The Islands of Tahiti are a breathtaking manifestation of an island paradise, with impossibly green mountain peaks, fringing coral reefs and turquoise lagoons, that exude a spirit & power of life that the locals call mana. Using stars to navigate, the first ancestors of Polynesians sailed from Asia around 1,500 BC[i] and over centuries the culture has spread across a region from New Zealand to Hawaii to Easter Island. French Polynesia covers an area stretching over 2,000km made up of five Archipelagos; Marquesas, Tuamotu, Gambier, Austral & Society. Altogether there are 118 islands and 67 are inhabited by only 280,000 people – 70% of these live on the main Island of Tahiti, so the islands are small communities where everyone knows each other and there is a real feeling of welcome or la’orana. Polynesians make up almost 90% of people with the balance mostly of French origin.
The first Polynesians settled in Marquesas around 200 BC – encounters with Europeans began with Ferdinand Magellan in 1521 and the roll call includes James Cook in 1769. France colonised the islands in the late 1800’s and in 1946, French Polynesians became French Citizens. The country now has the status of an overseas “collectivity” of France or “an overseas country within the French Republic.” In practical terms France administers police, monetary policy, tertiary education, immigration, defence and foreign affairs while the Assembly of French Polynesia administers primary and secondary education, health, town planning, and the environment. France also funds infrastructure[ii] – there are 53 airports (yes 53), fast ferries & good roads. If you find Europe expensive, French Polynesia is eye watering – bringing it down to hamburger economics, a medium Big Mac meal in Papeete costs almost 50% more than Australia.
Galaxy III departed Marquesas on the 26th April and made way 600nm to Rangiroa Atoll in the Tuamotus to enjoy some cycling on the flat atoll, snorkelling, scuba diving and surfing, before completing a further 190nm to Moorea, with volcanic peaks that rise 1,200m out of the sea.
The highlight of Rangiroa was “shooting the pass” where we drifted in the rapid tidal current between the ocean and lagoon, passing a rich diversity of reef and sea life.
From Moorea, Cui is returning to China for a few weeks before continuing his own crew circumnavigation and we say our farewells with lunch at Club Bali Hai in Cook’s Bay.
Andres & I then set out around Moorea in search of surf and find anchorage in a beautiful lagoon near a left hander known as Ha’apiti. It took me a while to get used to the ‘island vibe’ of personally greeting every other surfer in the water when you paddled out.
However, during our last session the vibe was shattered as we encountered one psycho who punched a French surfer and then threatened Andres & I – Andres was convinced he was going to hit me and I can only speculate what stopped him – perhaps it was my grey beard.
The legendary wave of Teahupoo, a.k.a. World’s Heaviest Wave, is a bucket list item for any surfer who visits Tahiti, so Andres & I sailed overnight from Haapiti to arrive at Teahupoo at first light. Teahupoo is possibly the most mispronounced word in the world of surfing – for the record, Polynesian spelling is phonetic, so it is pronounced as it is spelt, not chopoo! The fringing reefs in Tahiti have a dome shape between the ocean and the lagoon, so there only a short distance for the water to drain off the reef as the powerful SW swells come in from the Southern Ocean, creating a below sea level trough in front of the wave and a thick, distorted wave shape that Teahupoo is infamous for. While not as intimidating as Teahupoo, there are plenty of reef breaks in the neighbourhood with similar traits. The morning we arrived the swell was small, with a clump of bodyboarders pulling into infrequent westerly closeouts, so we continued up the lagoon to Vaira’o Pass.
Over the next few nights we made our way along the coast, surfing at Papara, Maraa Pass & Taapuna Pass before arriving at Marina Taina, near Papeete. Andres & I complete his Pacific Crossing & over 7,000 nm on Galaxy III with a steak & Bordeaux before he departed for the Canary Islands.
It has been almost six months & 14,000 nm since Deanne & I were together in Cape Town, so the next two weeks together couldn’t come soon enough!
We divided our time between luxury at the Intercontinental & Robinsons Cove Villas on Moorea and simple on Galaxy III. We whiled the days swimming, snorkelling, hiking, touring Moorea and enjoying a good number of the local restaurants. Against some fine French cuisine, we voted the Tahitian Poisson Cru (marinated raw fish) at Coco Beach the best dish. Snorkelling with reef sharks and manta rays in the lagoon is also a highlight.
I would add that a few nights in an airconditioned room was a welcome relief after months of inescapable tropical heat & humidity.
From Tahiti, Galaxy III is heading for Fiji and then home to Sydney by August – a mere 3,600 nm and a Tasman crossing in winter to sail from here!