Saturday, September 3, 2011

Society Islands - Moorea, Raiatea, and Tahaa (2011)

After nearly three weeks on Tahiti, we finally weighed anchor and made the short hop over to Moorea.  It was a quick sail, and in less than four hours, we sailed through the pass and into the lagoon.  There are two large bays on the north side of Moorea, Baie de Cook and Baie d’Opunohu.  We decided to head in to the westernmost bay, Baie d’Opunohu and dropped the hook in white sand in less than 12 feet of crystal clear water.  We could see every wrinkle on the bottom, and it felt like we were anchored in a swimming pool.

Our first afternoon was spent snorkeling near the boat and around the nearby reefs.  The next morning we rowed to shore to do some walking around.  We headed along the bay and then hiked up into the interior of the island to the Belvedere lookout.  It was a nice hike up with stops along the way at a few archaeological sites, and we were rewarded with some great views of the two bays from the lookout.
On the way back down, we stopped in at the agricultural school to try their sorbets made from local fruits and then followed the Route de Ananas (pineapple route) over to the neighboring bay, Baie de Cook.  The last leg of the hike into Paopao, the village in Baie de Cook, was quite picturesque with pineapples covering the hillsides.  After a walk around the village and a quick lunch, we headed back to the boat.  We spent about eight hours hiking that day and were exhausted by the time we got back to the boat. 
We stayed two more days in the anchorage, just relaxing on the boat and snorkeling.  Our friends on s/v Tuatara, who we met in the Tuamotus, anchored nearby, and we had a nice dinner with them before leaving Moorea.  We considered staying for a few more days, but we had several more stops to make before our visa expired in less than three weeks.

After Moorea, our next stop was Raiatea, 100 miles northwest.  The winds were 10-15 knots from the ESE, and we had pleasant sail through the night, with only one little scare along the way.  We were sailing along on a nice broad reach, and the only noise was the boat moving through the water.  It was a moonless night, and it was quite dark when suddenly a large whale surfaced right next to us.  It sounded like an airplane passing close by, and it took a couple seconds before we realized it was a whale.  We dug around for the spotlight, but by the time we found it, the whale had moved about 50 ft from us, and then it disappeared shortly thereafter.  It was the first large whale we have seen since leaving Mexico, and it got our heart rate up for a little while. 
We sailed through Passe Iriru on Raiatea around 9am the next day and dropped the sails when we were in Baie Faaroa.  We motored to the head of the bay and dropped the anchor near the mouth of the Apoomau River.  After a quick breakfast, we put the dinghy in the water and rowed up the river.

approaching Passe Iriru on Raiatea
The row up the river was certainly one of the highlights of our visit to Raiatea.  We rowed for about an hour, enjoying the shade from the dense vegetation along the banks, and then turned around when it became too shallow.  On the way back, we noticed four men sitting on the shore and one of them motioned for us to come over.  We rowed over and dragged the dinghy on the shore where we met James, the unofficial tour guide of the river.  He took out his machete and chopped off the top of a green coconut and offered it to us to drink.  He then had us row to the other side of the river and find a brown coconut on the ground and bring it back.  He had us shake it and make sure there was some liquid still in it.  When we brought it back, he chopped it in two and dug out the meat of the coconut for us to eat.    We snacked on that for a while and then put the rest in the dinghy.
He then offered us a tour of his village (Faaroa), and we followed him around while he pointed out the various plants and fruits and told us which ones were ok to eat.  The tour ended about half a mile down the road at his house where he cut down a bunch of bananas and pulled up a taro root for us.  He set the stuff down on the edge of the river and told us to wait there and he disappeared for a while.  About ten minutes later, he came paddling back up the river towing our dinghy behind.  He helped us load up all of our new fruit and then escorted us back down the river and back to the boat.  

dinghy trip up the Apoomau River on Raiatea
The next day we decided to walk into the village of Opoa to see the marae Taputapuatea, reportedly one of the most significant archaeological sites in Polynesia.  It was a 12 mile walk to get there, but we hitched a ride on an empty school bus and only had to walk half of it.  Apparently this was once the religious and political center of all of Polynesia.   This large site was in the waterfront village of Opoa.  Some of the structures were built right up to the water and made of flattened coral slabs.  This was a contrast compared to the maraes we had visited previously in French Polynesia, which were inland and in dense wooded areas.  

Marae Taputapuatea on Raiatea
Some Heiva festivities were still underway here, and locals were gathered along the beach for the coconut husking competition.  We had a long walk ahead of us, and it was a hot day so we decided to skip it.  There weren’t many cars on the road that afternoon, and we ended up walking six miles before we were able to hitch a ride a back.

The next day we headed over to a marina on the northwest side of the island.  This was our first opportunity to pull up alongside a dock since leaving Mexico.  We were looking forward to this stop so that we could run a water hose to the boat and use as much water as we needed.  Our main priority was to flush out our water tank, which had recently acquired an odd smell.  The filtered drinking water was fine, but the unfiltered water we use for dishes and cooking didn’t smell so good.  We also took advantage of the water and rinsed out the bilge and did a bunch of laundry.  
After a couple days in the marina, we headed off to Tahaa, which is another island inside the same fringing reef as Raiatea.  We were planning on making one stop on the island and that was to visit a snorkeling spot that we had heard good things about.   Unfortunately, a weather system was developing with some strong winds and that anchorage was exposed so we ended up pulling into Baie Hurepiti, a deep bay on the west side of the island.  Every so often our plans get derailed from a weather system, so we find a protected bay on the leeward side of the island and stay put for a few days.  We ended up spending three nights in Baie Hurepiti and didn’t leave the boat.  We knocked out a few boat projects while we were there, but mostly relaxed and caught up on reading. 
After three nights in Baie Hurepiti, the winds had calmed, and we made our way north a few miles to anchor off Ile Tautau near the coral gardens.  We found a nice spot in 20 ft over white coral sand, and hopped in the dinghy with all our snorkel gear.  A short row away we found the coral gardens in an area about 3-6 ft deep.  The area was covered in coral heads that rose up to just under the surface of the water.  We spent about an hour snorkeling through the maze of coral heads and enjoying all of the colorful fish and trying not to brush up against the sea urchins, which were everywhere. Then two boats pulled up and dropped off what seemed like 100 tourists, and it was time to go.  Early the next day, we pulled up the anchor to make the half day sail to Bora Bora, our last stop in French Polynesia.