Today, this beautiful Friday morning in Bora Bora, marks the end of our 90-day visa in French Polynesia. Later this morning we will dinghy ashore, with passports in hand, walk to the Gendermarie and officially check out of the country. It feels like a particularly large milestone, and one that we didn’t even quite think past. Bora Bora is another jumping off point for South Pacific cruisers, one where we have to choose a path to the western side of the ocean. Another long-passage lies before us, with Tonga and Fiji on the other side. Buddy boats have been congregating here in the anchorages, as we all checked in together in Hiva Oa, we all check out together around the same time, which has made for an excellent capstone to our French Polynesian time.
Since leaving Fakarava in the Tuamotus, we made a three-day passage to Tahiti, the largest island among all the islands groups, and immersed ourselves in the city culture of Papeete. It was indeed a shock to the system to walk ashore and see grocery stores, pharmacies and bus stops all within a short reach of our anchorage. The first trip into a large grocery store was like a wonderland after Marquesas and Tuamotus: air-conditioned, bright fluorescent lights, large piles of clean produce! We walked around the first store, just to appreciate the large assortment of peanut butters, cheeses, canned goods, and we walked out buying only a couple baguettes and cheese for breakfast. We were amazed at how excited and overwhelmed we were in the city. Provisioning, of course, was a large part of being in Papeete, but we also made time to just explore and enjoy city life. We ended up choosing to dock the boat for two nights in the downtown marina of Papeete, which was a treat just to be able to walk off the boat without the dinghy! In the evening, food-trucks would come out in the waterfront park and serve cheap (or relatively cheap for French Polynesia) street food items, including Chicken Chao Mein, Poisson Cru, Sashimi — not quite your everyday food cart items! While the food trucks made for cheap eats, getting laundry done was the exact opposite. It cost us 40$USD to wash two large loads of laundry, including our sheets and towels, which needed a good wash. This price tag inspired us later on to start doing more salt-water laundry with one fresh water rinse. Gone on are the days of cheap Mexico laundry service, where I could get everything done for five dollars! While we sent away all our clothes and sheets, Sedna did have the luxury of being washed herself several times at the dock, and we were cleaning her up in particular for our second guest of the season, Connie, who arrived shortly after we did.
With Connie onboard, we spent a week on the nearby island of Moorea. Moorea was a much more quiet and laid back place. Fewer boats, more bicycles. Our first trip to the local grocery, we brought back crackers, brie, and a bottle of French rose! Rough, I know! We rented bikes to tour the northern part of the island, and spent an entire day hiking around the central valley, just up inside Cook’s Bay. Recently, there had been a large Xterra race on Moorea (Some of your might know of Xterra because my sister did a season of races a couple years ago), and because of that there was a well established and well-marked trail system for hiking and mountain biking. Near the top of the valley was an agricultural center that sold homemade ice cream created with locals fruits, which made for a great reward after a long day of jungle hiking. At the end of Connie’s week we returned to Tahiti, and did a much more major provisioning run, as well as an engine check-up before continuing on down the island chain.
The next island we stopped by was Huahine, where Clif and I rented bicycles and did a long hot day of hill climbs around the very tranquil island. We stopped and purchased some vanilla pods from a local family, ate road-side pork sticky buns, and tried a myriad of local fruit flavors at a French liquor distillery (My favorite being the passion fruit, which we purchased a bottle of to add to rum drinks!). The free-diving on both Moorea and Huahine had poor visibility and not the best coral formations, so we spent a lot more time exploring the islands themselves, rather than the water around them. In Huahine, they had a small lagoon-side “Yacht Club.” Yacht Club in these parts really just means bar— and usually they have a happy hour to entice us cheap cruisers to come and purchase Hinano beer (the beer of French Polynesia) on draft. We had several evenings catching up with friends, and watching large rain squalls pass as we sipped large Hinanos, chatting about the upcoming passages and plans for New Zealand and beyond.
After a quick stop on the island of Tahaa, we crossed with several buddy boats to Bora Bora, where we sit now, anchored alongside Bravo, Ripple, Westy, Hylite and Tioga— all the same boats we left La Cruz with— the same friends we had margaritas with before starting our South Pacific journey. We’ve been here close to a week and a half, and we’ve hiked the mountain twice, rented bicycles, gone free-diving with large manta rays and had several long dinghy rides to and from happy hours on the beach, back to our boats. Clif was able to get a afternoon lesson and paddle with a local outrigger (pirogue, or va'a) racer, which he had been wanting to do since we arrive in French Polynesia! Turned out that his teacher/va’a buddy was some Tahitian/Hawaiian racing champion… which we didn’t learn until later.
Our time here in Bora Bora has also coincided with the Heiva Festival, which is a massive cultural festival that takes place for an entire month, with dance competitions, traditional sporting events, and artisan craft fairs. It’s a wonderful time to be here— we feel so lucky! All of us have joked one time or another that we’re enjoying our “honeymoons” in Bora Bora, anchoring alongside the lagoon bungalows, where guests pay anywhere from $500 to $5,000 per night. The view of the mountain is always present and beautiful, and even more majestic now that I’ve summited it! The hike to the top of Bora Bora was one of the most challenging and steep mountain climbs I’ve done, with long sections of ropes to assist in climbing, dripping sweat constantly because of the humidity, but the view from the top, overlooking the entire lagoon, will be a memory that highlights my South Pacific season.
Looking back on other highlights of my time in French Polynesia…
- Swimming in a waterfall pool all to ourselves on Ua Poa
- Diving with sharks at night in the Fakarava South Pass
- Spear-fishing with locals on the motu Hirifa on Fakarava
- Handing out swim goggles to kids on Makemo and swimming with them off their village pier
- Drinking out of fresh coconuts with Clif and Dad
- Swimming almost every day in warm, clear water (in Tuamotus and Societies)
- Brie and Baguettes for appetizers during “sundowners” with friends
- Eating the freshest tuna ALL the time (that includes a great sushi party with friends this past week)
- Making mango chutney out of fresh mangos collected on a hike on Nuku Hiva
- My first taste of Pamplemousse… and eating it all the time with Clif.
The list could continue…
Now… literally in fifteen minutes, we will load up the dinghy, go get our passports stamped and I will go send some final emails before we begin our prep for our 10-day passage to Nuie, a small island 200 miles east of Tonga. Luckily, we’re leaving with friends, and should be arriving with friends as well. We’ve been all piling up waiting for a weather window to do the crossing— some of us for quite some time— teasing that “Heaven forbid we’re stuck in Bora Bora,” We’re all a little excited, ancy, nervous and ready to head onto to our next chapter of Pacific: Tonga! Looking forward to it (not necessarily the passage,) but the diving and water-play-time that lies ahead! Until then…
Giselle & Clif
P.S.-- If you enjoying reading about our adventures this year, download a copy Latitude 38 magazine online for July and upcoming in August. Our friend Meli write a good article about their crossing and it's featured in the section, "Chages in Latitude," and more Pacific stories next month.