The most beautiful place in the world?

Having visited two of the atolls in the Tuamotus at the end of last year I already had an idea that they are a sight to behold, but nothing could prepare me for the splendour of Tahanea. This deserted atoll is breathtakingly beautiful with unspoilt sand bars, pioneering palm trees, turquoise waters and white sandy beaches carpeted with shells. I always thought that those photos you see in travel magazines advertising idyllic paradise getaways to secluded tropical islands were a bit of a fabrication. Not so. I’m actually in one of them, it’s the real deal and it’s just absolutely beautiful. But don’t just take my word for it…. have a look at these:

Tahanea after a spot of rain

 

Our anchorage near the main pass

I think these are Spinner dolphins. They came to say hello during our sail to Seven Reef at the south of the atoll

Anchored on our own at Seven Reef

Sand bar at Seven Reef

What’s that strange new species?

As you might expect in any deserted island, we spend our time snorkelling, spear fishing and coconut gathering. Tahanea is uninhabited apart from a small settlement that’s occupied for only four months of the year for the copra business. It might be uninhabited at the moment, but Tahanea is not much of a secret with the cruising community as there were already three sailboats here when we arrived. Not that this hindered us in any way, the presence of other sailboats inevitably led to new friendships being formed. Also, we managed to find a private place to anchor completely by ourselves for a number of days in a very protected area in the south of the atoll known as seven reef (as it looks like the number ‘7’ from the satellite imagery). This is the most stunning place I think Bob has ever anchored and the snorkelling around here is just fantastic.

The bird life here is also very special. Alex noticed a sign written in French which might have said that Tahanea is part of a wildlife reserve. Then again, it might have said that all people are free to hunt, kill and eat all the birds – we wouldn’t really have been able to tell the difference! Having said that, we were lucky enough to see what I think is the endangered Tuamotu sandpiper. I noticed a small brown bird that looked like it was an imitating a sand piper but with a shorter beak and seemingly more interested in the scrub habitat near the beach rather than the beach itself – more like a typical insect feeder. The bird also happened to have some rings on it’s legs. I had to do a double take as I thought it was very strange that bird ringing would be going on in this incredibly remote location, and this species certainly didn’t look like any of the usual sea birds I was used to seeing migrate across the oceans. Anyway, I read later on in the Tuamotus compendium that this bird is resident on Tahanea and is a highly endangered species endemic to the Tuamotus. Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo, but I did get some of these crested terns instead. Not in the slightest bit rare but their lives of long distance migration across the oceans is impressive nonetheless.

Crested Terns

Crested Terns

All good things must come to an end

After five months in the Marquesas Islands our time here is coming to an end. We’re currently in Nuku Hiva organising a multitude of things so that we can go to sea tomorrow and head to the Tuamotus. We have exactly 26 days to explore some of the atolls before arriving in Tahiti for the 3rd of May for a much anticipated visit from Alex’s mum (Paulina we can’t wait to see you).

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by our return visit to Nuku Hiva. I was expecting to spend most of our time here doing jobs in preparation for our next voyage. As well as being super productive, we’ve also had plenty of time to enjoy ourselves. About a week after we got here, 45 boats from the ARC rally arrived as Nuku Hiva was their next rendezvous point. Although it made for a crowded anchorage, it was nice to make some new friends and the locals were prepared with fully stocked shops, markets and craft fairs. We also had time to re-visit the waterfall that Alex missed out on last time when he was trying to keep out of the sun to protect his new tattoo. We seemed to switch roles for a moment and Alex also found time to take a hike while I stayed on board to do some boat work.

We had a lovely surprise when we heard that the Hokule’a was arriving to the island and the locals were holding a ceremony to commemorate the occasion. The Hokule’a is a traditional Polynesian pirogue (in this case, two canoes joined together with a crab claw sailing rig) with no engine – the only means of propulsion is through either sailing or rowing. The vessel is based in Hawaii and was designed to test a theory regarding historic navigation techniques. The traditional wayfinding techniques were learned from elders in Micronesia. These techniques use the position of the stars and sea-swell analysis (amongst other things) to determine position and course. No instruments are needed whatsoever – no electronic equipment, no GPS, no sextant, not even a compass. A crew sailed the Hokule’a using these ancient methods on various voyages around the Pacific since being launched in the 1970s, thus proving the theory of how ancient Polynesians migrated through the islands and their ancestral descent, which has since been confirmed by genetic analysis. More recently, in 2014 the vessel set sail from Hawaii for a circumnavigation which is now coming to an end. Their stop in Marquesas is only two stops before their final destination in Hawaii after successfully sailing around the world. The arrival of the crew on shore was really spectacular. Many of the locals were dressed in traditional attire and were singing, blowing horns, dancing and beckoning the new arrivals to land. The crew were brought to shore in smaller pirogues and greeted by a parade through the street then a ceremony performed in front of the entire village. It was a wonderful sight. For the crew (who had just arrived from a long journey from Pitcairn Island over 1000 miles away) it must have been truly magnificent, if not a little overwhelming.

The Hokule’a anchored in the main harbour in Nuku Hiva. It’s a spectacular boat, it looks stunning and is a true testament to Polynesian heritage. Although, does anyone know what that weird British flag is? Neither Alex or I have ever seen it before.
If you’re interested, you can read more about the Hokule’a here: http://www.hokulea.com/voyages/our-story/

The crew being greeted by the village chief in Taiohae. This and the next few photos are from Marc from s/v Scallywag (thanks Marc!)

During the ceremony. Many local Marquisians dressed in traditional attire, proudly displaying their expressive tattoos.

Many Westerners would cross the street to avoid someone who looks like this. Here, facial and body tattoos are not just accepted but are embraced. In fact, this gentleman is called Farah and was involved in the organisation of the music festival we attended here last November. He’s a really nice guy and even got involved in our silly coconut game that we mentioned in a previous blog.

Another high point was swimming with manta rays on three separate occasions. The last time was absolutely amazing! We swam with about 10 reef mantas for about half an hour as they were feeding. They were very happy to play nearby and often swam within about 30cm of us – they were bigger than Alex. It was one of the most awesome wildlife experiences I’ve ever had and I’d really recommend it if you ever get the chance.

Manta ray photo taken with the GoPro

I also managed to fit in one final dance session with my local friends and introduced a few new cruising ladies to the joys of the Polynesian dance classes. Hopefully they will continue to go after I’ve left.

All good things must come to an end and although I’ve really enjoyed my time here, I must admit I’m okay at the thought of leaving. It’s the first time that I’ve not gotten sentimental about leaving an area. I suppose we have been here for 5 months now and there are so many exciting places ahead of us this year, I’m ready to leave.