Friday, August 3, 2012

Maupiti First Impressions

Easily visible on a clear day from Bora Bora, Maupiti is a world apart from the bustle and mass tourism of its more famous neighbour. One of the reasons why Maupiti sees less tourism and fewer cruising boats is Onoiau pass. This is the only entry into the lagoon - south-facing and a treacherous place of steep standing waves in a strong southerly swell. Bare boat charter yachts are not permitted here and visiting yachts must be prepared to wait out a southerly wind that can make it impossible to leave through the pass. Tourists and locals are served by a ferry from Bora Bora that calls just twice a week as well as a turboprop passenger plane, which uses the tiny jungle runway on the northern island.

We arrived off Maupiti late in the morning having left our anchorage in Bora Bora in the early moonlit hours. Rani and I were concerned that the recent southerly winds and a long 2-3 meter swell might make things rough for us. From a distance the narrow pass looked forbidding - a solid wall of crashing surf. As we rounded onto the course for a transit, we saw the surf flatten out in a narrow gap between the two southern motus.

We lined up with the white range markers, waves breaking on each side, and as we passed through the narrow coral bracketed entrance, we jogged to starboard onto a second set of ranges. An out-flowing current raised meter high standing waves, but with the engine ticking over and a half furled jib to steady us, we glided between the white sand beaches and into the calm of the lagoon.

The channel to the main village winds through many hued waters amid a maze of coral heads. Rani climbed the ratlines to guide us as we coasted along under jib, drinking in the beauty of the volcanic island set like a black pearl in the swirling green and turquoise lagoon. A great volcanic bluff dominates this central island, dwarfing the village below. We anchored over a shallow field of sand near five other cruising boats, including our friends from Gato Go and Estrellita. The other boats were from Holland, France, and the US.

Today we walked around the island on a level concrete road that runs mostly a few feet above sea level. The walk was very pleasant as there were few cars. Scooters seem to be the most popular form of transpor, closely followed by bicycles. The main island is intensely cultivated and most homes have an uru tree, many growing bananas, papayas, and even pineapples.

We met a musician named Ahky who lives in a coral and cement house behind a fanciful coral wall, both of which he has built entirely by himself. Chatting constantly, Ahky invited us into his compound. He produced an 8 stringed ukulele and accompanied himself on several tunes, explaining the story behind each song. One song was based on the sounds he had heard in the forest nearby when two trees, their trunks crossing, moved against each other in the wind. He fancied that they were the voices of two entwined lovers caressing each other. Another song that is popular with Polynesian children was "Varo d'Argent" about a local lobster-like crustacean called a varo. Varos live in the sandy plains of the bay in holes in the sand, the male and female sharing a hole. Ahky writes all his own songs and has recorded 10 CDs and even a video with Miss Tahiti.

Continuing our circumnavigating walk, we passed a number of marae situated at the water's edge. Archaeologists have found remains dating to about 850 AD. We visited a stunning white sand beach on the south end and climbed across a ridge back to the east side, which provided views across the coral striped lagoon to the fringing surf-pounded reef.

Tomorrow, we will hike to a peak overlooking the village and in a few days, when the wind dies down, we plan to move across the lagoon to a southern anchorage. There we hope to see giant mantas at their 'cleaning station'. Apparently, each day, a dozen mantas line up and take turns having little fish swim into their mouths and clean out the parasites that reside there.

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