Exploring Moorea

Bo – a friend from the catamaran Sybo – suggested a bike ride on Moorea so at six in the morning the three of us were on land with our bikes assembled, kitted up and fully motivated.

The island of Moorea has a road all the way round the edge. A nice flat road with a good tarmac surface and, most of the way a bike lane. It is 60 kilometers so on a sunny morning you are finished before it gets warm.

Boring!

Moorea also has a mountain bike trail. A lot of off road track and some steep, slippery, root covered, stony trails. Every kilometer there is a stony stream to cross and most of the time you are heading up or back down. The entire route is through plantations and jungle so there is a lot of different greens and no breeze.

That sounds more like us.

By starting with the “once round the island tour” to warm up, we ensured that we reached the mountain bike trail with the sun high in the sky so that the sweat was pouring off us. It was still great fun and took us far off the tourist track.

We finished by cycling up to the Belvedere viewpoint which, at 270 meters above sea level, is the highest point you can cycle to on the island. From there it was all downhill back to the boat.

Our route is at AllTrails

Trekking Moorea

Moorea is stunningly beautiful. You have the verdant mountains of the Marquesas but the protective reefs of the Tuamotus. And shops and Internet. Definitely paradise.

From the boat we can enjoy the view up in to the mountains but yesterday we joined Sybille and Bo for a trek up to the three pines viewpoint. Luckily our guides had already been there so we just followed in the steps of Sybo Tours (would have 5 stars in TripAdvisor if they were in there).

At a little above three hundred meters we reached the viewpoint and were rewarded with a panoramic view not only of Cook’s Bay but also of Opunohu Bay and the peak of Mount Rotui between them.

We continued on over the ridge and down in to the Opunohu valley where we passed traces of houses, store sheds and temples dating back to the fifteenth century, a reminder of how populated Polynesia was before the Europeans arrived.

Back at the dinghy Sybo treated us to drinks and ice cream. If they start taking paying guests, their success is guaranteed.

Sailing the Societies

Last week we cycled across Tahiti so this week we sailed round the island to get a better look at the “lonely bits”.

The first day we had little wind and what there was was against us. We drifted and tacked but after seven hours finally had to use the motor. We planned on anchoring just behind the reef which meant entering through the pass at Maraa. As we approached all we could see were huge waves and no sign of an opening. We were both relieved when a local fishing boat appeared and passed easily between the waves showing us the way in. That night we anchored off the village.

The second day there was more than enough wind but in exactly the wrong direction. Another day of tacking. One tack was a little earlier than planned when a huge whale appeared broaching right in front of us. More amazing views of jungle coated mountains and another pass to enter in the evening. This time there were even surfers running the waves left and right of us. We anchored in the protected anchorage of Port Phaeton.

Day three was going to be cycling but the rain proved that we are good at “situative” and instead we walked across the isthmus so that we could add “walked across Tahiti” to “cycled across” and “sailed round”. The rainy afternoon was a great excuse to laze around.

From Port Phaeton we stayed inside the reef for a few miles before sailing back out to sea and continuing upwind. We left the inhabited part of the island behind us and enjoyed spectacular views up deep green valleys towards the high mountains. We are now experts at tacking upwind but, even with our experience, we arrived at the next pass just before dark and decided it was too dangerous. Instead we rounded the head of the island and enjoyed a night sail back to Point Venus where, at one thirty, we dropped anchor.

Three days upwind and seven hours back! You know why sailors prefer a following wind.

Back in Papeete we anchored next to our friends on the catamaran Sybo and the following morning sailed to Moorea having swapped crews. Bo joined Neill on Artemis while Heidi moved to the all girls team with Sybille on Sybo. Bo enjoyed happy memories of monohulls while Heidi had her first taste of catamaran sailing. We had winds of over twenty knots from behind and flew the twenty miles to Moorea where we anchored just inside the reef.

Tahiti

When you dream of sailing the world, Tahiti is one of the places you dream of arriving. In normal times. During the Covid pandemic, it is less inviting; the infection rate is high and you have to wear masks – something we had avoided living in the wilderness.

But we have bought an appartment in Allgäu and needed the German consul to witness our signatures. He lives in Papeete so we sailed the two days downwind to see him.

The biggest “house” we have seen in months.

Our first view of the island was a mass of cloud on the horizon but as the sun climbed the mountains began to appear and realization dawned – we had sailed from Scotland to Tahiti! Amazing!

We anchored off Venus Point where in 1769 James Cook anchored to observe a Venus transit. He was met by women in grass skirts, we were moved on by the police.

Next we moored in the middle of Papeete and enjoyed a week of city life. Consulate, shopping, dinner out, meeting loads of friends, drinks on other boats, pizza on Artemis, showering in the park and more shopping.

Artemis in the big city

We also fitted in three bike rides up the mountains and along the valleys – the longest was 100km – so now we need to do some sailing to recover.

I am writing this as we are anchored alone just behind the reef off a small village. Locals were surfing in their canoes and headed home at sunset with cries of “Yo-Rana” (hello). Now it is dark and all we can here is the massive surf crashing on to the reef. It is wonderful to own a home that can be in the middle of the city in the morning and behind a coral reef in the evening

Tahiti – the MTB adventure

You don’t cycle on a tropical island expecting to be trapped by flash floods but …

We were on our bikes at first light and cycled the first fifty kilometers along the coast road. Twice, we had to hide from passing showers which should have served as a warning of what was to come. We found a cafe for a second breakfast, hid from the rain again and then turned left in to the jungle.

There is a reason Tahiti is covered in rain forest – because when it rains it really rains. We followed a narrow track through an incredibly deep, unbelievably steep, vegetation clad gorge. We met a few bamboo cutters but other than that we were totally alone, surrounded by every shade of green. The water fell from the sky, it ran down the hillsides, it washed across the track and soaked us but at least it was warm.

The track gradually rose in to the mountains and every bend offered a new view of forest and waterfalls. After passing a reservoir we reached the “stupidly steep” section and pushed up the volcanic rock until we reached a tunnel that took us in to the next valley. Here we met the first cars and one warned us that the road was flooded but maybe OK. We enjoyed the ride down to a mountain hotel with more stupendous views.

Normally this is a road

The hotel was closed because the road further down the valley was flooded and impassable. The owner gave us a warm lunch and coffee but refused payment as she was closed. The people here are so friendly. After the meal the lady informed us that a pickup had just arrived after crossing the flood and that it was now possible with a high 4×4 vehicle. We set off to take a look and found that the entire overspill of a reservoir was flooding and biking was out of the question. Luckily a local family ferried us over in their pickup and we were free to roll back down to the coast and then cycle the twenty kilometers home.

Along the coast road the sun was shining and locals were surfing the huge waves. Definitely a day of contrasts.

Our route is at Alltrails

Looking for Elin

We knew that the lone sailor Daniel and his boat Elin were probably anchored somewhere inside Kauehi Atoll so one evening we left Fakarava at last light and sailed overnight to reach the pass at Kauehi (Arikitamiro Pass) for the morning slack tide. The entire trip was hard on the wind and passing squalls had us turning loops and sailing zigzags. We were glad to enter the lagoon and ghost along on the remains of the dieing breeze.

Elin and Artemis in the wilderness

It was a challenge to find a tiny white hulled boat amongst the pure white beaches that fringe the lagoon but we guessed the right area and eventually found Elin alone in the south east corner and anchored nearby. Daniel soon joined us for a drink and dinner and didn’t seem unhappy that we had interrupted his hermit like existence in his uninhabited corner of the world. We refilled his water tank from our watermaker and Heidi fed him exotic Artemis menus. In return he provided us with coconuts, hours of interesting conversation and helped us turn our anchor chain round. A real win-win situation.

On the reef we found an off road trail that we guessed would eventually lead to the village of Tearavero so the next day we assembled our bikes and followed the track. It wound through the palm trees before crossing to the wild, ocean pummeled side of the reef and then back to the turquoise coloured lagoon. The ground was full of coconuts, palm fronds and scurrying crabs as well as coral outcrops and huge crab holes. We were happy to eventually reach the concrete roads in the “city”.

We stopped at the shop to buy carrots but couldn’t resist a beautiful, locally made pearl and mother of pearl necklace. Next we visited the town hall to register with the villages one policeman and look for a bit of Internet. We found a tiny bit but, as the policeman confirmed, it was a satellite connection and impossibly slow. A visit to the church and cycle out to the airport concluded the “tourist stuff” and then we headed back home.

We passed a very well kept garden and asked Edouard – the owner – if he had any vegetables to sell. He gave us a chinese cucumber and a papaya but insisted “no money”. His main cash crop are flowers, that he sells to be used in sun cream, and his small pearl farm – now we knew where the pearls in the necklace came from.

Back at the anchorage we converted the chinese cucumber in to a meal and invited Daniel over for another evening of sun down drinks, dinner and philosophy.

And today after five days “in the wilderness” we plan on taking the afternoon tide and heading back downwind with more great memories of amazing places and interesting people.

Our bike route is at Alltrails

International life

We speak German and English but here in French Polynesia they speak French and Polynesian so we are learning French.

I was testing Heidi and asked “nine?” to which she answered “non!”. I said “no” so she looked at me and said “of course nein is non” to which I answered no “nine is neuf.” Totally correctly she exclaimed “bien sur!” and pointed out that “neuf is nine”. Perhaps three languages in one conversation is too many.

We had some shopping delivered from Tahiti and logged in to our online banking to pay the nice lady. We used her IBAN but the bank wouldn’t allow us to pay local money (XPF) so we used EUR. The next day there was an answer from the bank saying EUR for an XPF account even with IBAN wouldn’t work. Strangely a neighbouring boat managed to pay USD and it arrived as XPF. This is too complicated. We have delegated it to the kids.

Here, palm weaving is high tech!

And don’t even get us started on clearing in to a country with closed borders that we are not officially in even when we are there.

Coral Island Yoga

I had managed to avoid yoga for over fifty years. I was convinced it was only really for Real monks who had trained since birth or neurotic housewives “trying to find themselves” between the shopping and the kids.

The two of us, Heidi and I, were anchored in the beautiful Pacific atoll of Tahanea hiding from Covid and the world in general. We were busy harvesting coconuts and enjoying the aquarium below our boat. Real stress was when two sets of neighboring crews turned up together for a coffee and coconut cake. Life was good!

And then Aimee let drop, at a dinner party, that she was a yoga instructor who was just “drifting through” on her way from teaching in Mexico to New Zealand. Not surprisingly every one wanted to “give it a try” and Heidi convinced me that it probably wouldn’t kill me and there was a tiny chance that I may enjoy it.


The next day we students were arranged in a half circle around Aimee in the most stunning location that has ever been the scene of a yoga lesson. A sand spit of white coral sand, fronted by the azure blue lagoon and backed by swaying palms. The sky was deep blue from horizon to horizon and in the background we had the music of the Pacific swell in the distance crashing on to the reef. We were relaxed even before we experienced the first of Aimee’s signature smiles.

Surprisingly, at least for me, there was no chanting of mantras in ancient languages, no bowing our heads to the ground and we weren’t expected to wear flowing robes. Maybe I have been watching the wrong films! Instead there was a confident, smiling, lady who explained exactly what we were to do, demonstrated everything and offered alternatives for those of us “over forty”. No matter what we actually achieved, she praised our efforts and gently suggested improvements. The lesson was instructive and (I admit) great fun.

Of course I watched Aimee and thought that what she was demonstrating was impossible and of course I stretched things I haven’t stretched in years but she ensured that I didn’t stretch too far and after each exercise that I managed to return to my normal shape. Aimee’s love of yoga was infectious so the next day, and the next ten days, we returned for more.

As we followed the trade winds West, we moved from beach to beach but all ensured that we were anchored off the same reef as Aimee so that at half past three we were all ready for the next lesson. With us all telling others about our amazing instructor, the class grew and one afternoon there were eleven nationalities present following Aimee’s clear commands – they have to be clear when almost everyone only has English as a second language.

Tomorrow it appears that our routes part so it will be our last session with Aimee but she has prepared us an “instruction manual” to follow so that even when we are alone at sea or on a far way, uninhabited island we can still enjoy “Yoga with Aimee”. 

We are hooked. Thank you!

Our instructor – Aimee Norton-Taylor – can be contacted at amaysnt@hotmail.com

Anchoring amongst the coral

In sailing school you learn to anchor as follows:

  • Choose a suitable location
  • Drop the anchor
  • Pull back to check it is holding
  • Take some bearings to fix your position and hoist the anchor ball
Searching for coral and pearl farm lines

In the Tuamotos anchoring is more of an experience:

  • Check all the charts you have and satellite imagery and read any and all pilot books, guides and reports you can get your hands on.
  • Check the weather very carefully paying particular attention to the wind direction.
  • When you reach the atoll, hope the current through the pass agrees with your calculations.
  • Place a coral spotter in the bow and head slowly to your planned location avoiding the coral heads.
  • Look for a patch of sand with no coral
  • Drop the anchor so it holds
  • Jump in the sea to check the location and if there is too much coral try again – keep telling yourself that sharks don’t eat human.
  • Let out chain affixing buoys to the chain to keep it “floating” above the coral.
  • Attach a long “spring line” to the anchor chain to add elasticity
  • Snub the chain and spring line to your cleats.
  • Set the anchor watch.
  • Pull back to set the anchor while some one is in the water checking the situation under water – sharks are OK; really!
  • Drink a coffee with a shot of rum.

Maybe not surprisingly, once the anchor is in, we stay a few days.