We have arrived at the atoll of Maupihaa, early in the morning.
There was no wind so we had to motor the last 8 miles. It was a 48-hour crossing from Maupiti, 100 miles to the east.
I say atoll as there is no central island only a fringing reef and a bit of fringing land that 16 people live on. Hio, our skipper’s, family is one of the few families that live here. Hio grew up here but went to school on the nearby island of Maupiti. He has been working on boats and in Tahiti so it was a bit of a home coming for him, and his family welcomed him and us with open arms. This place is a true paradise!
They live a subsistence style of life, growing vegetables and fruit, also, they are gifted food by traveling yachts but what they give back in generosity far exceeds what they get. We brought about 500 kgs of supplies from Maupiti with us for the various families that live here. Items such as an outboard motor, chain, rope, engine oil, food such as rice, bread, meat, tins of tomatoes, pasta, fruit and other stuff that I might not have been aware of.
On arrival we were greeted with coffee and doughnuts! And invited back for lunch with the family.
Lunch was a feast on its own. Rice, with raw parrotfish speared that night before, marinated in a delicious sauce, followed by fresh caught coconut crabs, that beat the hell out of mudcrabs and blue swimmers! Absolutely full of meat with a kind of smokey flavour. 2 of them fed us and the family, Marcello, Adrienne, two sisters, Karin, Faimano, Hio and Sue and I. All washed down with a freshly macheted coconut water that you drink from the opened coconut. Most of the time it dribbles down your shirt and face, and onto the sand, but everyone has this problem so it doesn’t matter and we are going to swim later anyway! If you want you can pour it into a glass and drink it in a civilised manner, but why?
We go for a drift snorkel through the pass in the afternoon. All the lagoons and atolls have a pass, that is a gap in the reef where the water rushes out of the lagoon. The swell crashes over the fringing reef and fills the lagoon, it has to get out again somewhere and that is a wide and deep pass through the reef. Hio holds the dinghy while we snorkel, being swept along at 5 knots through the pass.
It drops down from half a metre to about 30 metres straight down and along the steep walls are countless fish and corals. Best snorkel I have ever done! It takes about 15 -20 minutes and we are over the drop-off and the ocean plunges to 500m, we get back in the dinghy and do it all again!
Dinner with the family is at 6.30 pm and we arrive in the dinghy, the wood BBQ is lit and fresh caught spiny lobsters are grilling over the coals, the table is set with rice, sashimi tuna, grilled parrotfish stuffed little capsicums and coconuts as usual. Sue baked a brownie slice and presents it to one of the sisters who said her favourite was brownies, she is delighted.
Conversation is a bit limited as English is not the main language as French and Tahitian is taught in schools, but the girls and Hio know enough English to get by easily, but the parents need translating.
I ask the girls if I can film them spearing parrotfish in the lagoon, we go that night with torches, and my GoPros. We wade the lagoon just behind the breaking surf, stepping on the higher rocks and coral. All the coral is hard and does not break when stood on and not slippery, I am following the girls watching where they step, and spread out when confident. We are scanning the holes in the reef for sleeping parrotfish.
They spear them at close range with a home-made spear. The girls find one in about 300mm of water and spear it at their feet. We collect about 6 fish around 400mm in size, enough for lunch the following day.
The villagers rely on the yachts to bring them supplies. It is an expected custom to bring a bit of food and stuff to the families here. In return they treat you well to dinners and any assistance you might need.
Their main income is from the production of copra, dried coconut. They produce about 8 tons a year which brings in about $15000 US.
It is quite hard work: Collect the coconuts from the tops of the trees, axe them in half, scrape out the flesh, soak in salt water for 12 hours and dry in the sun for a couple of weeks, then bag them up for the ship to take out.
Our skipper has a speargun, so I tag along and filmed it all. We snorkel just out of the pass on the shelf behind the reef. Within 50 metres you can see the reef plunge down into the dark blue to around 3000 metres. There are dog-tooth tuna, sharks and yellow-fin tuna along the drop-off but we search for smaller fish that can be shot.
You have to rush them to the surface to avoid the sharks getting them, keeping your body parts away from the fish. We get trailed by black-tipped and grey sharks constantly. We get about a dozen fish; the family are happy.
These shells are considered a delicacy, picked up by Hio in about 15 metres water, though we did not get to try one, but the mantis shrimp with rice was very good!
We head back to Tahiti the hard way: up wind!
I have made a couple of videos of the above trip and they are on my YouTube Channel:
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