Circumnavigating Huahine-Nui

(Fare, Huahine, Society Islands, French Polynesia)

We’ve been in Huahine for three days now. Regrettably the weather has been less than enjoyable. The strong winds charge up and over Huahine’s peaks, barreling through our wide-open, not so protected anchorage, and then eddy around sending us spinning on our anchor.

While things above the water have been not so nice, under the water Gregory’s obsession has returned. For the first time since the Tuamotus, Gregory and his spearguns are back in the water. And as if he was being rewarded for his patience and commitment, the first thing he saw when he dropped into the water was the prized and elusive, Dogtooth Tuna.

The sight of his personal White Whale surprised Gregory so much that he almost didn’t get his spear shot off in time. Almost. He made the shot and then watched as a seven-foot grey shark came in and helped himself to Greg’s first doggie. With a predator larger than himself in the area, Gregory made the wise decision to change locales and check out the north pass. Here he saw two more dogtooth tuna, though they were quicker than the first and Gregory never had a chance.

Today the weather finally cleared up a bit so we seized the opportunity to check out more of the island. Huahine is made up of two islands attached by a bridge gapping a channel that connects the two large bays that exist between the islands. We had walked the street (the singular use of this word is not a mistake) of town, had been mesmerized by the gigantic grocery store, and I’d even been out past the airport to see the lake on a morning run. Though today we took to the island on wheels. Bicycle wheels.

Starting out in Fare on our rented bicycles, we completed the 24 km loop that circumnavigates Huahine Nui, the larger of the two islands. Along the way we encountered many things worth noting:

1. The Historical Marae

[Marae was a] place of enactment for cults to ancestors and divinities, it was a meeting ground between humans and the divine whose aid it was necessary to obtain. The religious ceremonies which took place there entailed prayers and invocations to ancestor’s deities or offerings of sacrifice. The marae also reflected the social organization of the ancient Polynesians, characterized by a pronounced hierarchy. According to certain writers a social role for the marae existed long before its sacred nature came into preeminance. The marae became therefore the catalysts in the games of political power and religion between chiefdoms.

That’s the reputable information I took in from the large tourist information sign. Gregory, on the other hand, was more concerned with the picture portion of the posting. Ever since our friend Logan told Gregory a mythic story about a cruiser on pig hunt here in the South Pacific, the German-accented punch line “You’re going to the Marquesas – where they eats the people?!” has been one I’ve heard over and over again. In fact, the (jokingly) whispered comment, “He looks like he eats people” has met my ears in markets, events, or any other crowded area ever since we touched land here in the South Pacific. So this visual rendering of a historic gathering showing a man on a spit, waiting for the fire, really had Gregory going this morning.

After our roadside education we headed over to the museum, a traditionally built oval house, to view the displays inside. The straw-mat flooring, topped with wood and bamboo construct, was absolutely stunning. As the morning sunshine seeped through the walls it cast a beautiful light on everything. I read more on the fanciful history of the island. Legend goes that one run away princess, arriving in a drum to the island, bore the eight sons who went on to found and lead the eight clans that built up Huahine. Therefore making her, Hotuhiva, the mother of Huahine. (I’m beginning to see a trend of daughters running away from their overbearing fathers in Polynesian history. Perhaps those Dads should have eased up a little!)

Gregory at first was attracted to the three-dimensional map of the island, though when he came across the fishing tackle display, he was transfixed. There was a whole case of traditional, pearl shell hooks and rounded, stone sinkers to occupy his time as I read my way around the building.

2. Gregory the Mango Scavenger

As the islands finally come in to another mango season, Greg’s addiction to the sweet orange fruit is flaring up yet again. And there’s no better outlet for filling that need, than a forgotten roadside mango tree. Now don’t get me wrong, we have a great respect for all the fruits of these islands. We know they belong to someone, and never help ourselves to anyone’s bananas or pamplemouse. But in mango season, when an abundance of the delectable fruits go unpicked littering the ground, we have no problem grabbing a bag full from an obviously neglected tree. Really you could think of us more as helping out to clean up the surplus!

As a mango collecting note: Gregory can’t jump.

3. Lake Life

This wasn’t so much a sight as it was an overall feeling. On the north end of the island there’s an enclosed lake. Peddling alongside it, down this small, winding road, I couldn’t help but be transported to some Canadian lake from my childhood memory bank. Admittedly the bamboo jetski lift was not at any lake I could remember, but I suppose every lake memory needs it own focal point.

4. The Blue-eyed Eels of Faie

The guide books were unanimous, Do Not Miss the Blue-eyed Eels of Faie. Well alright then! We entered town and there was no doubt we were in the right spot. Seconds after we dismounted our bikes, three small local boys were on us. The undeniable ringleader was talking at us a mile a minute… in French. I was able to catch anguilles, the French word for eel, and we were off.

The five of us walked along the concrete wall of the river and before long the boys were animatedly pointing down to the massive, more-than-slightly appalling, eerily motionless eels below.

These blue-eyed eels are considered sacred to the local people, and, as such, live a pretty comfortable life. Not only do they gorge themselves on the roadside anchovies tourist buy for them, all the local fisherman come to the eels locale to clean their catch casting delectable treats their way on a regular basis.

I thought the first eels the boys showed us were sizeable, though I was quickly proven wrong. Through my very limited French, the ringleader and I were able to toss the word grand back and forth. Me pointing down at the eels below us, expressing my astonishment. Him laughing at my uninformed self, waving at us to follow him further.

We continued down the river in our line of merry men. When, following the enthusiastic pointing of the little boy, I saw THE biggest eel I didn’t ever want to see.

I can’t even poorly estimate the length of it, as it was slithered in and out of view along the riverbank. Reviewing the encounter with my aptly more equipped estimator, Gregory guesses that it was at least five feet long, easily four inches in diameter, and near 40 lbs of nasty, slimy, creepy-eyed eel.

We hung around a bit longer, mostly to listen to the electrifying words the boy needed to tell us. I still hadn’t become fluent in French, but this young kid was adamant about telling me something. Despite his excited hand gestures, and obvious second retelling of his story, I was only able to add one more French word to my short list of anguilles, grand, and now pluie. He was trying desperately to tell me something about big eels in the rain.

5. The Hill

The hill. The notorious hill. We had heard about the hill. We were anticipating the hill. We were not ready for the hill.

The hill won.

If I remember my design figures correctly, I’m pretty sure the maximum grade allowed for a motor vehicle road is somewhere in the 6-8% range. Maximum. I actually remember a disenchanted argument with Professor Fleming about average ski hill grades, so this information has certainly stuck with me. What I’m trying to say is 12% is way too steep of a grade for a roadway!

No shame, we pushed our bikes up the 2km hill, and as the going really got tough, an invigorating mist fell from the sky. At the top we stayed long enough to enjoy the view in both direction then made the brake-burning, rental-bike-maintenance-questioning, can’t-stop-anyhow plummet down the other side of the steep and lengthy hill.

6. The Continued Fruit Picking of Gregory

I’m thinking the bulging backpack of mangos was simply the gateway to Gregory’s roadside, fruit-collecting addiction. All along the plateau of the infamous hill, papaya trees stood bearing their fruit. Tall ones, short ones, straight ones, crooked ones. Trees right on the edge of the pavement, trees set back in fortuitous bunches along the ditch. They were every where, and evidently we were going to need some papaya to go with our mangos!

7. The Bridge

Being sure to cover all the “must sees” that Huahine had to offer, we crossed the bridge when we got to it on the south end of the island. Actually, Gregory crossed it twice. A fun trick I like to play when I’m “trying to get the right picture”. Ha.

8. Fall

This one fits snugly in the feelings category of the list. But if I had a picture of the moment, I know I could fool the viewer into believing we weren’t on a tropical island.

After the bridge, we steadily climbed up into a wooded part of the island. As we made our way down the gradually sloping grade, I kicked my feet off the peddles and wondered at the picturesque, autumn-coloured leaves gently falling to the ground. This seemingly endless, movie-reel moment made me feel like I was gliding through one of Gregory’s Dad’s colourful tree paintings.

9. An Incredibly Sobering Sight

Now if I could pick one of these list items to un-see, I wouldn’t have any trouble choosing. And to great surprise it wouldn’t be the horrendous eels of Faie. It would be the sight of Oceanna’s little sister, a Lagoon 380, sitting on blocks with her port, aft hull completely ripped off.

As we neared town the road returned to the waterside. Here, in an open lot, the Lagoon out of the water easily caught our eyes. It grabbed our attention, then immediately stopped our hearts as we began to register the ordeal it had to have gone through. Long story short, this catamaran met a reef it should have said no to.

Gregory and I inspected the wreckage, mentally amping up our navigational diligence and taking note of what Oceanna is really made of.

Conclusion

Back in town we rounded out our stellar day with a few more gems. While lingering outside the Post Office, I was able to connect to ManaSpot (the sporadic and tough to find wifi internet provider) and call my brother Shea for his birthday. Then as the crowning moment to a great day we shared sunset, happy hour beers at the Yacht Club with Bryce and Martha from Silver Fern. A super fun, not to mention incredibly knowledgable, New Zealand couple who are a few months away from completing their 10 year circumnavigation of the world!

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Brushing up on my history.

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A brief introduction.

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Can you see what caught Gregory’s eye?

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It’s hard to miss.

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A informative AND beautiful museum.

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The mother of Huahine.

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A traditional coconut shaving set up. With a split in half coconut a person sits on the small stool while scraping the tasty, white meat off the inside of the shell. The shavings fall into the boat-like bowl below. We’ve seen these still in use all throughout the islands.

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Gregory mapping out where we left Oceanna. But really I think he was just determining how far we had left to bike!

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The traditional fishing implements display.

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Pearl shell hooks in every size.

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The mango collecting begins!

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Peddling around the lake.

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There’s always time for a picture of the colourful flowers.

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Staring at his adored mangos.

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Our charades discussion on the size of the eels.

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Here’s a poor photo of a mess of eels. They all hung out under the edge of the concrete wall. Their heads just sticking out in the creepiest fashion.

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Ya, that just ain’t right!

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At the top! Admiring the view through some banana fronds.

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A view way out to the ocean.

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Here’s the eastern bay that separates Huahine Nui from Huahine Iti.

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Gravity doing it’s thing.

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A va’a on the bay.

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And then the papaya collecting began.

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“One more time Gregory, I didn’t get it in time.” Ha.

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A scary sight.

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For anyone who has slept in our aft guest cabin, here’s where it is supposed to be!

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Note to self, catamarans don’t like reefs.

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Sunset Hinanos with Bryce and Martha.

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