Beveridge Reef and Niue

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All sailboats visiting Palmerston- four in total (three with Bulgarians aboard)- leave at the same time and head west. The wind looks favorable to sail to Niue, some 400 NM away, at least for the first couple of days. We sail together in a group keeping in touch on the VHF radio. Buddy-boating is always great.

After two slow spinnaker days with light east winds, the GRIB files forecast a westerly change. We decide to stop in Beveridge Reef- some 120 NM before Niue, together with S/V Ostrica and S/V Aislando. We want to see this extraordinary place and it’s a good idea to wait inside Beveridge Reef for a few days until the unusual west winds turn from east again.

Beveridge Reef

We arrive in Beveridge Reef in the afternoon on the third day, making sure we enter through the cut in daylight, which means pushing with the engines the last couple of hours. Just before the reef- a stronger puff of wind and our spinnaker “explodes”. It’s an old secondhand sunburned undersized spinnaker we got in an attic in Martinique for 150 EU two years ago. We used it a lot during our Pacific Ocean passage and it hearts to see it all blown to shreds. But it doesn’t hurt as much as if it was a new 10-thousand-dollar sail. Ivo will try to stitch it up, even though repairing it looks impossible to me.

Fata Morgana in BR

Fata Morgana in BR

S/V Aislado arrives just a few minutes after sunset, no engines used. We help them navigate the pass by following our track on the AIS, which makes it possible for them to enter the reef in the dark. S/V Aislado might be the only yacht ever who entered Beveridge Reef successfully at night, considering that the reef is not correctly marked on any marine chart. You have to find and download a drawing and waypoints available online, before sailing there. On the electronic charts Beveridge Reef is marked as a splotch two miles away from its actual position, with no pass indicated.

Directions to Beveridge Reef

Directions to Beveridge Reef

S/V Ostrica decided to wait the night outside the reef and entered the next morning, bringing a big mahi-mahi to share with us.

S/V Ostrica arriving in Beveridge Reef

S/V Ostrica arriving in Beveridge Reef

Patrick S/V Ostrica

Patrick S/V Ostrica

Beveridge Reef is just a reef in the middle of the ocean- a narrow circular ring of coral and rock, very similar to the atolls we have already visited. The main difference is- there isn’t any islands or land area in the atoll, no sandy beach, not a single palm tree, no birds.  And not a single island in a hundred nautical miles radius. The reef is entirely underwater at high tide and at low tide the tips of its upper rocks stick out of the water. In the middle, there is a blue shallow lagoon with sandy bottom, which is an excellent anchorage, and there is only one pass on the west side to enter. The barrier reef protects the lagoon from the waves without stopping the wind and even in storms the lagoon can be a refuge for boats. If seen from the air, it looks like a turquoise flat spot surrounded by deep dark purple ocean.

Beveridge Reef

Beveridge Reef

For five days we are stuck in the reef waiting for east winds, snorkeling in the pass, cleaning the hulls, diving the wreck on the east side, and partying with our new friends in the evenings.

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As we exit the reef heading to Niue, a big motor catamaran approaches with a National Geographic team of underwater photographers aboard. They ask for directions to enter through the cut.

Watch the short video we made about Beveridge Reef.

Niue

We arrive in Niue in the afternoon on the second day after leaving Beveridge. In the evening, we watch a big lightning storm passing south of us, heading towards the Cooks. The sound of thunders is the last thing you want to hear at sea and we are grateful we arrived on time. The anchorage in Niue is one of the least protected anchorages in the South Pacific, deep and with coral bottom. So yachts have to catch a mooring buoy for 20 dollars a day paid to the famous Niue Yacht Club, and hope for good weather and east winds.

Mira and Maya in Niue Yacht Club

Mira and Maya in Niue Yacht Club

The next morning, the Niue customs and immigration officials come and we check-in right there on the dock in the port of Alofi. This dock is the only way to land ashore in Niue. You have to haul out your dinghy- in our case the kayak- and lift it up with a special crane, otherwise the rough sea and huge tides might damage it.

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No time to lose. We don’t want to spend much time and money in Niue as 20 NZ dollars per day is the most we have ever paid for a mooring. Plus, we don’t want to get stuck in bad weather in an unprotected place. We decide to hitchhike instead of renting a car for 55 NZ$ plus 19 NZ$ for a local driver’s license plus gas.

Beer for capt. Ivo

Beer for capt. Ivo

It’s a beautiful sunny day. We are right in front of the Yacht Club in Alofi, Niue’s capital, smiling, our thumbs up. A car going the opposite direction stops suddenly, makes a U-turn, and picks us up. The guy drives us across to the southeast side of the island- 13 kilometers to the village of Hakupu. It’s a narrow winding road and it takes him about 20 minutes. Sitting in the back of the car, we don’t even see his face. He is a middle-aged Polynesian man. At the end, we insist to pay for the gas- it’s a long way away from where he is going. But he refuses politely- he just wants to help us and it’s no trouble for him. “You are visitors and Niue is my home. It is only natural, and the Christian thing to do, to welcome you and help you out. “ Sometimes, a small insignificant event like this can make your day a better day. Sometimes, a nameless faceless person can have a profound effect on your entire life and change you into a better human being.

In one day, we stop a total of 11 different cars. Friendly locals give us free rides to most of the awesome places in Niue and tell us stories of the island, of hurricanes and tsunamis, of sea snakes and sharks, of wars and migrations, and other miraculous events. So this is why we fell in love with Niue. And this is why if you ask us we will tell you that Niue is one of the most beautiful places in the South Pacific with the nicest most welcoming people we have met.

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Niue is an island-country of 260 square kilometers with about 1, 500 inhabitants, who are also citizens of New Zealand. It is a self-governing state in a free association with New Zealand and 90 to 95% of the Niuean people born on the island live in New Zealand.

The island’s nickname is “The Rock” as it is one big rock in the middle of the sea, with no barrier reef, no bays, no other islands around. But the word ‘Niue’ means ‘Behold the Coconut’ in the local language.

Niue is one of the world’s largest coral islands, oval in shape, and looks like a turtle floating in the sea. Its terrain consists of a central plateau rising to about 60 meters above sea level and steep limestone cliffs along the coast with many limestone caves and chasms.

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Togo Chasm

From Hakupu village, we walk down the road past lonely graves and giant spider webs, through a forest of palm trees and ferns to the entrance of Togo chasm, located in the Huvalu Forest Conservation Area. Down the narrow treacherous path we reach an alien landscape of razor sharp coral pinnacles. Togo is one of few places on earth where a geological phenomenon like this occurs on such a large scale. A field of spectacular coral towers. The best part is- there is no one else but us.

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Next, we get a lift back to Hakupu and to Anapala Chasm on the south-eastern shore. After a short walk through the forest we reach a cave with a small pool of fresh cold spring water, used by local people for drinking since old times- the perfect place to cool down after a hike in the tropical heat. Once again, no other tourists- we are alone.

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Ivo and Maya in Anapala Chasm

By noon we are back in Alofi on the western side of the island, heading north to the Tavala Arches, caves, Matapa Chasm, the Limu Rock Pools and the Avaiki swimming cave pools- an exclusive bathing place for the ancient Polynesian kings of Niue.

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Avaiki Cave Pools

We spent one unforgettable day in Niue visiting many of its unique caves, chasms and rock pools. We loved the quiet authentic atmosphere of the island- clean and friendly, and very well organized; the fact that there are almost no other tourists there, that all the places of interest are free and open for visitors any time. Definitely a place we would return to.

Niue Map

Niue Map

Niue Photo Gallery

Togo Chasm

Togo Chasm

Togo Chasm

Togo Chasm

Togo Chasm

Togo Chasm

Togo Chasm

Togo Chasm

Togo Chasm

Togo Chasm

Togo Chasm

Togo Chasm

Togo Chasm

Togo Chasm

Coconut crab in Togo Chasm

Coconut crab in Togo Chasm

Maya in Togo Chasm

Maya in Togo Chasm

Maya in Togo Chasm

Maya in Togo Chasm

Maya in Togo Chasm

Maya in Togo Chasm

Roadside graves in Niue

Roadside graves in Niue

Banana spider in Niue

Banana spider in Niue

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Anapala Chasm

Anapala Cave

Anapala Cave

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Tavala

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Tavala Arches

 

Tavala Arches

Tavala Arches

Tavala Arches

Tavala Arches

Limu Pools

Matapa Chasm

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Limu Rock Pools

Maya in Limu Pools

Maya in Limu Pools

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Ivo, Mira and Maya

Ivo, Mira and Maya

 

 

Watch the short video with all the beautiful places we visited in Niue: Sailing, Hitchhiking, Caving, Swimming and Dancing in Niue

Find us on Facebook @The Life Nomadik
Support us on Patreon @The Life Nomadik
Watch us on YouTube @Fata Morgana

 

If you are reading this …

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… we have a small favor to ask. More people than ever are regularly reading our stories and watching our short videos, but far fewer are supporting us. We have no regular income. And unlike others, we haven’t made our content private – we want to keep posting free stories and videos for everyone. So we think it’s fair to ask people who visit our blog and YouTube channel often for their support, a sort of a friendly monthly subscription. Our efforts to research, write and post pictures, to film and edit, to translate, take a lot of time and hard work. And it’s even harder to do it from a boat with limited internet and electricity. But we do it because we believe our journey and way of life matters – because it might inspire you! If you regularly read and value our hard work, watch the videos and want to support us, consider becoming one of our patrons and part of our Nomadik family for as little as $1 or $5 dollars a month, and help us in our future travels. You can chose the amount you want to contribute and for what period of time, and you can always change your mind and change or stop your pledge. We use the funds collected through Patreon to upgrade our photo and video equipment, as well as to cover our modest living expenses- food and boat repairs. Thank you!

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The Big Marsters Family and Other Extraordinary Encounters in Palmerston

Palmerston

Palmerston

Early in the morning we exit the narrow pass of our last French Polynesian atoll Maupihaa (or Mopelia, as the French renamed it). It is one of the places I leave with a heavy hearth. I wish we could stay longer, a lot longer- at least a month more. To make copra together with Hina, to hunt for coconut crabs in the coconut forest with Bowie and Kevin and for lobsters in the reefs at night with Io and the other guys, to cook our catch on the fire, drink homemade beer and share stories. But we have overstayed our visa in French Polynesia already, and if we want to visit all the other places on our list of Places-to-Visit and get to New Zealand before the beginning of cyclone season, we better hurry up. I wish there was no cyclone seasons, no visa limitations and life was endless, so that we could spend as much time as we like in all those places we love.

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We have another long passage of 540 nautical miles ahead of us to our next destination- Palmerston. It is another small Polynesian atoll part of the Cook Islands. The weather is good with light winds behind us and 1-2-meter swell. But nothing is ever perfect; we get a few hours of no wind and a few hours of squalls. Nothing severe, the winds reach only up to 25-27 knots. We fly the spinnaker 90% of the time in 10-15 kt East-Southeast winds.

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Shortly after sunset on the second day Ivo lands a nice tuna, which I marinade with soy sauce and black pepper and roast on the BBQ. Maya no longer refuses to eat fish, but she still doesn’t enjoy its taste the way Ivo and I do. Yet, she is now old enough to realize the benefits of fish: low-fat high quality protein filled with omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins D and B2 (riboflavin), rich in calcium and phosphorus and a great source of minerals, such as iron, zinc, iodine, magnesium, and potassium. But most of all- it’s free food and we save a lot by eating free fish instead of our food reserves.

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In the afternoon on the fourth day we spot a lone big whale. Or rather- he spots us and starts circling the boat, passing way to close and too fast under the hulls to investigate. It is not the first time a whale decides to play around with Fata, but so far, they have never touched the boat.

We approach our destination just as the wind picks up and turns from northwest. Our friends aboard Amelie IV – an awesome family we met in the Caribbean- advised us not to miss Palmerston and thanks to them we decided to visit the place.

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They also told us about the very particular procedure we have to follow when we get there, so we are prepared. We call on the VHF radio channel 16 and wait to see who will answer. There are three options- either Bob Marsters, Edward Marsters or Simon Marsters will answer our call. Whoever does, becomes our host and adoptive family for the entire duration of our visit. Edward Marsters answers first and directs us to one of the mooring balls near the reef. The sea is choppy with big waves crashing on the reef just a few meters away from the boat, so it’s really hard to catch the mooring. There are three other boats on the other moorings not too far away and everyone is rocking and rolling with nothing to stop the wind and break the waves, as we are outside Palmerston’s barrier reef on the west side protected only in east and southeast winds, but not in the northwest winds we are getting. We have been told that this atoll doesn’t have a pass big enough for sailboats, so visiting yachts have to remain outside.

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Upon arrival in Palmerston, which is part of the Cook Islands and New Zealand protectorate, we are supposed to check-in with customs and immigration. Before there wasn’t such an options and yachts were required to go to Rarotonga – the capital of the Cooks first and check-in there before sailing to Palmerston.

The officials are supposed to come aboard in a fishing boat, to bring all the forms we have to fill, and to stamp our passports. But the waves are so big that it is impossible for the officials or anyone to get out of the atoll. So for the first day and the first night of our visit to Palmerston we remain on the boat backing broncos in extremely choppy conditions, waiting for the wind to change direction.

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Moorings outside the atoll

The sea calms down on the second day and we are able to do all the checking-in formalities with three friendly officials native of the island: customs, immigration and health and bio control. The formalities include filling forms, getting our passports stamped, paying the fees (less than if you check-in anywhere else in the Cook Islands) and getting the boat inspected and sprayed for bugs.

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After this our host Edward takes us to the island for the first time. Navigating through the narrow shallow pass, we enter the blue lagoon full with coral heads and rocks and head for a long white sandy beach fringed with coconut palms. Another postcard-perfect beach. Fishermen are just returning from a night of fishing, bringing a load of parrot fish, jacks and some other bigger fish; unloading the boat and cleaning the fish guts right there on the beach.

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  • These are my two sons and this is my brother. -Edward introduces us to the fishermen.

Later, they let us “help” them filleting the fish under a big old tree in Edward’s backyard.

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Fishing is a great part of life in Palmerston and the local’s main source of income.

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In the past, they used to produce copra (dried coconut used in the cosmetic industry) like most of the other Polynesian islands, but today fishing is their primary activity. They are the biggest exporter of parrot fish in the area. Thanks to the arrival of electricity on the island, they can now keep their catch frozen for months until the ship-buyer comes.

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Palmerston is one of the most isolated inhabited islands in the world with only 57 people living there today, surrounded by miles and miles of nothing but ocean. Their nearest neighbors are 500 nautical miles away, in Rarotonga- the capital of the Cook Islands. There is no airport and the only regular transportation to and from the island is a supply ship, which comes every 6 or 8 months, if the weather is good. So the 57 inhabitants can sell their fish and order pots and pans, furniture, clothes, even basic things like sugar, flour and rice only once or twice a year.

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We head for Edward’s house. It’s a five-minute walk on a path covered with sand and broken coral in the shade of palm trees. The property is big with a few buildings; there is all sorts of stuff all over the place, laundry hanging to dry, chickens and pigs running around or sleeping in the shade.

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Edward’s house is not very big, with tin roof and plywood walls.

  • It is used as prison, if ever someone commits a crime. – explains Edward, who is also the policeman and occasionally the mayor of Palmerston.
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  • Is there crime in Palmerston? – I ask in astonishment.
  • You will be surprised.

But they- the locals- don’t like to talk about this stuff, it’s none of our business. They prefer telling the visitors about the beauty of their island and its interesting, incredible, unique history.

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Edward Marsters

In 1863 an English carpenter sailing on a wailing ship through the area decided to stay behind and live on this small uninhabited Polynesian island, less than a square mile in territory, leaving forever the civilized world. He built a house using wooden planks from shipwrecks he found on the barrier reef of the atoll, married not one but three women from another Polynesian island to keep him company and started a family on Palmerston. His name was William Marsters.

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He had a total of 23 children with his three wives and divided the island in three equal parts for each of his three wives and their descendants. His children grew up and brought wives from other islands or married their third cousins, and thus the Marsters family kept growing. Some left the island, some came back, some never left.

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Today, there are over fifteen hundred descendants of William Marsters scattered around the world. Many live in New Zealand and Australia. Of them, only 57 remain on the island, divided in three families descendants of the three Marsters wives, forming one of the most bizarre and isolated island communities in the world. All Palmerstonians are related- brothers and sisters, cousins, uncles and aunts. Everyone on the island- dead or alive- have the same family name- Marsters.

The original house built by William Marsters is still standing in the middle of the island, next to the church. He made it with the wood from ships wrecked on the reef as well as materials given to him by the passing boats who stopped in Palmerston to trade. He gave them fish and coconuts in exchange for whatever he could get.

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This practice of trading with the passing boats still continues today. We give our host many old ropes that we no longer need, some supplies, and the old kayak Agent Orange, which we no longer use, as we got a new three-seat one from our friends KayakShop.BG. Agent Orange is a 15-years-old veteran of a kayak, bent, with a big crack, which Ivo managed to fix with life seal, so he doesn’t leak, but he’s not a pretty new think either. Yet, he still floats well and still has some adventure left in him. For Edward, Agent Orange is the best thing in the world and he sings us many songs in gratitude. We also get to use his mooring ball for free and for as long as we like and we have tasty lunch at his house every day. We are also very happy to have found the ideal retirement home for a worthy old kayak, who has been with us halfway around the world, on many epic adventures. Knowing that Agent Orange is in Palmerston makes us feel really good.

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Similarly, we are happy to bestow my books to the local school. We have been sailing for nearly four years with an old small less than 11-meter catamaran full of books. A catamaran has to be light to sail well and fast. Ours is two times heavier than it should be, full with all sorts of stuff accumulated through the years. So it’s not surprising that Fat Fata is moving rather slow, with 4-5 kts average speed (especially considering that we don’t use engines a lot). When we left Galapagos for the long Pacific Ocean crossing, we noticed the boat is leaning slightly forward, which means too heavy on the bow. This can be very dangerous in bad weather and can cause the catamaran to dig in the water after surfing a big wave and flip over. So we hoped for good weather and we prepared some improvised drogues (beer crates on long ropes) to deploy from the stern in case of surfing. We also decided it’s time to dig up all the books located in the hulls of the boat and get rid of them, no matter how tragic this seams for me. I love my books. They are a good selection of classics; my favorite authors in English, Spanish and French. I nearly cry as we load on a wheelbarrow and head for the school my Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende, Steinbeck and William Warton, Carlos Fuentes and Mario Vergas LLosa, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus and Emile Zola, Marvin Harris, Gore Vidal, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Plato and Thoreau. I hope that someday, when I live in a house somewhere on land- whenever and wherever- I will find my favorite books again and keep them. I also hope the local kids will enjoy Mother India, Big Fish, and Life of Pi…

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The school principle, a New Zealand very friendly lady, and the two young teachers Joshua and Mellissa Simon who came to teach here on a two-year open contract, after teaching English in Korea and Malaysia, are very grateful for our contribution to the school. They actually can’t wait to go through my books and read some of them, as they have already read all the books in Palmerston.

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The school itself is nothing but a roof with individual desks lined up along the wall, with no windows and doors, as the temperature in Palmerston is always the same perfect 26-28 degrees all-year-round and so the windows and doors (which in other places of the world keep the heat in and the cold out or the cold in and the heat out, depending on the situation) are useless here.

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There is a football field in front of the school where Ivo and Maya play football with the kids. There are many kids in Palmerston. Half of the total population (57) or more are under 18-years-old and they are all cousins. The rest of the population are mostly older people (the grandparents). The young Palmerstonians, after graduating high school on the island, usually leave to continue their studies or look for work in Rarotonga, New Zealand or Australia. Some of them return on the island with their families, or later, when they retire. The two teenage boys I interview tell me, they are planning to continue their studies in Rarotonga, work, and return on Palmerston in their old age.

Behind the old grey house of William Marsters is the graveyard where the pioneer, his three wives, children and everyone else who died on the island in the last 150 years are buried. It is the most surreal graveyard with all gravestones bearing the same family name- Marsters.

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However, there is a division on the island, separating the three families descendants of the three Marsters wives. Each family owns equal share of land and property, including the mooring balls. Palmerston is a very special place with some very particulars rules and laws. For example, the mayor of the island changes every year rotating between the eldest person of the three families. If the eldest person steps down or dies, the next eldest person becomes the mayor, taking all the important decisions, and representing Palmerston in the Cook Islands or New Zealand.

Another local law is: strictly on immigration. No foreigner can come and live in Palmerston, bringing a strange family name among the Marsters. Except the school teachers and director, who are only temporarily here. And an Australian guy named Will.

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Will is a pale-skinned bearded guy who we mistakenly take for a fellow cruiser from one of the other sailboats the first time we meet him.

  • No, I am not a cruiser, I live here. -he explains.

Will arrived in Palmerston two years ago on a ship sailing through the area and decided to stay behind, while the ship went on, very much like William Marsters.

Escaping the complications of society and the civilized world back in Australia, and falling in love with this beautiful atoll and its peaceful people, Will started helping the locals, fixing stuff that needed fixing and living among them as one of them. This has caused a bit of a controversy, as some Palmerstonians want him to leave, while others want him to stay. But in order to stay, he figured he has to marry a Marsters girl and change his name to Will Marsters. The problem is, there are only little girls and old ladies presently available on the island, so for now he is still single with a bit of an uncertain faith. You can follow his adventures and read some thrilling updates from his daily life in Palmerston on his Facebook page Will in Paradise.

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Another unexpected meeting and an event comparable to a miracle, is with two other Bulgarians, on two of the three other boats visiting Palmerston at the same time like us. One is a guy named Patrick aboard S/V Ostrica, whose mother was from Bulgaria, and the other is Silvia Petrova sailing aboard S/V Aislado together with her New Zealand husband Vaughn and their 6-years-old daughter Zara. What are the chances three sailboats with Bulgarian sailors aboard to meet- not French, not American, not German or Australian, but Bulgarians! On the opposite side of the globe, in one of the most remote inaccessible islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean! Not two, but three boats, at the same time! Suddenly, the Bulgarians in Palmerston are about 10% of the entire total population on the island 🙂

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Silvia, Mira and Maya

Besides the school, the Palmerstonians also have a library, a field with solar panels and a room for batteries to store the electricity, as well as a phone and internet station. Edward told me, that if they wanted to, they could have an airport on one of the smaller islands of the atoll (there has been a project and it has been approved, ready to be financed and built by the Cook Islands and New Zealand’s governments), but the locals don’t want it. An airport might make travel easier for the people of Palmerston and it would greatly facilitate the arrival of goods on the island, but it will also bring too many unwanted complications. Like tourists and other people who aren’t Marsters. Maybe they will build a hotel next and the famous little community will become a tourist attraction. Which is something the Palmerstonians don’t want. They want to preserve their way of life the way it is and to keep their pristine lagoon and secluded island clean and beautiful for the next Marsters generation.

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  • I’ll tell you a secret- says Edward as he is bringing us back to Fata Morgana with his fishing boat, zigzagging between shallow corals on his way out of the lagoon’s barrier reef.

I wonder what kind of secret it is. The one thing missing in Palmerston where everyone knows everything about everyone, is secrets. We, the cruisers, bringing something new- a thing or a story- are the creators of short-lived secrets.

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  • So what is the secret?- I ask.
  • Well, there is a way to enter the lagoon with your sailboat and park it right in front of the beach there. There is another cut through the reef on the other side. But we don’t want the yachts anchoring in our lagoon, in front of our homes, throwing their bottles and banana peels in our clean blue waters. Same like the airport. That’s why we prefer to keep the boats on the moorings outside the lagoon where they cannot stay too long. We welcome sailors, and want to show them the best hospitality in the world; we love trading with them, like good old William Marsters and we are very spoiled, because they always bring us and give us things. But we also want to keep our island and our way of life as it is for as long as we can, do you understand?
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Watch the short video from Palmerston with interviews with the locals and the Bulgarians we met Alone on an Island With His Three Wives

Find us on Facebook @The Life Nomadik
Support us on Patreon @The Life Nomadik
Watch us on YouTube @Fata Morgana

 

If you are reading this …

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… we have a small favor to ask. More people than ever are regularly reading our stories and watching our short videos, but far fewer are supporting us. We have no regular income. And unlike others, we haven’t made our content private – we want to keep posting free stories and videos for everyone. So we think it’s fair to ask people who visit our blog and YouTube channel often for their support, a sort of a friendly monthly subscription. Our efforts to research, write and post pictures, to film and edit, to translate, take a lot of time and hard work. And it’s even harder to do it from a boat with limited internet and electricity. But we do it because we believe our journey and way of life matters – because it might inspire you! If you regularly read and value our hard work, watch the videos and want to support us, consider becoming one of our patrons and part of our Nomadik family for as little as $1 or $5 dollars a month, and help us in our future travels. You can chose the amount you want to contribute and for what period of time, and you can always change your mind and change or stop your pledge. We use the funds collected through Patreon to upgrade our photo and video equipment, as well as to cover our modest living expenses- food and boat repairs. Thank you!

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Maupihaa. A Few People on A Tiny Island

Maupihaa

Maupihaa

We sail overnight with Bowie and Debora and all of their stuff from Maupiti to Maupihaa and drift not far from the atoll for the final dark hours of the night before entering through the narrow, shallow, full with coral heads pass, notorious for its dangerous strong tidal current. Thanks to Ovitalmap and Bowie’s local knowledge, we enter without problems in the lagoon- our final French Polynesian blue lagoon, before heading through the Cooks, Niue and Tonga to New Zealand.

Maupihaa

Maupihaa

We drop anchor near the long sandy beach of the main island. Mauihaa is part of the Society Island Group, even though the atoll is exactly like the Tuamotus, without a volcanic island in the center. There are two more yachts in the lagoon, but very far away from us.

Fata Morgana at anchor in Maupihaa

Fata Morgana at anchor in Maupihaa

The low flat coral island is thin and long like a green snake, about 200 meters wide and a few kilometers long. The most luxurious coconut palm forest covers the entire land surface.

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The waters in the lagoon are turquoise, calm and clear like liquid glass. Myriad of healthy corals, giant blue, purple and green clams, and all sorts of tiny tropical fish visible through the water even without a mask populate the shallows. Any seven-star resort would be envious of this place. But there is no resort here, not even one tiny hotel. There is no city, no port or airport. There are no facilities, no electricity, no internet, no stores, no schools, not even a church. Only one dirt road running parallel to the beach from one end of the island to the other, connecting six or seven small tin houses.

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Only a handful of people live permanently on the island- less than a dozen, and even they leave the place for a few months every few years to visit their families in the inhabited islands of the area- the nearest one being Maupiti one hundred nautical miles to the east. Their main activity and reason to be here is to make copra- dried coconut, which they export on the cargo ships twice a year. The same cargo ships bring them supplies and can take them on or off the island every 6-8 months.

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We are tired after a night of sailing, but only a couple of hours after we drop off our hitchhikers on their island, Bowie and his son Kevin show up in a homemade wooden boat.

– Let’s go fishing!

Bowie didn’t sleep for a minute last night, yet he is fresh as a cucumber and eager to go fishing!

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With their boat- rotten and falling apart- we head for the pass. On the opposite side of the main island, there are a couple of small coral islets covered with low shrubs home of colonies of sea birds. We pass in the shallows between two of those islets and the outer reef. Bowie and Kevin know every inch of the waters, every coral, every shallow and every deep place. They slowly navigate to a spot, where a narrow cut between the reefs makes for a perfect fish trap. There, with Ivo’s help, they attach a fishing net to the rocks from one end to the other blocking the entrance of the cut. Bowie starts walking slowly toward the net splashing the water from the other side, scaring the fish.

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Silver mullets, turquoise parrot fish and other reef fish panic and try to escape but get stuck in the net. The trap works. In just five minutes we have about twenty eatable fishes of decent size. A couple for us, a few for Bowie and his family and the rest- for the other people on the island.

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In Maupihaa the locals share their catch and almost everything else, like one big family. Well, maybe because they are only about a dozen people, which is less than some big families, and also because their way of life is very much different than the way of life in the civilized world.

Debora, collecting sea shells to make jewelry

Debora, collecting sea shells to make jewelry

Here, there is nothing except what nature provides. And so, when someone goes fishing, which means spending precious fuel, he catches enough fish for everyone on the island and distributes it to his neighbors.

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On the reefs, there are lobsters, easy to catch at low tide on a moonless night, using nothing more than a flashlight. Once under the spotlight the lobsters freeze and all you have to do is pick them up. The coconut crabs- the ultimate delicacy we have ever tried- proliferate in the coconut groves. They also come out at night and the best way to attract them is to leave a few open coconuts for them somewhere in the forest and come back to the spot after dark. All they eat is coconuts, so an open one is a great attraction, as they won’t have to work for hours to break through it. The sea birds and sea bird eggs from the small coral islets complement the locals’ sea food diet, and occasionally they eat sea turtles too (only large turtles, one every 3-4 months for everyone on the island). Besides coconuts, which provide coconut water for drinking, there are papaya and banana trees. Some of the people we met had ordered soil (besides all other supplies they need) delivered on the cargo ships stopping here twice a year, and are producing tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, pumpkins and watermelons. Some kept also chickens and pigs. There were many dogs on the island, but we didn’t dare asking if the dogs are for eating, which in such an isolated small Polynesian island wouldn’t be exceptional or surprising. In any case, the off-grid way of life in Maupihaa seems very harmonious with nature.

Coconut crab

Coconut crab

As long as the population on the island remains the size of one big family, the natural resources- fish, birds, eggs, crabs, lobsters and turtles will not be affected or overexploited. Maupihaa’s inhabitants are very conscious about the problem of overexploitation in other places, so they are determined to keep their atoll healthy and their way of life simple and sustainable.

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Everywhere we go people greet us with big smiles, talk to us for a long time and want to give us something, even if we have nothing to give in return, but a bit of rice or a can of ravioli. One man gives us a bag of fruits and vegetables from his garden.

The men with the best garden in Maupihaa

The men with the best garden in Maupihaa

Every day we have a coconut crab for lunch, fish for dinner and a few sea bird eggs to try out of curiosity.

Coconut crab for lunch

Coconut crab for lunch

I am a bit concerned about taking eggs from the bird colonies on the little bird islets. But Bowie explains, that the missing eggs will soon be replaced with new ones and balance in the bird colonies shall be restored.

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We only take the spotted eggs from the small white birds Bowie calls “kabeka” which are abundant here. The boobies and frigates have already hatched and the babies all covered with white fluffy dоwn are now quite big.

Baby Frigate bird

Baby Frigate bird

They are funny to watch, sitting in their nests under the burning sun, waiting for their parents to bring them another portion of pre-digested fish.

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Baby boobie bird

Life in Maupihaa seems very idyllic. For a few days. The perfect lagoon, the perfect beach, the perfect coconut forest, abundance of fish, lobsters and crabs, coconuts, bananas and papayas. No one to tell you what to do, no pressure, no schedule. No money involved. Slow rhythm of oblivion. And nothing else.  All the things we hate and love, things we are addicted to, are missing here.

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Visiting such place- passing through for a few days- is very exciting and beautiful, and we all compare it with paradise. But remaining month after month, year after year on a few square kilometers of sand and coconut trees is a whole different situation. Would you do it?

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We borrow two bicycles from Bowie and from their neighbors and explore the island looking for Hina. Our friends Krisha Barakova and Adrian Albu aboard S/V Anka I told us to visit Maupihaa and to say hi to Hina- one of the first and most legendary inhabitants here.

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We find her at the end of the island. She is all smiles, greeting us as if we are old friends, and shows us around the house. Like the rest of the people in Maupihaa, Hina has a waterhole with fresh water for washing, where seawater filters through the sand, a rain catching system, couple of solar panels for lights and the radio. She owns the only SSB radio on the island, which the inhabitants use to call their relatives on the other islands, as well as the sailing boats. She has no fridge, and for fire she burns wood and coconut peals.

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Hina first came in Maupihaa with her family in 1993 when she was 20 years old. There were about 100 people living here at that time, families with kids, many houses. But from 1993 to 1997 cyclones destroyed everything. No one was left on the island. Everywhere was brown, nothing was left but sand.

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Hina spent two years in the army in France, but didn’t like it. She didn’t like having someone telling her what to do. In 2000 she returned in Maupihaa. For a few years, over ten if I remember correctly, Hina was the only person living on the island. Maupihaa’s one and only inhabitant. One hundred nautical miles from the nearest village. Completely alone, she was making copra, welcoming the occasional sailboat, and enjoy her freedom in a paradise she calls home.

– I have everything I need here. I miss nothing. Maupihaa is my home and when you come back, you’ll find me here.

Hina

Hina

Images from Maupihaa

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maupihaa1 Watch our 22-minute video and meet the locals in Maupihaa. Check out all the strange things we had to eat there for the first time! Coconut Crabs and Se Bird Eggs on The Menu.

Find us on Facebook @The Life Nomadik
Support us on Patreon @The Life Nomadik
Watch us on YouTube @Fata Morgana

 

If you are reading this …

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… we have a small favor to ask. More people than ever are regularly reading our stories and watching our short videos, but far fewer are supporting us. We have no regular income. And unlike others, we haven’t made our content private – we want to keep posting free stories and videos for everyone. So we think it’s fair to ask people who visit our blog and YouTube channel often for their support, a sort of a friendly monthly subscription. Our efforts to research, write and post pictures, to film and edit, to translate, take a lot of time and hard work. And it’s even harder to do it from a boat with limited internet and electricity. But we do it because we believe our journey and way of life matters – because it might inspire you! If you regularly read and value our hard work, watch the videos and want to support us, consider becoming one of our patrons and part of our Nomadik family for as little as $1 or $5 dollars a month, and help us in our future travels. You can chose the amount you want to contribute and for what period of time, and you can always change your mind and change or stop your pledge. We use the funds collected through Patreon to upgrade our photo and video equipment, as well as to cover our modest living expenses- food and boat repairs. Thank you!

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Hitchhikers with Generator in Maupiti

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30 nautical miles West of Bora Bora lies the tiny picturesque island of Maupiti (11km2), the smallest of the Society Islands, secluded and authentic.

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Its atoll has only one narrow pass to the south linking it to the rest of the world. A pass so notoriously dangerous and only accessible in specific ocean conditions, that the island remained uncolonized for the longest time during the European colonization period.

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Today, Maupiti is still hard to get in to from the sea, and rarely visited by tourists or sailing yachts. It’s the most quiet and peaceful place with magnificent sceneries, white sandy beaches, legendary rocky peaks, spectacular diving and snorkeling spots, and ancient historical and archeological sites.

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The main village is Vaiea, where most of the island’s 1300 inhabitants live, with neat charming houses and a couple of small family shops, a church, a post office and a bakery all connected by one road circling the island.

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We remain in Bora-Bora for a month longer than planned, waiting for a good weather window to sail to Maupiti, or rather- to enter through its pass safely. With strong south winds and swell the atoll is inaccessible. So we are kind of stuck in Bora-Bora, but not complaining about it. I don’t think anyone would mind being stuck in Bora-Bora- the most romantic world-famous lagoon.

Stuck in Bora-Bora Photos

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Finally, we get the chance we were waiting for, and all the boats waiting to go to Maupiti leave together. We sail with our friends – catamaran Moby and catamaran Cool Runnings. Heading west with light east winds, Cool Runnings and Fata Morgana fly the spinnakers.

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Moby prefers zig-zagging, jibing back and forth. Moby is the fastest of the three catamarans, but zig-zagging instead of downwind sailing with spinnaker proves to be the slower option. Cool Runnings arrives first, second is Fata and shortly after- Moby enters the pass on sail, without engines, only to prove, that with good conditions even the most dangerous pass becomes a piece of cake.

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A few days of tropical bliss follow.

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As we are getting ready to go for hike, a motorboat approaches Fata Morgana in the anchorage on the east side of the lagoon. Aboard are a local couple- a man and a woman who ask us if we will sail to Maupihaa next. We are not sure. Maupihaa is a coral atoll without a volcanic island in the middle 100 nautical miles west of Maupiti and its pass can be even worse than Maupiti’s pass. Its position on the charts is wrong, it is shallower and narrower, with record-strong current and a few coral heads right in the middle.

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The man explains that they want to send a small tool to his son Kevin- five kilograms. He makes a gesture with his hands as if holding a box the size of a cat. Besides, our friends Krisha and Adrian from S/V Anka told us a lot about this atoll and recommended passionately to visit it and say hi to Hina, giving us all sorts of tips how to navigate the pass safely. And now these guys need our help.

A few permanent residents live and make copra in Maupihaa. A supply boat goes there only once or twice a year bringing provisions and passengers, exporting the bags of dried coconut. The next boat will be in November. We promise to go there and bring the small tool to Kevin. Then we go hiking.

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We climb Mount Te’urafa’atiu at 381m together with our friends. A few viewpoints on the way up offer amazing panoramas. From the top, the 360° view of the lagoon is spectacular.

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As we return on the boat, we find two big bunches of bananas neatly attached to the dinghy davits- an offering from the man and the woman to seal the deal. They visit us again to discuss the details and schedule departure time.

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“Besides the tool, we also have some boxes with eggs, milk, sugar, flower, oil, rice, and other provisions, some mattresses, clothes and other stuff we would like to send to our son and to some of the neighbors. And can my husband go too? And can I come as well?”- asks the woman. They promise us papayas and coconuts on top of the bananas. So we cannot refuse. Sweet people. The Polynesians have won over our hearths ever since our first island in the Marquesas, and we are more than happy to help them.

“Yes, bring everything and climb aboard! We will sail together to Maupihaa first thing tomorrow morning!”

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They show up early the next day with a mountain of stuff- all sort of provisions, boxes and bags which we pile in the saloon, a long wooden spear for fishing, plus “the small tool”- a hundred-kilograms diesel generator, that takes up most of the space in our cockpit. All together, we just loaded our 38-foot catamaran, which is already overweight with tons of old books, with about 400 extra kilograms! I wonder if we will be able to move at all. But the wind is beautiful 15-20 knots behind us, and we are actually making pretty good speed.

We drink coffee and eat breakfast- eggs with fresh bread.

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The man, Bowie Tropee, is eager to help with the sailing, even though there is not much to do. He is an experienced sailor who crewed once on a sailboat crossing the Pacific Ocean from Panama. He has been working on a commercial boat too, one of those Aranui boats bringing cargo and passengers between the islands and atolls. The woman, Debora Tropee, is charming. She has many stories, wisdoms and legends and is pleased to share them with us.

The Legend of Maupiti’s Three Mountain Peaks

Long before the time of our ancestors, when the islands were born, a mother and her twins (a boy and a girl) lived on the top of the island of Maupiti. This island was surrounded by a closed lagoon, that is to say, without a pass. Alas, without the pass, the water of the lagoon was not renewed and the fish could not live.

The mother sked her children to go down to the sea and dig a passage between the lagoon and the ocean. The girl went north, but was unable to finish her work, which earned her the name of Hotu’ai (unfinished fruit). As for the boy, he managed to dig a narrow passage in the south, which earned him the name Hotupara’oa (good job!).

The mother congratulated her son but asked him to stay south and guard the pass. The girl, who had been rejected, had to stay north, far from her mother … and since then she has not stopped to look at her and to beg forgiveness.

It is from this time that the island is called Maupiti (the twins) and that the mountain has three peaks- the first to the south, facing the sea (the brother), the second at the center (the mother), and the third to the north, turned towards the center (the girl).

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We arrive early, in the middle of the night, and heave-to in front of Maupihaa’s pass for the last hours of darkness, to wait for the morning before entering through the narrow shallow and dangerous cut.

The curren is strong and the pass is so narrow we feel as if touching the sides. But our biggest advantage is the man, who knows the pass, every reef and coral head. He helps us navigate through it successfully.

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The morning is golden. A whale takes a single breath not far behind us and disappears. The birds from the small islands of the atoll wake up and arrive to great us curious as we turn on the engines and head for our last stop in French Polynesia- Maupihaa.

 

Watch our 18-minute video sailing to Maupiti, spending time there with friends and then sailing to Maupihaa with our guests. Sailing Maupiti with Hitchhikers

Find us on Facebook @The Life Nomadik
Support us on Patreon @The Life Nomadik
Watch us on YouTube @Fata Morgana

 

If you are reading this …

.

… we have a small favor to ask. More people than ever are regularly reading our stories and watching our short videos, but far fewer are supporting us. We have no regular income. And unlike others, we haven’t made our content private – we want to keep posting free stories and videos for everyone. So we think it’s fair to ask people who visit our blog and YouTube channel often for their support, a sort of a friendly monthly subscription. Our efforts to research, write and post pictures, to film and edit, to translate, take a lot of time and hard work. And it’s even harder to do it from a boat with limited internet and electricity. But we do it because we believe our journey and way of life matters – because it might inspire you! If you regularly read and value our hard work, watch the videos and want to support us, consider becoming one of our patrons and part of our Nomadik family for as little as $1 or $5 dollars a month, and help us in our future travels. You can chose the amount you want to contribute and for what period of time, and you can always change your mind and change or stop your pledge. We use the funds collected through Patreon to upgrade our photo and video equipment, as well as to cover our modest living expenses- food and boat repairs. Thank you!

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Ana and Kalin’s Sailing Vacation in French Polynesia Aboard Fata Morgana

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After spending a month in Tahiti, we are off once again to the smaller islands of the Society Islands Archipelago. Most of these islands combine the dramatic volcanoes of the Marquesas covered with lush tropical forests with rivers and waterfalls, and the blue lagoons of Tuamotus, creating perfection. Green mountains meet calm coral lagoons in the Society Islands- the ultimate tropical paradise.

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Moorea is one such beautiful piece of Heaven on Earth. We drop anchor in a very shallow bay of unreal crystal clear waters, where no deep draft vessel can enter, as the depth is only 1.5 meters. Which means, we almost touch the bottom. It was Gille’s idea to come here, together with S/V Mercredi Soir (Belgium) and S/V QuatrA (France) , away from other boats and crowded anchorages. Our very own private spot, near a small village with wi-fi and fresh French baguettes in the morning. Also, the stingray spot is just a short kayak ride away.

We go swimming with the big rays and black tip sharks a few times with our friends. The kids are having fun and are super brave swimming with sharks again.

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Once we go just Ivo and me, early in the morning, before the tourist crowds arrive. The water is clearest then, the sun is low and orange, and the stingrays and sharks, still sleepy, gather around our kayak, inviting us for a dance.

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I will never forget this moment, being surrounded by these strange wild creatures, considered dangerous, with poisonous darts in their tails, blamed for killing the famous wildlife filmmaker Steve Erwin… In Moorea, even though wild and free, they have become used to people- gentle, friendly and even cuddly, like small kittens.

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Selfie with a stingray

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After Moorea we sail to Raiatea, to meet our guests Ana and Kalin who join us aboard Fata Morgana for six unforgettable days of pure tropical fun.

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Together we sail to three different islands and seven different anchorages, visiting some awesome places, snorkeling in coral gardens, kayaking and climbing mountains.

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Marae Taputapuatea, Raiatea

Our first island together is Raiatea which means “faraway heaven” and is considered the original birthplace of Polynesia. We sail to one of the region’s most important archeological sites- Marae Taputapuatea- a large archeological complex on the southeastern coast of Raiatea. We drop anchor right in front of the marae and kayak to shore.

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The site features a number of stone structures and was once the most important sacred temple of Eastern Polynesia.

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The marae was a place of learning where priests and navigators from all over the Pacific would gather to offer sacrifices to the gods and share their knowledge of the universe, and of ocean navigation.

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Here, we found out what “Fata” means in the Polynesian language- a special offering table, where gifts and offerings for the gods were placed.

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Faaroa River, Raiatea

Not far is the Faaroa river- our next stop.

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The anchorage  is only a few miles north from the marae- only one hour sailing inside the lagoon. We drop anchor in the shallow river delta. The water here is murky.

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The Faaroa River is a big navigable river, calm as it reaches the lagoon, curling through lush rainforest and farmlands, providing a great way to explore the island with our kayaks.

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We paddle for about 20 minutes, before we reach a big farm up river where two friendly farmers invite us to show us around their land. They tell us about different fruits, some of which we have never seen or tasted before, and they give us many of them.

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They also show us how to make a trap for wild pigs using nothing more than one long stick, a few shorter ones and some leaves. In under 10 minutes the guys construct a perfect little trap- a smaller version of the bigger and stronger ones they use to catch wild boars up in the mountains (Watch the video where they show us how to make the trap). If we want, we can go hunting with them, they invite us, or we can visit the house. But we have no time. There are so many places we want to see in the short time we have together with Ana and Kalin.

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The farmers also show Ivo and Kalin how to use the traditional Polynesian outrigger canoes. Turns out keeping your balance on one of those long slender canoes is not as easy as it might seem and Ivo, who likes to do tricks, not just “go with the flow”, overturns the canoe falling in the water. Not once, but four times!

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Returning to the boat with the kayaks in the evening becomes an ordeal, as the wind gets stronger against us, and paddling is really slow and hard. It’s almost dark as we finally reach the boat, tired, wet and cold. Hot showers, dinner and off to bed with one more great adventure to remember forever.

Vanilla Farm, Tahaa

In the morning we sail to Tahaa, which is really close to Raiatea- less than 20 NM from the river. Actually, the two islands share a lagoon, so sailing to Tahaa is an absolute pleasure in the calm lake-like waters behind the reef, on a beam reach.

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Taha’a, also known as “The Vanilla Island” is one of the greenest islands we’ve seen with lush forests and farms. Rich volcanic soils, fertile with all sorts of plants and fruits.

Once again we drop anchor way too close to land and kayak to shore. The small sleepy village looks uninhabited.

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We hike up to a vanilla farm La Maison de la Vanille (The Vanilla House) in the mountain The walk is pleasant, on a paved road surrounded by a green world in bloom.

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We reach the vanilla plantation. А man and his wife live there and they show us around explaining all about the process of vanilla production.

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The vanilla plant is a vine which needs a lot of special care. Each flower must be hand pollinated to grow the precious vanilla pod. After about eight months the yellow pods are harvested and heat-cured to develop the flavor. At this stage their color changes to a deep brown-black. Each vanilla pod is classified according to length and quality.

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With prices of about $150 per pound, vanilla is the second most expensive spice in the world after saffron with the USA the largest consumer of vanilla in the world.

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On the way back people give us all sorts of fruits- papayas, bananas, some sour unknown fruit and Maya’s favorite- cocoa beans.

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Coral Gardens, Taha’a

Another awesome learning experience and we are off to the next anchorage on the other side of Taha’a. In the afternoon, we sail to the famous coral gardens- crystal clear water teaming with tropical fish.

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We anchor right in front of the famous over the water bungalows, next to the coral gardens where we take our guests to snorkel.

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The lagoon here is teaming with many cute species of colorful fishes and beautiful blue water. But the corals are not in good shape, unfortunately. Bleached, dying or dead, they have lost their former glory due to pollution and warmer water temperatures, most probably.

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Bora-Bora

The next day we sailed to Bora-Bora, some 20 NM away. It’s a slow sail with little wind and calm sea- perfect for our guests, who haven’t sailed before and are a bit worried about being in the open ocean on a small catamaran for the first time. The passage is uneventful; no fish on the hook.

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We enter through the large pass of the atoll and drop anchor in the lagoon.

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Like all the other islands from the Society Islands Archipelago, Bora-Bora is a tall volcanic island surrounded by a reef-protected  lagoon, which is famed to be one of the most beautiful lagoons in the world, with some of the most expensive and luxurious hotels. It is true, and now we know why Bora-Bora is the Jewel of the South Seas. The most romantic island in the South Pacific, Bora Bora is an internationally acclaimed honeymoon destination and among the few places on our planet that everyone dreams to visit at least once in their lifetime.

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Her soaring mountain peaks, turquoise lagoon and luxuriant over-the-water bungalows with an elegant multimillion mega yacht park in front look even more spectacular than the postcards.

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Stingrays, Bora-Bora

Here we snorkeled with dozens of gentle friendly stingrays again.

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Mount Pahia, Bora-Bora

The next day we move in front of Vaitape on the free public dock. Vaitape is the biggest settlement on Bora-Bora with a few shops, restaurants and markets. We walk around town. The contrast of the luxurious expensive resorts in the lagoon and the poor timid houses of the locals in the village with the family graves in the front yards is striking. The main road is narrow with no sidewalks where muddy puddles form on the sides after rain.

Our guests want climbing the second highest peak on the island- Pahia together with Ivo. The highest peak on Bora-Bora is Otemanu rising at 727m and accessible only to experienced rock climbers with special gear.

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Pahia is easier to reach, but also extremely difficult and dangerous. A guide is recommended, but a guide charges a minimum of 100 US$ per person. So Ana and Kalin, together with Ivo brave Pahia free-style and with no guide. It’s a muddy strenuous ordeal, harder than our guests expected, but worth the spectacular view from the top and the incredible achievement- to be among the few people who have ever climbed Paihia!

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The Coral Labyrinth, Bora-Bora

The next day we sail further and anchor in the blue lagoon next to a private island with a beautiful white beach and luxurious hotels, near a place known as the “coral labyrinth” for another exhilarant snorkeling expedition.

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On one of the private islands with manicured grass and palm trees, there are video cameras all over the place, and as we approach the beach with our kayaks, a not-so-friendly woman arrives to tell us to leave even before we have landed- it’s a private island and even the beach is off limits.

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But the owner of the next private island is a much friendlier long-haired, long-bearded dude in a traditional Polynesian mini-skirt- a Jewish New Yorker, who bought a small island in Bora-Bora lagoon and moved in Paradise. He welcomes us with a big smile and a bunch of friendly dogs. We are welcome to park our orange unsinkable awesome kayaks on his beach and snorkel the Coral Labyrinth.

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Six days passed as in a dream. It was time for our guest to fly home.

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We loved our time with Ana and Kalin. Sailing between the islands, visiting some great archeological sites and learning about Polynesian history and culture; snorkeling in superb coral gardens; kayaking up the river, meeting friendly locals and learning how to make a trap for pigs bear Grylls style; visiting the vanilla farm and trying new fruits; and hiking one of Bora-Bora’s highest volcanoes. Our guests enjoyed their sailing vacation too and promised to come back to visit us again!

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And if you want, you can visit us too! In Fiji in June, July or August, or in Vanuatu in September, or in New Caledonia in October.

If you are interested, send us a message at thelifenomadik@gmail.com or contact us on Facebook @ The Life Nomadik for prices, conditions and details.

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Watch our 15-minute video Boat Tour and sailing Vacation Aboard Fata Morgana for a tour of our Leopard 38 and all the adventures we had with Ana and Kalin in French Polynesia.

Find us on Facebook @The Life Nomadik
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Watch us on YouTube @Fata Morgana

 

Since you’re here …

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… we have a small favor to ask. More people than ever are regularly reading our stories and watching our short videos, but far fewer are supporting us. We have no regular income. And unlike others, we haven’t made our content private – we want to keep posting free stories and videos for everyone. So we think it’s fair to ask people who visit our blog and YouTube channel often for their support, a sort of a tip. Our efforts to research, write and post pictures, to film and edit, to translate, take a lot of time and hard work. And it’s even harder to do it from a boat with limited internet and electricity. But we do it because we believe our journey and way of life matters – because it might inspire you! If you regularly read and value our hard work, watch the videos and want to support us, consider becoming one of our patrons and part of our Nomadik family for as little as $1 or $5 dollars a month, and help us in our future travels. You can chose the amount you want to contribute and for what period of time, and you can always change your mind and change or stop your pledge. We use the funds collected through Patreon to upgrade our photo and video equipment, as well as to cover our modest living expenses. Thank you!

 

 

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Heiva in Tahiti

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We leave our last atoll in the Tuamotus around 18h00, exiting Fakarava’s north pass at slack tide. The wind is light from behind at 10-15 kts, almost 180 degrees, and we fly the spinnaker the entire time, day and night, for two nights and two days.

We approach Tahiti on the third evening – a massive mountain rising from the ocean surrounded by a reef. We drop anchor in the first possible bay just behind the eastern corner- Tautira Bay or Cook’s Anchorage, renamed after Captain Cook, who landed here during his voyage. One other yacht arrives in the dark after us. There are no other boats. We spend the night here, in the calm of the bay, after two nights of sailing. Early the next morning we continue all the way to the west side of the island and at noon we arrive in Papeete – the largest port and heavily populated capital of French Polynesia.

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Tahiti is the biggest of the Society Islands archipelago with land area over 1000 square kilometers, where more than half of all French Polynesians live. The island was part of the independent Kingdom of Tahiti until its annexation by France in 1880, when it was proclaimed a colony of France, and the inhabitants became French citizens. French is the only official language although the Tahitian language (Reo Tahiti) is widely spoken, as in all other islands of French Polynesia.

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It’s full with sailing yachts- some huge super mega yachts- and we have two options- either go to the downtown Marina Papeete, where most of our friends are- right at the heart of the big capital city with all the shops and restaurants and the beautiful seaside park, or drop anchor for free further- much further- near Marina Taina- one of two anchorages near Papeete. We choose the free option, even though we have to hitchhike every time we go to Papeete. At least hitchhiking is great on the island, as everywhere in French Polynesia, and we never have to wait for more than 5-10 minutes for some super friendly local to pick us up. Also, the biggest and cheapest Carrefour shopping mall is within walking distance from our anchorage and cruisers are welcome to push their shopping carts all the way to the dinghy docks- an employee picks up the empty shopping carts stacked at the docks every day.

It’s great being on land again. After the low-lying coral atolls where the highest natural landmark is a coconut palm it’s nice to find mountains, forests, and rivers again. We put on our hiking boots and together with our friends from catamaran Runaway – Reinhart, Claudia and Launce start for the Fautaua valley and falls. First we hitchhike- six people separated in two groups. Reinhart is a blond German guy- very blond- and cars stop for him even before he sticks his thumb up, I don’t know why. So their group gets picked up first and 2 and half minutes later- our group gets picked up too, even though none of us is blond…

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Thank you for giving us a lift!

We get to a place in the city, where we pay for a permit to enter the trail for the waterfalls, and from there we hitchhike again to the actual trailhead, where no one wants to see our tickets…

We walk for a couple of hours through the lush jungle along the river, on a path covered with large red flowers, surrounded by massive trees. Tahiti is not just the largest, but also the highest French Polynesian island born as a volcano. Its highest peak is Mont Orohena at 2,241 m (7,352 ft).

We reach a river-crossing and then another one with a small pond at which point the group splits in two and some of us (the girls) return to wait for the others (the guys) near the gate, thinking that we have reached the falls. Turns out the falls are much further and the guys who continued actually saw them. Thanks to Launce, Ivo has some really nice pictures at the falls, and we have some nice photos from the hike too, where the entire family is present for a change. Thanks Launce!

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We spend a few weeks in Tahiti, shopping and stocking much needed products (good old forgotten Shopping, we missed you!), we visit the Museum of Pearls, the big market, and many of the sporting events taking place during the month-long Heiva festival each July.

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More than just a festival, Heiva has become the symbol of Polynesian culture and ancestral tradition. An iconic event for a people proud of their heritage and a showcase for traditional music, dance, sports and games.

The traditional sporting events are based on ancient athletic activities and include:

A stone lifting competition, during which very big Polynesian men lift heavy boulders up to 175kg. They have to be able to lift the rocks on their shoulders and hold them for a few seconds. The one who can lift the boulder for the fastest time wins.

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A fruit carrying competition- groups of women and men compete running for two kilometers carrying on their shoulders up to 50 kg of fruits attached at the end of a long wooden stick. The fastest runner wins.

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A javelin- throwing event- teams throw long arrows at a coconut on a long pole and try to hit it. Each arrow has color ribbons indicating its owner. At the end, the arrows are being counted and the team with most arrows stuck in the coconut wins.

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A copra competition- the tradition of breaking coconuts and making copra has been turned into a great competition during Heiva. Each team or individual has to break exactly 50 coconuts, to take out the meat from the shell and put it in bags. The fastest one wins.

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Climbing the coconut palm competition- this one is obvious- the fastest one up the coconut palm wins! This years’ record- 3 seconds!

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But the most important and magnificent part of the Heiva festival are the dancing shows featuring a war dance reminiscent of the Maori haka, and a way to revive the past and forgotten traditions.

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Music, choreography, and costumes are based on historical or legendary themes and are uniquely created for each Heiva, prepared for months in advance by the dancers. Each dance tells a story with many parts, in which the rhythm and costumes change a few times. The stories are legends about gods and volcanoes, ocean storms and sharks; or historical events like clashes and wars, or the arrival of the Europeans, and their influence on the islanders- the things they brought with them, the new fabrics used for sails, the new religion- all this can be featured in the story of each dance.

Heiva brings together thousands of Polynesians from all the islands of all five archipelagos, here to compete in the sporting events, dancing and beauty pageants.

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The main event is the dancing shows at Toata Square in Papeete- every night for many days dancing groups from the islands perform and compete for the first prize. Tourists from all over the world arrive to watch the most beautiful and sexy of dances performed by hundreds of dancers and musicians. Photographing and filming is not permitted; eating or drinking during the show is also forbidden and the rules are strictly enforced by the organizers of the event.

We buy tickets for the last night- to watch the winners and best groups perform- together with our friends from catamarans Invictus and Mercredi Soir.

The show is truly impressive. Groups of close to one hundred exotic dancers – beautiful young women with long dark curly hairs dressed in grass skirts and flowers in their hairs, and young energetic guys in colorful miniskirts perform in perfect harmony to the sound of powerful drums and wild rhythms. Ivo, Tobi and Gilles, as well as 14-year-old Tom, are very pleased to see the beautiful semi-naked Polynesian girls shake their hips with impressive grace and skill, like palm trees during a storm. In fact, the Polynesian dances are so sexy, they were once outlawed.

The pre-European Polynesian culture was an oral culture where stories, legends and knowledge were transmitted from one generation to the next by the ‘orero- storytellers, singers and dancers of great artistic talent and impeccable memory. The traditional rites and exotic dances reflected an isolated “sexually liberated” culture where the social constructs of the “civilized world” didn’t apply.

In the beginning of the 19th century, the first British puritan missionaries arrived and were shocked. They declared the dances, music and costumes “morally questionable pagan activities”, even “vulgar” and inducing “debauchery”. When the local king Pomare II converted to Christianity, he forbade dancing. For many years it became a marginalized and clandestine activity but the Polynesian people never stopped doing it “illegally” and kept the tradition though the ages, even though they did suffer a great loss of culture. Not until 1956 Polynesian dancing and music, costumes and traditions were once again legally celebrated. Today, Heiva is a way to revive the past and forgotten traditions.

Other than the restricted and expensive dancing performances at Toata Square in Papeete (but worth it), of which we have no photos or videos, there is the free-admission two-day event at the Museum of Tahiti, which happened to be much closer to our anchorage than to downtown Papeete. The museum’s backyard bordered by the sea covers large grounds with beautiful gardens, many big ancient tiki statues made of stone and wood, as well as a few vast lawns, perfect for dancing and sport competitions. The public consists mainly of locals and not so many tourists, sitting on the lawn. The atmosphere is chill and authentic. There are food stands selling local delicacies, ice cream and souvenirs. The weather is perfect, sunny and warm, no wind on the lee side of the island. The whole event resembles a massive pick nick or a fair. Here, we are welcome to film and photograph all the activities in day light. Spectacular, powerful, unforgettable.

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heiva

Watch our 20-minute video Heiva- Celebrating Polynesian Culture featuring the world’s sexiest dance, once outlawed by the European missionaries for being too erotic!

Find us on Facebook @The Life Nomadik
Support us on Patreon @The Life Nomadik
Watch us on YouTube @Fata Morgana

 

Since you’re here …

.

… we have a small favor to ask. More people than ever are regularly reading our stories, but far fewer are supporting us. We have no regular income. And unlike others, we haven’t made our content private – we want to keep posting free stories for everyone. So we think it’s fair to ask people who visit our blog often for their support. Our efforts to research, write and post pictures take a lot of time and hard work. And it’s even harder to do it from a boat with limited internet and electricity. But we do it because we believe our journey and way of life matters – because it might inspire you! If you regularly read and value our hard work, consider becoming one of our patrons for as little as $1 or $5 dollars a month and help us in our future travels. Thank you!

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The Wall of Sharks and Coconut Crabs in Tuamotus

Maya scuba diving with sharks

Maya scuba diving with sharks

We exit the Makemo atoll through the north pass at slack tide and sail to Tahanea overnight together with our friends S/V Mercredi Soir and S/V Invictus.

Tahanea and Fakarava atolls

Tahanea and Fakarava atolls

Arriving in the dark, we heave-to for a few hours in front of the pass waiting for daylight and for slack tide- the only safe time to enter any atoll. The biggest problem is finding out when exactly is slack tide, as the information we have from different sources doesn’t match.

Arriving at dawn

Arriving at dawn

We enter Tahanea successfully in the early morning with just one knot of current against us. It’s very stressful every time.

Rainbow over Tahanea

Rainbow over Tahanea

Once inside the atoll, the lagoon is calm and beautiful. The small uninhabited islands near the southeast corner are waiting for us.

Invictus, Mercredi Soir and Fata Morgana at anchor in Tahanea

Invictus, Mercredi Soir and Fata Morgana at anchor in Tahanea

Another boat family aboard catamaran Moby is here to join our group and now we are four families with eight kids in total, ages from four to fourteen, speaking English, French and German.

On the beach in Tahanea

On the beach in Tahanea

The men decide to provide the food for tonight- they are off spearfishing in the lagoon, while the women are preparing salads and side dishes. We are planning a big bonfire on the beach.

Sunset in Tahanea

Sunset in Tahanea

Bonfire on the beach

Bonfire on the beach

Besides the pile of tasty groupers Ivo, Tobi and Gilles speared in the lagoon, the guys also promised coconut crabs for dinner. They say that you can find coconut crabs- the world’s finest delicacy- at night in the bush on the small motus.

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Sunset, the fire going, we split in two hunting parties armed with flashlights and a machete. Off we go searching for coconut crabs. Operation “Ambush in The Bush”.

The Coconut Crab

No luck. Coconut crabs might be the largest of all land crabs in the world reaching giant proportions, growing up to one meter and weighing up to 4 kilograms, yet, they proved to be rather hard to locate and capture. After a few minutes of searching, our group with Ivo in the lead raises false alarm. Tobi starts:

“Wow, it’s huge, Ivo don’t kill it!” (But there is no coconut crab.)

The rest of our group quickly joins in:

“Wow, it’s big! We got a coconut crab and it’s massive!”- everyone is screaming, wonderstruck by the humongous (imaginary) creature.

The second group, with Gilles in the lead, are somewhere on the other side of the motu but can hear our excitement. Anxious to see our “catch” they rush towards us, running through the forest of coconut palms and jumping over the low bushes in the dark. By the time they arrive, we are all laughing.

“Were is the crab?”- Tom is asking.

“There is no crab”- I am laughing.

“But where is the crab?”- it takes a while for Team Two to realize- they have been pranked.

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At this moment, Ivo spots a strange creature skillfully crawling up a rotting tree. It looks like an armored extraterrestrial the size of a small dog- blue, with long antennae, massive claws with human-like teeth on the edges, three pair of legs divided in sections and another pair of legs with smaller tweezers-like claws- the mighty coconut crab!

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This time no one believes that Ivo actually found a real coconut crab, and even after we saw it with our own eyes, the reaction is much milder than the previous one.

Coconut crabs have the most powerful claws capable of cutting not only through the hard shells of coconuts, but also through wooden crates, buckets and metal enclosures of all kinds. Easily, he could cut through flesh and bones too. So picking up and transporting a coconut crab is a dangerous task.

Luckily, the crab grabs onto Ivo’s machete and won’t let go, holding fast, letting us bring him to the fire.

Maya holding the coconut crab

Maya holding the coconut crab

It’s Red Carpet time and everyone is taking pictures of the celebrity.

“How are we going to kill him and how are we going to cook him?”

After a short debate, we release the captive back in his forest, where “his family and babies are waiting for him”.

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We let him go free for three main reasons:

  1. We grew fond of the crab and no one wanted to kill him. We named him George.
  2. We thought he might be the last one of his species on Earth and we didn’t want to be responsible of his extinction.
  3. But mostly, we didn’t have a big enough pot to boil him in, and even if we did, one crab, no matter how huge, wouldn’t feed 16 people…
The kids and the coconut crab

The kids and the coconut crab

Read more about coconut crabs 10 Ginormous Facts About Coconut Crabs

Fakarava

Next stop- Fakarava- the second biggest atoll in French Polynesia, located some 245 NM northeast of Tahiti, 60km long, 21km wide, with 16km² of emerged land and a 1121km² lagoon.

We sail carefully through the narrow south pass and drop anchor in one of Tuamotus’ most popular atolls.

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Here, another French catamaran S/V QuatrA joins us and we are now 5 families with 10 kids playing on the beach, organizing dinners and epic parties.

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But we are here for one main reason- sharks.

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The Wall of Sharks

We have been seeing more and more sharks since we are sailing in the atolls of Tuamotu, but in Fakarava they are famous. Here is one of the best places on the planet to see and swim with sharks.

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The Tamotus are atolls. An atoll is a string of low-lying coral islands and reefs in the shape of a necklace, enclosing a shallow blue lagoon, with water between the islands called passes- some navigable, some not. Here, because of the strong tidal currents bringing nutrients inside the lagoon from the ocean, the amount of fish is incredible. The passes are as colorful, decorated by corals, and as populated by marine life as a shopping mall at Christmas time, making for the most spectacular drift-diving ever.

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Thanks to our friends in Colombia- Cata and Sebastian @DeepCoral, Ivo and Maya got their PADI diving certificate and diving equipment, ready to dive the famous Wall of Sharks in Fakarava’s south pass.

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Every summer a spectacular event takes place here – thousands of groupers gather to spawn attracting hundreds of sharks: grey reef sharks, black tips, white tips, lemon sharks and many other species of sharks gather to feed in the nutrient rich current of the pass.

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Thanks to this abundance of underwater life, Fakarava has been classified as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

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There is a dive shop near the pass, for organized guided dives, but if you have your equipment you can go diving anytime, unaccompanied, as many time as you want, for free, without a guide. Which is exactly what Ivo, Maya and our friends form Invictus and Mercredi Soir decide to do- freelance drift-diving with hundreds of hungry sharks!

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Sharks are known as the sea’s ultimate predators and bloodthirsty killing machines. So finding yourself surrounded by all kinds of sharks in overwhelming numbers is a scary surreal experience, impossible to imagine, impossible to believe.

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Maya with sharks

But the sharks’ reputation of killing and eating people at first sight is greatly overrated. They prefer fish. You don’t believe me? Here is what Ocean Service NOAA has to say on the subject:

“Only about a dozen of the more than 300 species of sharks have been involved in attacks on humans. Sharks evolved millions of years before humans existed and therefore humans are not part of their normal diets. Sharks are opportunistic feeders, but most sharks primarily feed on smaller fish and invertebrates. Some of the larger shark species prey on seals, sea lions, and other marine mammals.

Sharks have been known to attack humans when they are confused or curious. If a shark sees a human splashing in the water, it may try to investigate, leading to an accidental attack. Still, sharks have more to fear from humans than we do of them. Humans hunt sharks for their meat, internal organs, and skin in order to make products such as shark fin soup, lubricants, and leather.

Sharks are a valuable part of marine ecosystems, but overfishing threatens some shark populations. NOAA Fisheries conducts research on shark habitats, migratory patterns, and population change in order to understand how to best protect and maintain a stable shark population.”  (Read @ Do sharks eat people?)

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The sharks in Fakarava, once hunted for shark fin, have always been friendly and are today protected. There haven’t been accidents, except during the night dives- when the sharks feed and are much more excited.

So our group of divers sticks to day-diving. They return to the pass every day for almost a week. Here diving with sharks can become addictive!

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Maya with sharks

“Drift-diving, propelled by the strong current of the pass with hundreds of sharks all around me, getting closer and closer, has become the most thrilling experience of my life!”- said 12-years-old Maya.

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Kids and Coconuts in Makemo

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The Tuamotus are wonderful.

Spectacular remote lagoons and tiny coconut motus (islets), warm clear waters, healthy corals and tropical fish, relaxing atmosphere and friendly locals. Sailing from lagoon to lagoon, from island to island, snorkeling and scuba-diving, making huge bonfires on the beach in the company of dear friends became our most favorite times in French Polynesia.

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After Raroia- our love-of-first-sight atoll, we sail to Makemo- the fourth biggest yet rarely visited by sailors or tourists atoll in the Tuamotus. Makemo Atoll measures 69 km in length and 16.5 km in width, with a land area of 56 km² and a lagoon of 603 km² in area with two navigable passes and an airport.

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It is the best place to spend a few days with very strong winds announced- up to 35-40 knots, because the main inhabited island of the atoll has a neat little village Pouheva with very welcoming people (population of about 600), good internet access, a bakery selling fresh hot 60-cent French baguettes, a decent pizza place, and a free public dock big enough for three catamarans, where S/V Invictus, S/V Mercredi Soir and S/V Fata Morgana are welcome to stay as long as they like.

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Pizza with friends

Pizza with friends

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Besides the small one-story houses with lush flowering gardens and clean streets, in Pouheva there is a church, a lighthouse, a boarding school where kids from neighboring atolls come to study, and a big football/basketball court, covered with a high tin roof, protecting the court from the tropical sun and rain. Here the locals gather every day to practice for the Heiva Music and Dance Festival in the beginning of July.

Lighthouse in Makemo

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Maya and Sam watching the kids practicing for Heiva in Makemo

 

The entire island population is busy preparing for the festival, making decorations and costumes. Tiny seashells collected on the shores, palm leaves and flowers are the main materials used to make the dancers’ costumes. These guys also collected the empty flour bags from the bakery and are using them to make the skirts.

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I spend hours helping with the costumes together with a few women, a man and one shy rae-rae (a transvestite- very common throughout French Polynesia, and respected “third gender” believed to combine the best male and female qualities), in a tiny shed where the floor is covered with crushed corrals. My job is to prepare the flour bags for the skirts by removing the horizontal threads one by one.

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(read more about the RaeRae and Mahu: third Polynesian Gender.  Similar to Fa’afafine of Samoa )

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We are welcome to watch the music and dance repetitions. The music and dancing are so wild and contagious, it’s hard to resist. Soon Ivo, who is really good at dancing, joins one of the groups, impressing the locals with his grace, beauty and beard.

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He also impressed the many local kids who hang around the public wharf and the boats all the time with another skill- kiteboarding. 30-40 kts winds are ideal to practice some jumps while the boat is safely attached to the pier.

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The barefoot kids in Makemo are curious cheeky little fellows, always ready to help. After school, running or riding their bicycles, they come to check what we are doing. Jumping from the pier and swimming between the boats, admiring Ivo’s kiteboarding performances, but mostly- spearfishing in the shallow reefs, are their favorite activities.

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“Aren’t you scared of sharks?” I ask Kura, a 12-yers-old boy and two of his friends who are constantly in the water chasing fish.

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“No. But my dad was eaten by sharks,” says one of the boys laughing, so I don’t know if he is joking or telling the truth.

“But sharks are not dangerous. They usually don’t bother you. What happened with my dad was an accident, because he was drunk. He went to one of the motus and didn’t attach his boat, so the boat started drifting. He was very drunk, but he jumped in the water swimming after the boat, trying to get it back. He drowned, because he was really wasted. They found his body in the lagoon a couple of days later. The sharks had eaten his arms and legs and his head was missing. We couldn’t bury him like this. He was half-eaten. So we ate him…”

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My jaw drops. Did I hear correctly? The other two boys are smiling. One is interrupting the story, telling to the orphaned kid not to say this. “We don’t say this!”

I scream covering my mouth with both hands “WHAT???”, but the kids are running away laughing.

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In a place surrounded by miles of ocean, where the tiny pockets of sand only yields coconuts and the sea- fish; where food, fresh fruits and vegetables, meat and any other products are difficult and expensive to get, especially for people with limited means, protein is the islanders’ main daily concern. Fish makes up for 90% of the locals’ diet. Here (it is not a secret), ever since before the arrival of the first Europeans in the 18th century, dogs have been on the menu and are still part of the Polynesian peoples’ protein source (we’ve been told repeatedly by the locals themselves), along with local chickens, pigs and sea birds. Why not human meat, if it’s already half eaten by sharks?

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I don’t know if this story is true or the kids are just trying to joke with us, the foreign visitors: “Watch out, we are cannibals.”

One thing is for sure- they respect the sharks profoundly- rulers of the sea- and would never kill or eat a shark.

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One morning, during my 20 minutes jogging routine, I met Teva Tuku and Taai Tuua. Teva and Taai are in their sixties. Their many children are all grown up and have families and kids of their own, and have left Makemo to live and work in Tahiti and France. Teva and Taai live alone now in their small yellow house and produce copra. They invite me to talk about the Islands, the Ocean and Nature and the dangers they face today with over-fishing, illegal whale trade and climate change. But mostly, they explain to me all about the process of copra production and coconuts in general, while Taai is making a palm-leaf bag for me.

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Copra is dried coconut used to extract coconut oil by collecting fallen coconuts, breaking them, removing the shell, and sun drying the kernel. Every family harvests coconuts from a certain amount of coconut palms on the main island or the motus from the atoll. First, the coconut is split in two and left in the sun for two days. After two days the meat can be removed from the shell with ease, and the drying process is complete after three to five more days (up to seven in total). Copra is then exported to “Huilerie de Tahiti” –the copra processing plant built in 1968 in Tahiti where the coconut oil is extracted. The copra industry is the main agricultural resource of the islands of Tuamotu and for many of the other islands of French Polynesia, and contributes to a large part of the local economy. In these isolated islands, copra remains the only source of income besides pearl farming and fishing.

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(Read more about The Coprah industry in Polynesia. )

I go back to the boat loaded with presents: coconuts for drinking and coconuts for eating, a palm-leaf bag and a palm-leaf trey. But the biggest gift I got from these smiling, generous, beautiful islanders is their story full of wisdom, goodness and knowledge.

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Sailing to Raroia- The Kon-Tiki Atoll

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French Polynesia is an overseas collectivity (or territory) of France, composed of 118 islands and atolls in the South Pacific Ocean, of which 67 are inhabited. These islands and atolls are divided into five island groups: the Marquesas Islands, the Tuamotu Archipelago, the Society Islands archipelago, the Gambier Islands, and the Austral Islands.

The distances between the islands within one group are small- usually a few hours or a day sail. But the passages from one island group to the next are hundreds of miles and can take many days.

 

Marquesas-Tuamotus Passage

tuamotu-marquesas

We stage our passage southwest from the Marquesas Islands to the Tuamotu Archipelago from Ua Pou together with S/V Invictus and S/V Mercredi Soir. It is a 450NM passage which will take a few days. Fata Morgana is the smallest and slowest of the three catamarans, so after the first day of sailing our friends are already way ahead of us and we have no radio contact. Last time we heard from Invictus, they had some problem with the steering and the head sail, and Nicole got really badly rope-burned on the right hand.

We have checked the weather forecast. A convergence zone with strong winds and squalls is passing south. According to the GRIB files, the bad weather will remain 200NM south of the Tuamotus, so we should be fine with 15kt winds predicted for our area.

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On the third night of the passage a storm hits us with 40 kts winds from east. It’s 8 p.m., pitch black, clouds, rain, the waves building up- the horror. We drop the mainsail leaving only a bit of the jib sticking out as a storm sail. We hope this is a squall and will pass in a few minutes.

The sea’s fury is awesome. The thunder of the waves and the howling of the wind sound evil, like death approaching. And it’s not about to end. Not in a few minutes, not in a few hours. The night becomes a nightmare.

Ivo is dealing with  situation, hand steering. Maya is surprisingly calm and unafraid. She is trying to reassure me too. I, on the other hand, am losing it.

“If I survive this, if I ever get to dry land, I will walk away and never set foot on a boat again!”

I am sending messages on the IridiumGo satellite to Mel and Krisha with our position, preparing a water-tight survival bag with hand-held VHF radio, crackers, bottle of water, knife, submergible lights in case the mast snaps, the boat flips and breaks to pieces and sinks, and we are left floating in the dark ocean raging around us, full with sharks. What chance do we have?

The boat is now surfing down the waves, hard to keep her stable; we are getting pushed off course to the west. We have to slow down. From the stern Ivo deploys our improvised drogues- the Galapagos beer crates, this time prepared and ready to use. They are so good- work miracles!

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Still getting pushed west though. We decide to try something we have never done before. We heave-to. The boom is open all the way to starboard, mainsail down, the jib is sticking just a bit, maybe a square meter surface, parallel to the boom, the wheel is turned all the way to port and locked, the wind and waves are hitting us from port at about 45 degrees. The boat is trying to turn port because of the wheel, like when you are tacking, but cannot, because of the boom and jib. So- miracle! She is stuck. Cannot turn port, cannot tack, cannot turn starboard, cannot jibe. She stops smoothly the waves lifting her up and posing her down slowly at a very comfortable angle.

It’s 1:00 a.m., storm raging, but it feels fine, even smooth. We are still getting pushed west a bit, but only about 1 kt an hour. And guess what we did for the rest of the nightmare? Exhausted, we slept! Not like babies, but we slept, and if someone has told me that I will sleep during a storm, I would’ve never believed it. But I did.

6:00 a.m. the sun is pushing the night away and with it- the storm is dying out as well. We survived it.

Yet, more scary times awaited us.

Arriving in Raroia

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The Tuamotu Archipelago is also known as the Dangerous Archipelago. These low lying atolls have claimed many boats wrecked on their reefs, which you cannot see at night. Even entering through the turbulent waters of the narrow passes can be disastrous. Navigating in and out of the atolls has to be done with lots of care, at slack tide, when the current in the cut is not too strong.

Raroia is our first atoll ever, so naturally we are anxious and worried about entering through the narrow cut. We arrive in the evening and heave-to again not far from the atoll entrance. This time we do it not because of bad weather but because we have to wait out the night and only enter in daylight and at the precise moment when the tides change direction, the currents reverse and the water in the pass is at its calmest state.

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In the morning, we still have a bit of a current in the pass flowing against us, creating turbulent waters with sort fast river-like waves and whirlpools, but with full sails and both engines we enter in the lagoon successfully.

To find ourselves in Paradise, after surviving the horrors of Hell.

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Not a single hotel, not a single tourist. A lagoon just for us with calm turquoise waters surrounded by a string of little uninhabited islands with coconut palm trees and pink beaches. Like in the postcards, but real!

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An atoll is a coral reef enclosing a pool of water called a lagoon. Atolls form from a volcanic island circled by a coral reef.  First, a volcano pops up from the sea. Then corals start to form around the edges of the crater. With time the volcano starts to sink back down into the sea and eventually- disappears. But the ring of corals formed around it remains and even keeps growing, because the corals keep accumulating. Small flat coral and sand islands appear here and there on the edge of the lagoon protected by a reef. An oasis in the vast blue ocean desert.

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With about 80 islands and atolls, the Tuamotus (meaning the “Distant Islands”) form the largest chain of atolls in the world.

The oval-shaped Raroia is one of the westernmost smaller Tuamotu atolls, measuring 43 km by 14 km, with a land area of 41 km² and a navigable central lagoon with an area of 359 km². We sail across the lagoon and drop anchor in front of one of the small uninhabited motus (islets), where our friends are already waiting for us.

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We celebrate our arrival with a huge bonfire on the beach, food and drinks, music and stories.

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Kon-Tiki Island

Not far from here, just a 10-minute kayak paddle away, is  the Kon-Tiki Island. Here Thor Heyerdahl and his crew arrived after sailing across the Pacific Ocean from Peru on a replica of an ancient raft. This is one of the most epic sailing adventures ever. It is a humbling awe-inspiring experience standing on the spot where Thor Heyerdahl once stood after surviving 100 days of storms, sharks and uncertainty. Imagine the joy he and his men felt landing on this very beach!

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The passes or cuts between the islands in the atolls with their strong currents can be dangerous for navigation but they can also be lots of fun for the kids.

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The smaller cuts between the motus are like warm shallow rivers, changing direction,  flowing in and out with the tides- a roller-coaster for the kids carpeted with corals like blooming flowers. The Coral River.

The bigger deeper passes are even more stunning with underwater coral canyons. Here the currents are massive, bringing nutrients from the ocean inside the lagoon and this is why these passes are packed with fish- some of the best diving spots in the world. But also dangerous, mainly because of the currents, but also- because of the sharks.

 Diving Raroia

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On the other side of the lagoon, near the only village with about 200 inhabitants and near the main big pass (he lagoon’s entrance), we meet Jessica and Chris-a young couple from the USA  cruising around with their super old but still very adorable dog named Martini. They are professional divers and underwater photographers who offer to take us to an awesome diving spot.

Ivo and Maya learned to dive and got their PADI certificates not too long ago- back in Colombia thanks to Cata and Sebastian from DeepCoral. They got diving gear and bottles, but we have no compressor on board to fill the bottles with air, so since Colombia, they never had the chance to dive. Until now. Invictus has a compressor on board and Tobi is happy to fill Ivo and Maya’s bottles.

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Diving is permitted everywhere in French Polynesia, and you don’t have to go on a tour or have some instructor or guide with you if you don’t want to (unlike Galapagos). Plus, there are only a couple of dive shops in Tuamotu, none in Raroia. If you have diving gear- you can dive as much as you want anywhere you like. And thanks to Tobi and his compressor and dinghy, Ivo and Maya had the chance to dive all over French Polynesia, starting in Raroia. And thanks to Chris and Jessica S/V Silent Sun, we learned where the best diving spots are in Tuamotus. In exchange for one pamplemousse and one papaya they guided the first awesome dive in Raroia’s main pass.

The Pearl Farm

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Also here, there is a real pearl farm, where real black pearls are produced and harvested in the lagoon.

After the dive, we go ashore to meet the young owner of the pearl farm. He is third generation pearl farmer, after his grandfather started the business with oysters and his father developed the black pearl industry.

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“I am the Last Pearl Farmer. The climate has changed, Global Warming has had devastating effects on the pearl industry and soon, there will not be many pearl farms left in Tuamotu.”

He explains about the process of pearl-farming and how the pearls are produced. We are allowed to walk around and watch the works but we are not permitted to film or take pictures. After all, this is a million-dollar industry and the professional secrets must be guarded, as every pearl farmer has his own particular methods. But the main process of pearl production is the same everywhere: a piece of a “donor” oyster is implanted into its “recipients”. A small artificial ball with special chemical composition is carefully introduced inside the oyster by a specialist. This is the most sensitive part of the process and if not placed correctly, the pearl will not form.  After this the oysters return in the water, floating attached on small fishing buoys which are also attached to the bottom and can be easily destroyed by storms. With time a pearl forms inside the oyster around the small ball. Within 6 to 12 months the culturing process is complete, and the pearls are ready for extraction. But not all oysters survive, and not all pearls turn out good. Only those that meet specific standards are sold.

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In the evening, the pearl farmer invites us and our friends for diner at his house. We all bring a dish and a bottle to share. My fresh fruit salad is greatly appreciated. There are not many fruits and vegetables on the island where everything is hard to get and has to be ordered and delivered from Tahiti, except fish, coconuts, and black pearls.

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We fell in love with this place and we didn’t want to leave it ever. Remember how I wanted to walk away from the boat because of the storm? What storm? I forgot all about it after a couple of days in Raroia, plus there is nowhere to go really, except a small village with 200 people or a few uninhabited islands with coconut palms.

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Back on the boat and let’s sail to the next atoll!

*Watch our 14-minute YouTube video The Kon Tiki Island Raroia– hooking a marlin, surviving a storm, arriving in our first atoll. Having fun, meeting the last pearl farmer, and visiting the place Thor Heyerdahl crash landed with his raft.

Find us on Facebook @The Life Nomadik
Support us on Patreon @The Life Nomadik
Watch us on YouTube @Fata Morgana

 

Since you’re here …

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… we have a small favor to ask. More people than ever are regularly reading our stories, but far fewer are supporting us. We have no regular income. And unlike others, we haven’t made our content private – we want to keep posting free stories for everyone. So we think it’s fair to ask people who visit our blog often for their support. Our efforts to research, write and post pictures take a lot of time and hard work. And it’s even harder to do it from a boat with limited internet and electricity. But we do it because we believe our journey and way of life matters – because it might inspire you! If you regularly read and value our hard work, consider becoming one of our patrons for as little as $1 or $5 dollars a month and help us in our future travels. Thank you!

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Happy People in Nuku Hiva

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After Tahuata Island, we sail to Nuku Hiva- the biggest Marquisan island (330 sq km) and the second largest in all of French Polynesia after Tahiti. Like all the other islands of the Marquesas hotspot, Nuku Hiva is a young volcano, between 4 million and 400 thousand-years-old, without a barrier coral reef formed around it yet. 400 thousand years make it a baby of an island in geological terms (the Caribbean islands, in contrast, are about 50 million-years-old). Its dramatic jagged pinnacles and strangely shaped volcanic peaks haven’t been made smooth by the effects of weather and time yet.

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Taiohae is the capital and most populated city in the Marquesas, which we decide to skip, and sail instead to two of the island’s most secluded bays.

The first one, Anaho Bay, is on the north side of the island, not far from the place where Robert Louis Stevenson- the author of Treasure Island– first landed on his voyage in 1888.  And Herman Melville  (author of Moby-Dick) wrote his first book Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life based on his experiences in Nuku Hiva.

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This is one of the most beautiful bays in Polynesia we have seen, with sandy beaches, palm trees, sharp rock formations and volcanic ridges in the background creating a dramatic breathtaking landscape.

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It takes us an hour to enter, slowly tacking in the deep bay, with the wind stopping completely at times, changing direction or suddenly descending accelerated from the mountains.

We spend there only a couple of days snorkeling, walking around the beach and looking for coconuts before sailing to Hakaui Bay on the south side, bringing a big yellowfin tuna with us. The waters around these most isolated South Pacific islands are rich with fish- catching large tunas, wahoos, dorados and marlins is not a rare exceptional event.

Once again we sail into the bay without turning on the engines, and drop anchor on sail. We are used to this now, after three years of practice.

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First, we slow down the boat by opening the sails (wind angle) or unclutching and letting out the main sheet completely if the wind is too strong, so that the mainsail catches lass wind. We choose the spot where we will drop the hook and slowly approach it. Ivo furls the jib quickly as we are close to the chosen spot and we turn towards the wind a few meters before we reach it. It takes some time before the boat stops completely. Maya drops the hook and we leave the mainsail up for a while so that the wind pushes it and the boat back- to set the anchor. Then we drop the mainsail. It’s almost the same like dropping anchor on engine, except that there is no margin for errors and maneuvering depends on the wind direction and force.

Here, we find once again our new friends from S/V Mercredi Soir and the German family with the two cute little girls aboard S/V Invictus and we share the big tuna with them aboard Fata Morgana- first of a series of epic parties.

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Hakaui Bay is a river delta and the staging point for hikers to the world’s third highest waterfall. Ivo and I take our awesome orange kayak for a spin, while Maya is in the dinghy with her friends Tom and Sam an hour behind us.

Entering the river from the sea is like entering a different world in the shadow of a green mountain. The kayak sliding silently, the river is dark and still. Large yellow flowers floating over their perfect reflections, a row of palm trees guarding the shores. We disturb a heron on the river bank and an eel beneath the water surface.

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The river flows slow, full and deep for a while until it reaches the garden of a small house and becomes shallow. We leave the kayak here attached to a tree. This land with all its fruit trees and large flowers, and this house surrounded by coconut palms, banana plants and shrubs with tiny red chili peppers belong to one family- an ever-smiling Polynesian woman, her over- hyper Polynesian man with tattooed face and their 12-years-old son.

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The path to Vaipo waterfall cuts through their property and they welcome hikers all the time, guiding them through the mountain, organizing dinners for cruisers and trading fruits.

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It’s late in the day and the path is muddy from the rain in the mountains so we, together with our friends, only hike to the first viewpoint from where we can see the waterfall- thin and tall- cascading down the mountain. To reach the waterfall, you need a guide, the path has to be dryer, and you have to start in the morning, as the hike is long and difficult. We are happy to see the fall from a distance and go back to talk some more with the extravagant locals at their river-farm.

Vaipo Waterfall

Vaipo Waterfall

The Marquesian people are closely and proudly related to the Maori people of New Zealand. In Polynesian mythology, their common ancestors come from Hawaiki – the original home of the Polynesian peoples. The Hawaiki people disperse across Polynesia, to the islands of the Pacific Ocean in open canoes, called waka. This is why even today the Maori and the islanders have so much in common- music, dancing, traditional tattoos, beliefs and mythology.

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The Polynesians are also the most welcoming people who meet strangers with open hearts and smiles on their faces, without prejudice or reservation. It is surprising to find such people after traveling halfway around the world and meeting all kinds of people- we didn’t believe they really exist- honest, open and warm, like happy children. They made us happy too.

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The crazy farmer and his wife are preparing dinner for a group of cruisers. Among them- the Muktuk Family with two boys born and raised on the boat- never lived on land. Their life is an epic never-ending adventure worth of a book.

The Muktuk kids

The Muktuk kids

All the ingredients the local farmers use for the cruisers’ dinner are stuff grown in their own garden or caught in their own backyard, which are the river, the ocean and the mountains. Fish and sea food prepared with fresh coconut milk, roasted chicken and goat meat marinated in fresh coconut milk, and a heartbreaking fruit salad containing unbelievable variety of local fruits soaked in fresh coconut milk.

These guys live off the grid in the most beautiful place on the planet. They have all sorts of fruits and vegetables in their huge garden right next to the river, they have coconuts which they use in all recipes and to make copra; they have pigs, goats, horses and chickens; they fish in the ocean and hunt wild boars and wild goats in the mountain; they organize traditional dinners at their house for cruisers for a few dollars; and they trade.

The next day we return for a visit bringing a few gifts for them and their son. They give us in return a bucket of pamplemousse – which are humongous super tasty grapefruits, piles of star fruits, coconuts, papayas and bananas which we pick from the trees ourselves. Stocked up with a mountain of fresh fruits, we are ready to sail again.

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We stage our crossing from the Marquesas to the blue atolls of the Tuamotu island group from Ua Pou- our last Marquisan Island.

Jilie and Lena S/V Invictus showing Maya the drawings they made for her.

Julie and Lena S/V Invictus showing Maya the drawings they made for her.

 

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*Watch our 12-minute YouTube video Off Grid in Nuku Hiva  – beautiful river delta and a waterfall, and meet our friends, the Muktuk kids, and the local Polynesian guy with face tattoo who lives in paradise. 

Find us on Facebook @The Life Nomadik
Support us on Patreon @The Life Nomadik
Watch us on YouTube @Fata Morgana

 

Since you’re here …

.

… we have a small favor to ask. More people than ever are regularly reading our stories, but far fewer are supporting us. We have no regular income. And unlike others, we haven’t made our content private – we want to keep posting free stories for everyone. So we think it’s fair to ask people who visit our blog often for their support. Our efforts to research, write and post pictures take a lot of time and hard work. And it’s even harder to do it from a boat with limited internet and electricity. But we do it because we believe our journey and way of life matters – because it might inspire you!

If you regularly read and value our hard work, consider becoming one of our patrons for as little as $1 or $5 dollars a month and help us in our future travels. Thank you!

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