We filled our fuel tanks (60 gallons in the belly tank and two 20 gallon drums on deck) and sailed Northwest out of Tahiti in the early afternoon Friday under light winds. Once we got 10 miles offshore, the winds filled in and we moved nicely at 6 knots under full sail towards the island of Huahine. This is an easy overnight sail. Around midnight, while Max was on watch, we were hit by a small thunderstorm with shrieking gust of wind and torrents of rain. This lasted only 30 minutes, followed by a half an hour of light wind, which left the boat rolling uncomfortably in the choppy seas created by the storm. The regular winds came up again and we were back on our delightful sail. But a few hours later a second thunderstorm had a similar cycle. Then a third… and a fourth. It was an interesting sail and both Max and I loved it.
When we arrived Hauhine mid-morning on Saturday with a nicely washed off boat. We entered Avamoa pass on the west side of the island and anchored near the town of Fare in 80 feet of water, which is deeper than we would prefer, but the anchorage was crowded. We happened to show up just when the annual race of the 6-man va’a canoes started. The course started and ended right near our anchorage! We certainly have a lucky knack for being in the right place to see these cool events.
Huahine is made of two closely connected islands that are about 90 miles Northwest of Tahiti. The islands are small, approximately 4 x 8 miles, and have 6000 people. Hauhine is a lesser known island of the Society group in French Polynesia and is not a common destination for tourists. It has a rural mountainous interior like the Marquesas islands, but it is fully circled by a coral reef. Once inside the reef, the anchorages are all protected from the Pacific swells. The economy of Huahine is dominated by farming of coconuts, vanilla, melons, and sugar cane.
Fare is the capital of Huahine and is a lively, working town. There are a few things for tourists, including scooter rentals and artist exhibitions, but there are plenty of people working the docks, grocery store, or one of the many roadside stands that sell a family’s bananas or mangoes or papayas. We found an awesome chandelier made entirely of local shells. There are always kids running around and playing in the water and older people sitting in groups of 2 or 3 and relaxing in the shade. There is a little bar-restaurant called the Huahine Yacht Club with a dock for small boats. Almost every night, we would row the dinghy in to this dock and enjoy the sunset with half-priced happy hour drinks. Just down the beach is the Lapita resort with huts for the patrons and a giant palapa restaurant. We had heard about the curried goat there and had to try it. SCORE! It was absolutely delicious.
Walking along the road the follows the coast, we came upon my new favorite place – Hauhine Distillery Passion. In this small shop, Christian and his wife turn local fruit into incredible liqueurs. The smell inside this place was magical, and Christian was happy to provide samples of everything. I have drunk a lot of alcohol in my previous 52 years, but I have never had anything like this. The coconut-vanilla gives a sweet soothing feel that makes you roll your eyes up into your head and smile. The “Hauhine” is made from passion fruit, pineapple, mango, and vanilla, and it stimulates every single part of your mouth. The rum made from local sugar cane gives the feeling of a gentle heat deep inside. We tried a dozen different drinks and bought as many as we could. My life will never be the same.
We rented motor scooters for the day and went all the way around Huahine Nui (the norther of the two islands). This was a blast! The scooters were surprisingly fast, going up to 80 km/hr on a flat road. We saw numerous ancient ruins in various states of de-ruination. We also came upon a large soccer field in the middle of nowhere that gave us a chance to make long frisbee throws and run full speed. They even had an outdoor shower for us.
We took a little back road to find a shell museum. The front of the collector’s house was filled with cases that displayed an incredible variety of shells, and he loved to tell us about them. My favorite animal was a cone snail that shoots out a poisonous barb to hunt fish. Max liked the classic nautilus shell.
At the river at Faie, we saw the sacred blue-eyed eels. These big eels (5-inch across and 5 feet long) really have eyes of blue. They hide in the shadows until somebody splashes near them and they come out to see if they are getting food. Brave Jim climbed down into the river and attempted to get an underwater video. But when the eel got close, I screamed and ran out of the water. As we left, a little Polynesian girl, probably 4 years old, splashed into the water. But when the eels came out to eat her, she didn’t shriek and run away. She touched one on the head and the eels seemed to ignore her.
We sailed South from Fare inside the reef to Avea Baie, which is all the way on the South end of Huahine Iti, the smaller of the two islands. This trip takes us through a narrow pass and shallow water. We only make such a trip mid-day when the sun is high and we keep a lookout on the bow watching for underwater hazards that could damage the boat if we hit them. Unlike most places inside the reef, Avea Baie is not too deep, and it is nearly all sand, so it provides an ideal anchorage. We cannot anchor where the water is too deep, or in places with coral or large rocks that could snag the anchor or tangle the chain. Here we easily could swim ashore to play on the beach or row the kayak out to the reef for amazing diving. We found it difficult to play frisbee at the water’s edge because of the large number of sea cucumbers. Both Max and I had the experience of running in the shallow water to catch a frisbee, and stepping on a squishy sea cucumber. Sea cucumbers are like sausage sized slugs that live on the bottom of the ocean, I have never seen so many of these as on the beach in Avea. We found a nice grassy spot to play frisbee instead.
We went to a Polynesian feast at Chez Tara on Avea Bay. They started early Sunday morning preparing by wrapping meats and vegetables in banana leaves and putting them in 4’ x 8’ basket that is lowered into a pit with coals and covered with leaves. Around noon, they open this up and take out the food and present it buffet-style. We ate for over two hours, and the curried clams, red bananas, and papaya dessert were a few of the notable and delicious treats.
We had read in a guide book about a “secret beach” near Motu Vaiorea that has only access from the water. We found the beach and anchored just offshore in a small patch of sand surrounded by coral. While we were planning our trip ashore, a big boat called National Geographic Orion anchored in the nearby bay of Port Bourayne and proceeded to unload a dozen large Zodiac boats complete with racks of kayaks and stand-up surfboards. These boats and about 100 people took over the “secret beach” making it impossible for us to find someplace to throw frisbee. One the of Zodiac boats came over to Akela and a guy named Martin asked about her. He had previously purchased, restored, and cruised on a boat just like her. We invited him aboard to look around and he told us that he was captain of the boat “over there”. Yes, Martin is the captain of the Orion, a 340ft, 4000 ton eco-cruise ship. He reciprocated and invited us to tour his boat. We saw the bridge where they control the boat. They don’t have a wheel, and instead use a little joystick to control the rudder. The engine room was impressive with a huge 8-cylinder diesel engine connected directly to the prop shaft. They control direction using a variable (and reversible) pitch prop. Inside the ship, it was like a luxury hotel with nice wood and polished metal everywhere. The ship carries a full kitchen and Martin was clearly very proud of the food because he kept offering it to us, even though our hands and arms were already full. Orion left that evening, leaving us with a nice taste in our mouth and anchored alone off the empty secret beach.
The next morning, as we were preparing to go ashore and play frisbee on this awesome beach, a boatload of kids arrived and unloaded onto the beach. Then another. And another. And another… By mid morning, there were hundreds of kids on this beach, assembled in different groups according to size. This must have been a school outing. We never did get ashore to find the true secret of the beach.
We spent two weeks in Huahine before sailing to the island of Raiatea to meet Doug. Afterwards, we will definitely return to Huahine and hope to play on the secret beach.