A little Paradise in French Polynesia

We left Bora Bora and sailed to an an atoll called Maupihaa which was our last stop in French Polynesia. The cruising guides say that this atoll is probably the most beautiful of the Society Islands but it also has the most difficult passage because the narrow entrance constantly has an outgoing current of 3-9 knots. We left with the “Holandeserrante” and we agreed that if the passage was too difficult then we will not attempt to pass and will just continue sailing to Niue which was 1,000 NM (1,800 kms) away.

The “Holandeserrante” arrived a few hours earlier than we did so they entered the passage first. Umberto told us that there was a very strong opposing current and it was important that we went full speed and try to keep the boat straight. The passage was not very long but it seemed like it took us a long time to cross it. We had an opposing current of 5 knots (9 kms/hr) and even at full speed we crawled slowly at the speed of less than 1 knot (<1.8 kms/hr). Erwin had to constantly steer the boat to keep it straight because the strong outgoing current was trying to push the boat at different directions. We crossed the passage safely but it was nerve wrecking. 😬 Once inside the atoll we saw why we went to all this trouble to get here. It is a beautiful place, clear and amazing colors of the water, white sand beach and it is very peaceful and pristine because there are hardly any people here. The atoll is shark infested and on the first day there were three black tip sharks that were constantly swimming around our boat.

There used to be a small village on the atoll but after a major typhoon in 1998 the village disappeared and 75% of the trees were destroyed. We walked along the shore and came upon the house of Harry and Norma a couple that was living on the atoll. Harry invited us to their home and offered us fresh coconut juice. They told us that now there are only 13 people living on the atoll and that they themselves have been there for the last six years. They produce copra which is picked up by a boat once every few months and Norma showed us how they make it. Copra is the coconut meat which they dry in the sun for a few days and which is used to make coconut products like oil, soap or cremes. Norma invited us for lunch the next day but before we left she let us try the coconut wine they made themselves and gave us two papayas to take back with us.

While we were at Harry and Norma’s place, Umberto and his mother were at another local family’s home where they were invited for lunch. When we came back to our boat we had a nice surprise because Umberto left a plate with a large lobster for us to eat. When we threw the empty lobster shells in the water the sharks were there in just a few minutes.

The next day we went to Harry and Norma’s place for lunch. We didn’t want to come empty handed so we brought a few gifts for them. They really went out of their way to prepare the lunch because the table was beautifully decorated with flowers and Norma even made a flower wreath for me to wear on my head. They prepared a sumptuous feast of lobster, turtle and coconut crab and fresh coconut juice for the refreshments. (A coconut crab lives on land and feeds on coconuts) For dessert we had fresh papaya and mango. The conversation was quite difficult because they spoke ten words of English and we spoke ten words of French but with hand signs and a dictionary we managed. They told us about how they lived and that the atoll is like one big supermarket because they have everything they need that nature has to offer to survive and live comfortably. Before we left Norma gave us a basket she made from palm leaves and filled it with three papayas and coconuts.

Since there was a low pressure area coming which was to last for a few days we decided to wait in Maupihaa until the weather was better. When the winds were too strong we didn’t go ashore for two days because the sea was too rough for our small dinghy for us to stay dry. We just stayed on the boat, read books and watched movies on the laptop. From the cockpit, Erwin caught a large Leather Jacket fish using a hermit crab as bait. We now know why this fish is called a Leather Jacket. The skin is so tough and hard that you could not cut the skin with a normal knife. Although the taste was good the meat was quite firm because the texture was more like chicken instead of fish.

Later we also visited another local family of two sisters and one brother. There is a bird island on the atoll with thousands of Stern birds and they told us that they get their eggs for consumption from there. The next day they went to our boat to give us and the other three boats anchored 50 Stern bird eggs each to take with us.

The day before we left Harry and Norma invited us together with Umberto and his mother for lunch. That morning, Erwin went snorkeling with Harry to find large clams and they went spear fishing. What they caught was prepared by Norma for lunch. She also made hats from palm leaves which we had to wear. After lunch they gave us a tour of the atoll in their vintage Land Rover pick up truck. Basically, the tour was driving on the only dirt road they have which stretches from north to south and once you reach the end of the atoll you turn the car around and drive back. When we left they gave us shells, fresh fish, papayas and coconuts to take with us.

Maupihaa is a place we will always cherish. The atoll is certainly a little paradise in French Polynesia and the people are very friendly and very hospitable. We have learned a lot from the locals we met and we will never forget them. It’s a pity we had to leave but after 9 days it was time we moved on.

There were a total of four boats anchored in Maupihaa and we all left at the same time. Two Italian boats were headed for Niue and we along with the “Holandeserrante” decided to skip Niue and sail directly to Tonga.