Back to the developed world – Tahiti and Rarotonga

I appear to have had a complete lack of discipline and motivation when it comes to keeping my blog posts up-to-date over the past few months, for this I apologise. Upon arriving in Tahiti back in May I spent most of my time totally overcome by all the development and I was very pre-occupied enjoying all the supermarkets, fast food joints, restaurants, shops and bars. It had been 14 months since I had been in a city and I think I went a little stir crazy from the metropolis.

Sooooo many cars!

Soooo much food!

Mmmmm McDonalds!

Cool beers in the sunset

As built-up as it was, Tahiti certainly had its own natural beauty and the island had wonderful snorkelling, trekking and points of interest to visit. If you’re a cruising sailor thinking of bypassing Tahiti because it’s ‘too developed’ I think you would be missing out.

This was our evening view of Moorea from Bob where we were anchored at Taina Mariner in Tahiti

After a few rigging problems we had to sort out in our final weeks in French Polynesia, we finally made it to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands and have been enjoying a fabulous week in this bustling, scenic, ENGLISH-speaking island! As communication is no longer a problem, we’ve managed to get more done in one week here than in one month in French Polynesia. We managed to get a temporary driving licence and rent a scooter; do a circuit of the island; play mini golf; do a cross-island trek; visit the whale & wildlife centre; find our favourite bars across the island and get a whole host of boat jobs done. We even helped with a mountain rescue!

I say a ‘mountain rescue’ but it wasn’t quite that dramatic, although it was close to being a very serious event for the lady involved. Towards the end of our hike across we caught up with a lady and her husband. They were obviously making slow progress and the lady was frequently falling over and said she felt very weak in her legs. They asked if we had any snacks we could give them in the hope that some sugar would give her some energy. Unfortunately we didn’t, but we knew there were a number of people also doing the trek who weren’t far behind them and who might be able to help. Despite their predicament they seemed in good spirits so we bid them farewell and moved on.  Further down the path we came across some coconut trees, so being a Good Samaritan Alex decided to run back to the couple with some coconut in the hope that it might help. It turned out that other people had passed them and had also given various fruits and energy bars to the lady, but unfortunately it didn’t seem to be helping. Now, the lady had almost lost the use of her legs entirely and was going completely hysterical – it was starting to get dark, the track was very difficult in places and she was, understandably, very scared.

Alex offered to get help and immediately came running back to the car park where I was waiting with the scooter. The couple were only 20 minutes from the end of the trek, but in her condition it was just impossible for her to make any progress. Moreover, the car park itself was still some way up the mountain and there was no phone signal there and they didn’t have any transport waiting for them even if they could get back to the car park. So we sped down the road on our little scooter to an area with more people and found a lovely local gentleman who called the police and mountain rescue service for us. Alex and I waited at the entrance for the various teams to show up. It took a nail-biting 45 minutes before the police eventually showed up and we made our way back up to the car park and to the entrance of the trek, but we were still waiting for the extraction team. By now it was well over an hour since Alex had left the couple and it was almost dark. Just then, we heard voices coming from the darkness of the trail and the police went to investigate. Thankfully it turned out to be the lady and her husband reaching the end of the trek. She was covered in mud and seemed a little ‘off’ – almost like she was drunk and not thinking clearly, but at least she appeared to have regained the use of her legs. It turned out that 5 minutes after Alex had left them she started to go delirious, speaking incomprehensible German and Latin and foaming at the mouth before going completely unconscious for a further 50 minutes! Her husband must have been going out of his mind with worry. Then, out of nowhere, she suddenly regained consciousness and had an unexpected burst of energy and was able to finish the trek in not much time at all.

She was obviously feeling much better and it’s wonderful that she could make it down the mountain without help from an extraction team. Perhaps it was a mineral deficiency, or perhaps extreme exhaustion, but she was on the up and that’s what was important. Despite the extreme events that had just happened to her, despite the fact that she still didn’t seem completely coherent and despite everybody’s strong recommendations the couple refused to go to the hospital to get checked out. We waved them goodbye as the police drove them back to their hotel where I sincerely hope she was able to eat something, get a nice hot bath and a long restful sleep. Hopefully she is now happy and healthy and was back to her normal self the following day, although I would have felt much better if she had been checkout out by a medical professional at the hospital.

Alex was absolutely amazing throughout this whole ordeal. He was calm, efficient and very professional. He clearly still remembers all of his medical first responder training and it gives me a lot of confidence to know that I am in the best possible hands if we ever have an emergency (which fingers crossed we never will).

So, after an exciting week we are now ready to leave Rarotonga for Palmerston (a secluded atoll with only 50 or so inhabitants). We’ll be leaving today with the hope of arriving in 2 days time and will update you on our adventures as soon as we can.

The view from a beach bar in Rarotonga

At the whale and wildlife centre

Also at the whale and wildlife centre. Alex looks completely swamped by this old fashioned diving helmet.

This is a giant fern. This species covered the trail on our cross-island trek. Just amazing! And I thought bracken could grow to a good height!

The view from The Needle on the cross-island trek

More of the view from The Needle on the cross-island trek

Looking down on the Tropic Bird nests from above

Our friend – some of you might recognise him from Alex’s recent Facebook video. He kept us company while we ate our lunch.

Procrastination in Paradise

We had intended to spend two or three weeks here in Tahiti before moving along to take the fullest possible advantage of the relatively little time available to visit a portion of the multitude of islands between French Polynesia and New Zealand. It’s now been 5 weeks and, apart from a two-day jaunt over to the island of Moorea (which is only 15 miles away) we haven’t budged. I could blame the weather, which hasn’t been particularly great for ocean passages on account of light winds, but the truth is we’ve been griping about the weather to one another and commiserating our lot while silently pretty pleased with how things have been. We’ve both managed to get a fair bit of work done on Bob. I’ve installed a new set of solar panels after the last set (which were admittedly quite cheap) started to really fall apart after just two years. I’d been performing ongoing surgery on them for the last several months in order to keep them operational but since solar panels are duty-free here we decided to bite the bullet and get some new ones. Now we even have our freezer on again 😀. I’ve also installed a couple of winches that we’ve been carrying around for the last year and a half and done a lot of little preventative maintenance jobs that have needed doing for a while. Sarah meanwhile has been vastly improving the interiour by varnishing woodwork. She finished the head compartment while we were in the Tuamotus and has since also finished the companionway stairs and the cover for the engine compartment. She has embarked upon a major project and the results so far are beautiful.

By far the most worthwhile time we have spent here however has been with friends and family. The highlight of our time in Tahiti was a visit by my mother at the beginning of May. She stayed with us for 9 days and seemed to be wholeheartedly committed to spoiling us rotten. Not only did she pack her suitcase full of useful stuff that we’d asked her to bring, but she insisted on buying all the fancy foods that we would otherwise only have stared at and drooled over, and even treated us to two luxurious nights in a beautiful hotel. The pleasures of unlimited hot water, I suspect, can only be fully appreciated by those who have for some extended period been denied them. And the air conditioning. Oh, the air conditioning! The climate control in our room was set to minimum and I took great pleasure in lying on the big comfy bed and being cold for the first time in at least 6 months. It was, needless to say, wonderful to have the pleasure of mum’s company, and not just because of the spoiling.

Tahiti, being by far the largest and most developed island in French Polynesia, serves as a staging ground for yachts of all shapes and sizes in their voyages across the Pacific. When we first arrived we spotted s/v Mary Anne II with our friends John and Julia on board. We had met them in the Galápagos Islands nearly a year ago and it was great to catch up. Over the following weeks we were joined by our friends Mario and Kelly (s/v something in Gaelic that sounds like Ann Kayak, met in Nuku Hiva), Rafael and Elena (s/v Anna Isabel, met in Hiva Oa), Josh (s/v Maistral, met in Fakarava), Olivia, David, Cali and Gaya (s/v El Nido, met in the Gambier Islands), Daniel (s/v Galatea, met in Ua Pou) and Asma, Herbert and their two boys (s/v Maya, met over the radio in Pitcairn and then met properly in the Gambier Islands) who just arrived yesterday. We’ve also very much enjoyed spending time with our new friends Pauline and Simon who live here but whom we met initially in Ua Pou. They live aboard their yacht ‘Mana ‘O Te Moana Nui’ (try saying that three times over the radio!). It never ceases to amaze me that we are all sailing these silly little boats thousands of miles across oceans, through some of the most remote areas of the planet and yet somehow we all end up sitting in the same bar eating pizza and drinking beer together. It really is a small world, and the cruising community is even smaller.

Alas, all things must come to an end. Some of our friends we will leave here because they have decided to sell their boats, or stay and find work for a year or two. Others will sail ahead of us to Papa New Guinea and Indonesia this year, leaving us in their wake. A few will follow along the same general route as us, and those I fully expect to share more beer and pizza with in ports to come. It looks like next Wednesday might just provide us with the wind we need to set sail. Do we sail directly to the Cook Islands or make a short stop off in Huahine? Our friends Mark (s/v Pilas, met in Colon) and Anja and Tomas (s/v Robusta, met in Hiva Oa) are around that area, and it really would be a shame to leave without seeing them………….

 

Sailing with mum to Moorea for a couple of days.

 

 

It was cold. Mum, of course, went for a swim.

 

Pure, unadulterated luxury!

 

We had the good fortune to be invited by Simon and Pauline to a local raft up. Spot the Bermuda boat 🙂

The wall of sharks

After leaving Tahanea, we made our way to Fakarava about 40 miles to the north-west. Fakarava is different from all the atolls we’ve visited in the Tuamotus so far. We entered through the south pass and arrived to an area completely set up for tourists. There are no shops, only a few B&Bs, restaurants and dives shops. Although the area had a bit of a ‘holiday resort’ feel to it, I absolutely loved it here. The people are really used to tourists so of course are incredibly friendly, welcoming and helpful – and SPOKE ENGLISH! Despite this, all the buildings still had a local Polynesian feel about them. They were built in such a way to make the most of the surroundings and were absolutely immaculate. This atoll is a marine reserve where fishing is restricted, so the coral reefs and associated species were out of this world. The south pass (being narrow, long and deep) is home to an abundance of different fish species which you would struggle to see in such abundance anywhere else. It reminded me a little of visiting Disneyland as a child, everything is amazing and perfectly placed for the enjoyment of their guests. Even the sharks would come right up to your boat when anchoring, like they too were welcoming us to the area.

The centre-hub of Tetamanu

Some of the guest houses at the Tetamanu Pension. Mum I think you would love it here. Perhaps a future holiday destination when we make our millions and can afford the flights?

Fakarava is famous for scuba diving, in particular for its ‘wall of sharks’ dive along the south pass. It seemed to me that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so we decided to fork out some dosh and do a dive with the local company run by the Tetamanu Pension. I would recommend this company to anyone – it’s a combined dive shop, B&B and restaurant run by a wonderful couple who made us feel incredibly welcome. So for my 8th scuba dive ever I decided to do the infamous ‘wall of sharks’, despite my initial trepidation. The dive boat dropped us off at one end of the pass and we were able to let the current take us effortlessly back towards the dive shop. The pass is blanketed with a multitude of colourful branching and boulder corals, providing shelter to a wealth of fish species. Hundreds of bigeyes, snappers, groupers and tuna lined the pass. All swimming effortlessly upstream, appearing suspended and motionless in the water just waiting for the current to languidly push an unsuspecting prey victim into their mouths. Swimming in the same manner was literally hundreds of sharks, which of course was the true spectacle of the dive and gives a real meaning to the name ‘wall of sharks’. Most were grey sharks and whitetip reef sharks, but we knew that other species of shark weren’t far away. The dive shop offer other packages which take you further into the deep blue and allow you to see dolphins and large oceanic sharks such as Silvertips! I think I’ll save that one for a future date however. Even the terrace of the dive shop restaurant stretches out into the water where tonnes of blacktip reef sharks circle waiting for scraps of food to be discarded by the restaurant customers. If you’re feeling daring, you can even go for a snorkel with them if you’re the thrill-seeking type.

A small selection of the grey sharks we saw during the ‘wall of sharks’ scuba dive

Alex with a slightly terrifying backdrop

Blacktip reef shark cruising along

Blacktip reef sharks racing for food scraps near the restaurant at Tetamanu Pension

We briefly visited some of the other areas of Fakarava, including a 5 year old ‘yacht facility’ located half way up the east side of the atoll. The area is owned by a young couple who operate a small B&B and various yacht services such as wifi, mooring buoys, good meals, beers and a skilled helping hand to any boat problem. The main village in the north is home to some 2000 inhabitants. Despite the large population (well, large in comparison to other atoll in the Tuamotus), shops are still expensive and understocked unless the supply ship has just landed.

We left Fakarava about a week ago and we’re now currently in Tahiti waiting for Alex’s mum to arrive for her visit in a few days time – the days can’t go by fast enough. We’ve been here for just over a day and already we’ve enjoyed a McDonalds and been shopping at the Carrefour – the best selection of food I’ve seen in well over a year! Tahiti might not be as picturesque as our previous destinations, but I’m certainly enjoying the development and access to amenities. I’ve been craving people, shops, bars, restaurants and general development for quite some time now. Although I wouldn’t admit it to other cruisers, Tahiti has always been at the top of my ‘must visit’ list and I feel more at home right now than I have in a long, long time.