Snow Leopard
Thu 16 Sep 2010 20:25

The Society Islands (Part 2)

16:30.7S 151:46.3W



After a few days relaxing at the very laid-back Taravana Yacht Club, we hired a buggy for a ride around the island. It wasn’t going to take too long as it is only about 18 miles in circumference. However there are one or two tracks inland to make it interesting. It actually took us 4 hours for the whole trip so we must have found some things of interest! We took a muddy dirt track (which meant that we got muddy too, as there’s not much protection in a buggy) up to the middle of the island for a stupendous view over the whole of Tahaa and over to Raiatea.


On top of Tahaa, with buggy

So cool


Views around Tahaa



A couple of days later we motored round to Baie Horepiti, where we had arranged a botanical tour of the island with a charming Frenchman, Alan Plantier (good name for a botanist) who sailed here 20 years ago and never left. He has built a wonderful house in the traditional style on the water-side and planted a fantastic garden with all the local trees and shrubs. The first half of the tour was in his garden, which included a small vanilla plantation for which Tahaa is famous.


Vanilla originates from Mexico, and although it is now grown in many countries around the world, only in its native land are there specialist bees and hummingbirds to pollinate the flowers. Everywhere else, including here in Tahaa, each flower has to be pollinated by hand, in order to produce the vanilla pods. Alan demonstrated this very delicate task. From pollination to the ripe pods takes 9 months, so now you know why vanilla is so expensive. A peculiar feature of the vanilla grown in Tahaa is that it has a unique liquorice flavour, making it particularly sought after.


After a tour of the garden and an explanation of what plant materials are used for building the traditional houses it was off to the hills again, on an even muddier track, this time, thank goodness, in a Land Rover. More explanations about the flora and fauna of the island, especially those plants and animals that the first human inhabitants brought with them on their migration east from China, and particularly Taiwan some 3000 years ago.


The Polynesians are big people, with a heavy bone structure and apparently this is primarily due to their diet, particularly their staple, taro root which has a very high calcium content. The first settlers brought taro with them from Asia where it was the main staple food, grown in waterlogged fields as is rice. Rice, which grew between the taros, was considered a weed and thrown away. Some time after the migration to Polynesia took place there was a major famine in Asia, when the taro crop failed and the locals resorted to eating rice. They discovered that rice could be stored for long periods, unlike taro root and so gradually turned away from taro to rice as their staple food. As the migration had already taken place the new Polynesians maintained their taro-based diet, which resulted in the heavy-boned race we see today, compared to the much slighter body form of their Asian ancestors and the present-day south-east Asians.


Vanilla flower and vine


Extracting the pollen


Fertilising the flower


The growing vanilla pods


Horepiti Bay, Tahaa


The weather forecasts were warning of a period of very strong winds. We had a 490 mile trip to Aitutaki in the Cook Islands. There was a 2 – 3 day window before the winds really kicked in. We could just make it if we could maintain about 9 knots. We set off next morning, but it soon became clear that the wind was too far aft to enable us to maintain the speed necessary to get to Aitutaki safely, and it is not a place to approach in bad weather with a very narrow pass through the coral reef into a tiny harbour. Also if the harbour were to be full (quite likely if boats were waiting for the bad weather to pass) then we had nowhere to go. So, discretion being the better part of valour we bore off and went to Bora Bora for a couple of days


Bora Bora

This really is an extraordinary-looking island, with its huge, fortress-like central island surrounded by a lagoon of the most wonderful aquamarine beauty. The island is given over entirely to tourism with numerous expensive, lagoon-side hotels. Unfortunately the recession and the escalating cost to getting here meant that most we at best half-empty, or closed completely.


We anchored in the lagoon and had a wonderfully calm, peaceful night. Next day we headed for the famous ‘Bloody Mary’s’ restaurant and took one of their moorings for the night. The snorkelling at certain points in the lagoon was meant to be excellent, but, as we have found so often in the Pacific, actually not that great and certainly not comparable with the best sites in the Caribbean.


That evening we met up with friends, John and Chris, on their boat Sara 2, from Keyhaven, and ate at ‘Bloody Mary’s. The restaurant has been an institution in Bora Bora for over 30 years. The floor is sand, and all the seating is on coconut tree stools. Instead of a menu all the fish and meat are laid out for your selection. It was interesting, but as so often happens with such well-known places the food and service has become mediocre.


The lagoon, Bora Bora


The central island, Bora Bora, with outrigger canoeist, who so wanted to be in the picture!


Next day we beat the 25 miles back to Tahaa. We had decided that if we were to ride out a few days of rough weather then Taravana was the best place to do so. We called Richard on the VHF and he kept us a buoy tucked nicely into the shore.


And it did blow! For three days the wind howled and the rain lashed down. Pretty miserable, but ideal for staying inside and reading trashy novels.


The wind here has now stopped, but the weather towards the Cook Islands is still very unsettled (something to do with the South Pacific Convergence Zone, moving south), so we will wait a couple more days and then head off.


We have not stopped anywhere for as long since we set off from Grenada last year and it’s been a really nice rest. Now to head west again. Hopefully the next time you hear from us we will be in Tonga