Our quick little sojourn to Huahine turned out to be worth the rush. We didn’t have much time since we had to be back in Tahiti by Friday to prep for Frank & Karen’s friends’ arrival, but we decided to make the trek anyway, and we’re glad we did. It was a lumpy overnight sail from Moorea, and when we arrived just past daybreak, we were the only boat in our anchorage.
Before we came, we arranged an all day 4×4 tour with Huahine Land Tours to meet us at the Fare town docks at 8:30 a.m. Our guide Joselito was waiting for us as soon as we came in, and after some friendly conversation with Huahine Land’s American transplant owner, we were sent on our way.
About 75 miles to the northwest of Tahiti, Huahine covers about 29 square miles and is home to fewer than 6000 people. It is the least touristy of the Society Islands and encompasses 2 small islands, Huahine Nui and Huahine Iti, surrounded by a shared lagoon. In Tahitian, “nui” means big and “iti” means little. A pretty little bridge connects the two, but apart from their size, the two islands are pretty similar.
Huahine’s claim to fame is its sacred freshwater eels, which have been fed by children in the community for generations, rendering the population in the local stream almost tame. The eels reach about 2m in length, have blue eyes, and won’t be shy about biting you if they think you have food in your hand, so move quickly! I think really they’re mostly blind, hence the blue eyes. This was the highlight of our tour to me (they’re so slimy!), but we also saw lots of other cool sights unique to the island.
Joselito, or Joe, took us to see the island’s marae, where his ancestors performed human sacrifices on large stone platforms, and the village elders consumed the brains and hearts of the tupa, or sacrifice. The rest of the villagers ate the flesh, raw (like sushi, says Joe), and bones were stored on a special platform with holes in it meant to dry them. Once dried, the bones were placed at the head of the marae, on the ahu, and marked with totem-like structures called unu. Skulls were piled together all along the ahu, which is distinguished by it series on large upright stones. The marae are still used in Polynesian villages, but now they are for other ceremonial purposes, not for cannibalistic practices.
We also had the opportunity to visit a vanilla plantation and see how the vanilla orchids produce the vanilla fruit, how the fruits are picked, dried and aged, and how the workers then sort the fruit for size before they are packaged for market. Vanilla beans are the teeny tiny black specks you see in Breyer’s ice cream. They are not ground. They are actually that size, and they fill the fruit pod.
We took a boat ride to a pearl farm, which was cool because although we’d already had the complete experience in Manihi, we had not heard the full story of the process told in English. It served to clarify some things about the process and also allowed us to refine our English vocab of the subject, which up til now has not been completely correct. The pearl farm owners also do some very beautiful pottery that is for sale on site, so we got to take a look at that as well.
On the north side of Huahine Nui, toward the village of Maeva, are 400-year-old fish traps engineered by a village priest, who told his citizens where to place the stones in the channel between the main island and one of its motus. The traps are essentially walls of large stones stacked in patterns according to the current, that allow fish to swim into a brackish lake from the sea. When the tide recedes, the fish cannot find a way out. Villagers can then walk out on the stones and catch the fish in hand-built nets. The crabs in the lake aren’t too shabby either. They’re some of the largest blue crab relatives I’ve ever seen—10-12″ across with stone crab size claws. The villagers build unique nets for catching these. They are circular, with a dome-shaped X of sticks across the top, to which fishermen tie a scrap of fish meat. Thin bamboo poles are tied to the nets and the circular nets are set on the bottom. The poles float, so in an hour or two, the fishermen come back around and pick the nets up by the poles, and the crab that is sitting under the sticks munching on a hunk of bait above his head just gets caught up in the net below his feet and lifted onto a canoe.
We drove all the way around the perimeter of the island and had a gorgeous lunch at Pension Mauarii’s waterfront restaurant. The food was delicious, paired with mai tais and a view that would be hard to beat in the Societies. Huahine truly may have the most splendidly colorful lagoon in French Polynesia.
After lunch we visited a farm that grew the biggest sweet potatoes I have ever seen in my life (18″ long and 7″ wide), and we saw tapioca (cassava), pineapple, and taro being grown as well. The highlight of that visit, however, was the ingenious rooster trap they’re rigged to keep the birds from raiding their crops. It was made of a bent twig rigged with a noose, held town by pressure against another bent twig buried in the ground. The trigger as a set of sticks on top of which the noose was laid. If the rooster disturbed the sticks, the pressure holding the large bent twig down would be released, and it’d snap up, snaring the rooster’s foot in the noose on the way. Here’s a photo, cuz it’s hard to explain:
The next day Jason and I went for a kayak and a great snorkel in the south side of the pass inside the lagoon in front of Fare, and we saw crown of thorns starfish, a teeny tiny pipefish (related to a seahorse), and a very cool snowflake moray eel. He also gave me a haircut!
The gift shop to the left of the Fare dinghy dock was quite possibly the BEST art/local craft shop we’ve found since we’ve arrived in French Polynesia, so if you’re reading this and you are sailing in the area, don’t miss it!
Now we’re back in Tahiti after a 17-hour upwind motor with the wind directly on our nose. That’s not a favorable angle to sail for any boat, but even less so for catamarans, so to save us countless extra miles of tacking back and forth, Frank chose to strike up the iron genny (or engines, for you landlubbers). We gave Tahina her biggest bath since Panama on the docks at Marina Taina this morning, and we’re expecting Patty and Gerard to get in any minute now.