...well, some of it.
29.09.2011 - 14.10.2011 25 °C
Firstly, may we say how touched we were by both of the people who contacted us demanding to know why our latest blog instalment was late.
So, we left Tahiti after a brief lounge about in a posh hotel (with its beautiful view over Moorea) and headed south to The Australs, feeling like proper explorers.
One presumes, or hopes, Air Tahiti selects very experienced pilots because those flights are true white knuckle rides. First you fly over the Pacific in all its angry vastness. Then you see a big lump of rock sticking out of the sea and blink twice as you realise that yes, the plane is going to try and land on the edge of the rock. As the plane makes gutteral spluttering sounds and descends in sudden drops you see the enormous waves crashing against the reef waiting to bury you. By this point you're pretty nervous because all you can see is spiky coral and that you're still going very fast on approach. But the icing on the cake is horrendous air pockets and cross winds as the plane tackles landing on the only lump of rock for thousands of miles.
We were hoping as we descended upon Rurutu, an island famous for its humpback whales, that we would see some in the bay, which we were then planning on swimming with. However, apparently only five mothers with calves turned up this year and when we got there they had all left. How inconsiderate. So instead we went on a massive hike through the interior of the island, swam on the beach, watched Mutiny on the Bounty and Anita read Anna Karenina (which is rather like doing Part I History all over again; the same old droning on about peasants).
Then we moved on to Raivavae, which is the most stunning island either of us have ever seen. With a vast blue-green lagoon, islets peppered around the edges of the reef and a stunning mountainous interior, it was every paradise cliche we could have imagined manifested in one perfect little island. Raivavae opened its airport less than a decade ago and is very keen to hang onto its local feel. No mega hotels here, just half a dozen family run pensions (guest houses). Long may that continue.
We were lucky enough to arrive at a time when our hostess was trialling an eco-tourism project. This meant we were able to join a group of ten Swiss pensioners and go out to an islet by pirogue where there was a barbeque waiting for us. It was awesome. A local would disappear for ten minutes, come back with something from the sea and ask us if we liked it. Anita would say it looked very cute and take a photo with it, James would suddenly put his arm round her and lead her for a walk/snorkel/swim, and then ten minutes later something which looked suspiciously similar would appear cooked.
We felt most sorry for the langouste which was left in a bucket to marinate in tomatoes, etc whilst it was alive. Harsh. We felt less sorry for the octopus which frankly deserved to die. What kind of animal deliberately continues to swim up the the shore trying to intimidate a group of much bigger animals wielding sticks? Proving that men never grow out of the desire to flame small insects with aerosol cans, James wanted to film them clubbing it to death for the blog, but sadly his request was declined with light laughter.
After this we headed back, met Catherine (James's mum) in Papeete and together flew into another very attractive, much more populated island called Raiatea. Here we saw some impressive marae (platforms associated with various rituals, about which not that much is yet understood but yes, human sacrifice was probably 'on the table' at some point).
In the main centre we also picked up our boat for eight days of sailing round Tahaa, Raiatea, and Bora Bora. Sailing in the Pacific is very different to the Med or the North sea. The waves are bigger (three meter swells are not unusual), the weather is very changeable and when you're not out in the open sea you're negotiating passes into lagoons and dodging coral. There is also the mildly chilling thought that the sea beneath you is 5.5k deep and frequented by all of the big nasty monsters we all know from Blue Planet. It would have been very annoying to see no whales in Rurutu and then hit one while sailing. We met a New Zealand couple on our flight out to Tahiti who told us that seeing a sperm whale pass under their yacht had been the single most terrifying moment of their lives.
All of this meant that James's skills as Captain were put to the test and he whooped a lot whenever the winds picked up. This also meant Catherine and Anita had to step up as his exceptional crew (we both have bigger biceps to show for it). Excitingly, Anita needed to wear a proper harness to go out to the front of the boat as hanging off the main sail whilst your feet dangle in the air is less than ideal.
Tahaa was a lovely little island. Very quiet, nice lagoon, and beautiful views over Bora Bora. Also some really good snorkelling, with plenty of colourful fish about.
Bora Bora was geologically stunning with its vast peak and idyllic lagoon, but very different to the other islands in that tourism has somewhat taken its toll on the atmosphere of the place. Almost all of the islets have been bought by large hotel groups, which have strung expensive water bungalows (wooden huts) across the lagoon. This means that for locals, yachties, or anyone else not staying at the hotel there is effectively no access to much of the land. Furthermore, the hotels one imagine do not like the fact that to attain sufficient depth, yachts must pass within close sailing distance of their most expensive bungalows, meaning the latter have little privacy. Solution: don't build your hotel hanging out into the middle of the lagoon if you want total privacy.
Perhaps because of this, some of the hotels take a seemingly antagonistic attitude towards the few yachts which anchor in the lagoon. We anchored 400m from the St. Regis one night, which deserves a special mention for having run a shuttle ferry with 15m of our yacht every half hour from the early hours of the morning until midnight. That was after a fleet of jet skis had left the hotel to welcome our arrival by circling our yacht whilst we swam.
That said, the view was still magnificent and the inconvenience was worth it. For our final night in Bora Bora Catherine kindly treated us to dinner at Bloody Mary, a restaurant where an awful lot of famous people have eaten, including some who actually deserved to be famous for having some semblance of talent. There was a lovely array of locally-caught fish, which was a welcome change from the pasta and tinned vegetables of the previous week.
After the crossing from hell between Bora Bora and Raiatea, we arrived safely back at base via a last anchorage overlooking yet another beautiful mountain with cascading waterfalls running down its side, and we are now nestled in a beachside bungalow on the island of Huahine, listening to the waves crash against the reef.