Carelbi revisits Gambier and the Tuamotos

Tue 4 Jul 2006 04:15

                            CARELBI IN GAMBIER & THE TUAMOTOS





The little village of Rikitea on Mangareva in the Gambier Archipelago. I flew here from New Zealand to meet up with Carelbi who had been sailed the 3000 miles from Opua in the Bay of Islands by Chris, Anders, Bill and Ken. Bill’s wife, Kerryn, met me in Tahiti and we took the little inter-island hopper down together.  









Bougainvillea and glimpses of the lagoon in Rikitea




Bill, Anders and Chris catching a wahoo on the way to Hao from Gambier,  sunset is a good time to get a bite.



 We threw Anders’s head into the water at Hao but the sharks were not tempted.





Sunset from the little harbour in Hao, our first stop after Gambier, where we refuelled. We didn’t have too good a time in Hao, our fuel tank was stolen from the dinghy; luckily we found it stowed away next to the Mayor’s office water tank. The island has lost many jobs since the French military who used it as a base for their nuclear testing at Mururoa have left and there is now much poverty with its accompanying and understandable theft and the atmosphere is not as friendly as it was four years ago. We left quickly.




Chris attempting to bash down a coconut

The beach at Tahanea, the atoll we see when we dream about the Tuamotus, with its lovely anchorages, its fish and coral in abundance on the reefs of its passes. Above all else, it was our own special secret, it was our personal desert island. Imagine, then, our dismay when we found that we were one of eight other boats.




Happy Hour drinks with Top to Top, a family sponsored by the UN who are sailing around the world, climbing the tallest mountain in each continent as they arrive and talking to children in schools about environmental pollution, global warming and what can be done to help prevent it.

 We have a waterproof bag for underwater photography for our camera, but I never managed to take a decent shot with it, this is a very bad example of the wonderful coral gardens in Tahanea, but it’s mine and it’s real, not a copy from somewhere else!



The reef sharks circling Carelbi, whose numbers increased to the point where swimming off the back of the boat was no longer a pleasure.

 Hermit crabs on the beaches of Tahanea


 A little graveyard; although Tahanea is technically deserted, Polynesians do come to the little village of Otao to make copra, and there is a little chapel not far from the graves as well as a few  huts.


Anders trying to knock coconuts out of the trees, with a little success.



Back at the ranch, opening them up




The reef where the lads went lobster hunting one night, you shine a bright torch into the water, the lobster eyes flash back at you and you just grab them.  That’s the theory, the actuality was that they came back empty-handed!


On to Fakarava, the bar of the little diving club at the southern pass of Tetamanu. The reef there teemed with fish including a huge ugly Napoleon who was so friendly that he was called Calin or Cuddles in English, and liked to be fed by swimming visitors. 

 Carelbi’s crew, Bill & Kerryn in the forepeak and Anders in the side cabin, having their afternoon siesta before going out to party at Manahi’s restaurant/pension at Tetamanu.




 Manahi’s magnificent party room

Our host, Manahi, late in the evening…

 Anders, a latter-day Pied Piper, with small Emma, who was fascinated by the furry beard.


A beach where we anchored on our sail up from Tetamanu to the Maitai Dream Hotel 



Maitai Dream Hotel just outside the village of Rotoava

Palm tree plantation for copra planted along the hotel beach and overlooking the brilliant colours of the lagoon.

Weaving baskets at Maitai to give to the guests, the matriarch of a large extended family who lived close by.


We had anchored for a couple of days off the hotel and were lucky enough to be there for a local dance evening. This was the band, happy energetic drummers.

One of the small dancers who pulled me onto the floor to  try to teach me how to sway my hips Polynesian style, almost impossible for Europeans.


All the dancers were the descendants  of the weaving matriarch.






Fiona, Chris & Anders partying at Maitai



We were taken to Hinano Pearl Farm, owned and run by Gunther, a German who has lived in the Pacific for the last odd thirty years and is now practically Polynesian.



The operation carried out on the poor oyster to encourage it to make a pearl is not edifying. The black frill is partially cut away and replaced with segments from an oyster who has a good colour, then a small sphere is inserted into its gonads, where, to stop the irritation this causes, it covers it with the smooth finish so prized by lovers of the black and green Pacific pearls.





Hinano pearls graded according to size and quality. Gunther sells to the general public such as ourselves as well as to the jewellery makers and middle men in Tahiti. Bill & Kerryn bought necklaces and pearls from him.


Anders was our breadmaker, displaying here his Jogger’s loaves, which were delicious.


The improbable colours of the Toau lagoon


From Fakarava we went to Toau where we anchored off the southern pass and walked along the shore there.



These two pictures were taken by Anders from the top of Carelbi's mast.


In Anse Amyot, a small indentation in the outer reef of Toau, we have friends whom we first met in 2001, Gaston, Valentine, her sister Laiza and her family. They open up their homes to the yachties who pass through from May to July and we share their lives, helping to catch or spear fish for the food pot, chasing lobsters on the reef at night, preparing the almost nightly communal feasts and joining in the games of volleyball and boules.









Gaston is chopping driftwood, which burns slow and hot, for the lobster pot. We were celebrating the birthday of Niki, from an Austrian yacht, and people had been working all day on fishing and cake making.



  Valentine, with the cake she made for Niki  


 Laiza’s sons making a new boat for fishing.



Laiza also runs a small pension, mainly for divers coming from Fakarava. She has 3 bungalows, this restaurant, and a fabulous view across the lagoon. She is looking after little Ariihei, her grandson and my favourite boyfriend after Chris, as her eldest daughter is finding it difficult to cope with both of her twins and other children. This often happens in the Polynesian extended family and works really well as there is always someone to pick up, play with or cuddle a child.





Anders with his new family?





Gaston showing Chris how to gut his parrot fish






The pink fish are called Bigeye, a type of snapper, the browny-grey are groupers and the  aquamarine are parrot fish. They were caught by Anders in a spear fishing session on the outside of Anse Amyot's reef with Chris.

Jean & Tamateu, Laiza's sons, cockfight. This is one of many of the poor birds destined for this horrid sport that are scattered around their property. They, obviously, have to be kept apart from each other.





Fiona feeding small Ariihei


Copra, or dried coconut flesh is an important addition to the Anse Amyot income, they receive $50 per 50kg sack from the supply ship which calls in at Otugi Pass once a month. They would typically prepare ten sacks each time as well as fish for the Tahiti markets.



Dinner with Liaza and her daughter Vaea, who will probably be elected Miss Fakarava later this year, although she is not too bothered, would rather stay on Toau!




Off to fish the lagoon with Gaston. We saw two beautiful manta rays, about 3 metres each in diameter, flying beneath us in tandem with graceful swoops of their huge wings. They were obviously curious about the floating humans above them as they disappeared off into the blue cloudy waters only to return almost immediately. A magical experience.





Sunset at Anse Amyot


Not much grows on the atolls. There is a reservoir of water trapped under the coral, good enough for some plants to grow and for humans to use for washing purposes. The earth is very poor, however coconut palms do well, and limes, lemons and this kava fruit also flourish. They are delicious, but need to be carefully inspected for worms. The families also have a few melons and pumpkins.




Valentine, Gaston with the two small boys from the Austrian yacht, Lawur, racing alongside Carelbi to escort us out to sea. We had sailed around the harbour blowing our long Viking horn in farewell and they had come running out to jump into their boat to say farewell.






Carelbi's last supper with Gaston & Valentine, a wonderful feast of lobster gratin, poisson cru, fish beignets and a superb coconut cake.




Valentine is a born again Christian and is the minister for her "culte" as she calls it. She has built a tiny chapel on their land and leads the Sunday services. She attributes the purity of their drinking water, which is a 1 on the scale of 0-250 (totally pure - salt sea water) to the fact that it is collected from the roof of the chapel into its drinking tank! Liaza's drinking water, to give you a comparison is 4 and Carelbi's desalinated water, which has all the necessary minerals for human health is 17. It is possible that their water is too pure.



Liaza's sons came over after their fishing session on the reef for the supply boat to say goodbye.






 Carelbi's crew, Anders, Chris & Bill with Fiona and Kerryn in front, ready to leave little Anse Amyot, a real mega-sniff goodbye. We do hope to come back in future years, but sadly without Carelbi, as we are now definitely heading for Europe to complete our circumnavigation. Luckily for us both Gaston & Valentine and Liaza have bungalows to accept guests, so if anyone reading the above has been seduced into wanting a holiday in this lovely place with its welcoming people, just get in touch with us and we'll put you in touch with them.


We have just arrived in The Societies, the lovely islands of Tahiti, Morea, Huahine, Raiatea, Taha'a and Bora Bora. 
Our next photo story will be in a month's time about them. In the meantime, we hope you are all well and we would
love to hear from you if you have the time and inclination!