We are being spoilt by French Polynesian paradise. Case in point is the island of Huahine, one of the Society islands. Located less than a day’s sail from Tahiti, Huahine offers fun on land and water. We spent a week exploring and discovering the Huahine highlights.
Huahine, pronounced “Hoo-a-he-nay” by locals, is part of French Polynesia’s Society islands, with Moorea, Tahiti, Raiatea, and Bora Bora, most notably. The island’s population is around 6,000, bigger than any of the Tuamotus. Since it is close to Tahiti, only 100 miles, the island is easy to visit, accessible by regular flights and ferries from Tahiti.
Huahine consists of two islands, Huahine Nui (Big Huahine) and Huahine Iti (Little Huahine), surrounded by fringing coral reefs and little motus. We spent a little over a week exploring this lovely island, visiting three different bays by boat, and cycling around the big island.
French Polynesia is a vast area, with five major island groups: The Marquesas, Tuamotus, Gambier, Austral, and Society Islands. We are traveling west with the winds after crossing from Panama and landing in the magical Marquesas islands. After a few weeks or months in The Marquesas, the next island group is usually the Tuamotus. Cruising the Tuamotus is like nothing we’ve experienced, and a great reason to get the long stay visa. We can’t believe we almost raced through all of these islands, a necessity with the standard French Polynesian three month visa.
Introduction to The Tuamotus
Motu in Tahitian means a small islet of coral reef, an atoll. The Tuamotus is a chain of 70+ of these small islets, many sparsely inhabited.
To sail from The Marquesas to anywhere in The Tuamotus takes 3-4 days, depending on departure and arrival points, and, of course, the wind. Once you’re in the chain, you can do short day or overnight hops to get from one motu to the next.
The archipelagos’ total population is only about 15,000 people. That’s right, across almost 80 islands. The main industries include pearl farming, copra cultivation (coconut oil), and a small amount of tourism in a few places.
Since arriving in The Marquesas nine months ago, Brian and I discussed getting the best possible souvenir here: a Marquesan tattoo. It took us a return trip to Nuku Hiva, plus the encouragement of our friends on Pelican, who beat us to it, but we did it! What it like to get tattooed in Marquesas?
Tattoos are an important part of Polynesian culture, and Marquesans are known for their tattoo artistry. When we arrived on our first island in the archipelago, and every one after, we noticed the tattoos.
I don’t know if it’s mandatory to have a tattoo here, but it is customary. Every adult has a tattoo somewhere, and some are covered with ink. Tattoos are tradition in French Polynesia. It’s part of the culture, marking milestones like adulthood and other important life moments.
We like Marquesan tattoos because while they look simple, most using only black ink, they are complex and symbolic.
We sailed back to The Marquesas over Christmas, skipping holiday celebrations for a rough five day upwind sail from the Tuamotus. Don’t worry! We had a huge late celebration at a traditional Marquesan oven with cruisers in Hapatoni. I’m not talking about eating with a group of cruisers. This goes well beyond that. Participating in a Marquesan oven is immersive, something people back home would pay big money to experience. Preparing for the meal, eating the food, listening to music, and enjoying it all with a huge group of cruisers and Marquesans was better than Christmas!
what is a marquesan oven?
The Marquesan oven in Tahuata made one of the best meals we’ve eaten in a while. They’re also called Polynesian ovens, or earth ovens, because they are dug into the ground. Once deep enough, the pit is filled with coals and lit on fire. The fire burns for several hours, and when the temperature is optimal, banana tree branches, palm leaves, and baskets of wrapped food are placed into the underground oven. Layers of palm leaves, then tarp, and then dirt, are piled on top, enclosing the oven, and infusing the food with smokey flavor, for more hours, usually overnight.
I learned recently through a podcast that Antarctica gets four times the number of visitors as The Marquesas Islands. The Marquesas are among the least visited places in the world, and we are so happy to be among the lucky few. It’s remote and difficult to get to: it took us a month, but intrepid visitors to this archipelago are in for a treat. We recently spent a week in Hiva Oa, the second biggest island in the Marquesas. With our friends on Pelican, we rented a car and spent some time touring around Hiva Oa.
The main anchorage is in a snug harbor with a dock full of fishing boats and dark muddy water. Called Atuona after the nearby town, this anchorage is great for provisioning and as a base for touring Hiva Oa.