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A week in Paradise

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When you think of Tahiti, it conjures up the quintessential South Pacific paradise; white sand beaches, crystal clear water, blue skies, cocktails by the pool and beautiful women swaying their hips with a flower in their hair. Sure, Tahiti and her islands has all that, but there is so much more!

We were there to watch the Hawaiki Nui, which is a canoe race from one stunning island to the next, over 128 km long, divided into three legs, between the Leeward Islands (Huahine, Raiatea, Tahaa and Bora Bora). The race is done in a vaá, an outrigger canoe, with six people in each boat; there are no crew changes on the water, it’s a marine marathon. The Hawaiki Nui attracts each year hundreds of canoe racers coming from all over French Polynesia but also from Hawaii, Europe even Japan. They compete for 3 days over distances that vary from 25km to 60km, depending on which leg of the race.

In 1992, the Hawaiki Nui came from one persons idea, his name was Edouard Maamaatuaiahutapu, and he wanted to create an event to showcase the islands where he lived. This race was developed along simple criteria: to be as prestigious as the Moloka’I Hoe race in Hawaii and to be far more arduous.

The Hawaiki Nui is not really for tourists; it’s for the locals; of course, anyone can watch; it is like the Super Bowl of vaá- outrigger racing; there are hundreds of boats and hundreds of support teams and hundreds of people watching. On the open water, that multitude is spread out with vaá and boats as far as you can see in every direction, big ones, small ones, from super yachts to tiny tinnies and every man and his dog (literally) is either in the competition, supporting or watching. Like I said, on the open seas, it’s OK that they are all spread out, but in the lagoon, which at times is only 2-300 meters across, the confusion and compression of all those boats and all those va’as creates chaos. I do think if it were anywhere else in the world there would be litigation, shootings and sinking, but because it is in Tahiti, everyone is pretty laid back, and even though there is the constant possibility of multi-million boat boats colliding, no one really gets too stressed.

 

This year the first leg from Huahine to Raiatea was rough, wet and windy with solid swell and poor visibility, not more than 300 meters; how the crews of vaá knew where to go was beyond me, but through wind and rain and massive swells, they powered on. It is impressive to watch not only them punching through major swell but catching waves and surfing them.

The arrival at each island, the finish, is met by the locals going full noise; there are screams and water splashing, palms waving, and flowers were thrown, and although there is real pressure to win, every single canoe gets welcomed home and because it is so arduous that even finishing is treated like a significant win whether you are first or last.

The final leg is from Taha’a to Bora Bora. Bora Bora is legendary for its beauty; the white sand and shallow lagoon create this amazing blue-clear water that looks like an extension of the sky. The lagoon would be at least a kilometer across and it is full of boats and people all partying, celebrating, playing music, people dancing and welcoming the vaá with garlands of flowers. It’s a competition, but it reflects so much a Polynesian way of being, everyone is happy, everyone is smiling it just simply a feel-good experience.

While following the Hawaiki Nui we spent some of the nights not in a hotel but aboard a stunning catamaran from Tahiti Yacht Charter |. there is no better way to watch the sun go down and then to wake up to the oil-like water that is in the lagoon; you go to sleep in your stunning double bedroom with your own shower and bathroom, it is not like being on a boat at all. Not only was the catamaran amazing it came with a chef, the talented Tamata, who each day we would ask what is for dinner and she would always say, it’s a surprise, and it was – the food was fresh and mostly fish (at our request) , cooked, raw, whatever, it was always spectacular.

 

The two nights we spent in Bora Bora stayed at the Bora Bora Holiday Lodge, a perfect place to stay; great rooms, air conditioning, a pool and is only 5 minutes’ walk to the yacht club, which was an brilliant place for an evening drink and a meal.

If you are going to Bora Bora, you need to check out Bloody Mary’s, it is …. Unique, the list outside on the wall is a list of all those who have been to the restaurant, and it reads like a Hollywood who’s who. Established in the latter half of the 1970s, a genuine Polish noble, Baron Jerzy Hubert Edward von Dangel, created the restaurant, and it has become an icon of Bora Bora – great local food and equally good music.

The day after the race, we had a day to fill and spent it with Bora Bora Cultural Lagoon Cruises with our guide Narihau. We were picked up and immediately taken to a spot where manta rays came in quite shallow; snorkelling in the misty water (manta does not like crystal clear) we got to see these monsters of the deep gliding around scooping up food. We then headed back to the boat, the OTI’A ARE, and we went to Narihua family island (motu) for lunch. Now over the years, I have had several great island lunches but never anything like this, it was simply superb. After lunch, you can walk around the motu which has now been turned into a garden, and each plant is clearly labelled and describe what it is and how it has been used. On our return to the hotel via the boat, we stopped at the coral garden where you could swim in what and only be described as an aquarium with bright colour coral and fish of every description. The tour is a great way to experience Bora Bora in a way you would never find yourself.

We then headed back to Papeete and relaxed back into the newly refurbished Te Moana hotel for the night, only to be up early the next day for our Va’a experience. After watching the canoes for the last week, it was great to have some tuition on how it is done and to actually get to paddle.

The first this you note is it’s not easy, it is not physically hard (well, not while you are learning in the lagoon) but it is tricky, you must keep in rhythm and make sure ya don’t bonk the person in front on the back of the head.  We played around in the lagoon for a few hours, and we did get better, but you can only begin to imagine how difficult it must be in open water with waves and wind and in a race!

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As our week of activity came to a close, we had one last hoorah. Fishing with Moorea Fishing Charters, we jumped on the ferry with our guide Fred and went over to the beautiful island or Moorea. Here we were met by the biggest smile I have seen in Tahiti, Matahi. He was pumped and ready to go fishing. The day before, they had caught a nice tuna, and they were amped. Very cool boata 23feet long aluminium V-shaped boat, powered up and great for the conditions.  And exceptionally well captained, as we found out. As we went outside the reef, our good luck with the weather changed, the wind came up, and the rain came down in buckets. With the wind and the rain and swell it was …. Challenging, but Matahi was determined, we tried for 4 hours, but it was not to be. Eventually, we gave up as the conditions continued to worsen. But the moment you head back into the lagoon, it is such a contrast, and it is back to dead calm. We headed to Matahi house for lunch which included fresh tuna (from yesterday) raw and cooked with his grandmother’s special marinade. We didn’t catch anything, but as we told the disappointed Matahi it’s called fishing, not catching, and it gives us a great reason to come back and we will. Matahi sent us a few pics of the previous week – and we can wait to get back.

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The only good thing about leaving Tahiti is Air Tahiti Nui, the friendly staff, the fantastic food the comfortable layout of the Dreamliner is the perfect end to a perfect trip. As we took off, the sun had come out and illuminated the reef and it was like it was not saying goodbye but see you again soon

 

And we will!

 

thanks to –

 

 

 

 

 

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