Thursday, August 04, 2011

Exploring Raiatea and Taha'a (Part II)

<i>The "Exploring XYZ…" series is our attempt to remember everything we can about the anchorages and stops we make, mostly to benefit cruisers who follow us in future years. We anticipate folding this information into a wiki or Soggy Paws compendium as soon as possible. In the meantime, please feel free to ask questions; If we can remember, we'll share. GPS marks are for reference only. If you use them for navigation and hit something, it's not my fault.</i>

The following day, we met Ceildyh on shore to run errands and go on a hike. The errands took absolutely forever. There is something sweet and comical and absurdly frustrating about standing in a Polynesian post office (S16 38.140 W151 29.489) for an hour. The walk was on paved road; Take your dinghy to the dock at the end of the bay (S16 38.211 W151 29.455), walk north towards town, make a let at the church (S16 38.244 W151 29.187), and up up up the hill. We went up to a point on the ridge-line where you can see both south into the pass between the two islands as well as down into the bay. It is a relatively short walk through beautiful country with a nice view, even if you don't really go off road anywhere. Watch out on the pin turns for speeding vessels and enormous islanders on tiny, totally overburdened scooters traveling at insane speeds. The town also includes a bank (S16 38.159 W151 29.507), magazin (S16 38.134 W151 29.538), hardware store (S16 38.129 W151 29.542), snack shack (S16 38.142 W151 29.496), and gendarmerie (S16 38.149 W151 29.456). While we were in town, the girls stumbled on an art fair in the community building (S16 38.147 W151 29.468), but I couldn't say if that would be there all the time.

In Haamene, we also took time to visit the Hibiscus Foundation which can be found close to the entrance. The foundation was begun in 1992 by folks who want to aid in the rehabilitation of the South Pacific turtle population. They work with fishermen to rescue turtles caught in nets. They care for injuries and feed the turtles until someone sponsors a turtle release. This year, you could get a turtle of your own for 100 Euro, take it to a designated release location, and set it free. The funds go to the care and medical treatment of the turtles. Unfortunately, we couldn't afford to do this ourselves. My recommendation to future cruisers is that you get a group -- maybe buddy boats -- and plan on doing this together. Even if you can't sponsor a turtle release, it is worth stopping at the restaurant. We were too early to have dinner, but the comments in the book suggest the food is excellent. The lodge is full of flags and burgees from all over the world as well as dozens of books and 100s of articles on turtles in the South Pacific in general and specifically about the foundation. DrC and I had a cold beer while the kids spent an hour or so watching the turtles in the pen outside and exploring the turtle books.

Just outside Baie d'Haamene on the east side of Taha'a is Passe Toahotu. This pass is bounded on either side by a small coconut covered motu. The cruising guides suggest navigating through the pass only in settled weather, but I frankly think that is a fair statement for all the east side passes. When the trades are blowing and the swell is up, all of them are a bit exciting. Toahotu doesn't appear any more narrow or dodgy than the passes to the south, so use your own judgement. We anchored off the northern motu in about 15 feet of sand with bombies (S16 38.476 W151 25.825). We saw catamarans considerably closer to the reef and ranging all up and down the reef line. This gets to a larger point which is that the east side of Taha'a and Raitea feature many such "wide spots in the road" where a vessel can comfortably set a hook protected from fetch and swell by the barrier reef in even a brisk reinforced trade. This particular spot near Passe Toahotu is apparently featured in the charter trade maps as an easy hook with good snorkeling as we were surrounded in charters. I wouldn't say the snorkeling was spectacular, but the water is clear and the motus make for a beautiful backdrop. If you're serious about seeing fish and coral, take your dink as far towards the reef as you can, drop a small hook, and swim to the reef. We saw some nice healthy coral and lots of fish out by the reef. I suspect if you were a truly intrepid type, you could even dive on the other side of the breaking waves, but I'm afraid I'm a bit to risk averse. The motus are both private, but we saw several dive boats stop ashore as well as guide some drift snorkelers through the passe.

The next day after school, we pulled the hook and headed south to Raiatea again. We passed Uturoa (snatching a quick send-receive on WDG-Hotspot internet as we went by) before motor sailing about halfway down the east side to Baie de Faaroa. Like Haamene, Faaroa cuts deep into the island. While it does not feature the convenient bends of its Taha'a counterpart, the northeast orientation means that boats deep in the anchorage are likely to receive protection from nearly all winds you'll encounter during a typical cruising season. At the end of the bay, you will find good, mud holding in about 50' just off the estuary. There is a very strong signal at the end of this bay to the WDG-Hotspot wifi (S16 49.077 W151 24.938). At the end of the bay is an emergency services building and community center. You can see the kayaks and outrigger canoes from shore. If you pull in to the small landing, you can use the outdoor showers to bath. I recommend trying to contact someone at the emergency services building to request permission. Though probably not strictly necessary, it would be polite.

For a really nice adventure, take your dinghy and enter the estuary to explore up river. There are two tall sticks in the water to mark the entrance and a shallow bar (S16 49.163 W151 24.991). If you are fortunate, you will encounter James Alfred Taero (Tah-air-oh) (Cell 319781), a local guide and farmer. He will take you to a shared farm/plantation (S16 49.724 W151 25.277) and introduce you to the local flora and fauna. During this visit, you will learn all about what "is good for me, not good for you" as well as what is "big and poisonous, not good to eat". You are also likely to shlep home with a whole bag full of samples. Bring your back pack. If requested, James will also take you on a long walk to visit a vanilla farm and view the incredibly beautiful surrounding countryside. The walk is steep and not for the faint of heart, but it leads through the local farm country and winds up into the hills, and in our opinion it was well worth the effort. Again, take a backpack for your samples as well as a lot of water. It is not clear at all how James makes a living. It was abundantly evident to us that he does not expect you to compensate him in any way for the time he'll spend with you. You are his guests, and he apparently takes great pleasure in showing you the valley and teaching you about the flora and fauna. Having said that, by dint of much persuasion, we were able to convince him that where Ceilydh and Don Quixote come from, you don't visit someone's house without bringing a vase of flowers, a potted plant, a plate of cookies, or some other "host gift." While something of a cultural hurdle, I think he finally understood well enough to accept our gifts without insult. Trust me that if you spend a day with James, you will want to give him something of yourself. The day is a true pleasure and very different from our ordinary hikes, snorkels, and town visits.

(continued Part III)

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