The Great Southern Route : 2010 - 2011
bays provide ready entry and egress to Moorea's forested interior, which rises to Mt Tohiea (1207m). The Leeward Islands of the Society Group -- Huahine, Raiatea, Tahaa, Maupiti and Bora Bora -- are clustered about 200 km north-west of Tahiti. Only half a day's sailing apart, all four are sublimely beautiful high islands. Deep passes through their coral reefs allow even large vessels to enter their extensive surrounding lagoons, which are ideal for anchoring, cruising, swimming, snorkelling and scuba diving. Each island also has a port and a waterfront town where the vessels can be provisioned. The Leeward Islands towns are much quieter than Papeete, and their sleepy ambience suits the territory perfectly. Most attractive of them is Fare, on lovely Huahine Island. Fare's one main street of shops, cafes and restaurants is directly across from the island's little harbour, where inter-island trading ships and private vessels tie up. Fare is everybody's notion of what a South Sea island port town should be. And being located on the west coast of Huahine means that nearby Raiatea, the island which is sacred to all Polynesians, and the island which shares Raiatea's lagoon, Tahaa, lie across the western horizon. Sitting in a restaurant on Fare's waterfront, cool drink in hand, watching the sun go down over Raiatea andTahaa, is one of the South Pacific's most sensuous experiences. Until you anchor off the west coast of Raiatea and Tahaa, and on deck with cool drink in hand, watch the sun going down over nearby, fabled Bora Bora, which is even more enchanting. There is only one pass through Bora Bora's reef, but the island's town, Vaitape, has every facility for seaborne visitors, including a substantial wharf, banks, restaurants, supermarkets and an excellent craft market on the waterfront. And Bora Bora's lagoon is one of the most beautiful in the South Pacific, with its variegated shades of blinding blue and a long chain of motus along the eastern fringe of the lagoon. Due west of Bora Bora, half a day's sail away, is the mini-high island of Maupiti. It has passes at both its southern and northern ends, broad motus surrounding a sapphire-blue lagoon and a central island rising symmetrically to the peak of Mt Teurafaaitu (372m). Utterly au naturel, Maupiti is noted for its secure anchorages, rich bird life, fruit trees and motu beaches. Raiatea does not have as many beaches as the other Leeward Islands, but it is an island of great cultural significance as well as having the second busiest port in French Polynesia. Its waterfront town, Uturoa, boasts a large, modern marina and a deep harbour which accommodates vessels of all sizes. Big enough to have the support facilities GSR | 245 cruising vessels require, but small enough to be explored on foot, Uturoa makes a fine base for cruising the extensive lagoons of Raiatea and exploring the island's enormous sound, Baie de Faaroa, on the island's east coast. Faaroa Bay is enclosed by mountains, including Mt Toomaru (1017m), the island's highest peak. Fed by French Polynesia's only navigable river, the deep bay was the centre of ancient Tahiti's canoe building industry. The hulls of the great canoes were hewn here, from giant rainforest trees, launched into the bay and taken around the coast to the largest and most sacred marae in all Polynesia, Taputapuatea, which occupies a level promontory opposite a deep pass in Raiatea's reef. Here the canoes were blessed by priests before their departure for other far-flung islands in the Polynesian Triangle. Taputapuatea was the Cape Canaveral of ancient Polynesia. Just a short sail across the lagoon, directly north of Raiatea, is its sister island, Tahaa. Lush and serene, with immaculate villages, Tahaa is renowned for its vanilla pods. Vanilla vines thrive, along with other tropical crops, in the luxuriant centre of the island. Two deep bays penetrate Tahaa's flanks, Baie de Hurepiti on the west coast and Baie de Haamene on the east coast. Both make superb anchorages for yachts and launches. Black pearls, farmed in the island's deep bays, are another product which Tahaa is famous for. Further beyond Tahiti, the islands are less visited and accordingly have a much slower pace of life. The atolls of the Tuamotus are another world entirely, their motus being only a metre or two above sea level. But within their sheltered lagoons are some of the finest dive sites and richest aquatic life in the Pacific, with an underwater visibility of many metres. The most developed of the 76 Tuamotu atolls are Rangiroa, Fakarava, Tikehau and Manihi. Tikehau has a wonderful seabird sanctuary island in its lagoon, while Rangiroa's Tiputa Pass is world-renowned for its 'shark wall', where up to 300 sharks of various species gather to feed. Harmless to humans, the sharks and other large fish make Tiputa Pass a diver's nirvana. Cruising vessels can enter almost all the Tuamotus' atolls' vast lagoons via deep passages through the reef, then readily find safe anchorages within them. These lagoons are like sheltered seas within the Pacific Ocean. In 2006 Fakarava atoll's environmental purity was internationally recognised when it was added to UNESCO's Man and Biosphere (MAB) programme, a world list of places of exceptional natural beauty where local communities are actively involved in their environment's conservation. This is a fitting tribute to Fakarava's lagoon and the pride which the atoll's population of 700 takes in its protection. For the adventurous sailor, the Marquesas Islands offer something truly unique. Wild, rugged and remote, this group of twelve islands 1,500km north-east of Tahiti is further from any continental land mass than any other islands on Earth. Steep cliffs plunge into the ocean, waves crash against the base of the cliffs and wild goats and horses inhabit the islands' ravines and forests. Unusually, the islands of the Marquesas are not surrounded by coral reefs and so lie exposed to the ocean swells. But there are also beautiful bays here, sheltered from the winds and swells, which make up some of the most picturesque anchorages in the world. These include Taiohoe Bay on Nuku Hiva, Taaoa Bay on Hiva Oa and Aneo Bay, on Ua Pou. Perhaps the ultimate cruise itinerary in French Polynesia would be one which departs from the port of Papeete, cruises through the Leeward Islands, calling at Huahine, Raiatea-Tahaa, Bora Bora and Maupiti, then sailing due east to Fakarava atoll in the Tuamotus. After a stopover at peaceful Rotoava village, inside Fakarava's huge lagoon, a north-east course is then set, for the Marquesas Islands. Here fine anchorages and fascinating local cultures can be experienced at islands such as Ua Pou, Nuku Hiva, Hiva Oa and Fatu Hiva. The return voyage to Tahiti can then be made via Rangiroa atoll, for a swim with the sharks and rays in Tiputa Pass. Bon voyage!
2008 - 2009
2013 - 2014