So, what is Fiji Day? Fiji Day is on the 10th of October each year to celebrate Fiji gaining its independence from the UK when its colonial status was removed in 1970. Interestingly enough, it is actually a double anniversary as on the same day in 1874, King Seru Epenisa Cakobau signed the deed of cession which started British rule in Fiji. Fiji Day is celebrated in nearly every town, village and city and includes things like military parades, speeches, performances and street parties.
We have been in a very small, isolated area of Viani Bay for the past week, where there are no roads and the only way to reach it is by walking, horseback or boat. A German lady, Marina, runs the dive academy in the bay with direct access to the Rainbow Reef and employs a lot of locals from the area in her business. Marina hosted a Fiji Day celebration for the locals and cruisers.
The day began at 9 am, at a new reef area being established. Locals (including some very cute kids) as well as cruisers met at a buoy where Johnny, Marina’s Fijian partner, instructed everyone on how to plant coral. Johnny would find a rock away from other coral, brush off the sand and algae, place a piece of coral on the rock and then put a cement ball on top of it. I think it had sand, cement and water which you keep held out of the water until the final step. It’s really a two person job.
Brushes were quickly distributed and groups formed. Johnny brought around a piece of coral to each group and it was time to start. The local adults and kids participated in the coral planting. Max, Ava and Tristan all planted a piece each, Ava two. This little area of reef has been protected and is an area that you are asked to steer clear of to let it get established. Each year on Fiji Day more coral is added to the reef and participants are given the chance to have a snorkel on it while planting.
The video below is of us planting coral. The music accompanying the video was produced last year to commemorate Fiji’s 50th year since independence, and is called ‘Children of Fiji and is sung in English, Hindi, iTaukei and Rotuman.
There was much excitement when everyone returned to the boats, with flag flapping, excited shouts and big smiles.
Marina and Johnny organised a beach BBQ with cruisers bringing potluck. We had a delicious meal, some enjoyed cava, music, laughter, dogs and even a couple of horses joined the festivities. Thank you Olivia for entertaining us all with your country/hip-hop music selection and horse riding.
Photos clockwise: photo 1: Everyone relaxing after our meal Photo 2: The cava chief, photo 3: Tristan and Ava sharing a private joke?
More flag flying photos, led by Olivia.
Tristan and Ava enjoyed hugging the dogs, they don’t replace our favourite Portuguese waterdog Willie. Miss you Love and Luck.
Thank you Marina and Johnny from Dive Academy for organising the day, we loved it.
While it may look like we are having a fantastic time during covid-19, looks can be deceiving. I will share our last month here in Tahiti.
As we prepared to leave for Fiji, the number of covid-19 cases in French Polynesia, mainly Tahiti had risen to over 1000 a day. The population in French Polynesia is about 280 000, so not particularly big. France has provided the Pfizer vaccine as well as JJ which is readily available, but only 30% of the population have chosen to do it. We did get the vaccine and do everything we can to keep everyone on board safe and also those that we spend time with, its part of being a community.
To go to Fiji we are required to get pre-approval which requires us all to have a covid test, get the results, get approval to visit Fiji from Fiji navy, check out of French Polynesia with immigration and sail away all within 72 hours of having the test, a very tough requirement. So we set off Monday morning to visit our agent in French Polynesia, Tahiti Crew to start the checkout process. After finally completing all of the paperwork, which took a long time we set off on the 5 km walk to a new testing centre which reopened that morning. The main covid testing clinic has been inundated with people getting tested, so much so that the queues were around the corner and down 3 blocks of the center. So the five of us set off and arrived just before 10 am only to discover they had already run out of test kits. We returned to our agent, Tahiti Crew and asked for a suggestion on what to do. Taheni tells us just call Sarah at the main center when you get there and she will take you to get it done. (That would have been useful to have told us prior to the 12 km walk)
The kids are tired and grumpy at this stage and the prospect of another 10 km walk does not thrill anybody. So we decided to catch a taxi which we have been avoiding for the past 18 months because of the covid risk. Arriving at the center we are met with a huge queue as was expected full of sick looking people. Sarah tells us to come straight to the front where we are led to an entrance for well people. It makes sense otherwise you would have covid after waiting 2 hours in a line. The test is done quickly and we return to the boat to wait. And wait. And wait.
Wednesday we had to return to Tahiti Crew to have the border police check us out of the country before returning to the boat to wait some more. Finally we got the results, all negative, back that afternoon (48 hours later after they were done) and sent them off to our Fiji agent. We prepared the boat for a Thursday morning departure while waiting for confirmation from our Fiji agent that it had all been approved and we could leave.
Thursday morning came and we still had not heard from Jo our agent. So we decided to head to Fiji. A couple of hours later we had a verbal confirmation we were good to come but as many of the staff had Covid the paperwork would take another day or two. Things were going great, we were headed on a track to Bora Bora, not to stop but to get a better wind angle. About 6 hours into our trip and Andrew and Tristan started opening and closing things in the cockpit and we all eventually headed upstairs to see what was going on.
Andrew explained to us all that the rudder was making a thumping noise. It was the first time that we had been on this particular tack since before we left Mexico, there was also quite a big swell which was not helping things. The problem being that we could change tack and continue on to Fiji and we might get there fine or the rudder could snap. There is nearly 2000 nm and 15 days ahead of us still and that’s a long way.
Andrew made a call to Tahiti Crew to see if we could possibly turn around and they said as we still had a two days left on our visa it would be fine. We deliberated for another half an hour and decided to turn back. Max and Ava were relieved. We stopped in Moorea at about 10 pm for the night as you can’t get into the Tahiti anchorage after 6 pm and got up at 5 am to go back.
And so starts the next round of paperwork at Tahiti Crew. Andrew had to get a marina to write a letter explaining we would need a month to get new rudder bearings made. We had to get passport photos and fill in paperwork for the high commission to ask for a month visa extension and then we had to go back to the boat to wait. At this stage Tahiti had implemented weekend lockdowns to try to curtail the rising covid infections.
Tuesday we were back to be checked in with the border police, who were not very happy with us. Tahiti Crew raced our paperwork down to the high commission and we were back in the waiting game. Nearly two weeks later we still don’t have a visa extension and official permission to be here in Tahiti.
Returning to the boat Andrew, Tristan and Max dropped the rudder to look at it. Andrew called a good friend Mark Edwards who built his own 50 foot boat who we cruised with in 2012/12 in Asia to ask for advice. Andrew also reached out to Greg Christie who is a shipwright and did the original work on our boat 12 years ago. Luckily New Zealand had just gone in to lockdown and Mark had plenty of time on his hands to help. He gave Andrew advice on things to test on the rudder to try to identify the problem.
Tristan with the rudder before the tests began.
Eventually it was decided after all the tests including Tristan bouncing on the end of the rudder when it was situated like a seesaw that the rudder stock had become detached from the inside of the rudder. Andrew went in search for someone trustworthy with experience in cutting open our rudder to repair it. Interestingly enough after an Australian boat gave them a name of a guy, Nicholas who a New Zealand boat had just used and who we were supposed to be going to Fiji with.
Andrew talked to Nicholas and took our rudder in to get a price to get it repaired. Nicholas said he could do it and it would take a week, so Andrew left it with him. Nicholas kindly sent us updates and photos as the work progressed.
Stage 1 of the rudder:
The rudder cut open.
Stage 2: rudder repairs
Fibre glassing to reinforce the inside of the rudder.
Stage 3: Making the rudder whole again
Fibre glassing the rudder back together again.
Image 1: filling the empty space inside the rudder with new foam. Image 2: Sanding back the new fibre glassing.
The finished rudder!!!!
On the day we took the rudder for repair French Polynesia announced a 17 day lockdown was to start . We spent 4 months in lockdown in Mexico last year where we could only move between our boat and 15 meters of beach. This time the rules in Tahiti said no beach, snorkelling or water sports allowed. If you want to leave the boat you have to complete the mandatory paperwork with one of four reasons as to why you are out and about. There moving your boat, no inter-island travel and you are allowed to exercise for one hour within 1 km of your home with the necessary paperwork. Lockdown is hard on anyone, on a 15 meter boat of which there is about 5 meters of walking space it can be miserable. We are about 5 nm from shore where we are anchored. Needless to say the kids have been off once to help bring the rudder back to the boat and Andrew and I have had to trips to the shops for food.
This morning 9 days later we got our rudder!!!!!!!! After a couple of hours of Tristan in the water getting the rudder back in its spot and Max & Andrew doing stuff to it we have it installed.
Max with the rudder after getting it back to the boat.
Getting the rudder back in the water.
The spot where the rudder post had to go back into the boat.
We are ready to go to Fiji! Unfortunately we are waiting on Tahiti Crew to find out if the police will allow us to go as they haven’t completed our inward paperwork yet and if Fiji will require us to go through the whole covid testing again. But we are ready and anxious to get out of here.
We have done seven or more dives in Moorea on the Opunohu Canyons, Garden of Roses and Eden Park dive sites. The one constant in all of the dives has been turtles and lots of them. Interestingly enough, the turtles are happy for divers to get very close to them but when Tristan has snorkelled and free-dived down they have swam away; perhaps his shadow quickly descending scares the hell out of them.
Tristan, Andrew and I did our first dive in Moorea along the Opunohu Canyons. A few of the turtle photos from the trip:
Our second dive along Opunohu Canyon, Ilo from Distant Star joined us. Ilo got his dive licence in Rangiroa and is really keen to dive. You can see Ilo below with a turtle in the distance.
The turtles sit among the coral for a bit of a nap and you often can’t see them until you are right above them, like this little guy.
Okay I will admit I kept stopping to take a photo of another turtle and my dive buddy Tristan was anxious to catch up to Andrew and Ilo, so much so that he swam straight past the turtle below and didn’t even stop. We ended up using the safety sausage and going up when our air got low (after a safety stop) so as to avoid being run over by the many boats as we couldn’t find the mooring buoy where the dinghy was; it turned out to be not that far away.
Today we went to the Eden’s Park dive site and had just started getting in the water when a dive boat arrived. We moved to a nearby mooring buoy and started again. I was happily swimming behind Andrew and turned to my right and was eye to eye (about 50 cm) away from a lemon shark. After my initial heart attack and screaming “Andrew” over and over to no avail (you can’t really hear underwater) the shark swam over to Andrew before quickly disappearing. Unfortunately my reflexes were too slow to get a photo of it.
We did come to a clearish slope covered with coral rubble where a pair of white tip reef sharks were happily relaxing until some diver decided to disturb them; me, coming up and photographing them. The sharks swam away and returned when I left them alone.
It was shortly after our white tip reef shark encounter that we saw another larger, barrel-shaped lemon shark but it swam off too quickly to snap a photo. We did see lots more turtles though. Here is one I swam beside for a while.
Quite a few of the turtles were tucked amongst the coral, resting.
or getting a pat from Andrew.
Our first dive at Eden Park Ilo joined Andrew and I. Tristan came but chose to snorkel it instead of dive. We did not see any lemon sharks this time but ended up in the same spot where we had seen the white tip reef sharks yesterday.
Just as we were leaving the sharks I spotted a large turtle swimming past, unbothered by the sharks nearby.
I did spot something new; an eel. After showing Tristan the photo, he said it was a white-mouthed eel.
Just as we were finishing our dive I saw a large turtle and beside it the silhouette of a body, turns out it was Tristan frightening the turtle away.
Tristan free diving with a turtle
Our second dive, just Andrew and I began at the Miri Roses and followed on to the section of Opunohu Canyon where the turtles are. Miri Roses look like rose blooms when you look down on them, but a lot less colour than actual roses, still it looks pretty cool.
We saw a lot of turtles again on the dive and Andrew petted one.
My favourite find of the day was this little coral section which I think looks very whimsical and almost like little toadstools.
We have spent 9 days at the beautiful island of Moorea. Andrew thinks this is the most stunning anchorage we have been in during our 12 years of cruising. I’m torn because I also really like Fatu Hiva. Either way French Polynesia is gorgeous. Here are a few photos of the anchorage to give you an idea.
We took the dinghy up to the mouth of Opunohu Bay and gazed at the gorgeous view.
We did go to Cook’s Bay for a look, it is not as beautiful as Opunohu Bay. Interestingly enough Captain Cook never stopped in this bay.
There are tons of hiking and biking trails on Moorea; we managed to do two trails with Distant Star, both with spectacular scenery.
Magic Mountain Hike – 4/8/2021
The Magic Mountain hike is on private property on the west side of Opunohu Bay, and there is a charge of 200xpf ($2 US) per adult and 100 ($1) per child to be paid at the owners trailer. The trail is about a 4 km round trip. There is also the option, if you don’t want to hike the path, that you can pay to get driven up or both up and back. When you return from your hike you can sit at one of the tables and they will bring out a plate of various fresh fruit and their own homemade specialty jams to try.
Part of the way up the trail it divides into two paths, the right hand path is shorter but steeper (about 45 mins) and the left hand path is longer (1 hr) but the incline is more gradual. Ashe and the kids went the steep path, while Andrew, Luka, Ilo and I took the more gentle one. About 2/3 up the path there are some concrete seats where you can sit and admire the view and catch your breath.
The view as you hike up the mountain.
Once you reach the top you have an amazing view overlooking the bay, the coral reefs and anchored boats.
The view from the top!
I actually found this hike more strenuous than the one to Belvedere Lookout. But it was worth the hard work! The map below is of the trail we hiked. If you want a downloadable map for your phone to use offline send me an email and I will send you the file.
Belvedere Lookout Hike from Opunohu Bay – 6/8/2021
We dinghied from the main anchorage to the end of Opunohu Bay, where we locked our dinghies to a palm tree to start our hike. The hike is just over 9 km round trip, mostly along a road. The road leads you through farmland with cows and pineapple plantations, including one that sells ice-cream or sorbet or go on a tour of the plantation and through two marae before reaching the viewpoint. The hike is moderate and the incline is gradual.
One of the pineapple plantations we passed on our hike.
We went off-road at the first Marae and followed the dirt pathway to the second before following another dirt trail (shortcut) to reach Belvedere Lookout. Tristan opted to stop at the Marae and photograph mushrooms while the rest of us continued up.
The Belvedere Lookout offers you stunning views of Mount Rotui and the dormant volcano Mount Tohivea, as well as Cook’s Bay and Opunohu Bay.
We stopped and enjoyed the view and a bit of a rest beforeheading back down.
Cook’s Bay on the right and Oponhu Bay on the left are separated by Mount Rotui.
Mount Tohivea and Mount Rotui
We hiked back down, stopping at a pineapple plantation for ice-creams. The map below shows our hiking route. If you want a copy you can download to your phone and use offline send me an email and I’ll be happy to send it to you.
Map of the Belvedere Lookout Hike.
We finished off our day with a potluck on Distant Star, our final night together after travelling together for the past 5 months.
During our time together we had a long and slow 23 day passage from Mexico, quarantine (8 days for us, 14 days for Distant Star), injuries (Ilo hit by a coconut, Makawi falling through a hatch and Kahlil getting infected mosquito bites), a lost dinghy and crappy weather but through it all Distant Star have been troopers and kept going. There have also been some really fantastic times hiking, snorkelling, visiting ancient sites, potlucks, sundowners and lots of laughter. We will miss you guys but wish you all the best with your time in French Polynesia and on to Hawaii. You are an awesome family and we have loved spending time with you. Remember you can always catch up to us in Fiji if you change your mind.
In parts of the Society Islands in French Polynesia like Moorea and Bora Bora, you can swim or snorkel with stingrays, specifically the pink whipray (Tahitian Ray). We spent all of last year in Mexico shuffling our feet when we got out of the dinghy to scare away stingrays so we wouldn’t get their barbs in our feet. Here, these much larger species are very accustomed to people feeding and swimming with them, so much so that if they hear an engine they will come to explore.
Our first trip to visit the stingrays we took bread to feed them. Turns out they don’t like bread, so we didn’t have as much interaction with them as we had hoped. There were quite a few black-tip reef sharks swimming among the stingrays. Here is a few photos from our first visit.
Andrew went for an early morning dinghy trip to get a tin of mackerel so that we could make a trip to feed the stingrays. We went early to beat the horde of tourists that were there on our last visit and we were rewarded with some very curious stingrays.
A tin of whole fish would probably have been better as the mackerel kind of flaked and fell apart, but the stingrays hoovered it up.
Nope, not a puppy dog beggingfor food, just a stingray.
I’m not sure if Tristan was trying to kiss the stingray or just get a closer look?
Andrew quite happily interacted with the stingrays and giggled as they got close to him.
And a few final photos of these cool creatures during our snorkel
After our experience on Monday I was keen to go back to the stingrays so that Max and Ava could experience it. This required everyone to be up at 6 am so we could get there early. Getting teens up and moving in the morning is difficult, I had to wake Ava and Tristan up three times and listen to lots of grumbling.
Andrew decided to sit this one out so we headed off at 7 am and were the only ones there. Max and Ava were very hesitant with their interactions with the stingrays at the beginning until Tristan showed them how to do it.
Tristan is definitely determined to get up close and personal with a sting ray and share a kiss.
Max looking a little wary.
Mmmm not sure if Max is flamenco dancing, stingray (bull) fighting or just trying to get away.
Whereas Ava just looks nervous.
Ava learnt to never turn your back on a stingray or it will try to climb it.
This stingray just wanted to sit in Ava’s lap.
And when the stingrays disappear the clownfish come out to play.
It was such a cool experience I can’t help sharing one final photo.
The Aquarium is located not far from the airport in Tahiti and is a shallow novice dive or snorkel with a maximum depth of about 10 metres. The highlight of the dive is the Cessna 172. The plane sunk near the runway at the Tahiti Airport on the 16th of April in 1995 following an emergency landing. The plane is largely intact with just the tip missing from one wing and even the tyres remain. You can actually get inside the plane if you are diving, I’m not sure that you would have enough air free diving to do it. Andrew and Tristan just free dived down beside it.
Photos of the cessna, Andrew is clearly visible in one and if you look closely you may spot Tristan in one of the photos too.
Also at the dive site are hulls of two schooners.
One of the schooners, along with a couple of inquisitive fish who insisted on being included in the photo.
Andrew with schooner 2
There is a small amount of coral surrounding the site, but ultimately you are snorkelling or diving to see the wrecks. There is also a concrete table and chair at the site, I assume set up by a dive company and someone has placed rock or coral to form a heart shape.
Ultimately Tristan and I a chance to experiment with out new cameras, more photos to come in the future.
The dive site is located near the airport and there is an orange mooring buoy that you can tie up to if you wish to snorkel or dive the site. The GPS co-ordinates for the site are: 17°33.910’S, 149°37.644’W
We had a quick but rolly trip to Rangiroa, arriving before the tide and having to wait outside the passe for the tide to change. Two boats we know had been through the passe in the past week and felt lucky to have gotten through without losing their boats, thankfully the passe was relatively calm, and we had a safe entrance.
After an easy anchorage and a quick catch up with Charisma, we went ashore to get a few needed supplies; unfortunately, the one we were most looking forward to, baguettes, except they were already sold out.
We soon settled into an easy routine of an early morning baguette run, a bit of school and then an afternoon snorkel at the coral garden.
The coral garden is probably the best part of Rangiroa; you take yesterday’s stale baguettes to feed the many fish who eagerly attack you for the bread. You need to either keep the baguette out of the water or be careful with your fingers otherwise you will end up getting bitten like Andrew did from a rather excited paddletail who couldn’t distinguish bread from a finger. There are usually a few small black reef-tip sharks below the fish feeding frenzy, but they keep their distance; even Ava happily snorkelled and fed the fish. There are always a lot of tourist boats just before sunset who go to the coral garden to feed the fish and snorkel while being serenaded by a local on the ukulele.
We tried several times to dive the passe but with the strong winds and increasing swell all of which affects the forecasted tide times and currents have made it almost impossible. Adding in the fact that you are also in a dinghy with 15 horsepower engine, trying to get divers in all their gear meant Tristan and Andrew managed just one quick dive. I went a couple of times to dive but the currents and tides weren’t right, and it was just too dangerous.
Motu Fama – 7/7/2021
With Charisma’s planned departure from Rangiroa soon approaching we decided to visit Motu Fama and stay overnight before visiting the Blue Lagoon, as the Blue Lagoon doesn’t have a suitable overnight anchorage. Motu Fama is made up of a series of motus (islands) with little lagoons enclosed between them, some of them you can enter with your dinghy during high tide. We went into one little lagoon with the approaching high tide and snorkelled among the small coral bommies looking at the fish, eels and even a hiding octopus. Tristan found a whole pile of nudibranchs right along the shoreline which pleased him.
Pretty isn’t it?
After we explored the lagoon, we met up with Charisma and Distant Star in the neighbouring motu, just managing to navigate the dinghy through a precarious passe narrowly managing to avoid beaching ourselves in the waves. Ashee, Alexis and I chatted while the kids were off exploring, Andrew snorkelled, and Leif and Eden swam. A very relaxing afternoon on the lagoon.
The teens and Kline went off exploring for a couple of hours and returned with a couple of coconuts.
Relaxing in the sun.
Blue Lagoon – 8/7/2021
We got up bright and early and headed to the blue lagoon knowing that we would have to pick through coral and that if we didn’t go today, there would be no other chance as the wind was going to continue increasing. After anchoring we left Tristan and Ava on the boat to keep an eye on it as we were surrounded by coral bommies and with big waves we wanted to make sure the boat was safe. Ilo stayed on board Distant Star to keep an eye on her.
With the waves we managed to get both the snorkelling gear and everyone on board the dinghy, it was a bit of a trial. The next challenge was finding a suitable passe to get the dinghy through to the shallow waters on the outside of the lagoon. We did have a few reef sharks follow us in, looking for food as the local tour operators feed the sharks here. Inside the shallow water, while anchoring there was much excitement from Kline who was spotting all the baby black tip reef sharks in the water. The sharks would come to within a few feet of you before veering off.
We carried all our gear, Alexis and Chris manoeuvred the little ones through the coral, and sharks, to reach the island on the edge of the lagoon. There wasn’t really any coral to snorkel on in the lagoon, it was more of a swimming experience. Most of the sharks were either where we had anchored or around the other side of the lagoon where it is set up for the tour operators to take tourists to feed the sharks.
The kids happily played for hours while everyone chatted. Andrew and I went out to where the tour boats are anchored and snorkelled the coral wall where the bigger black tip reef sharks were. The water wasn’t as clear and often you could turn around and after a few seconds you would notice 5 or 6 sharks following behind you, and if you stopped, they would deviate off.
Andrew went back to get Tristan (Ava opted to not go swim with sharks) and went for another snorkel in the same area. Andrew saw a much larger shark which wasn’t a black-tip reef shark… hmm maybe Ava was right to sit that one out.
Meanwhile back onshore, Kline was off near the restaurant with Chris paddling among the baby sharks while Leif slept half on, half off a log, and everyone relaxed under the shade of a palm tree. Just before leaving my buddy, Leif walked with me over to the restaurant side to look at the baby sharks, although he didn’t want to go in the water, so we looked from the sand.
How cute is Leif, falling asleep on a fallen tree?
My buddy Leif and some of the baby black tip reef sharks we looked at.
Kline pointing out the sharks as Charisma leave the blue lagoon.
After a long, slow trip we returned to the anchorage at Tiputa. Our last night with Charisma was spent aboard Utopia with a few drinks. We had a lot of fun and Alexis you are hilarious; I think we laughed until we cried. We will miss the Charisma crew’s company but wish you and your beautiful family a safe trip back to the USA in a couple of weeks.
Tiputa to Avatoru Bike Ride – 11/7/2021
I decided it would be a great idea if we (our family) hired some bikes from Pension Josephine and ride to Avatoru, which is 10 km each way. Lucky for us the pension had enough bikes. Andrew then thought it would be a great idea to also bring a jerry jug and get some petrol at the service station at the other town. Finally, after the delay we set off and I set a cracking pace with Ava close behind. We passed palm trees, views over the interior of the atoll, bridges linking the motus and friendly locals.
At the start of the bike ride near the passe.
What I didn’t realise was Tristan and Max had rusty springs in the bike stands which kept flopping down and dragging on the ground. Not sure who’s ingenuity it was, but by the time they caught up the stands were tied with strands from the palm leaf to stop them scraping on the ground. I guess I need to look behind me more often to see where everyone is.
We arrived at the petrol station to find it closed. Hmmm looks like another bicycle trip to come. We stopped for drinks and then I took everyone to see the unique statue on the church grounds which incorporates pearl shells into its design. Tristan thinks it is a waterfall, makes sense. After looking at the passe we stopped at another magasin for iceblocks before beginning our return trip.
Not sure if this boat was beached for repairs or wrecked here after going through the pass?
The trip had been going pretty well until just before the halfway mark, the airport, when Tristan commented that my tyre looked flat – I thought it was hard pedalling. I walked the bike for a while. Then Tristan doubled Max on the back of the bike, I rode Max’s and Andrew rode his holding my bike beside it, an arrangement that lasted less than 5 minutes. Back to pushing the bike. We ended up sending the kids ahead and I had the brilliant idea of trying to hitch a ride, with the bike. I was unable to convince Andrew to go ahead of me, so he rode in circles while I unsuccessfully hitched a ride. A local, in a small car, pulled over and told us to stop; he called Josephine’s and organised for them to come pick us and the bikes up.
While waiting he stayed and chatted to us. Turns out he is from Bora Bora and is running a hotel here on the island now. A lovely guy who was very interested in Andrew’s tattoo from the Marquesas. He did tell us that a night at a resort in Bora Bora (there are 10 resorts with an 11th approved) not over the water starts at $1100 US a night. No wonder they don’t want boats cluttering their island.
The atoll is made up of lots of little motus or islands many of which are connected with bridges like you can see in the two smaller photos.
We were picked up by the French owner of the pension and were saved the 5 km walk back. The kids were waiting for us back at the pension, looking tired. When we rode to Avatoru the road felt flat but, on the way back we noticed that there is a slight slope uphill combined with the 25 knot headwinds; no wonder the kids were so tired.
We finished the day with a snorkel over the coral gardens, where they have now installed floating underwater signs with information about the reef, which is a great idea.
Tiputa Passe – 13/7/2021
After a few very slow days we met up with Distant Star onshore to have sundowners at the lookout over the Tiputa passe. There was one major flaw in the plan. We went to the magasin to get some cold beer and some candy. We returned with just candy. Turns out there are new laws in force banning the sale of cold beer during the Covid-19 pandemic to try to stop people congregating. We are not sure if that is everywhere or just in the Tuamotus.
The kids relaxed with chocolate and cookies.
Nevertheless, we went to the lookout and watched the waves roll in through the passe. The kids shared the chocolate and Ava shared the peanut butter cookies she had just baked, while Ashe unenthusiastically drank her not-so-bubbly soda water. It was the daredevil Kahlil who kept us entertained by climbing on the channel markers while dodging waves. Unfortunately, in my haste to snap his photo before he returned to shore, they are a bit blurry.
Daredevil Kahlil venturing through the breaking waves to reachthe marker.
Toaroa Motu – 14/7/2021
With no end in sight with the wind and us looking likely to remain in Rangiroa for another week, Ashee decided we should adventure further into the atoll and explore some new places. Our first stop was Toaroa Motu. The motu is fringed with palm trees and the azure waters lap its shores; it even has a small inland lagoon, although I don’t think you really want to swim in it. There is a cabin ashore, but we have not seen anyone using it. We walked the beach, climbing over the fallen palm trees and talking before the no-see-ums started eating us alive and we retreated to the boat for the evening.
Tristan and I made our own homemade version of bounty bars using fresh coconuts Tristan had collected and de-husked and put through the food processor, coconut oil and condensed milk and then covered in chocolate which we enjoyed for dessert. They weren’t the prettiest, but they tasted pretty good. We already have plans on improving them.
Our second visit to the motu, Tristan, Ilo, Makawi and Kahlil all went spearfishing. They were gone for quite some time; it was when we could smell smoke that we knew that they had caught something and were cooking it onshore. They decided to cook the fish whole on the fire and discovered was that it takes a very long time to cook, hours. Max and Ava finished their schoolwork off (we are playing getting ahead before our next long passage) and went ashore to join the others. They managed to keep themselves busy and are already talking about how they will cook the next lot.
Another day and another spearfishing adventure. Tristan, Ilo, Makawi and Kahlil were gone for hours in the morning and returned after cooking and eating their catch. They were back for about an hour and were off again, coming back with quite a few marbled groupers. Andrew was very impressed with Kahlil’s catch; not only did he get the biggest fish, but he did it on a Hawaiian sling.
We met on the beach just before sunset so the boys could cook their catch, while Ashee and I brought in some other dishes for our potluck dinner. The boys were really pleased with their fish dinner.
The kids sat around the fire chatting and the adults relaxed a few feet away when Andrew had the brilliant idea (according to the kids) that he should let off all our old, expired flares that we can’t get rid of. Don’t worry, there were no accidents. Most of the flares worked fine, a smoke and parachute didn’t work but the kids all know how to use a flare if it is ever necessary. Although you really want a boat or plane to be pretty near you when you set it off as they really don’t last long.
Kahlil with a branch covered in vines, Tristan setting off flares and Andrew reading the instructions on how to use them.
They look a little spooky, don’t they?
Hauone Island – 15/7/2021
Our next stop was at a little lone island inside the atoll which was supposed to have good snorkelling. I did not go snorkelling, but Andrew and Tristan and the Distant Star crew did. The water visibility was not good and there wasn’t a lot of interest to see under the water. They did visit the island which has a lot of nesting birds including boobies, and pretty shells. We decided to continue while we had sunlight to get through the maze of coral awaiting us ahead.
Maufano Motu – 15 – 16/7/2021
Our next stop was Maufano Motu. We spent two nights here with the wind howling and frequent rain, some of it torrential. Luka and the kids went ashore which turned out to be a difficult challenge as there is no easy way through the coral bommies and there were areas where they had to lift the dinghy. They managed to amuse themselves for the afternoon, but we have decided to return to Toaroa Motu where there is easy beach access and the boys maybe able to do some spearfishing.
Overall impression of the Tuamotus?
I had spent ages researching dive spots and finding their co-ordinates and which atolls we would visit. What I didn’t consider was the ability to dive the sites from a dinghy. Most of the dive sites are in the passes or on the outside of the atolls. This means you must dive on slack tide and while we were in the Tuamotus there was a lot of wind, waves and swell which directly affects the when the high and low tides were (which is not necessarily the predicted times) and this makes passe diving difficult and dangerous. So, we didn’t do as much diving as we would have liked, it was definitely easier diving the south passee in Fakarava than diving in Rangiroa. So that aspect was disappointing. Perhaps later in the year, without the trade winds blowing so strongly, the diving would be easier to manage.
The coral really wasn’t that great. The best we saw was on either side of the south pass in Fakarava, outside the Kauehi atoll and the coral gardens in Rangiroa. The corals are mainly brown, yellowish- green with the occasional purplish area but there are no vibrant colours. We didn’t see in clownfish, but we did see a lot of sharks.
The other thing we hadn’t anticipated was how strong the trade winds are at this time of year which meant we were frequently stuck for a week or more in places waiting for the winds to die down, so unfortunately, we spent far longer than we had planned in the Tuamotus.
In hindsight I think we should have spent a bit longer at Fakarava, maybe stopped at Kauehi and called the Tuamotus done.
The shark diving in Fakarava in the south passe is fantastic. We did numerous dives in the passe and saw the marbled grouper resting on the sandy ‘bunny slope’ area that you dive. The bunny slope is also like a shark superhighway; they swim up and down the slope and there are a lot of them.
I expected the experience to be terrifying. Since the time in Fiji when we snorkelled with Andrew, his brothers and their wives when I had a reef shark circling me while pregnant with Ava, I have very successfully exited the water after seeing a shark. The encounter was very serene and peaceful floating amongst blacktip and grey reef sharks that swim by above, below, and beside you. If you get too close, they will quickly turn away from you. There were usually a few whitetip reef sharks lying on the sand strip sleeping but if you got too close, they swam away swiftly. We did see one shark repeatedly diving on the sand and rubbing its body as though scratching an itch. The shark diving is a pretty cool experience and definitely the best of the Tuamotus.
Interestingly enough Charisma tried to get their dive tanks filled and couldn’t find a dive operator who would do it. I don’t know if this is the norm or whether it was because it was spawning time. If you can’t get your tanks filled then you either miss the opportunity or you have to pay to go with a dive operator. Our dive compressor has gotten a lot of use here.
Unfortunately, we have had the underwater camera die on us; we think the seal had worn out as it was used so much last year, so water got in. Yes, we do have a dive camera housing, but this occurred while snorkelling. We have ordered new ones and hope they will arrive before we leave French Polynesia. We are anxiously watching the FedEx tracking (LA to Hawaii to New Zealand) and wait for it to leave its current location in New Zealand.
Andrew during our shark dive.
We did not dive the north passe as the anchorage is too far away from the village anchorage to dinghy with a 15 hp motor and with the currents and waves in the passe it would have been too dangerous.
21 – 23/6/2021
By the time we arrived back in the anchorage after our trip to Motu Hirifa, there were close to 40 boats anchored to see the marbled grouper spawning.
A very busy anchorage with over 30 yachts
We did a few more dives over the next two days in the south passe and took Seth from Distant Star with us. Most of the marbled grouper were gone from the sand slope and had moved out into deeper water, perhaps in preparation for spawning, but the number of sharks had increased dramatically.
It was then time to say goodbye to Fakarava! Photos below are of the resorts and dive centres lining one side of the passe.
Motu Hirifa 18 – 20/6/2021
The wind did pick up in the south anchorage and we moved to another anchorage at Motu Hirifa (Hirifa Island) about 6 miles away where we spent a few days until it settled down and we were able to return to do some more dives.
The anchorage in the south-east corner has a restaurant and a kite surfing school which Makawi attended and enjoyed. On the island there are also slack lines set up which entertained the teens and a rope swing which entertained Leif, Eden, and Kline. The restaurant had a puppy, a couple of hefty sows with large litters of adorable piglets, which Ava loved. We had a pot-luck dinner on our last night in the anchorage where we said goodbye to Maya who was staying to work at the kite school.
After dinner, we had a bonfire and then Ashe brought out her fire twirling sticks which entertained everyone for hours. Ashe is absolutely amazing with them and actually makes it look quite sexy. Max, Seth, Alexis, and Maya enthusiastically participated and had a fantastic time, I have included a few short clips of each person. Seth did manage to singe a bit of his hair, but it will grow back.
Videos of the Utopia Crew; Max and Ava
Videos of the Distant Star Crew; Ashe and Ilo.
Videos of the Charisma Crew; Alexis, Chris, Seth and Maya. Don’t worry none of the littles had a go at fire dancing.
Our next stop was to be Hiva Oa, but there was supposed to be a 2-metre swell and as it’s known to be a rolly anchorage we decided to go to Tahuatu Island first. Tahuatu lies less than 4 km from the southern end of Hiva Oa and is the smallest of the inhabited Marquesan islands. The island’s two main villages Vaitahu and Hapatoni are home to most of the 653 residents.
The island has a really interesting history; while Fatu Hiva was the first Polynesian island sited by Europeans, Tahuatu was the first island set foot on by Europeans, or more precisely by Spanish explorer Alvaro de Mendaña in 1595 when he sailed into the little bay at Vaitahu, the island’s main village. He named it Madre De Dios (Mother of God). It was also at this time that he named the archipelago, “las Marquesas”.
The bay was later visited by another famous explorer, Captain James Cook in 1774, when he named the bay “Resolution Bay”. It was Admiral Dupetit-Thouars who probably had the greatest impact on the bay’s history when he claimed the island for France in 1842, and the local chief, Lotete resisted. Lotete encouraged the rebellion of his warriors and against the better-armed French, it resulted in a bloodbath. Several French sailors were killed and are now buried on a hill above Vaitahu. The admiral then built a fort overlooking the valley which remains in an overgrown state.
Vaitahu – 3/6/2021
We stopped at the village Vaitehu and went ashore looking for some internet to download a school document. A local who owns the restaurant allowed us to use his internet and then offered me coffee and some of his large oranges to take back to the boat with us. After inquiring about a tattoo artist who is supposed to live in the village for Distant Star, I was taken to talk to another local about it and left Max and Tristan to download the school document. I was told there was a tattoo artist up the hill, so I radioed Distant Star to come in. While waiting for Distant Star several other local men came over to discuss the tattooing and then seemed to decide that the village tattoo artist was too expensive and the one in Hapatoni would be better. This led to me being taken over to the little supermarket to talk to another lady whose boyfriend is the tattoo artist in Hapatoni. Eventually I left promising to return soon with Distant Star.
Eventually Distant Star came in and we did the rounds of the locals again who were all quite excited. While Luca and Ashe were discussing it with the lady, I spoke to one of the locals who was at the entrance at the supermarket, I had noticed a few people with band aids on their arms and I asked if they’d had the Covid-19 vaccine. I learnt that the nurses and a doctor from the hospital in Nuku Hiva had been at the island today to vaccinate everyone with the JJ vaccine, but she thought it had finished at 3 pm. I radioed Andrew to come in and we made our way to the hospital, more like a clinic and were told they were closing in 2 minutes and unless we could come up with 6 people to be vaccinated, they didn’t want to open another packet and waste any. Tristan came ashore, Ashe and a reluctant Luca, along with Maya made up our 6 people. We were very lucky to have received the free vaccine and very grateful that the Distant Star crew agreed to get it done so we could too. As a type 1 diabetic with a husband with blood pressure problems it was a relief to finally get the vaccine after 18 months of vigilance to avoid getting Covid-19. 15 days and we will be protected, yeah!! I think Distant Star have decided to wait on the tattoos, it became too difficult to try to co-ordinate.
Record of Andrew, Tristan and my Covid-19 vaccination. We are so pleased to have gotten it, now we just hope at some stage Max and Ava can get it.
The kids came over to Utopia for card games that evening, while Andrew and I retired to read and promptly fell asleep only to be awoken a couple of hours later by a frantic Max. Distant Star’s dinghy had come untied, and the kids had been searching the bay in the remaining dinghies but had been unable to locate it. Distant Star and us took out the boats looking for the dinghy knowing with the heavy rain it would be unlikely to find it and we didn’t. Andrew and Luka searched the coastline the next morning but couldn’t find it. The only way I can explain the significance of this loss is if you think of the boat as your home and the dinghy as your car. Without the dinghy you can’t get ashore, you can’t bring food or people to your boat and in a place like French Polynesia it is difficult and expensive to replace not only the dinghy but the motor. We will be heading to Hiva Oa on Monday to see if Distant Star can find a second-hand dinghy in the boat yard or on the face book group.
Hanamoenoa Bay – 4/6/2021
After the dinghy loss last night and everyone who was vaccinated not feeling great (with a range of symptoms from the shakes, fever, tired and achy joints) we moved to the white sandy bay of Hanamoenoa. Everyone had a bit of a quiet day, other than the kids who swam and talked on the beach.
Hapatoni – 5/6/2021
We set off on Utopia to head to Hapatoni with the Distant Star Crew onboard and Charisma following close behind. After anchoring we dinghied to the dinghy dock and headed off to find the artisanal centre that displays the island’s bone and wood carving. We arrived at the spot marked on the map to find a building filled with mattresses, tables and stacked chairs but were soon greeted by a local who Maya spoke to and said they would set up their crafts for us to see. Soon there were several ladies setting up their tables and we explained that we would go for a walk while they set up.
We walked along the Royal Road, a stone terraced road shrouded by temanu trees that skirts the bay and passes through the tiny village. We stopped in to have a look at the stone Catholic church which had interesting contrasts (juxtaposition?) like the traditional bible and one in with the Marquesas cross as well as drums and guitars near the altar for the Sunday service with traditional seating and stained glass windows. Alexis was explaining to the littles the significance of the church, which was very cute.
The royal walkway.
A very pretty little stone church.
The church is an interesting mix of Marquesan and French and old and new.
I find cemeteries interesting, in Italy a lot of cemeteries have tombs above ground, some countries are brightly coloured but here each of the grave crosses has a Jesus on its cross.
We continued to the end of the road and were met with a warning sign to not enter and so promptly turned to return to the artisanal centre. As we passed some of the homes we were invited to a local’s house to see his bone carvings. We looked at his necklaces with carved seahorses, whale’s tails, manta rays and tikis for $60 US, earrings ranging from $60 – $150, hair combs etc. After looking we continued down to the artisanal centre which sold sandalwood carved bowls for about $100 US, similar necklaces, earrings, rings and ceremonial knives made from marlin bills, etc. Ava ended up purchasing a tiki necklace and negotiated the price a little. I ended up going back to the house with Tristan so he could get some earrings that he liked that had the Marquesans cross carved into it. So with souvenirs purchased we headed back to our dinghy. One of the locals gave Alexis some starfruit which she shared out.
There is no supermarket or baguettes sold in this village. The dinghy dock was safe, and we didn’t use a stern anchor. We had anchored in this bay our way to Fatu Hiva and found the bay to be calm while we were there. After an easy lunch and cookies on board Utopia thanks to Max we dinghied back to Vaitehu. The dinghy dock at Vaitehu is much more difficult to disembark from and really requires someone to drop you off at it and also time your arrival with the waves. The dock itself is very slippery. Some members of our group went ashore to find flip flops as some had gone missing with the dinghy and see if there were any vegetables or fruits. The only fruit and veg available we found during our two visits were apples 10 for $12 US and a packet of ten garlic bulbs for $3.50 US.
We returned to Hanamoenoa for a late swim and to spend the night.
We had a weather window to get to Fatu Hiva motoring directly into only 5 knots of wind, so we decided to go while we could. We stopped overnight in Hapatoni on the island of Tahuata before continuing to the Bay of Virgins in Fatu Hiva.
Hanavave is set in the mouth of a steep-sided valley. The bay is called the Baie des Vierges or the Bay of Virgins. Originally the bay was named the Baie des Verges which means the Bay of Penises, due to the cone-shaped rocks protruding from the mountains which resembled giant phalluses. When the missionaries arrived on the island they were outraged and added an ‘I’ to the name which changed it to Baie des Vierges or Bay of Virgins. This was the number one place I wanted to visit in the Marquesas as it is supposed to be one of the most beautiful anchorages. I have to say as we came into the bay it was rather underwhelming until we got closer and could actually see the cone shapes. The bay is steeped in green high mountains and there are often goats grazing around the cone-shaped rocks.
Pretty, but not spectacular.
Much more picturesque once you get in close.
The village is small, but the locals all say bonjour and are very friendly. By the time Charisma and Distant Star had arrived there were 9 boats in the anchorage. The anchorage is very deep so you can only fit so many boats where it is shallow enough to anchor. An English couple said they had been at the anchorage last year with 15 boats and it was a tight fit. Charisma and Distant Star soon made it ashore to have a look around except Makawi who had fallen through a hatch while trying to get the dinghy off the boat and was left bruised and sore.
Photo 1: The village church. Photo 2: The town tiki which greets you as you set foot onshore. Photo 3: View from the breakwater.
Every evening the goats would climb up to the top of the penis shaped rocks. One night two males were head butting and it was quite amazing they both survived, Andrew had hoped that one might land near Utopia and he could have a goat curry.
Waterfall Hike – 1/6/2021
After a couple of days of sailing we decided to have a later start and do the hike at 9 am. Ashe brought ashore their organic scraps for the pigs that are tethered below the bridge, which Leif, Eden and Klein fed.
The hike meanders through the village before heading up on the main road. Eventually there is a dirt track of the road that leads up into the forest, the hike isn’t too strenuous or too steep.
Someone had used some old stays from a boat for one steep section of the trail near the waterfall where it is a bit slippery, which is helpful. We finally reached the waterfall and similar to the one in Daniel’s Bay there wasn’t a lot of water due to the lack of rainfall, but most of the kids went swimming and a couple of the adults. Mosquito repellent is a necessity here as there are lots of mosquitos near the falls. Kahlil from Distant Star didn’t come on the hike as his mosquito bites had become infected and he wasn’t feeling the best.
Photo 1: The rather dry waterfall. Photo 2: Those who went swimming. You may notice Tristan with his snorkel and mask on in the background, I’m not sure if that was when he was photographing eels or shrimp.
Satelliteimage of the hike to the waterfall.
We hiked back to the main road and our group split up. The mums, (Ashe, Alexis, and I) and three of the teens/young adults (Maya, Seth and Max) decided to continue up the steep incline to the crucifix while the rest returned to the boats. It was a killer hike!!!! The road is incredibly steep and filled with switchbacks that are so tight that we witnessed a car having to reverse back and forth to make the turns. We had to frequently stop, especially me, while the teens went ahead. The climb went on and on and on, with no crucifix in sight.
Maya with the very placid bull, although Alexis was a little terrified of it.
The view as we begin the climb.
Eventually we saw Seth, Max, and Maya way above us and we asked if they could see the cross which they said yes. So, we assumed that yes, they were at the cross. Mmmm need to word the questions more concisely as they could see the cross but were not at it.
An excavator at the top of the lookout point, I think it is Maya standing on top of it.
By this stage I decided I was done and told Alexis and Ashe to continue up without me, later changing my mind and continuing up. After arriving at the lookout point, Ashe pointed out the cross below us, right where I had pronounced I was done and for others to continue on without me. “Bloody Hell! We were right there!” The teens thought it was funny at least.
We made it!!!
The view from the top looking down on the bay of Virgins.
We enjoyed the lookout point over the Bay of Virgins before continuing to another mount a little further out with views of the ocean. The hike back down was long and steep, and our legs were burning by the end. We didn’t stop at the cross on the way down as we couldn’t find a pathway to it and we were all pretty tired. The scary thing is that the hike continues from the lookout point to the other village, Omoa and is 17 km one way. (we may have done 6 or 7 km of the walk). Most people get the ferry back or get a lift. It is a long hike and definitely one that Julie and family should do next year, not sure Lochlan could do this one Steph.
Seth, Max and Maya at the tip of the mount overlooking the ocean.
Satellite image of the hike to the lookout point.
For the more adventurous here is the hiking map to Omoa.
Volleyball – 2/6/2021
The kids caught up on schoolwork while Andrew, Tristan and I dinghied over to the bay at Omoa. There was a huge swell in the bay and breaking barrels on the shore. There is a dinghy dock and while we put out a grapnel at the rear and tied onto the dinghy dock Andrew wasn’t comfortable leaving the dinghy unattended, so we took turns to go and look ashore. The village has a pretty church, and the locals were all friendly. Have a look at the picture of the skulls nailed to a tree, I think they are definitely goats and that the bottom jaw has been flipped above the head, Tristan disagreed as there were no horns and thought they were horses. I think they are too small for horses.
Photo 1: Another white village church. Photo 2: One of the locals smoking tuna. Photo 3: skulls on a tree, goat or horse or something else?
On our return trip we explored two grottos and several blowholes that dot the rocky cliff faces along the edge of the Bay of Virgins before returning to Utopia.
Our group were invited by the locals to participate in a volleyball game at 2 pm. The village has a volleyball court permanently set up, although the ground is concrete rather than sand. Luca organised for the teens to go ashore an hour before the game to practice their volleyball skills and we came in later to watch the game. Meanwhile the local kids practiced their volleyball and then soccer skills while their parents played. After practicing as mixed teams, the locals wanted to keep score and then the teens decided to play locals against tourists, although Seth joined the locals to even the teams. While the locals did win the game, there was less of a gap in the final score and the kids have definitely improved. Fatu Hiva is a beautiful spot, and a favourite anchorage in terms of beauty. As far as provisioning there were no fresh fruit or veg in the store, but we did get pamplemousse from one local and Alexis did buy bananas and pamplemousse from another. While we were there, we found the anchorage was calm and not rolly at all.
Everyone enjoying a game of volleyball.
The kids at play!
Ordinarily you would check in to French Polynesia in Hiva Oa and then visit Fatu Hiva but with Covid-19 the only entry point is in Nuku Hiva, so it means you have to wait for calm weather to avoid beating in to the wind and waves. Hopefully, that will change next year.