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Huahine - Maupiti - Rangiroa 10 - 16 March

It was a fine weather flight from Huahine to Maupiti of just 35 minutes - the second shortest flight of our trip.  (The shortest was Auckland to Waiheke Island.).  On the way we passed close to Bora Bora with its dramatic mountains.  Bora Bora was the place to go in the sixties, but is now sadly overrun and therefore better seen from a distance.   Maupiti is the westernmost of the Society Islands.  It consists of a main central island surrounded by a lagoon and a ring of motus (coral islands).   Coming in to land was a treat.  There were superb views of the island, motus and the azure blue water of the lagoon with its coral reefs. 

Maupiti Airport, located on one of the longer motus, was a little gem - a fine tarmacked 920 meter runway and a cute little wooden 'terminal'.  The Pension chez Janine was on the neighbouring motu, so this was our first airport transfer by boat!  By prior arrangement we flew over the Pension before landing so they would send someone to fetch us in the speed boat.  The Fare Pae'ao motu was pretty remote.   Maupiti's small villages were all on the main island.  Chez Janine, with its kitchen and dining area and six bungalows, was the only hotel on the motu and that was about it.

'Mama' Janine was large as life and very much the patronne.   She showed us to our bungalow named after one of the pretty plants that grew on the island.  It was light and spacious with a wooden floor and a shaded terrace.   The sliding glass door could be opened wide and with the back door also open, the breeze could pass through.  The ceiling fan was also a blessing, particularly when the breeze was non-existent.

We were the only tourists as such, the only other occupants being a French family who live in Tahiti and were just on Maupiti for the weekend and four French military officers.  The head of the French family was a pilot in the airforce, looking after medical evacuations from the various islands in French Polynesia, as well as search and rescue operations for planes that have to ditch in the ocean.  We hope we won't be requiring his services!  As for the four military officers, they were touring several islands to brief 16-year-olds on the French army.  Military service is no longer compulsory, but both boys and girls have to attend this one-day public relations exercise.

The French family left on Sunday evening and military officers on Tuesday morning, so we were Janine's only customers for the last day.  Our tranquil days were spent snorkelling straight from the beach and canoeing round the motu and to the main island.  We got up early to enjoy the cooler mornings and took a siesta in the hotter hours after lunch.

Janine is a courageous woman.  She built her first bungalows in 1987.  These were destroyed by a hurricane in December 1991.  She re-opened a couple of years later, only to have it destroyed again by a hurricane in 1997. She re-opened for the third time in 2000. This time she put the bungalows up on higher stilts, further away from the beach to avoid flooding and damage from the hurricane waves.

When we left on Wednesday morning, Janine gave us farewell garlands of sweet-smelling flowers and shell necklaces that she made herself.  Her husband Emile drove us back to the airport in the boat. We took off at a quarter to nine for Rangiroa, further north in the Tuamotu group of islands.  The cumulus nimbus en route were not as isolated as Flemming had led me to believe, so this time we had to go through rain showers for much of the way.  But there were no thunderstorms around so it wasn't too much of an ordeal.  It had been raining that morning in Rangiroa and the ring of motus were still shrouded in cloud on the approach.  (Rangiroa is much older than Maupiti, so the central island has long since sunk under its own weight, leaving just a lagoon surrounded by coral islands).  We landed after a flight of 2 hours, 10 minutes.

On arrival we were met by the tower controller and a local truck driver who had been hired by Mobil to deliver the AVGAS that was shipped up from Papeete in two 200-litre barrels.  After our experience in Tonga, it was a relief to know that, this time, the fuel had arrived safely.  We didn't want to have to retrace our steps to Tahiti before heading north again for Kiribati.

There are only two passes between Rangiroa's ring of motus.   This time, our pension, Rangiroa Lodge, was on the same long motu as the airport, about six kilometers to the west.  Rangiroa Lodge is run by Polynesian Rofina and her Tahitian husband of Chinese origin, called Jacques.  Our room was much smaller than on Maupiti, but it was light and clean and faced another beach with good snorkelling.

Rangiroa is famous for diving for a good reason: although most of the coral in the lagoon is dead,  there are huge quantities of fish.  Flemming spent the first afternoon and the whole of the next day on dives.  Two of the three dives were drift dives where they were carried through the Tiputa Pass at speeds of up to 12 knots by the inward tidal current.  On one dive he saw about 50 sharks of 3 different types: white-tipped, black-tipped and grey reef shark.  On another he saw several turtles, one of them so close that he could have touched it.  All these were on the ocean side.

On the first afternoon, I went along with the divers and was able to snorkel by a little motu in Tiputa Pass, where there was no current.  I saw huge quantities of needle fish, clown fish and parrot fish, plus others I couldn't name and caught sight of 2 sharks at a safe distance below me.  One was sleeping on the lagoon bed, the other swam past.

The morning of our last day, we went on a snorkelling trip together.  Luckily we were the only two on the tour, apart from the two young guides - a Polynesian girl and her young cousin.  They also took us to the Tiputa Pass, to a place nicknamed the Aquarium because there are so many fish there.  They speared a few of the common clown fish to bait the bigger ones.  On several occasions there was a white-tipped shark, a large Napoleon fish and a moray eel, all competing to grab the goodies from the spear!  Then, while the shark was biting on the goodies, the boy took the chance to let go of the spear and grab hold of  its fins with both hands.   Rather him than me!  But after seeing that, I felt a little easier about having these sharks swimming around within a few feet of me.

The boat deposited us at the other end of the motu with the push-bikes we'd rented and we cycled to the nearby luxury resort of Kia Ora, which caters mainly to the Japanese.  We enjoyed a good lunch there washed down with a very respectable Muscadet.  Then Flemming left me to enjoy lounging in one of their comfortable bed-chairs on the beach in the shade of coconut palms while he cycled to the airport to do the refuelling.  Christian Pagnier - the truck driver we'd met on arrival - was there as planned with the two drums of precious Avgas.  The barrels were on his truck and they siphoned it off directly from the truck into fuel tanks.  The whole operation took about an hour. While the fuel was slowly rnning into the various tanks, Flemming had a long chat with Christian, who had been many years with the French Foreign Legion in Africa, and loved to travel.

Then Flemming cycled to the Gendarmerie (also nearby) to show them our passports and give them the General Declaration form.  Departure formalities thus completed, he cycled back to join me at the Kia Ora for a welcome dip in the azure blue water before we cycled the 10 kilometers back to Rangiroa Lodge.  Much as I enjoy taking advantage of luxury resorts'  comfortable facilities for the space of an afternoon, I find them rather sterile.  One tends to meet a much friendlier bunch of people at the cheaper pensions.  At Rangiroa Lodge we socialized with a young English/Belgian couple called Shona and Tom who were travelling around the world for a year and a half.

Now that our 4 and a half weeks in the South Pacific have come to an end, I can say that the most friendly people were in Tonga, the best food was in Va'vau (Tonga), the most beautiful island was Samoa with its traditional wooden houses and high lush-green  mountains, the most interesting place to stay was also off  Samoa at the fales on Namua Island, the best dancing show was on Aitutaki (Cook) and the best diving and snorkelling were on Rangiroa (French Polynesia).  Atiu (Cook) and Maupiti (French Polynesia) tie for the most isolated places.


Christian Pagnier

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Passing beautiful Bora Bora on our way to Maupiti

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On the approach to Maupiti with the main island in the centre, surrounded by motus
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On arrival at Maupiti
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Maupiti's sweet little airport
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Our first airport transfer
by boat
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'Mama' Janine
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On the other side of our motu. You could walk round it in 30 minutes
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How much more laid back could you get!
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Farewell with Janine
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Leaving Maupiti. Pension Chez Janine is just above the wing tip
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On final for runway 27 in Rangiroa. The lagoon is on the left and the ocean to the right
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Making flower necklaces for departing friends
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Lunch at the Kia Ora resort, Rangiroa
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There was a big canoe competition for the Tuamotus in Rangiroa
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