Tiny Tikehau

From Bora Bora, we took a flight via Rangiroa to Tikehau – our first island of the Tuamotus archipelago. While the Society Islands, which we had visited so far, are mountainous and green, the Tuamotus are narrow strips of land, mostly consisting of coral rocks and palm trees. The islands are shaped in form of atolls, which means that they form a ring of land around the lagoon inside, with the open ocean on the other side. This ring is usually interrupted by a couple of passes – and this is where the main diving action takes place.

While Tikehau is not the main place for diving, we still booked 2 dives there to check out the high amount of fish said to be there… Well. It was 2 of our most boring and disappointing dives ever. There really wasn’t much of anything to see. A couple of fish groups here and there – but not a captivating amount for sure. The coral was all dead. And while we did see a reef shark or two, we had definitely expected more!

The only thing that made the day better was that we stopped by a manta cleaning station before the dives, and there were two big mantas putting on a show for us! Unfortunately we could only snorkel there, but it was awesome nevertheless!!

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The rest of our time in quiet, low-key Tikehau was spent relaxing at the beaches, cycling around the island and enjoying 🙂 Life on a small island like this also has its complications though: it was at times difficult to find food with baguettes having to be pre-ordered 24h in advance, and you can only buy beer when you have an empty bottle to return (how does one start? We don’t know.)

We were camping right on the beach at Chez Justine, in a basic setup – and unfortunately with millions of mosquitos! The location was great though – right at the lagoon with blacktips circling around. The snorkelling wasn’t great otherwise, but the sharks made up for it! Where we found even more sharks though, was in front of the Royal Tikehau Hotel. We spotted them when we picked people up there for diving, and then went back twice ourselves. Once we cycled to the tip of the main island and then swam across the 2 small channels to the hotel pier and restaurant. Another time, we took the kayaks from Chez Justine – which was the better choice! Once in the water, you’re surrounded by blacktips! We counted up to 15 at times, and some were quite curious. There was also lots of smaller reef fish waiting for scraps from the restaurant – so all in all a really cool spot to visit!!

After a couple of days, it was time for yet another scenic flight onwards to Rangiroa.

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Bora Bora: 50 Shades of Blue

When we booked our air pass for French Polynesia, we couldn’t resist including Bora Bora in our itinerary. We wanted to see what all its fame was about and if those over-the-water bungalows are really all that amazing (they are – at least from what we could see from the outside!). Our flight from Raiatea landed in the late afternoon so that we were treated to a beautiful sunset when taking the free Air Tahiti shuttle boat from the airport motu to the main island. What a view!

We were then picked up by our host from AirBnB – Rosalie, who took us out for dinner at one of the food trucks before showing us around her and Marc’s lovely place in Vaitape. Instead of having to camp, they had recently built a cute little cabin in their garden with a private hot shower and toilet! Awesome!! During our whole stay, they went out of their way in hosting us: cooking dinner, surprising us with free included breakfast and helping us in any possible way. Luxury „camping“!

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We had three full days on Bora Bora, which was perfect. On the first day we took the bikes Marc and Rosalie offered us and circled the island in the course of the day, going North first to be able to end the day at Matira Plage. The 32km road is easily doable by bike – there’s only two hills where we had to push our bikes up, everything else is flat. We’ve of course seen quite some cool islands now, but the mountains and the lagoon of Bora Bora are special yet again! Also, the cycling was nice and relaxed, stopping for photos at viewpoints many times.

Matira Plage on the other hand was a bit of a disappointment. It surely was a pretty white beach and you can snorkel with big stingrays easily. But it was a bit too crowded and touristy for us. Still – a good beach to relax on for a couple of hours before closing our circle around the island with the final 8km back to Vaitape.

After we had circled the island, we wanted to get a view from the top. So hiking day it was! Marc dropped us off at the trek start near the fire station and off we were…to be honest, we had expected something easier and shorter. The path led up steeply and soon we were drenched in sweat (and still nowhere close to the top). However, the first views we got between the bushes encouraged us to go on.

Soon, there were ropes to climb up the steeper parts of Mt Ohue. And more and more ropes, while the views became more and more spectacular! The best was of course the view from the top though! Wow!!! Definitely one of the most amazing views I’ve ever had – if not THE most amazing one! We had an almost 360° view radius in which we could see the entire lagoon surrounding Bora Bora, the ring of motus with their over-the-water bungalows, and Mt Pahia and Mt Otemanu – just slightly higher than Mt Ohue and suddenly so close to us! Needless to say, we took hundreds of photos…

We also made a short attempt to climb Mt Pahia as well since there is a trail continuing to that peak. However, at one point this trail became a scary climbing adventure and we decided to turn around to keep ourselves safe! Unfortunately since we had expected a shorter, easier hike, we didn’t bring enough water and no snacks – so we had to get on the long way down soon. The trail brought us back down a different way, not sure where it suddenly split, but I feel like this version was shorter and a bit easier – so in the end it was all good!

Our third and last day on Bora Bora was spent in the most typical way possible I guess: We booked a lagoon tour to see everything from the boat. During the tour, there were some stops for snorkelling, the first one being in shallow waters where stingrays and blacktip reef sharks were being fed by the guides of different tour boats who all meet at this same spot. Not really my thing… but luckily when we arrived there was only one other boat. In the water it was very busy – rays and sharks everywhere, coming really close! While it was fun on the one hand, I don’t appreciate these feeding snorkel tours. I think it’s much more special when you spot rays or sharks the natural way, even if it’s less of them then maybe. So after some pictures and videos, I returned to the boat and watched the whole spectacle from the surface, with tourists splashing and screaming around and rays and sharks circling around in masses. A bit of a circus if you ask me, but there was only one lagoon tour we could find which doesn’t participate in this activity – and it was out of our budget.

We then continued our tour around the island. It was cool to see the mountains from the boat and pass by the little motus, but the best were the colours of the water! 50 (or more?) shades of blue!! Wow. And the water was so incredibly clear! Certainly one of the most beautiful bodies of water we’ve ever seen!

Lunch was prepared for us on one of the bigger motus. While our guides were cooking, we were able to snorkel with leopard rays just off the beach! Super cool!! This snorkelling was without feeding and the rays were peacefully swimming around in schools, not caring much about us snorkellers. We were even able to dive down and swim with them really closely! All in a natural way.

Then, a delicious lunch awaited us! Seriously, the bbq-fish was one of the best ones I’ve ever eaten! There was also poisson cru, the local speciality, some veggies and fruits and cakes for dessert. Not too bad!! The motu itself was very pretty too. We walked around a bit and of course went crazy with the camera!

Our tour then continued to yet another snorkelling site – Jardin du Corail (or: coral garden) – a bit disappointing since the coral were not very healthy at all and there were visible traces of people having stepped on them too many times… Sad. To end this on a good note though, overall we really enjoyed the lagoon cruise. It gives you the chance to fully appreciate Bora Bora with its clear and amazingly turquoise waters.

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Raiatea – the wild island

Raiatea was our second unplanned stop after Huahine. Due to availability and dates of our flight pass, we had to visit certain islands in order to make it to the ones we were actually interested in. Sometimes not such a bad thing (see Huahine), and also in Raiatea we spent a nice couple of days, camping at Sunset Beach Motel – which didn’t really have a beach (there are none on Raiatea), but was located in a beautiful spot, right on the water, and the site was covered in hundreds of palm trees! You only had to watch out where to set up your tent…

The first day was really only half a day, so we relaxed at the camping, went snorkelling and kayaking and organized ourselves a bit.

To see the island, we again rented a scooter the next day and drove the approx 100 km. Like on Huahine, there were very nice views at so many spots, we stopped counting our stops. Haha. The most beautiful part was the South, where there is two roads you can take: inland or along the coast. As we had enough time and wanted to see everything, we first drove around the coast…

…and later inland (return), stopping at some pretty cool viewpoints. At the highest point, there’s a sign leading to a dirt road. Follow it and you will end at a mini race car track from where there’s beautiful panoramic views. Pretty nice location for a race track – and our perfect lunch spot – until we were driven away by the many mosquitoes! One thing that’s not awesome about French Polynesia are the mosquitoes waiting for you everywhere all the time. Luckily we stocked up on mozzy spray before we came here! We heard of multiple people getting dengue fever, so don’t take the risk lightly…

We then finished the circle around the island by driving up the West coast back to our camping, passing by multiple small islets. Lucky if you’re the owner of one of these!

For the next day, we contemplated for a long time what to do. Visit Taha’a or go diving (only me since Mathijs‘ new wound was still not healed). In the end, Taha’a was just too expensive for us for what it seemed to offer, so I booked myself on two dives with Hemisphere Sub. I was lucky they still had one spot free and they were going to the two most famous dive sites of Raiatea: the Teavapiti Pass and French Polynesia’s only wreck dive – the Nordby. The dive in the pass was awesome, even though conditions were not ideal with outgoing current and low visibility since it had been rather windy the last few days. Buuuut. It was super cool!! There were lots of blacktip reef sharks and loads of schools of bigger fish such as barracudas and thelike. Twice during the dive we had a group of leopard rays passing by above us, which was probably the highlight of the dive for me!

The wreck dive was cool too. There was no big stuff to see, but the wreck itself was cool to go inside and some walls were covered in shrimps. Beautiful! It reminded me a bit of the shrimp cave I dove in the Azores about a year ago. All in all, I had two great dives with a professional dive shop – and between the dives I got to see Raiatea and Taha’a from the water and our boat was accompanied by a group of dolphins! Not too bad, right?

On our last day on Raiatea we made the mistake of forgetting what day of the week it was. Quite funny when you’re traveling for a longer time and suddenly you’re not aware of week days anymore! Haha. Unfortunately in this case it meant that the hike up Mt Tapioi we had saved for the last morning and that I had really wanted to do, was closed. It’s closed on weekends! Too bad, since we easily could have done it the day before still. Like this, we were forced into another chilling day at Sunset Beach Motel, then packed up and boarded our flight to famous Bora Bora…

Destination: Everywhere