Tag Archives: french polynesia

Bora Bora illuminated in the background

Bora Bora Insights

Bora Bora is one of the most famous islands in French Polynesia (next to Tahiti).  It is a small island covering 38 kilometers and has two towering mountains.  The tallest Mt Otemanu is 727 meters tall.  This island was formed 4 million years ago after many volcanic eruptions.  The eruptions continued over hundreds of thousands of years.  Since then, the island like all islands, in French Polynesia has been and continues to sink.  Its lagoon is encircled by a wide coral reef that encloses several big motus with white sandy beaches.

Bora Bora's lagoon and surrounding motu's

Lagoon and surrounding motu’s

The island’s initial name was “Pora” and then that changed to “Pora Pora” which means first born – the first island drawn out of the ocean after the creation of Havai’l (Raitea).

A little History about this island:

  • Originally called “Pora” then “Pora Pora” and finally “Bora Bora”
  • 1769 Captain Cook discovers the island
  • 1888 The island attaches itself to France
  • 1942 U.S builds large navy base and airport
  • 10,550 Inhabitants which entirely cater to tourism
  • 7 million years old and is considered nearly an “atoll”
  • 1946 Americans left the island

New “Rules” Impacting Cruisers

In May 2019, Bora decided to mandate that all visiting yachts must use moorings and be charged for the service.  Prior to May, yachts were able to anchor in approved anchor zones at no charge like all the other islands in French Polynesia.  This new “rule” has been wildly unpopular for a number of reasons.

  1. The main purpose of forcing cruisers to use these moorings was because the locals were not using lights at night and were running into anchored boats. Not sure how this is the fault of the visiting yachts….
  2. The fees are expensive.
  3. The boats are not insured should the mooring fail and no plan has been put into effect to check and maintain the moorings.
  4. Eleven boats have had moorings fail since this rule has been in place June 1, 2019.

We prefer to anchor because we know our ground tackle and we trust our skills and expertise in anchoring.  We also don’t have to rely on anyone or anything else to keep our boat, our home safe.

Cruisers are certain this is just another revenue generating tactic that will be implemented in other French Polynesian islands.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the upcoming months.

Bora Bora is known as “the pearl of French Polynesia” but to be honest, it is very touristy and crowded.  It is beautiful, has crystal clear turquoise waters, green mountains, and friendly locals.  But Raitea, Mo’orea, and Taha’a have the same things with far less tourists, free anchorages, and a more intimate feeling.

Bora Bora illuminated in the background

Bora Bora illuminated in the background

Because Bora Bora is so well known it can get crowded with tourist.  But knowing the hidden gems and out of the way activities makes this a magical place.

Dried Vanilla Bean

The Vanilla Bean Story

The best way to see all of the special places in Taha’a is by tour and the best tour guide is Noah from Vanilla Tour Taha’a.  We signed up with 4 other boats and had a total of 8 people on the 4×4 adventure.  The first stop is a vanilla bean plantation.

This post will focus on the vanilla bean and next week we will share the rest of our escapades.

VANILLA ENCOUNTER

It takes a certain artistic know how to grow this exquisite spice.  It is a skill that is acquired over time and with great experience.  Taha’a generates nearly 80% of all the vanilla in French Polynesia.  There are two philosophies to growing vanilla: (1) organically as nature would grow and (2) in a controlled environment.  When we were on Huahine we saw a small controlled grower.  (See previous blog “Safari Tour Mario from 10 September” for the controlled environment vanilla bean experience.)

Noah is a vanilla farmer and firmly believes that they best way to grow the vanilla vines is organically as naturally as possible.  But let’s back up for a moment.  Where do you think vanilla beans come from?  The primary sources of the vanilla bean are Mexico and Madagascar.  However, a few years ago Madagascar’s vanilla bean crops were destroyed so other areas, like Taha’a have flourished in production.

NATURES PROCESS

Mexico and Madagascar grow their beans outside and allow nature to take its course.  The beans are grown around a support tree.  During flowering season, a small bee will help pollinate the flower which will then grow a bean.

TAHA’As ORGANIC PROCESS

The organic or natural process in Taha is similar to that in Mexico and Madagascar.  They take a healthy vine and attach it to a support tree to climb on.  The vine will take 2-3 years to grow roots and loop around the tree before flowers start to bloom.  The photo below shows the vanilla bean wrapping around the support tree.

Vanilla Bean Attached to Support Tree

Vanilla Bean Attached to Support Tree

Once the vine is mature (2-3 years of age) it will flower.  The vines require a stressor to flower like a change in the weather.  Flowering season is typically between July and October.  Each vine will produce 10-15 flowers and each flower will produce a vanilla bean if pollinated properly.  Flowers will only bloom on the vines that are hanging down.

Vanilla Bean Flower

Vanilla Bean Flower

The Polynesians do not have the small bee to pollinate the flower so they actually do this process by hand (see above photo).  This process is called “vanilla wedding.”    They gently open the flower and remove the top of the it to access the pollen from the pistol (male).  They then open the flap of the stamean (female) to insert the pollen.

They only pollinate 8 of the 10-15 flowers to ensure the vine does not become over stressed.  Remember, each pollinated flower will provide a vanilla bean.  The stem of the flower becomes the bean which takes about 9 months to grow.

The bean will notify the grower when it is ready to be picked by turning black.  The bottom of the bean will start to turn black and within 5 days the entire bean will be black which means it is ready to be picked.  It is during this period that they are the most aromatic.

Vanilla Bean Growing

Vanilla Bean Growing

FERMENTING THE VANILLA BEAN

Once the beans are picked, they are sold to a drier.  There are over 200 vanilla bean farmers and only 4-5 driers.  Typically, it takes 4 vanilla beans to make 1 kilo of dried vanilla beans.  The farmer will get paid 20,000 xpf ($200) per kilo which does not include the drier.

The drier will take the vanilla beans, spread them out on a cotton cloth and lay them out in the sun.  They will then flip them every 30 minutes for for 3-4 hours per day.  At the end of the sunning time, they will wrap them up in the cotton cloth and store them until the next day.  The beans are massaged to help them ferment.  This process takes 3-4 months.  The beans are then ready to sell.

Dried Vanilla Bean

Dried Vanilla Bean

A dried vanilla bean will last up to 15-20 years when stored in a sealed glass jar.  That is if it was dried and fermented properly.  Once you purchase a dried bean, you can boil it to get the vanilla extract out, let it cool and store it back in its jar.  You can do this 6-8 times before you need to cut the vanilla bean to use in other ways.

As you can tell it is a very labor-intensive process that requires a great deal of skill and patience.  It takes up to 4 years to begin to see a return in your investment.  I hope you too have a new level of respect for everything vanilla.

COMING UP

Stay tuned for more adventures on Taha’a as we eat flowers, get a tatoo, visit a distillery, see part of the Heiva, and learn about health benefits of local fruits and plants.

Sugar Shack with Moorea Mountain

Mystical Moorea

Moorea is about 26-miles from Point Venus which theoretically would take us about 4-4.5 hours.  We started out with zero wind and 2 hours later we had 20-25 kts of wind.  There is definitely a strange weather pattern happening  – or locally called “maramu.”  Moorea was voted “The most beautiful island you have never heard of” by Huffington post.  Mo’orea was formed 1.5-2.5 million years ago from a volcano called “Calderia”.  The island is only about 10 miles wide and has nearly 18,000 inhabitants.  This island is known as the Pineapple island yet the legend has the local name as the “Yellow Lizard.”

Our destination, Cooks Bay which is a deep, protected bay surrounded by lush, sloping mountains covered in vibrant, green foliage.

Sugar Shack approaching Moorea

Sugar Shack approaching Moorea

The mountains only appear greener as you get closer.  There is a small village at the center of the bay and houses and hotels that pepper the waterfront.

Sugar Shack anchored in front of PaoPao

Sugar Shack anchored in front of PaoPao

EXPLORING MOOREA ON LAND:

Our first day, we walked to Paopao, found a mobile gas station, magasin (market), and a pizza place.

View of PaoPao bay from shore

View of PaoPao bay from shore

The next day, we docked the dinghy at the center of the bay and found the Super U market and  several small businesses.   Including, this eatery with an enormous bird catching a fish on the side.

Local artwork on Moorea

Local artwork on Moorea

Sugar Shack looking pretty with the mountains as a backdrop.

Sugar Shack with Moorea Mountain

Sugar Shack with Moorea Mountain

We decided to explore the island and search for the pineapple fields. They are about 2-miles inland and are located half way between Cooks Bay and Opunohu Bay.  It was an easy walk along the paved road for the first 1.75 miles, then it changed to a dirt, muddy road.  But the majestic views made up for the wet trail.

The locals have grown pineapple fields throughout the mountains and they are spectacular to see.

Pineapple Fields in Moorea

Pineapple Fields in Moorea

Each pineapple plant takes about 9 months to mature, then one pineapple with grown in its core.  The plant will not bloom another core pineapple.   The plant will produce one pineapple closer to its roots every 3-6 months.  Pineapples grow smaller with each new birth.  The pineapple plant is dug up and discarded after the plants have produced fruit for 6-7 years.  Because of the relatively short life cycle, they have many fields in various stages of production.

Pineapple Fields on Moorea

Pineapples growing at various stages

We anchored near an old church with a red steeple.  So, we decide to find it on shore.  I didn’t find any signage on the red steeple church, but the one next door is St. Joseph Catholic Church.

Moorea - Cooks Bay

Moorea – Cooks Bay

Stay tuned for more adventures on Moorea as we explore the island in a 4×4!

Fun Facts:

  • There are over 2,000 variety of plants on Moorea, but only 200 are native.
  • The water is not drinkable on Moorea so the government installed five drinking stations where the locals can bring bottles to fill up with water from the springs.
  • The average monthly income is between 1,000-1,500 per month and that is only if they had a contract with a hotel or business that provided consistent work. This is staggering when you consider the cost of food is ridiculously expensive!
  • Moorea used to have above ground power lines that were mounted on poles made of pine trees. The mayor got fed up with replacing the poles after each storm and ordered all lines to be run underground.  It makes for a much more beautiful vista.
  • The local government owns all of the plantations, but 33 families actually work the farms, grow the plants and produce the fruit.

Shocking and True:

  • All of the islands in French Polynesia are slowly moving North West and are sinking about a ½” a year.
  • The lower the island, the older it is until it becomes an “atoll” like the Tuamotu’s
  • The coral dies when the fresh water from the mountains combines with the salt water from the sea.
  • There are 118 islands in French Polynesia, yet only 42 islands are inhabited.