After spending three months in three different island groups in French Polynesia (FP), we decided to summarise the highlights from what we did (and did not do). After such a short time, we realise that we have only scratched the surface of what there is to see. Therefore, we refer to our 'favourite x', not the 'best x'. Here goes...
Favourite information source
We only discovered this site in the Tuamotus. There is an extensive list of useful things to download: The Tuamotus compendium, The Societies compendium, satellite images for OpenCPN, etc. The original text is updated from cruiser reports sent in and there is an active community supporting it
2. Charlies Charts for French Polynesia
We found these in the chandlery in Nuku Hiva. Information is dated but the charts are very accurate (based on our experience)
3. The Pacific Crossing Guide
We have the 2006 edition but still a great resource to help plan where you wish to go.
1. Daniels Bay, Nuku Hiva
One of only two completely sheltered anchorages in the Marquesas (the other is Anaho Bay). The scenery is spectacular, both in the anchorage and throughout the long valley behind it. There is a good drinking water tap in the village, a walk to a 200m waterfall, and the best value meal and fruit in FP.
2. Cooks Bay, Moorea
On the north shore of Moorea, the scenery is again stunning. There are actually two anchorages in this bay; one just behind the reef (for snorkelling) and one at the head of the bay (for hiking and provisioning). There are at least four hikes which, given the time, we would have liked to do from here.
3. Toau, Tuamotus (false pass)
The false pass is on the north west corner. There are circa 10 mooring buoys, all well maintained. The attraction is the snorkelling and the restaurant. The owners, Gaston and Valentine, do not rely on a supply ship but use their own garden and the sea for everything they serve.
The mooring field off Motu Fareone, in the southeast corner of Bora Bora cannot be included thanks to the $40/night charge (with no services) and the frequent jet ski visitors. Having said that, there is pretty good snorkelling at 'The Aquarium' and the opportunity to visit Mika, a plucky Canadian who is trying to eke a living from making coconut oil with various additives, all based on what he grows himself. Finally, being able to take a photo of your boat here, in front of such an iconic landmark in the south Pacific, generates a worthy mention (shame about the cloud)
1. North pass, Tahanea for manta rays
Tahanea is a protected nature reserve, mainly because some extremely rare birds nest on some of the motus. However, for us, the manta rays in the north pass were special. We were recommended to drift snorkel, just as the current began to flow into the atoll. The manta rays were easy to spot because their activity took place at the surface and their wings ruffled the water. There were so many of these graceful creatures.
2. Coral Gardens, Taha'a
The name is a misnomer. Actually, the coral is not in great shape. However, the crystal clear water, variety and density of fish made this one of our favourite snorkelling spots despite the number of tour boats and people.
3. Touau, (false pass)
One of the cruiser reports in the Tuamotus compendium states, "came for three days but loved it so much we stayed for two weeks". The snorkelling around the horeshoe inner reef was very varied. Annick saw a turtle, eagle rays as well as an abundance of fish
1. Mount Aora'i , Tahiti
This hike of 18 km and 1450m of ascent is not for the faint-hearted. It is used as a training ground by the French military. But the route has some spectacular views (see top picture, courtesy of Gary, SV Manxman). The hut at 1800m, 250m below the summit makes for a decent interim goal. A quarter of an hour past the hut, there is a short section with fixed ropes. Although not difficult, they do require a good head for heights. After that, the summit is just a steep fifty minute slog.
This has to be a beach in the Tuamotus. The sandy beaches are typically in the (SE) corner facing the prevailing winds. We choose Tahanea because there is space for a lot of boats, the beach is lovely and it was the venue for the Scandinavian midsummer Party.
Favourite meal in a restaurant
1. Daniels Bay
Daniel's Bay used to be home to over 10,000 people. Now just one (very extended) family remains. Most people go to the village en route to the waterfall further up the valley. There is a small access fee plus the offer of a meal afterwards. We had a massive tuna steak with very well cooked trimmings for $10 per person. With drinks $13. Easily our best value meal in FP.
Apart from that, there was very little to recommend. Restaurants in the Society islands and Fakarava were generally out of budget (although we enjoyed Bora Bora Yacht club lunch even if it was a but pricey), and there was virtually nothing on offer in the Marquesas or the other Tuamotus (the recommended restaurant on Toau was closed whilst we were there).
1. Scandinavian midsummer party (see post, " Parties and underwater delights ")
Will this become an annual event????
2. Bastille Day in Tahiti (see post, "The day of dance").
The simple answer would have been to say nowhere! Try to provision in Panama to get you to Tonga or Samoa. Of course, fresh produce is still desired.
1. Bartering in the Marquesas
Fish, fruit and limited vegetables are often best acquired through bartering. Although frowned upon due to alcohol issues in FP, stocking up with cheap wine in Panama provides a valuable currency (e.g. one bottle =40 oranges). It is suggested that fishing tackle, cosmetics, batteries are more 'socially aware' items to barter with.
2. Fruit and veg in Marquesas
Generally, fruit and (some) vegetables are cheap if buying from locals or from markets.
3. Tuna at Papeete market
Slabs of filleted tuna, enough for five tuna steaks cost $10, quite a bargain.
In Tahiti the supermarkets had everything that you could imagine, but at a price. We estimated European prices plus 20%. Vegetables and salads were even more than this.
Favourite Yacht and Technical services
1. Kevin at YSnukuhiva@gmail.com
Apart from the usual general advice, laundry and gas bottle filling, Kevin has an old Sailrite sewing machine and will take on sail repairs. We spent three hours on his porch patching up Skyfall's mainsail. It did not necessarily look pretty, but the sail has got us to Samoa.
In addition, he helps flying in parts duty free. There is administration and a fixed charge per parcel. He runs consolidation services in the UK and USA so, if you order from multiple vendors and have them shipped to his consolidation partner, then you only pay the fixed charge (circa $250 plus postage) for one parcel.
He is highly recommended
2. Technical services in Papeete.
If something needs technical expert attention the only options are Papeete or Raiatea (thanks to yacht charter operations). We noticed water in the saildrive oil and had to haulout to change the propellor seal. The Volvo engineer in Papeete was excellent and price ($70/ hour) was reasonable.. However haulout with Technimarine, although good, cost double to treble the price in Europe. They are the only game in town.
Best things we did not do
This list comes from social chats with other cruisers. We have no personal experience but they sounded great.
1.. Tahanea - going hunting with Nico
On the motu in the south east corner of Tahanea, there is a fisherman, Nico, who will not only sell you coconut crab, lobster or fish, but will also take you with him and teach you his skills. Santeri (SV Siri) was so proud when he caught his first lobster, even if the fisherman had caught 12 in the same period.
2. Visit Tahuata, Marquesas
Three different boats told us that their favourite island in the Marquesas was Tahuata. There are several sheltered anchorages on the east side. People swam with Manta rays, etc.
3.Visit Huahine, Society Islands
Time pressures made us skip Huahine. Again, several people told us we should not have skipped it and provisioning for the next leg was better than in Bora Bora.
4. Eat lobster at Toau
The restaurant at Toau (see best anchorages) offers a variety of menus but most cruisers recommend the lobster. Unfortunately, whilst we were there the owners, Gaston and Valentine, were on holiday and the restaurant was closed.
5. Kite surf or wing foil in Tuamotus
The atolls are perfect for this kind of activity. Sand, wind, sun and flat water. It was such a shame I punctured my eardrum and had to stay out of the water from most of the Tuamotus until we got to Taha'a.