Tag Archives: tahaa

Taha'a Unique Palm Tree

Taha’a Island Tour

Last week we shared part of our Taha’a Island Tour with Vanilla Tours Taha’a at the organic vanilla farm.  So, let me tell you about the rest of our fabulous day!  If you missed part I visit “The Vanilla Bean Story

QUIZ – WHAT IS THIS?

What do you think this is a photo of?  Think hard…look at the shape and guess.  I will give you a clue, all residents have to go to the Poste to pick up their mail so it is not a mailbox.  See the answer in the photo caption.

Guess what this is used for?

Guess what this is used for?

After our amazing vanilla farm tour, we headed to Noah’s home and headquarters of Vanilla Tours Taha’a.  They have spectacularly lush and colorful botanical garden across their entire property.  It also includes a field of lime, banana, pomplemouse and grapefruit trees.  Check out their open-air kitchen below.

Vanilla Tour Taha'a Property

Vanilla Tour Taha’a Property

Noah showed us a very unusual palm tree – check out the pitch form spread at the top – this is highly unusual

Taha'a Unique Palm Tree

Taha’a Unique Palm Tree

TAHA’A ISLAND VIEWS

Noah stopped along the way to let us take photos of the majestic views and to show us the local flora and fauna.

Beautiful views of Taha'a

Beautiful views of Taha’a

DO IT IF YOU DARE…

We stopped on the side of the road where Noah picked 8 stems with these little purple flowers on it.  The flowers are edible.  So we each, tentatively took a nibble and to our surprise they left a mushroom taste behind.

At another short stop he picked a fern type stem and handed it to each of us.  We found that when you put the leaf on your skin, smacked it hard it left a lovely white tattoo behind.  You have to look hard as it is faint, but it is there…I put it on my leg, but one of our companions put it on his forehead.

Exciting Experiments with Plants

Exciting Experiments with Plants

HEIVA

It is Heiva in French Polynesia which is the annual celebration.  Each island holds different festivals which include dance, music and sporting competitions.  The events include tossing a javelin at a coconut to see who hits the target, outrigger races, coconut shucking and more.  While we were there, they were practicing shucking coconuts and filling baskets with hand shredded coconut meat.  We caught the coconut competition on Taha’a Island.

Heiva Coconut Competition

Heiva Coconut Competition

TAHA’A RHUM DISTILLERY

Taha’a Island has its own distillery as well.  This distillery not only makes rum, but they process sugar cane, tamanu oil, bug spray, coconut oil, vanilla beans (organic small scale), and coconut meat.  We did a small rum tasting as we are not fans of “rhum” which is stronger and a bit bitter.

Taha'a Rhum Distillery

Taha’a Rhum Distillery

We also got to see them process coconut meat using a machine (as opposed to the people at the Heiva festival who were doing it by hand).  See top 2 photos.  Check out the hand drill used in churning the coconut meat (top right picture).  The middle row shows the pure coconut water extracted from the meats.  The bottom photo is their sugarcane processing.  One bundle (bottom left) is about 1.5 tons and it takes 2 tons to fill each container.  They use the sugar cane in their rhum and sell the rest.

There is a “stinky” fruit that we’ve seen in the Gambiers as well.  It is called “NONI” and it is actually a great anti-oxidant.  It boosts your immune system and helps you stay healthy longer.  Locals will take a shot a day for 10 days, then take one week off before repeating the process.  The noni is the 5th largest export from French Polynesia

Noni Stinky but Healthy

Noni Stinky but Healthy

After our tour, we packed up the boat and headed toward Riatea.  Wayne’s clock is ticking and we wanted to show him a few more islands before he left.  We stopped at Uturoa to fuel up and made use of our “duty free” certificate that we got from Tahiti Crew.  Wow, it saved us over $300 in fuel!  Sweet.

We were losing the light so we picked up a mooring ball right outside Uturoa (pronounced “ew-tuh-ew-roa”) for the night.  A beautiful sunset danced across the sky over dinner.

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.

Vanilla Island: Tahaa l’ile vanille

How can two islands within the same lagoon be so different?  Taha’a, the vanilla island is small, serene and surrounded by motus (sand islets).  Whereas Raiatea is the second largest island in the Society Archipelago (just behind Tahiti).  Since we have yet to visit Raitea, we will focus on Tahaa as it is a gem of an island.

Life is slow on Tahaa, the vanilla island, which can sweep you away into the traditional and tranquil life of the Tahitians.  The soft mountains are surrounded by tiny motus with bright, white sandy beaches.  The island is about 33 square miles and is home to just over 5,000 inhabitants.  It is known as the vanilla island.

FAUNA OF TAHA’A

Taha’a has almost 4,000 plant species on the island.  However, only 950 are considered indigenous to the island.  Of the 950 indigenous plants, 50 came from the wind, 200 came by sea and 700 were brought by birds.  Europeans brought most of the imported flora and fauna.  Overall the island is incredibly lush and colorful with a variety of plants and flowers to admire.

Vahine Island

We went to Vahine Island after we left Taha’a.  This is a private island and did not offer much to see besides the resort.  But what it did offer was wifi out in the bay!  Yippie.

Hurepiti Bay

We left early the next morning and headed to Hurepiti Bay (pronounced “her-a-pee-tee”) where we could easily get to shore to do a tour.

This was a deep, muddy bay with lots of coral heads and reefs surrounding each edge.  We dropped our hook in 16 meters and dragged.  We picked up the hook, dropped again in 12 meters, and let out 80 meters of chain before stuck.

Sugar Shack in Huripiti Bay

Sugar Shack in Hurepiti Bay

We were invited to go on a tour with 3 other boats and this is the best place to catch the start of the tour.  We hailed the operator, Noah on the radio and he offered wifi and a brief tour of the property.

Approaching the Vanilla Tour Property from the bay:

Vanilla Tours of Taha'a in Hurepiti Bay

Vanilla Tours of Taha’a in Hurepiti Bay

Walk About to the Peninsula

We decided to take a walk around the property, up to the road, and around the bay.  The road was asphalt part of the way then turned into a dirt/grass road.  We did get some gorgeous views of the bay.

Scenic stops along the tour

Scenic stops along the tour

We also captured a few pretty sunset photos.

Breathtaking sunset photos

Breathtaking sunset photos

Back to the boat for sunset and dinner.  We are all excited about our tour tomorrow.