Huahine is one of the more geographically diverse of the Society Islands. It has many deep-cleft bays, rugged mountains, and long white-sand beaches. This French Polynesian paradise also has a myriad of archaeological sites to be seen and history to be learned. The residents of the island are very proud of their heritage and Polynesian roots.
Huahine has many ancient maraes--traditional Polynesian temples. The island also has some of the earliest traces of settlement in the Society Islands. One of the archaeological sites was discovered in 1972 when the Bali Hai Hotel was being constructed. Builders were dredging areas around a swamp when they discovered pre-European artifacts. Researchers came in and found that there was a village on the site about 1000 years ago. The swampy ground had preserved many wooden objects such as tools, canoe planks, and even house foundations. Some of the most interesting items found were patu, ancient weapons made of wood and bone used by the New Zealand Maoris. These weapons had never been found outside of New Zealand and help support theories of migration from Tahiti to New Zealand.
Even given the continued cloudy, rainy weather, Mother and I opted for the "Beach, Snorkel, and Island Tour" in Huahine. We only had one day on the island, so we thought an island tour combined with snorkeling would give us a good flavor of the island in spite of the weather. It turned out to be a good choice for us. We had a bus tour with a local guide who had been born on Huahine, but sent to the Cook Islands at a young age to be educated in English. After some time away from Huahine, he returned.
As he drove the bus through the rain, he described the gardens and sites along the road. Huahine was significantly damaged during a 1998 typhoon, so many of the homes were relatively new, and almost all had new roofs! One facet I found fascinating was the red boxes alongside the road that looked like a newspaper delivery box from back home. We quickly found, however; that these narrow tubes didn't hold the daily news, they held the daily bread! Delicious-looking French baguettes were delivered twice daily to residents and put in this red tube-like box.
The fish traps in Lake Fauna Nui were also interesting. This inlet from the sea is neither a lake nor a lagoon. Some of the traps have been used for centuries. The fish traps are V-shaped. As fish are pulled towards the sea by an ebb tide, they become trapped in the Vs. Once they are in the basin at the point of the V, the fish can be easily caught by net or harpoon.
We did not stop at the Maeva Village and Marae as a part of this tour. (A bus tour that other passengers took did stop at the Maeva Marae.) It is being renovated, but is one of the largest archaeological sites in Polynesia. The fare potee (chief's house or community meeting place) once contained a small museum, but was destroyed during the 1998 typhoon, and is currently being rebuilt. Over 30 marae have been located in this area, with excavation dating back to 1923.
The one stop we did make on the tour was to see the sacred eels. Next to the archaeological sites, they are one of the biggest attractions on Huahine. These giant eels grow six to eight feet long, and supposedly have blue eyes. (I didn't get close enough to check this out.) The fresh water eels live in a small stream and are fed canned fish each day by the locals. they are considered sacred because the natives believe they bring the fresh waters down from the mountains. Our guide got a can of fish and starting throwing it in the stream. Quickly the water was swarming with the long slithering animals. He hand fed a few, and one aggressive eel even came up on the bank about a foot to get his share. My lack of quickness with the camera was evident, in that I didn't get a single picture of them! Guess you'll have to go see for yourself.
We also drove up into the mountains for a view of the bay and the R3 below. It was a beautiful site, but too foggy to take a picture.
After touring for about an hour, we got into a covered boat for a short trip to a motu to do some snorkeling. Huahine is surrounded by a coral reef, and a motu is a small coral islet on or along the reef. Many have coconut trees growing on them, and sometimes the natives plant melons. The boat anchored off shore from the motu. It was a great place for beginners because the water was relatively shallow in most places (3 feet), and was very calm. The bottom was sharp with dead coral, so we were glad we had our reef shoes. Because it was cloudy, the coral and fish were not as brilliant as usual, but the trip was still fun. We did see many giant clams embedded in the coral. They were of different colors, and very interesting to watch as they opened and closed their shells.
We returned to the ship in time for a shower and lunch. After swimming and snorkeling, a nice afternoon nap was in order, followed by an enjoyable dinner in the Club Restaurant. We set sail for everyone's dream paradise - Bora Bora.
Author's Note: Although Renaissance Cruises stopped operating and filed for bankruptcy in September 2001, you can still cruise Tahiti and French Polynesia either as a stopover on a Transpacific cruise or on the Paul Gauguin.