Mountain biking Rurutu

Hardly anybody has even heard of the Austral Islands and Rurutu is not a place you read about in mountain bike magazines. The islands are so hard to visit that it is a wonder any tourists arrive at all. If you have crossed the Pacific andreached Tahiti, you still have to take another flight south before you are finally in the Austral islands. Unsurprisingly most people who make it don’t have mountain bikes or the time to explore.

But! If you have a sailing boat and if you have two mountain bikes on board, then Rurutu is “the” bike destination in the south Pacific.

Having sailed overnight from Tubuai, we visited the local mayor’s office and asked if they had a mountain bike map. No! But they do have a map of all the 4×4 tracks and paths which served our purpose.

The first day we met Terry who we knew from Tubuai. He showed us a cave hidden deep in the forest and together we crawled through a tiny opening to explore the hidden world of stalactites and stalagmites. Terry had a plane to catch so we left him and continued around the island.

Rurutu, like all the other Pacific islands, was formed when a volcano erupted and rose above the ocean. As it slowly sank back in to the sea a coral reef developed around the shore. A later upheaval pushed the island back up and the reef became mighty cliffs all around the island. It is all very impressive and the result is many caves in the coral cliffs and steep roads to cycle up and down. The tour round the island is only 36km but has 800 meters of climbing. And that in the middle of the tropical summer.

The next day we cycled up to a view point and then on up through the forest to the summit of the third highest mountain. The route was steep, the temperature was hot and the path not obvious. It was a challenge but the view from the summit, across the island and reefs were well worth the effort. The trail back down was steep and technical. Real mountain biking.

On the third day we took a rest from biking and instead rode local horses. We rode to the same summit as on the previous day and really felt for the horses as they carried us from sea level to above 300 meters. I can now confirm that cycling down steep, rocky tracks is definitely easier than riding down.

The next day we cycled to the highest summit and then along the summit ridge to the south end of the island. Another technical trail downhill and then two passes to get back home. The views were stunning but every local we met greeted us with “It is so hot today!” On the final climb my body gave up and I ended up pushing with no energy left. Heidi picked fruits from the forest to give me sugar but what I really needed was a day off.

After a day of lounging around, swimming and eating, we returned to the bikes and managed to cycle every trail on the map before we finally set sail back north.

Mountain biking the hills of Rurutu is a challenge. Steep uphill, technical downhill and the hot sun combine to suck the energy out of you. But it is absolutely worth it. The tracks are lonely, the views are beautiful, the people friendly and the trees are loaded with fruit.

GPS tracks:

Neue Bilder von den Austral Inseln, New Pictures from the Austral Islands

Endlich haben wir wieder die Möglichkeit euch die genialen Bilder von den Austral Inseln zu zeigen 👍 hat ein bisschen gedauert aber wir hoffen, dass sie euch genauso gut gefallen wie uns 😀😀🤣🤣.

After a long break we managed to upload the fantastic photos from the Austral Islands. We hope you enjoy them as much as we enjoyed these amazing islands 😀😀🤣🤣

Austral Islands photographs

Mila singing on the summit of her island

Here is a link to our private “polynesian concert” on the summit of Tubuai. The singer is Mila!
Hier ist der Link zu unserem Privatkonzert auf dem höchsten Gipfel in Tubuai mit Mila, der Sängerin

Live in Tubuai

A local singer made a video on Tubuai. Everyone in the video except the singer is from the island.
Dieses Video ist in Tubuai gedreht worden und alle außer der Sängerin sind von Tubuai.

The same singer sang the “Mermaid song” which Heidi learned to dance to.
Diese Sängerin sang auch den “Meerjungfrau Song” bei dem ich den polynesischen Tanzstil gelernt habe.

MOÏRA (Steve et Dalida)

Finally. Two other great musicians from Tubuai who we met at an official dinner.
Diese zwei Musikanten sind berühmt hier in den Austral Inseln und wir haben sie getroffen, als der Präsident von Französisch Polynesien in Tubuai war.

Tubuai continued

Before we sailed to Tubuai we heard from other sailors that they had spent a month anchored off the island. We had philisophised about what you found to do for such a long time. When we finally left, after over two weeks, we could easily imagine being stuck on this beautiful island.

We cycled every track on the island with Arnaud ( chief of the gendarmes and our guide) spending three days ensuring we missed nothing. He showed us hidden temples, jungle covered ceremonial stones and unknown petroglyphs. We climbed the mountains from three sides and cycled everything you can ride a mountain bike along.

Ina & Hervé – two amazingly friendly people – fed us great food, organized a gas refill, visited us on board, told us everything about mountain life and lent us their kayaks. We paddled across the lagoon to the tiny basalt island of Motu Ofai. This is the summit of a volcano that is slowly sinking in to the reef. For us it was our private tropical island to snorkel and sunbathe on totally alone.

The president of French Polynesia visited the island so there was a sit down meal to celebrate. Our friend Mila ensured that we were invited to represent the few sailors who reach this far flung island. Mila also invited Heidi to a traditional dance lesson with some local ladies where they swayed to the sound of Meherio – the mermaid song.

GPS tracks

Rurutu generosity

We were cycling across the hills on the stunningly beautiful island of Rurutu, enjoying the gentle breeze and panoramic views across the green slopes and fringing reef. We had already passed coffee bushes, grapefruit and lemon trees and our rucksacks were full from “wilderness shopping”.

another day of generosity!

In a small village we asked three taro farmers sat under a tree where we could buy avocados. One told us to follow him as he pushed a wheelbarrow of grass and roots home. Once we reached his garden he picked and opened two coconuts for us to drink the refreshing juice. While he fed the contents of his wheelbarrow to the pigs, his wife brought us fresh bananas to eat. The farmer returned with a bag full of avocados which he tied to the back of my rucksack. He and his wife then filled Heidi’s rucksack with taro. We tried to pay. We begged to be allowed to pay but they insisted everything was a present and wished us “Bonjournee” as they waved us off.

The next day we cycled back to the farmer’s village to give his wife and him some home made chocolate cake. As we passed the village hall it began to rain but there was a party in progress. One lady gestured to us that we should come in out of the rain. The next brought us fresh coconuts to drink and others asked us where we came from and explained that the party was a celebration of traditional crafts.

The world is full of wonderful people.

Welcome to Tubuai

We had heard that the people on Tubuai are friendly and that the island is beautiful. The truth is the people are incredibly friendly and the island stunningly beautiful.

Things could have started badly as we entered the lagoon through a secondary pass and just as we passed through the reef were hit by five big waves one after another. Luckily we hit no coral but it was an exciting introduction.

We anchored off the village and took the dinghy to shore. The first person we met greeted us with “welcome to Tubuai!” We reported to the extremely friendly Gendarmes who answered all our questions as if they were the local “office de tourisme”. The internet hotspot wasn’t working but the town secretary let us use her computer during her lunch break.

The dentist fixed Neill’s teeth and invited us to his house to use his Internet and give us iced coffee and amazing dried fruits. His cousin made Heidi a floral crown and then his wife dressed her in a polynesian outfit and taught her to dance. The next day Mila – the wife – guided us to the top of the highest mountain and performed a folk song and dance on the summit.

We decided to move to the harbour wall so went and asked the Gendarmes if that was OK. They sent us to the polynesian authorities who told us the mayor was responsible. The mayor’s secretary (Mrs Internet) told us to see Adrian at another department of the polynesian government. Adrian insisted he was not the Capitaine de Port but allowed us to tie up on the quay.

So now we are “downtown”. The dentist’s family visited with all five children for pizza, gateaux de Heidi and swimming and today a french engineer and a local stopped by for coffee. A local policeman stopped for a chat and promised to return with bananas.

Just writing about Tubuai is exhausting.

Raivavae – deep south

Raivavae is far south in the Austral Islands. It is at the furthest point south that the sun reaches at Austral midsummer so still in the tropics but only just.

We sailed some five hundred miles south from Taputapuatea on Raiatea with good winds and, after less than five days at sea, could see the island only thirty miles away. After another twenty four hours of fickle breezes it was still five miles away so we gave up and switched the engine on.

We anchored off the “town”, reported our arrival to the Gendarmes, chatted with the vice-mayor, visited the snack bar, were given fruit and generally enjoyed our first days on this super chilled island.

There is a road around the islands and two concrete tracks across it so we assembled our bikes for a day of exploration and calling “Io arana” (hello) to all the locals we passed. There are about 900 people on the island and they are 99.7% very friendly. Apparently three people don’t like sailors. The rest wave, chat and ask where you come from. A few men tried teaching us boules and the next day one of them gave us bananas, papaya and a root vegetable called manuk. We received so much produce while on the island that we had to make chutney again.

We moved round to the opposite side of the island and anchored inside the coral fringed lagoon. With the Motu (coral islet) on one side and the mountainous island across the water, we understood why people say that Raivavae is the most beautiful island in the Pacific.

Mount Hiro is the highest point on the island and there are two extremely steep, very narrow paths to the summit from each side of the island. We walked up one side and down the other. On the summit we met some locals who had carried a pile of bananas with them so enjoyed the stunning vista while eating them. Unlike on the Society Islands, there are no trees on the summits so you have an uninterrupted panoramic view.

Between Christmas and New Year the locals come out to the Motu to party so there was plenty happening. We tried canoeing in a local boys outrigger canoe and it was impressively fast. Not the most stable vessel but great fun. We also enjoyed lieing in “la piscine”, a protected, shallow, warm inlet made for relaxing in We sailors barbecued on New Years Eve and on our last day a local family prepared a lunch with coconut bread, manuk and six different fish dishes.

Raivavae is going to be hard to beat.

GPS tracks

Taputapuatea – the heart of the Octopus

Long ago, on the Pacific island of Havaii, the ancient kings and their priests built the temple of Taputapuatea and in its middle they set a white stone higher than a man to mark the heart of the giant, mythical octopus Tumu-Ra’i-Fenua. From the coral sand beach next to this holy place, sailing rafts set out to discover and colonize the far flung islands of Polynesia. They used the wind to sail out through the holy pass of Teavanoa, leaving the gentle waters of the reef, passing through the small notch in the circle reef and voyaging thousands of miles across the open ocean. The vast tentacles of the octopus joined islands as far apart as New Zealand and Hawaii and bound them together.

The island is now known as Raiatea but the stones of the temple are still there so we visited them while cycling the ninety-six kilometers around the island. I am sure that we, as fellow voyagers who have sailed the Pacific, felt a much deeper attachment to the builders of Taputapuatea than the tourists who arrive there for a quick visit by plane and taxi.

Today we weighed anchor after a swim amongst the corals of the lagoon and worked our way south to Taputapuatea. The wind was against us (as always) so it took eleven tacks across the lagoon but finally we saw the standing stone shining white amongst the temple ruins and turned out to sail through Teavanoa Pass. Hard on the wind and with full sails set, we just managed to pass between the coral walls and then turned south.

And now, just like those who sailed this way a thousand years ago, we can only hope the wind carrys us along Tumu-Ra’i-Fenua’s tentacle far south to the distant Austral Islands.

GPS track of our tour round the island – 20201206 round Raiatea

Une belle journée de navigation

The morning coffee was accompanied by a french lesson from our language app “Babbel”. We have now reached the stage where we know that the above means “a nice day sailing”. We are currently fighting with the passé composé and trying to work out avoir ou être. Mental jogging before breakfast.

Coffee finished, brains scrambled and time to sail the few miles round the island of Raiatea to do some serious shopping in the town of Uturoa. We had thirty meters of anchor chain out with the last fifteen suspended on fishing buoys to avoid the coral. Unfortunately the first fifteen were wrapped round a nice solid coral bom so we needed a diver to go down and unwrap the chain. He said it would take a minute but took ten and a crowbar. But experience costs money or pain so we were glad that this time it was only money.

The yellow line was us. Hitting yellow islands or blue reefs is “very bad”

We installed the new lower shrouds a few days ago (after breaking one on the way to Maupiti) so could set full sail to tack our way upwind. Navigator Heidi was calling the tacks and managed to take us through the narrow Tearearahi pass between the reefs straight in to the wind. A wind shift had us almost scraping the coral but we shot through.

We continued on to town and sailed past the harbour wall to find the perfect berth then back up wind to get the fenders and mooring lines set up. We turned and began our run in still under sail only to find that another boat had slipped in behind us and taken the only safe berth. They were our neighbours last night and had motored all the way to steal our spot.

No problem! Back up wind towards the reef and then another mile to anchor behind a palm island and wait to try again tomorrow. Hardly an efficient day but what a great sail.

A day later and we got the dream place head on in to the wind. All full with resupplies.

Taha’a – chilling in 30°C

Another week, another island. Taha’a was only a short sail from Bora Bora and, amazingly, the wind was blowing the correct way.

Taha’a has the green hills, the transparent waters and the reef protecting it from the Pacific swell. It also has an incredible sense of peace and everyone seems to be busy doing nothing slowly. The entire island is one huge botanical garden. Hibiscus is everywhere, the hedges are a riot of colour and fruit grows in every garden and wood. We returned from our first walk with so many mangos and bananas that we had to restart the chutney production and after our bike ride the rucksacks were laden with fruit.

We cycled the 66 kilometers around the island and every corner offered another beautiful view. We were shown a vanilla plantation by it’s owner and visited the island’s rum distillery. Bikes are definitely “the way” to see the islands. Fast enough to get round, slow enough to enjoy the experience. GPS track – 20201126 round Taha’a

And today is the first Sunday in Advent. A breeze let us sail the few miles to another piece of reef, the water is the perfect temperature to cool off and we have another dream sunset ordered to accompany the pizza this evening.

Bora Bora – and getting there.

After a few enjoyable weeks in Maupiti, we sailed towards Bora Bora. The good news was we had wind; the less good news, it was against us. It was only 32 miles from anchorage to anchorage but we ended up tacking hard and finally took seventy. It seemed that as fast as we changed tack, the wind changed direction. We arrived outside the reef in the night so waited for first light to enter and thus enjoyed the spectacle of the mountains appearing before the rising sun.

Against the wind sailing.

Anchoring is forbidden so we took a mooring buoy just off Bora Bora Yacht Club. One day we walked in to “town”, the next we climbed the mountains and the third we cycled round the island. No matter what the activity, each evening we enjoyed sunset cocktails on the yacht club terrace. It isn’t every day you sail to Bora Bora on your own boat.

We climbed Mount Ohue with Sybille and Bo from Sybo. The Internet talked about the trail being hard to find through the jungle, steep with fixed ropes and best with a local guide. We went alone but it is definitely steep and sometimes we had to backtrack to find our way. Luckily the ascent was on the shaded side of the mountain and all four of us reached the summit to be rewarded with stunning views. Heidi and Bo continued on climbing an overhanging rock to summit on Mount Pahia, the highest point normal mortals can reach on Bora Bora.

View from the summit.

The four of us cycled round the island. It is a pleasant ride but, if you have just arrived from Maupiti, the island isn’t so special. The rich tourists are out on the luxury hotels on the surrounding islands so the main island is just “where the locals live” and the “resupply base”. The locals are friendly of course but have definitely seen a few tourists too many. But, who can say they have cycled on Bora Bora?

On the sunday we dropped the mooring and sailed to one of the outer islands. A perfect sailing day. Sail from buoy to buoy, transparent water and perfect scenery.

Climbing – done. Cycling – done. Sailing – done. Cocktails – done. Time to head off elsewhere else.

Our climb. Our route round the island.