March 9, 2014 – Sunday –Nuku Hiva, Marquesas Group, French Polynesia
I wake up very early and look out the cabin window to see that the ship is very close to the coast of Nuku Hiva. I grab my camera and go out on the Promenade Deck to take some photos as we enter Taiohae harbour. The light is wonderful, and a rainbow appears as the ship anchors in the harbour.
My excursion assembles in the Showroom very early, so I don’t have time for breakfast or even a coffee. I’ll just have to suck it up and survive, since the tour will end mid-morning. Private vehicles are waiting to take us for a drive, since Nuku Hiva lacks the tourist infrastructure the main French Polynesian Islands have. I luck out on two counts: our driver speaks some English, and I get the front passenger seat in a new Ford Explorer 4X4. Our driver owns the car rental agency on the island, and has worked in Honolulu.
We drive away from the harbour, over the mountain ridge, and into the next harbour and valley. It is a pretty drive, and we stop for two photo opportunities along the way. The first stop is a lookout high over the harbour. The second stop highlights the Survivor Marquesas location, and gives us great views of a long inlet with very pretty colours and interesting topography, with a community at the head of the inlet.
We drive down to sea level through the Taipivai valley and the community of the same name. A river runs beside the community, and we eventually come to the head of an inlet called Comptroller Bay, where there is a little community called Houmi. There is a nice beach and a single sailboat is anchored in the sheltered bay. Our stop here includes fresh fruit snacks, and the obligatory crafts for sale. Since it is Sunday, most people are attending church this morning.
We then return along the same route back to the main town of Taiohae, stopping at the local historic Notre Dame Cathedral, and return to the departure point near the tender dock.
By this time, it is starting to heat up, so I’ve had enough and head straight back to the ship on the next available tender. As always, it’s great to be back aboard the ship, where I can shower, change clothes, have some lunch in the Rotterdam Dining Room, and have that much-needed cappuccino afterwards!
The ship departs on time at 3PM, cruising along the coast of Nuku Hiva before setting a course for San Diego, which will take us six days.
March 7, 2014 – Friday – Rangiroa, Tuamotu Group, French Polynesia
The ship arrives at Rangiroa before 7AM, and enters this atoll’s lagoon. Like Fanning Island, this atoll is remote, but unlike Fanning, the entrance to the Rangiroa atoll is sufficiently deep to allow ships to enter the sheltered lagoon through a proper navigation channel. Tendering to the little town of Avatoru is easy in these calm waters.
The snorkelling on the one-hour excursion to the little islet in the lagoon is wonderful. The water is clear and about five metres deep, and there are lots of fish, despite the same location being used by a half dozen boats. There are some sharks swimming along the bottom. The coral is in good shape, and there is no current where we are snorkelling. This is my last opportunity to snorkel on this cruise, and it is probably the best experience of them all.
Although we have clear skies while I’m snorkelling, the clouds soon gather in the afternoon, so it is grey but warm at 29℃ and 72% humidity. Although the islanders have power and communications, they must collect rainwater for drinking and washing. Our snorkelling guide tells us they had four days of rain before our ship arrived, which they are very happy about.
I grab a late lunch in the Lido and take it down to the Ocean View pool, a deck lower on the stern. As I eat and sip a Beck’s beer in the shade, I gaze at the view inside the lagoon and soak in the heat of the day. This is what cruising is all about!
We leave Rangiroa promptly at 5PM, and clear the narrow channel out into the open ocean by 5:30PM. The pilot departs, and we are on our way to Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas group. We have a day at sea before we arrive, since the Marquesas are a considerable distance away.
March 6, 2014 – Thursday – Moorea, French Polynesia
I wake up at about 5:30AM this morning to the ship rolling quite a bit. When I peek out my cabin window, the seas are high and the skies are grey. I leave the curtains open as I snooze for another hour before getting up. I go a deck up to the Promenade Deck with my camera to capture the scene. Moorea is barely visible through the mist – not a good sign!
The captain makes an announcement at 7AM that the seas are too rough and the winds too strong to go through the channel into Cook’s Bay, where we were to anchor. He indicates he will continue to cruise along the coast of Moorea for a while longer, with hopes the weather will break for us, so he can decide to enter the bay and give us our day in Moorea.
At 7:45AM the captain announces today’s stop in Moorea is scrubbed since the winds are too strong for us to safely enter the channel through the reef. We are headed for scenic cruising around the southern shores of Moorea and Tahiti (Tahiti Iti), which isn’t a bad replacement for what would otherwise be a wet day ashore. Despite the bad news, we have been very lucky with the weather on this cruise, since this time of year is when French Polynesia typically gets wet weather and storms.
I have breakfast in the Rotterdam Dining Room, since there is no longer anywhere I have to be this morning. After breakfast I retreat to the Crow’s Nest Lounge to take full advantage of the view from the highest deck on the ship.
Once the entertainment staff revises the schedule to include normal sea day activities for the passengers, they issue an updated list for us to peruse. I decide to see the documentary Paniolo – The Hawaiian Cowboy with Kainoa offering an introduction to the film and hosting a Q&A after. I’m unsure if the video I have included here is the same as the one shown aboard the ship, but it covers the same material and is 14 minutes long.
This afternoon I decide to walk the Promenade Deck, but have to retreat inside after encountering winds so strong, I could barely keep my footing. When I return to my cabin and check the information channel, the winds are gusting to 49 knots, which we are taking on the nose on our heading of 012 (North). The ship’s speed is below 10 knots. Remarkably, the ship isn’t pitching or rolling much, so the ride is comfortable despite the high winds. The outside decks are closed later on for safety reasons. It looks like the North Atlantic outside, except the temperature is 29°C. I guess our luck with the weather just ran out! So much for the scenic cruising, since all we can see outside is grey mist and huge waves.
March 5, 2014 – Wednesday – Tahiti, French Polynesia
My excursion this morning is called Off the Beaten Track: Tahiti by 4-Wheel Drive, which is another tour using 4X4 trucks, but this time to explore the interior of Tahiti. We drive along the north coast of Tahiti from Papeete to the Papenoo Valley, and then head inland up to the base of one of the volcano calderas, now covered in lush tropical vegetation, with a river and waterfalls. The river is used for hydropower generation, although the dams, reservoirs and power stations are very small by British Columbia standards. We return using the same route, marvelling at the huge rough surf crashing on the rocks and shoreline. Our final stop is at an outlook over Mataval Bay and its black beach, with the capital of Papeete and island of Moorea behind.
After lunch, I venture out to walk around Papeete for a few blocks. Everything is closed today, since it is Ash Wednesday (and Missionary Day), both a civic and religious holiday. There are a few restaurants open and a few tourist shops, but otherwise the city is closed for the day. The Vaima Shopping Center was newly opened when I was here in 1978, but it is closed for the holiday like most other retail. The afternoon heat is a killer, so I return to the air-conditioned ship.
This evening there is a special folkloric Tahitian dance troupe the Showroom aboard ship: Tahiti Ora. They are top-notch, high-energy performers, and the room is packed for their single performance. After the show, the rain is pouring down outside. We have been incredibly lucky during out time in French Polynesia, since this is their rainy season. We seem to have been perpetually a day ahead of serious-looking rainstorms. See my photos of our scenic cruise along Raiatea and Taha’a for some major clouds and even a funnel cloud!
March 4, 2014 – Tuesday – Raiatea & Taha’a, French Polynesia
My excursion this morning is called Land and Sea of Taha’a, which involves a boat ride from Raiatea where we are docked in Uturoa harbour, to Taha’a where we are picked up by 4X4 trucks and taken on a tour of a black pearl farm, and then a vanilla plantation.
Then we return to the boat and go to a motu for a swim and snorkel. I’m very impressed with the island of Taha’a. The roads are paved, the houses are neat and tidy, and the infrastructure is all there. This contrasts with Bora Bora, where they have dirt roads and everything is done in a haphazard way. The swimming and snorkelling is in shallow water, and I spot several Puffer fish – a first on this trip.
Our departure from Raiatea this afternoon is most interesting! Instead of leaving through the opening in the reef adjacent to the harbour that we entered through, the captain and pilot opt to take us on a scenic cruise between Raiatea and Taha’a, heading towards Bora Bora, but along the shoreline of Taha’a. A spectacular sunset occurs just south of Bora Bora as we sail away, and there are rain storms and huge cumulo-nimbus clouds to the west of us. We even see a funnel cloud appear out the bottom of a particularly large, dark cloud!
I had hoped to see a Green Flash as the Sun set this evening, but it was not to be. Despite this, I take some wonderful sunset photos, some including Bora Bora in the distance. The shoreline along Taha’a is absolutely stunning as we sail along in the early evening hours. It is a beautiful ending to a wonderful day, as I go back inside to get dressed for dinner.
March 3, 2014 – Monday – Bora Bora, French Polynesia
I have some breakfast in the Lido early, since I have to be ashore for my excursion by 9AM. Another cruise ship has anchored beside us, replacing the one I saw yesterday. Bora Bora is obviously a popular port-of-call! After breakfast, I take the 10 minute tender ride ashore, and eventually we are collected and board our catamaran. We actually depart a bit early since everyone is present from the ship. Moana Adventure Tours runs this excursion with four Tahitian guys. They are well-rated on TripAdvisor and I can see why – I had a great day, as did the others from the ship on this excursion!
First stop on the tour is just around the seaward side of the closest motu (islet) to Vaitape harbour, so we arrive there in only 15 minutes. We see Stingrays and Black-tipped sharks in the shallow water. Most of the people get into the water with them, however I stay aboard and get some great photos and video from the deck.
Next stop is about 20 minutes away: a small, private motu where there are coral reefs and a nice sandy beach. It is a wet landing, so everyone gets in the water here. I have a wonderful hour poking around, taking photos and video of the fish and the coral formations in the shallow lagoon. The excursion guys serve snacks and drinks under the shade of the palm trees before we return to the catamaran for the trip back to Vaitape harbour. This 3.5 hour excursion couldn’t be much better, but I’m very glad to head back to the ship’s air conditioning, since the oppressive heat hits us once we are back in the town of Vaitape.