Well, that’s it. After a total of 3 years, our sailing adventure in French Polynesia has drawn to a close. We’ve had a blast from our initial arrival in the Marquesas on Lady Jane in May 2019 until our departure on 19th June 2023 onboard Jamala. So far, nowhere else has compared in terms of overall beauty, friendliness and variety. We have forged new and, hopefully, long-lasting relationships in most of the islands we have visited. And frankly, it’s been hard to say goodbye. Handing over the paperwork signifying the end of our stay here felt a bit emotional.
Oh, go on, you big northern softy. Our time on French Polynesia might have ended, but who knows what the ocean ahead is going to bring. From all accounts, Niue, Tonga and Fiji aren’t bad.
So we are heading west. The wind is playing a fickle game, though. Even MetBob, the weather router, hasn’t been able to keep us in the wind from Bora Bora to Niue or Tonga. He’s done a great job of keeping us out of the rough stuff though.
Before we write about that, here’s how we spent our last few weeks in the Society Islands:
There be sea monsters in that pass. The angry waves are crashing, snarling and snapping at anyone brave or foolish enough to approach the island. That’s what we read. Well, almost.
I don’t know about brave, but we timed our arrival at Maupiti at high water with little swell and a lot of light. And it wasn’t that bad. Yes, we could see breaking waves on either side of the pass, but the way in was clearly marked, and the (permanent) outgoing tide only slowed our entrance by 2-3 knots. And once inside, the channel leading to the village is marked well enough, and the current is negligible.
After anchoring three times to make sure we weren’t going to clobber any coral heads, we headed ashore for a stroll around the island. It’s only small, and the terrain is mostly flat, but the non-flat bit inflicted some damage to Maria’s sensitive knees. On top of that, she lost a walking shoe – it fell off her backpack. So, it wasn’t a great day in paradise. Still, there’s a lot to see – from weird-looking rock formations to even weirder-looking man-made creations like the pearl palace.
Leaving Maria at the town dock to rest her knee, I retraced our steps to the last place she had a matching pair, but I couldn’t find the shoe. A local guy suggested that someone has probably taken it to use for parts. Ah well.
One of the many attractions of Maupiti is the beach. The water here is so shallow and sandy that it’s possible to wade across from the main island to the outer reef without dipping your head in the water or cutting your feet. So we moved from the village anchorage to get closer to Point Tereia, where we had a Brits Abroad day on the beach, complete with a beach umbrella.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have much luck with snorkelling in Maupiti. There is a manta ray cleaning station where the mantas go to get cleaned by other fish. We tried going there a couple of times but didn’t see anything.
Timing is everything here. With the weather gently wafting towards the west, leaving presented the same drama as arriving – none. The current was unsurprisingly 2-3 knots in our favour this time. And despite the sun being low in the sky, we could still see the shallows. In any case, we had our inbound track to follow outbound.
We motor-sailed over to Bora Bora to make sure we arrived in plenty of time to grab a mooring. And we did – close to the Bloody Mary’s restaurant.
Anchoring here is tightly controlled, and the only anchorages for non-comedy-sized yachts such as ours are far out and time-restricted. This seems to dissuade some boats from coming here and, certainly, many from staying here long-term. But that’s surely the intention. Given that people pay thousands of dollars to stay in the overwater bungalows at any of the hotels here, I’m sure they don’t want the place littered with too many boats, making the place look untidy. And 4,000 XPF per night (about £29) doesn’t seem too expensive compared with the four seasons. We, too, have our own overwater villa with en-suite facilities, but at a fraction of the cost.
Vaima and Haimana, who come out to remove you of money and put it in the pockets of Bora Bora Moorings, are a delight: ever-friendly and always helpful. They helped with our mooring lines after the lines got wrapped around the mooring following a few days of calm. We saw them helping others too. And payment is easy – they carry a credit card machine onboard. And they take any rubbish/refuse/garbage away every Tuesday and Saturday.
Mystery of the Happy Hour
Bertrand and Pascale turned up with their old friends Nathalie and Emmanuel, who we met for drinks onboard Antinea. Then later in the week, we spent an evening at Bloody Mary’s just with Bertrand and Pascale (slight cock up with the reservation, but we got a table anyway). No music either that night, but that was probably a blessing. Way back in the old days of 2019, they had a Tahitian ukulele band playing, but now they seem to play popular old-school American tunes.
A few days after that, we said our goodbyes onboard Jamala to Bertrand and Pascale, who were off to Maupiti. We probably won’t see them again until New Zealand later in the year.
Music isn’t the only thing that’s changed at Bloody Mary’s. Happy Hour has too. Now the 2-for-1 offer is restricted to cocktails only. We found this out when we ordered beer. And there is no happy hour during event nights. We found that out when we called over when there was a beauty competition later that night. We finally nailed it when we went there with a British couple on the ARC Pacific, Susie and John, on their boat Casamara.
Our initial plan was to hire a car to see the island. But we reconsidered when we realised we wouldn’t have a clue what we were looking at apart from road. So we booked a half-day tour instead.
That worked out well. We got the tour guide to pick us up at Bloody Mary’s, and only two other people joined us. Over several stops, the guide explained the history of Bora Bora – in English and in French. The island was used as a US military base during WWII. Roads were built around the island to move materiel to fortification points, and the underlying maritime infrastructure was created. Then, of course, the hotels arrived, and the tourists have been rolling in ever since.
Unfortunately, the rain hardly stopped during our tour – hence the grey-looking photographs. That meant that we couldn’t see the pareo-making in action. But the rain didn’t stop Maria buying a top from them.
The start of the Clearing out process (customs and immigration) at the gendarmerie took about 40 minutes. There are around seven forms to complete – much of it repetition. Maria and I shared the workload and then handed the completed forms to one of the Gendarmes for checking. I think we scored a pass with a B minus. After correcting the mini-blunders, he said, please come back on Monday to get your passports stamped. And that was that.
The surprise was finding one of the best easy snorkelling spots we have encountered in French Polynesia. Located near Motu Piti Uu Ita and easily identified by the tourist boats anchored there, it is an underwater eye fest. I have never seen so many clams in so many colours in one place. The water was spring water clear, and the fishes were in abundance. No photos of the fish because we have no underwater camera at the moment. But here’s what it looks like from above.
Anticipating a wind-free start, we topped up with diesel and petrol, taking cans in the dinghy to the petrol station near town.
We also stocked up with food at the Super U. Egg purchasing here is a bit of a secret. Since the salmonella outbreak that seems to be affecting many of the islands, Super U are keeping the imported eggs hidden behind the lottery counter, and you have to ask if you want them. So acute is the egg shortage that people were stopping us on the street to find out where we bought them. It’s just as well the people here are friendly; we could have been egg-mugged.
After buying tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and bananas from the street stalls, we were almost ready to leave. The last part of the process was getting our passports stamped, posting a form to Tahiti, and then cancelling our phone contracts. All relatively easy.
Then, on Monday, 19th June, we slipped our mooring lines and headed off towards Niue in the calmest and flattest water we have seen in the South Pacific.