Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The High Societies

The Society Islands are the last of the three French Polynesian archipelagos we visited.  These islands are unique in having reefs which encircle the mountainous islands, creating a ring of calm inner lagoon waters to swim, paddle and sail in and just enjoy.  They are also more populated with Papeete, Tahiti being a real city with upscale supermarkets, pearl markets and ugh, even McDonalds (though when said with a French accent it sounds almost gourmet)..

 Papeete, Tahiti.  Dozens of outrigger canoes sweep past on both sides of Idyll Island during a weekend race.  The channel is used all day by people in every sort of craft imaginable.

  About half a km from our anchorage, a pass cut through the reef creates ideal breakers on the outer edges for surfers and boogie boarders to play.  Though it looks tempting, it is not a break for beginners like ourselves, as the surf crashes on to a very shallow (and jagged) coral reef. There are world class surf breaks on the other side of Tahiti. 

 Fabulous black sand and white sand beaches are great places to wander.

Point Venus Lighthouse was built in 1867 by R.L, Stevenson's father.

 Fautoa Waterfall, one of many plunging down the steep mountains. So steep, that a lone cruiser with an excess of adventure genes, scrambled down into a closed canyon and was trapped there a week before being hauled out by helicopter.

 A steephead parrotfish on ice in the market for someone's dinner.  They are very common reef fish that we enjoy watching while snorkeling.

 Last stop in Tahiti - the Duty Free store.  Drinkable wine $3-4 per bottle. Not as cheap as the $2 litre boxes in Panama, but cheaper than anything we will see for years...  The whiskey was cheaper than we had seen anywhere at $8. Derek overestimated our consumption (just a bit) which gave us some worries when entering New Zealand with it's strict customs regulations. More later.

 From Tahiti we sailed 10 miles across the channel to Moorea - spectacular! 

 Derek shining up our new Mercury outboard that we had shipped in to Tahiti.  Saved us about 30% and was easy thanks to our amazing agent, Cindy (CMA-CGM Agency).

 Cathy playing tag with a stingray. Dozens of rays and sharks come into the shallows to be fed by the snorkel excursion boats from the resorts.

 Wonder where they got the design for the stealth bomber...

 Bora Bora, one of the most photographed and legendary anchorages in the Pacific. Not bad.

 Our chartplotter showing the reef completely surrounding the island, with only a single entrance channel. Makes for beautiful, protected waters inside the lagoon. You can see our boat, the black shape, anchored down in the Southeast corner where we were totally protected from the 25 knot winds and 4 meter seas that were crashing outside the reef.

 Inside the reef the bottom is mostly sand, with a few sea urchins.  Actually, there were only a couple of places where they concentrated like this.

 Feeding Frenzy! Like Moorea, the resorts at Bora Bora feed the sharks and rays to liven things up for the snorkelers The sharks seem only interested in the fish bits - lucky for Cathy!

 Just gotta stay in your own lane.

 Not all the fish are big with large teeth. Here are a couple of cute little humbugs amongst the staghorn coral.

 Derek taking advantage of the calm lagoon water to go up the mast to replace fix a broken wire - and get a better view.

 A better view!

 Life is good.

 Time to leave French Polynesia and head towards Tonga, about 1500 nautical miles to the west. We stayed the full 90 days of our visa and thoroughly enjoyed every one.  We would love to come back some day.

 About half way across, we got into a school of short bill swordfish. In 2 hours we hooked 5, managing to release 2 at the boat, the other three, further out.  They were about 2m long and put up a tough fight. Difficult to deal with when doing 8 knots downwind!

 The last 2 days of our passage to Tonga were the roughest we've experienced with winds to 40 knots and seas 5m. Can't see it here but there were some big ones!  Idyll Island handled it no problem, surfing down the waves at 10-11 knots with only a double reefed headsail.  But we were glad to get into the shelter of Vava'u, Tonga.