 4 m depth?). Those divers are probably all staying at the nearby resort, which would explain why this place is highly rated ... well, there is nothing there that calls for a second tour. A couple of simple brain corals and a garden of branching corals but otherwise really not impressive.
We move to the East, passing the bridge between Nui and Iti, through the Bay of Maroe to join the small pearl farm in the lagoon we already visited. So, we use that time for a swimming session as there’s no real snorkeling opportunity there. 

Our tour continue to the South to land on the Southern tip of Motu Murimahora for a fabulous picnic. En route, we learn that former US President Obama made one month vacation in French Polynesia, of which one week in beautiful Huahine. He rented the small Motu Topati for 3h at 3000 USD for its private picnic – a good price? Well, not really because everyone can rent that small Motu for the full day at 30 EUR!! …
We finish our wonderful day by completing the circumnavigation of Huahine Iti on the way back to Fare. An amazing day out!

On our 6th day , we take the house dinghy to explore on our own the lagoon. We depart directly from the pier of Villa Bougainville in the Bay of Maroe where we’re based. We go through the Bay of Bourayne and then we stop at the secluded and mosquito infested Hana Iti Beach because of the strong rain. Hana Iti beach can only be reached by boat or by walking through the forest on a small path. It was one of the locations of the French movie “Le prince du Pacifique” ... when we’re back home we’ll have to watch it ... It's a postcard place when sunny!
As it keeps raining, we go snorkeling. Unfortunately, the water is cloudy here near the beach because of the forest run-off. The marine ground is not very attractive. Further out however, there are some very nice looking reef patches and huge coral brains but the sea is too rough to stop and the weather isn’t inviting us to jump in neither … dark sky, heavy rain and lightning ... we prefer to move forward as we have one hour navigation to get home ... magically the sun comes back when we're in the Bay of Maroe ...

Today, it’s Sunday. At 06.00 in the morning, we’re in Fare at the market: what a difference with the other days! The market is every day here but you see only a few people shopping around. On Sunday, it seems that the entire island conveyed here … the access by car is blocked by the police and the market is very busy. It’s the day for the legendary ma’a Tahiti. Traditional food is prepared in baskets and wraps made of palm and banana leaves and then buried over hot stones in an a’hima’a (Tahitian oven). We collect our reef fish, reserved two days ago and return home. At noon, we’re at the only public ma’a of the island, chez Tara, a small restaurant near Parea. The place is full! We arrive on time around 11h, to see the opening of the oven. 

On our last day, we return to the reef near the abandoned Sofitel building, it’s really the best snorkeling spot of the island.

If Moorea was 10x more attractive than Tahiti, Huahine is 10x more attractive than Moorea!


Huahine - Raiatea - Maupiti

Ra'iātea - Society Archipelago (1 day)

Polynesia is defined as the islands within the triangle Aotearoa - Hawai'i - Rapa Nui. Ra'iātea is exactly in the middle of the Polynesian Triangle. Indeed, the island of Ra'iātea is considered the originating center of all Polynesian navigation paths: the Head of the Octopus, with its tentacles spread out across the Pacific to reach the other islands of the Polynesian Nation. Ra'iātea is identified with Hawaiki, the ancestral home of all Polynesians, before the migration in open canoes to the other islands of the actual Polynesia. The Māori (NZ) trace their ancestry to people that came in 40 named canoes (waka) from Hawaiki. Hawaiki is the place where the supreme being, created the world and its first people. It’s the place from which each Polynesian comes from, and it’s where each will return after death. The ritual center of Te Pö on Ra'iātea has been portrayed as Hawaiki. By far, the largest Polynesian population lives in Aotearoa (mostly Māori but also Samoan, Tongan, Niuean, Tuvaluan, Tokelauan and Moriori), followed by Samoa, French Polynesia and Hawai’i.

The major attraction on Ra'iātea is the Taputapuātea archeological site, registered since July 2017 on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The Marae (Mā meaning noble and Rae meaning mind) is a courtyard, an open-air place of worship. Typically, you see the paved courtyard itself (‘āua), an elevated altar (ahu) and some standing stones (‘öfa’i tuturi and ‘öfa’i ti’a depending on their use). Once sacrosanct (tapu), these communal spaces or open-air temples, represented the interface between the human world (te ’ao) and the world of the gods and ancestors (te pö). Constructed on a point protruding into the lagoon, the archeological site is made up of several marae built between the 14th and 18th centuries. There are more than 300 marae hidden in the surrounding dense vegetation. In the upper reaches of the valley, in highly inaccessible places, the oldest marae are found.

In Aotearoa (New Zealand), the word marae is now frequently used for the purpose-built building (the wharenui) that represents the traditional open-air tribal meeting place (the marae).

Ra'iātea is a rather big and busy island. Indeed, we saw more cars in one minute at the central parking of Uturoa, than in 7 days in Huahine … this really shows the difference between the two islands.


Maupiti - Society Archipelago (6 days) 

Maupiti is a small volcanic island (it can be circled on foot in two hours: 9km) surrounded by a ring of coral reef. It’s the closest definition of paradise for many reasons. Pretty little Maupiti is impossibly beautiful with a lagoon to die for and the friendliest of people. Maupiti is in many aspects the way Bora Boring used to be 40 years ago, before the big tourist boom. On Maupiti, the islanders resisted the temptation of making easy money in the short-term with mass tourism. Locals actively campaigned to keep away the big resorts that destroyed the soul and the landscape of Bora Boring. On Maupiti, you won’t find any resort, no cocktail bars, no supermarkets, no banks or cash machines and virtually no POS terminals to pay by credit card. Everything is paid cash and it’s inexpensive compared to the other islands we visited so far ... there’s no need to negotiate the price here … it’s a real pleasure to spend money at the friendly community.
There’s only a dozen of small family pensions to choose from, with mostly 4-5 rooms and sometimes only one shared bathroom but with plenty of good local food and authentic familial atmosphere. Several cultivations in Maupiti are shared among the community, every one can take the chickens, the taros, the mangoes or the bananas. The products are a common resource that belongs to the wealth of all inhabitants. Everyone here knows each other ... there are only 1256 inhabitants! If a family is in need, the church organize a solidarity campaign and everyone generously participate. A lovely way of life ...

On arrival, we’re welcomed at the tiny airport by Ludo, our pension’s owner, with a necklace made of fresh tiare flowers… what a wonderful smell. Then, we board the boat to get to the pension… A charming home where we’ll spend close to a week.

For our second day, snorkeling in the lagoon is on the program … and after a rainy night, the weather is great. Perfect!
After breakfast, we leave on our pension’s boat and navigate on the lagoon at the sound of the ukulele. The reef is ring-shaped around the island, sheltering five distinct motus (islets). Our first snorkeling is with 5 giant manta rays. We witness a magnificent ballet with those elegant creatures.
We then move over to the “coral garden” further South. After Ouvéa, this is now our second best snorkeling place with an amazing “coral garden”! The reef is gorgeous: the water is incredibly turquoise, crystal clear and pristine, you can see clearly 40 m around. So many colorful giant clams, fish, corals, morays ... After this wonderful snorkeling, en route to the Motu Pitiahei for a grilled lobster based picnic … and a nice relaxing afternoon at the beach with the feet in the water for a sting ray massage.

During our 3rd day, we circle the small island by bike: it’s only about 9 km. The first stop from our pension is in the Haranae Valley, where you can see several rocks with petroglyphs on the left in the dry creek bed. We manage to find 9 turtles carved in the rocks, some really large 30-40 cm! The famous Lonely Planet only mention one turtle as a petroglyph here … but actually there’re many rocks with petroglyphs and so many turtles. You just need to have your eyes wide open and a little experience in discovering petroglyphs!
We pass the tiny village of Vai'ea and few km further, the lagoon seen from the Belvedere is absolutely gorgeous … colors you don’t believe to be true, hundreds of different blue and green hues. From the Belvedere, you can see a great lenticular reef (patch reef) in the lagoon, similar to but much smaller than the stunning lenticular reef unique to New Caledonia. It’s a very hot day and we’re in search for some shadow. We rest at “The Beach” (Tereia) under a small coconut tree. The beach is quite busy.
In the evening, we’re lucky to go to the village (Vai'ea) with Ludo, his wife Moyra and their son Harry, to see and participate to the daily music and dance training in preparation of the upcoming inter-islands contest on 5th November in Bora Bora. Nearly, the entire island is there … some singing in the choir, some dancing the traditional Polynesian dances while other are playing the drums … it’s an authentic, nice and very familial atmosphere … the kids … the performers … the supporters … and 7 fortunate tourists ...

4th day on Paradise island: we walk the 2.7km from the pension to Tereia Beach. Then, we walk across the lagoon on a shallow sandy area to Motu Auira, the water is only hip deep! We’re accompanied by one young shark. We follow the external shore of the motu for a while until we find a nice spot for snorkeling … we’re the only ones! We feel like Robinson Crusoe. Pretty corals but very few pics … our camera got flooded and died! It’s our second Nikon AW130 drowned under water! We need now a third one ‘cause it’s a must for Fakarava … Luckily, we have 4 days’ time in Papeete.

Our stay is near the end with only 2 days left. So today, we hike up Mt Te Uru Fa’atu at 372m, the highest point of the island with incredible views of the lagoon.
Always-wrong Tripadvisor recommends to take the steps in concrete in Vai'ea, near the Tarona snackbar, to start this walk … this is across a well signed private property and access is not permitted! The correct way, much easier, shorter and signposted, is starting 200 m North from the Tarona snackbar along a 4x4 track leading to 3 communication antennas. It’s a nice shaded walk which gets steeper closer to the summit with some fixed ropes to help in the climb. After 1.5 hour, the summit offers a clear look over the lagoon and its pass – the naturally-formed opening in the ring-barrier reef. We’re on top around 08:00 and we have the summit all by ourselves to take some great pictures. On our way down, we meet plenty of people hiking up under the scorching sun. It’s gonna be busy up there...

Our last day on charming Maupiti is spent at the Tereia Beach. This time, we have the entire beach for ourselves! …

If Huahine was 100x more attractive than Tahiti, Maupiti is 10x more attractive than Huahine!



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