Raiatea and Tahaa Islands are two separate islands, surrounded by vast coral reefs. We arrived here on the 9th June and after entering the lagoon through a northeast pass off Tahaa, we motored into a few bays in Tahaa to find that the bays are all exceptionally deep. We decided to head for Raiatea a short distance away, to look for shallower water, which we found off the Carenage on the north west corner of the island.
Raiatea is home to three large charter fleets of mostly catamarans of the Sunsail, Moorings and Dream Charter companies. They occupy all the marinas and the surrounding anchorages, forcing us cruisers to anchor further out. Due to Covid-19 their boats are largely unused at the moment.
We were anchored just outside the Raiatea Carenage which is the oldest and shabbiest marina on the island. We dropped our big gas cylinder for a refill and took our bikes ashore for the 5 km trip into Uturoa, the main town. We had a successful morning by getting Covid-19 vaccinations. We opted for the Janssen single shot vaccine from Johnson & Johnson, rather than the Pfizer two shot option, which would tie us down here for three weeks.
We also established from the national police that checking out and getting the all important exit papers for the boat (zarpe) would take two days. Not wanting to brave the traffic and cycle to and fro, we motored Esprit to Uturoa and tied up at the wharf behind the Shell service station. Annie stocked up with food at a brand new Super U supermarket in Uturoa. She also found Nicola, a French Canadian who was happy to do our laundry in his washing machine on board his boat for a small fee – amazing.
On the 15th June we set off to sail around Raiatea Island, but the weather was a bit ordinary with rain squalls every now and then. Unusual, the locals told us, as we were now supposed to be in the dry season. Our route down the West coast took us outside the reef for a few miles, as the inside passage was too shallow for our 2.2 m draft. The first night we tied up to a buoy in Tuatau bay, where we sheltered from the easterly wind in a lovely setting.
The next day was a wet affair with rain squalls and narrow passages between the island and the reef on the South eastern side of the island. We picked up another buoy in Opoa bay as the sun was coming out and went ashore to visit a UNESCO world heritage site called Taputapuatea. This archaeological site is at the heart of the Polynesian cultural landscape. Inhabited by the ancient Ma’ohi civilisation, it is believed to be the last region to have been settled by human societies in 1000 AD. I have now seen enough Marae old stones.
Our third night was in the lee of a small island Tipaemau, in the entrance of the Iriru pass on the East coast, where we met up with Neill and Heidi on Artemis. They invited us over for a fabulous lasagne dinner and dessert.
We left early the following morning as a big squall from the East was heading our way. We outran it, motoring north to Uturoa where we tied up at the Total wharf to fuel up for our second Pacific crossing to Australia. We took on 325 l of diesel in the main tank and back up jerry cans and 30 l of petrol.
Then we sailed up to the North coast of Tahaa to visit the coral gardens off the Tautau and Maharare Islands and did a snorkel in the afternoon. The coral was average, as some green weed had started growing on it, but there were plenty of colourful reef fish.
We were all set to leave this anchorage to sail to Bora Bora the next morning, but a huge northerly weather system set in with a deluge of rain lasting from 7:30 until 12:30. We motored down to the Paipai pass to exit the lagoon and set sail for Bora Bora at 1 pm. Next report from Bora Bora.