The first of many Society Islands
So we were hoping to write an article on each of the Polynesian islands we visited. Unfortunately due to pretty rubbish weather and therefore lack of stories to tell, we have decided to put the islands of Huahine and Raiatea together. The weather turned on us the last day and a half in Rangiroa and it didn’t change much until the last afternoon in Raiatea 8 days later – Lashing rain, wind, storms and mosquitos. We shouldn’t complain because we had incredible weather in the Tuamotu Islands.
We’d met people who had 3 weeks of rain out of their 4 week trip to Polynesia! I think it was just all the camping that made it feel worse than it was and made life a little more restricted – You leave the tent to go to the toilet, you get soaked – You leave the tent to go to the kitchen, you get soaked – Our clothes and all our belongings were damp for two weeks straight.
Anyway, we did as much as we could but we are a little gutted we didn’t see the islands in all their glory!
The first of the Leeward Society Islands we visited was Huahine. To get to Huahine from Rangiroa we took our first plane at midday to Tikehau, then Tikehau to Tahiti. In Tahiti we waited an hour before boarding our next plane to Moorea and finally arriving in Huahine at 6pm. A long afternoon but some great views from the planes!
Air Tahiti interisland will stop off at a number of different islands on the way to your chosen destination. In these cases you stay on the plane, collect some passengers and off you go again. We actually only took two planes but landed and took off 4 times.
When we arrived we were picked up by Christelle and taken to Hiva Camping in Parea, located the complete opposite end of the island in Huahine Iti (Huahine Small). We arrived at night and just pitched our tent not knowing what we would wake up to the next morning. Exciting! There were already three other tents at the campsite.
We woke up early as usual and opened the ‘door’ to a gorgeous view of Huahine’s southern lagoon and the Pacific Ocean. Stunning. We also soon discovered unfortunately how totally isolated we were at Hiva Camping. It may be very cheap to stay there, but you really need transportation. We had none. Christelle and Terry hired out bicycles but the island was too big to get very far and they charged a bomb. The first morning we walked two hours return in one direction and then two hours in the other. There wasn’t much around! It was also a Sunday so hitchhiking was almost impossible. No problem we’ll figure something out for the next day. In the meantime we snorkeled in the lagoon and were nicely surprised at the number of fish. Not much coral but lots of fish.
After zero sleep from what felt like hurricane force winds and monsoon rain pounding our tent all night, we were desperate to spread our wings and go explore.
We waited for the weather to subside and then attempted to hitchhike at least all the way around Huahine Iti. Unfortunately we had to walk 3 km before the first and only car that passed us picked us up. He took us as far as the bridge connecting Huahine Nui and Iti and gave us a great running commentary of the area. The island was stunning, green, mountainous and gorgeous bays everywhere. After another 2km walk and given two free Polynesian grapefruits (so much better than the yucky European ones!) by a local, we were picked up again and taken another 4 kms until the driver’s house. From here we struggled. No cars, vans, scooters, bicycles, nothing. We walked and walked and walked – 7 km we calculated before finally someone took pity on us in the rain. Fortunately the Pacific rain didn’t show it’s full force until later that evening when we were in the main town of Faare (Christelle the owner took us on her way to a meeting then picked us up an hour and a half later and took us back to the camping!) We spent approximately 20 minutes exploring the town before running out of things to do and were soaked to the skin. We bought some beers and crisps and went to find some shelter by the port for next hour – Classy!
Our day was ok – Exhausted from the walking and fed up with the continuous bad weather, BUT….. it was still adventurous and different. We decided the next day we would definitely hire a scooter or a car and explore the island properly.
The next day was a disaster. Another bad night’s sleep in awful weather. We then walked to the rental shop. To find it cost 50 euros to hire a scooter for 4 hours, then double that for a car! Ouch! We decided to hitchhike into Faare and find a cheaper rental place before they all closed at 11am for the day. 1.5 hours later not a single car passed. We gave up after walking a further 4kms. We returned to the camping still walking. Still no cars or pickups and then it started to rain. Not very successful at all! We’d definitely recommend renting on arrival if someone is staying at Hiva camping. On the plus side of a very frustrating stay, we met some lovely people who we spent even more time with the next few weeks.
Next stop Raiatea
Next island Raiatea, a whopping 10 minute flight from Huahine. We took an early flight which wasn’t difficult to wake up for because we had another night of crazy weather. So at 5:30am, in the dark, we attempted to dismantle the wet tent in very windy conditions. Fun, fun, fun!
We arrived at our next campsite in the middle of the Sunset Motel complex. We immediately went about organising a car rental or scooter rental, diving, day trip excursions, everything and anything to get us on the move and doing things.
The organising took a little bit of time. People in Raiatea are so laid back they are almost horizontal. The dive school didn’t know when they were diving next, the car rentals had no small cars for us but then they said they might, then they said they’d call us later in the day…….. Deep breathe. We hired two bicycles for the afternoon and then planned to go back and phone again after a little refresh to clear our heads.
The bikes were delivered and picked up from our campsite – great! After pitching the tent, off we went to the main town Uturoa, a 20 minute cycle away. There wasn’t much to it, but it was a big improvement on Faare in Huahine. We wondered around, ran some errands and returned to the campsite at lunch and met the other friendly campers – A Belgium couple, French couple, and the lovely Libby from Australia.
We jumped back on the bikes for another 3 hours after lunch. We headed anticlockwise around the island and cycled until the rain started when we decided turned back. The road and landscape was stunning. Another cloudy day so the colours weren’t the best, but for us we were free, adventurous and the locals were crazy friendly as usual. Our positivity was increasing and on our return we successfully booked a hire car for the next day, some diving for the day after that, and on our final day in Raiatea we booked an excursion to visit its sister island of Tahaa.
The next morning, our hire car arrived – a little on the small side especially with 5 of us squashed in – Libby, Mathieu, Juliette, myself and JM. Our plan was just to spend the day driving around the island, visiting a few places of interest, take lots of photos, check out a few motus by snorkelling or kayaking, and go for a hike.
The latter three went straight out the window when the heavens opened and the rain came down. We couldn’t see much out the windows, the clouds were so low you couldn’t see the mountains, the wind was too strong to valid kayaks and the water was so murky you’d see nothing of the reefs.
Anyway, again on a positive note (always positive!) we were having a right giggle in the car and decided to try out a random shell museum. It was mentioned in Libby’s lonely planet but there were no signs for it along the road. We asked some locals and we tried our luck at a random house. We were lucky!
We were greeted by a lovely French couple and invited inside to their mini museum. It was very very impressive. We expected to just take a look ourselves and be off but the lady actually gave us a guided tour. She was the most passionate lady about shells ever! At first we were enthusiastic, smiley, energetic and we translated everything for Libby. All of this faded slowly as the lovely very, very, very, very, chatty lady continued to talk for two and a half hours! Being polite and seeing how happy she was, we didn’t want to be rude and ask her to either speed up or we leave half way through her finishing. Even though the weather was bad we’d paid for a car for the day and wanted to make full use of it. On top of that the boys were getting hungry and that causes even more problems! It was almost comical. We’d accidentally stopped translating to Libby who we could see was now day dreaming away like us. When we did remember to translate Libby was overly enthusiastic. We’d tell her the colour of the shells can change over its life time (or something like that…) and she would always smile and say, “WOW, really, amazing!!” The gastropods bury themselves in the sand, “WOW, really, that’s amazing!!” She had us in fits of giggles and she didn’t even know why! So we spent 2.5 hours of our life in a shell museum, in a room only 15m x 2m, with mosquitos everywhere. We were silently laughing even more because everyone was trying to kill the mosquitoes but making sure we still looked like we were paying attention! So funny. Eventually we escaped but honestly, we learnt a lot (in the first hour anyway) and we were so happy to have given the couple some business. We’d learnt not to ask her any questions because she took a long time answering, especially the simple yes or no questions, and eventually we were soon out of there and searching for somewhere to finally eat!
For the rest of the day we visited the famous Taputapuatea Marae, had lunch on a pontoon in a beautiful bay (it wasn’t raining whoopee!) Visited a pearl shop and just stopped when it wasn’t raining for photos. In the evening we drove next door (still raining heavily) to a local dance rehearsal for the annual Heiva dance festival in July. Its a huge event in Polynesia and they rehearse over and over again for months beforehand. They were phenomenal. No idea how the girls can rotate their bottoms like that! It’s as if they have a duracell battery in each cheek that rotates it round and round!!!
The day was well worth it. The car costs split 5 ways made the weather seem less disadvantageous, and we all had a huge laugh.
The next day we decided to move our tent to another spot because a swimming pool was forming around it.
We then jumped into our car which we had for a few more hours and headed into town early to see live music outside the market. It was a little bit of a wash out but the group comprised of some older guys trying their hardest to lift the spirits of the soaked passerbys. Sadly when you entered the market you could see the catastrophic effects of the last 4 months of bad weather on the island’s produce. Hardly any fruit and veg and as a result people struggling to make a living. We’d been told there had been difficulties and shortages but it really showed. Apart from the odd lemon and taro there was really nothing. Here’s hoping things get better for them soon.
We dropped the car off and took shelter in the camping kitchen for a while. I went off diving in the afternoon with Hemisphere Sub to check out the reefs of Raiatea. I was desperate to dive the pass, recommended by the dive instructor in Tikehau but the visibility was 5m but 30+ on the reef. I didn’t want to feel like I was diving in the UK so we headed out of the lagoon and dove the back of the barrier reef, ocean side. The dive was beautiful, the black tip sharks were coming within a metre of us which was amazing, there were clown fish and anemones around, schools of fish, barracuda, and the reef was all overlapping so it was really good fun putting our head in the holes, shining a light, and having a look. Raiatea is not especially famous for its diving and it was my first dive in Polynesia outside the Tuamotu Islands but I really enjoyed it. I’ll have to come back and dive the pass next time!
On our final morning before leaving for Bora bora we packed up the tent – It was actually dry! Before hitchhiking into town for one last explore and to run some errands. When we got back to the camping the heavens opened like never before. It was at this point we took advantage of Libby being an ex-hairdresser to cut JMs maine! Perfect way to pass the time in Polynesia! Libby left an hour or so later and we waited for our pick up to the airport in the sun on the pontoon. Yes i said sunshine! Hallelujah. We hung all our wet stuff out to dry and enjoyed every last moment before the sun went down and we were due at the airport.