Thursday, 11 December 2014

French Polynesia, Society Islands, Maupiti (Mountain climb) 01-12-14

Maupiti is stunningly beautiful. I know I say that about everywhere we go but there's no other way to describe this place. It's a tropical paradise very much like Bora Bora. This tiny island is surrounded by motus with pristine beaches and beautiful shades of turquoise water, except it's missing the tourism, over water bungalows and people. We've seen a handful of other tourists so far but they're certainly not roaming the streets. I think people probably just come over here for a day or two at a time then head back to Bora Bora. I know there's an airport because we saw the landing strip stretching out over the water, but I haven't seen or heard any planes. They must just come out once or twice a week. There's about 1,250 locals living here and they're all really friendly, much more so than in Bora Bora. There's always such a difference between locals in towns with a lot of tourism and towns without. Exposure to too many tourists leaves people angry and bitter, to the point where smiles turn to frowns and happy greetings fade away. It's probably from the flood of cruise ship people, who seem to leave behind a trail of destruction. We saw the same thing happen in the cruise ship towns in Fiji as well. I'm sure the passengers onboard are mostly normal and nice, but if you put that many people all together there's bound to be some bad eggs. I remember seeing one American lady flat out abusing a shopkeeper in Tonga, both because he was Asian and because he didn't have the chocolate she wanted. They hardly even had any meat in Tonga, so I'm not surprised they didn't stock chocolate. She was angry and aggressive, and I guess that eventually rubs off on people.

But not in Maupiti. I don't think they see too many visitors here at all. Not many people speak English, and my French is still not good. I know enough words to get by, but I suspect that's because the locals generally know a few English words rather than because of my perfect French vocabulary. Half the time I don't think I'm even pronouncing the words I do know properly. Luckily holding up fingers works just as well as speaking the language when I'm trying to find out the price of things.

To get into the harbour here we had to go through the Maupiti pass, which is hyped up as being dangerous and scary. Everybody seems to think it's horrifying (edit: I obviously have to wait until we find internet to upload these posts. We got back to Bora Bora yesterday and I told another cruiser we'd been at Maupiti. The very first thing he said, in a voice filled with awe, was "Oh wow, how scary was the pass?"). People seem to just be obsessed with the pass. Theres somebody in Maupiti you can call to check if it's okay before you leave Bora Bora. The cruising guides have very specific instructions on how you're not supposed to try going through when the wind is strong or the waves are high. Our charts even say the current can get up to 9 knots, which we can't motor against. So we were sufficiently frightened. At first we didn't try sailing the 25 miles across from Bora Bora because it was windy. Then we didn't go because it was cloudy and we were worried we wouldn't be able to see the coral patches without the help of the sun. Finally we had a nice day for the trip and we set off. With no wind. So we had five hours of motoring in the sun, hand steering because the autopilot wasn't working. Not exactly a pleasant trip. And another broken thing to add to our long list of repairs.

As we got close to the island I could see where the entrance was meant to be on the charts. But there was no pathway. Just a wall of waves. We could see the leading markers in amongst all the turmoil in front of us, and Garth started lining them up after taking a wide berth towards the entry. I was standing on the bow staring ahead to make sure we didn't hit anything. I did not like heading straight towards a reef and into breaking waves. We don't usually just follow instructions blindly, but I guess this was one exception. As we got closer I could see the reef on either side and it was above the water in some places. I also do not like having solid land right next to the boat. But as we made our way in the waves disappeared and a smooth pathway lay in front of us. It was clearly marked and there was nothing scary in the way, although that didn't stop me staring intently at the water just in case. I think the waves hitting the outer reef are just so big that they block out the view of the pass as you're approaching it, and the perspective doesn't change until you're almost inside the passageway.

Port and starboard markers in amongst the waves. You're supposed to go in between them...

Reef on the starboard side

You can just see a starboard marker and a leading marker behind the waves

As we got further in I looked back to the entrance and it was as still as anything. You could see waves on either side of a clear, calm pathway. Everything was clearly marked and the leads were easy to see. I'm sure it does get more dangerous as the wind and waves become bigger, considering how narrow the passage is. But the whole thing seems pretty simple - don't try going through in bad weather and follow the instructions in the cruising guide. It felt a lot safer than the entrance to Lady Musgrave Island in the Whitsundays, which is what I now measure all scary entrances to. But that one didn't even come with hyped up warnings like this one. I wish I'd taken a picture there instead of just standing on the bow and freaking out as we went past coral walls within metres on both sides. Then I'd know if it was legitimately more frightening than everything ever, or if we've just had more practice now.

(I should mention that I was too busy watching for coral on the way in, so I took all these pics of the pass on the way out. Then I reversed the order they were in because I'm tricky. The wind was blowing at about 10 - 15 knots as we left).

The harbour here is scattered with patches of coral, so somebody always has to be watching at the bow. But it doesn't take long to go from one side to the other and the patches are obvious, so it's not that stressful. We anchored near the entrance when we got in seeing as it was late afternoon. Nestled in between two different motus and Maupiti Island, it wasn't a bad anchorage. Everywhere we looked there was either white sand, impressive mountains or the setting sun. It was like being in a postcard.

The next day we headed over to the town, where we found Mark and Liesbet on Irie. We were hoping to run into them again! We're the only boats here, and the only thing better than being in a secluded island paradise is being there with friends. We went exploring when we first arrived in town, which turned into a long walk. Then Garth informed me that we were actually 1/3 of the way around the island, so we decided to just keep walking. In the middle of the day, carrying a heavy coconut that I had immediately acquired from a low hanging tree (after a quick experiment with and then subsequent abandonment of all future attempts to climb coconut trees higher than my head). About half an hour later Garth decided that now we were 1/3 of the way around the island...

This B&B was so cute!

It only took two or three hours for us to do a full circle and return to base, both hot and sunburned. One thing I did enjoy was the abundance of free food we found on our walk. Breadfruit, coconuts, mangoes and bananas were absolutely everywhere. They're all growing on the side of the road, scattered in amongst shrubs and bushes. It was blatantly obvious which ones belonged to people - there were no mangoes rotting under the trees, the bananas were tidy and propped up by sticks and the breadfruit trees were pruned and usually close to somebody's yard. Mangoes especially grow everywhere here. Garth let me sit on his shoulders to pick some until I dropped one on his head and my mango-picking privileges were revoked.

Like every other town in the South Pacific, nobody shows themselves here on the weekends. So on Sunday we decided to climb up the mountain with Mark and Liesbet. Every time Maupiti is mentioned anywhere, it's accompanied with a picture from the top of this mountain. It's always the same image but it's beautiful enough to justify plastering it everywhere, just like the rest of this place. This is probably because hiking up the mountain seems to be the only activity for tourists to participate in. Because I'm a masochist and I hate both climbing and the sun, I was keen to go check it out for myself.

We left at 7 am, which is stupidly early for us. I could see the logic behind this considering how hot it gets here though. We weren't entirely sure where the path was but we found some stairs near the middle of town and headed on up. They went past a graveyard and a water tank which felt like we were just walking into somebody's yard. We weren't. The path went up into a forest and past a heap of wild mango trees, which I wish I'd raided on the way down.

Liesbet took this one

As we went further up it got steeper and steeper, the view got better and better, and the day got hotter and hotter. We were melting already! We should have left at sunrise, but I'm not sure how we would have been awake enough to walk if we had. It very much turned into a rock climb as we got higher. Not a very difficult one considering there were usually ropes there to help us not die, but I'm still scared of heights and sometimes it was hard to find a foot hold. Plus I was continually amazed by the view and kept stopping to stare at it, which didn't help our progress.

It was really nice having company for once. We're so used to doing these things on our own, just trudging across a mountain then going home and passing out. But it was so much more fun scrambling up rocks with Mark and Liesbet, probably because they're wonderful company.

Mark at the top


We finally made it to the top and as we climbed up the last few rocks and peered over the edge, I was actually shocked by how beautiful it was. We'd been watching the view get better the whole way up but I still wasn't expecting it to be so amazing. From the top you could see 2/3 of the water around the island. It stretched out underneath us and all the channels and reefs were blatantly obvious, standing out from the deeper water. We could see the pass into the harbour which didn't look scary from up high either.

It was easy to see why we couldn't anchor anywhere else - over to one side there was shallow water and patches of coral. We might be able to get through them with difficulty, but it wasn't worth trying. On the other side of the channel reefs stretched out like spiderwebs, covering the whole area. It didn't look like anything could get through at all but there were little boats zipping around anyway.

Garth refused to listen to me begging him not to climb out onto the edge

Then he made me sit on an edge too. He practically had to carry me off when I was too scared to move

We hung out at the top for a while, taking pictures and enjoying the view. Then everybody else started to arrive. One after another people scrambled up over the last few rocks to sit with us at the top, until I'm sure every tourist on the island was crammed on the top of the mountain. There weren't very many of us. I guess there isn't really anything else to do on Sundays so it makes sense that we were all out hiking. Garth had to get higher, and managed to find a way up to the other little peak next to us. Of course he did. But he got a few pictures of us all huddled together on the top of the world.

Going down was painful. The sun was well and truly up by that time and the rocks we had to climb down were scorching. So we had hot little fingers and bums as we carefully tried to make our way down, resisting the urge to jump off as soon as it hurt. I could have cooked an egg on the rocks and it wasn't even midday! So I'm definitely glad we left as early as we did. I felt sorry for the rest of the people still on the top. Coming down would have been like walking barefoot on hot concrete in the middle of summer, except they had to dance on the side of a cliff instead of on a nice flat road.

Xxx Monique

Garth was obsessed with chasing these crabs. They were everywhere

Liesbet took a panorama for us!

Worth the climb

The landing strip at the airport

Best view ever

So far away

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