Looking out into the Huahine lagoon, in the South Pacific. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Huahine: Society Islands

A great way to see the islands of the South Pacific is by boat: this is what I had decided to do when I planned this trip. I also found a ship small enough to go into the lagoons, with fewer people on board. I was leaving a cold region at the beginning of winter and coming to the tropics below the Equator at the end of spring. Perfect for swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving.

Barrier reefs surround each island and form protected lagoons; these can be beautiful, as you can see in my photo of Huahine, at the top of this blog post. Most islands have no docks, and basically, a single-lane highway skirts the island. Many of the islands have no roads and no villages.

Huahine was formed by two volcanoes: there are two separate islands that are joined by a very short bridge. In all, Huhaine covers 28.9 square miles. One part is Huahine Nui (big) and Huahine Iti (small). At one time, Huahine was the center of Polynesian culture. There are many archeological sites and some of the Moreas (ceremonial temples) are now restored.

The villages are very small, with just a store or market, a gas station, and a church. There are several private resorts, for tourists, that are quite well hidden with vegetation. Crime is very low.

In Faie, a river runs through the village, and the river is home to Tahitian eels, which are sacred to the native people. They were 3 to 6 feet long, with fins on their sides, and their eyes are blue. They are found only on Tahiti, Moore, and Huahine. Natives come every day to feed them canned mackerel. They are tame and will slither and jump up to you to be fed!

Six of us from the ship went with a local guide, who used his truck to take us into the hills of the rain forest, on a dirt road, and later to off-road sites on Huahine. We stopped in the wooded hills, where he showed us a particular tree such as the breadfruit tree (uru) and explained all its uses.

The fruit from the breadfruit tree was the main stay of the Polynesian diet before the arrival of Captain Cook. Captain Bligh of The Bounty saw a means of feeding slaves at a low price and was planning to transport breadfruit to the West Indies at the time of the mutiny. The breadfruit tree produces 3 times a year for fifty years. From the bark, latex is extracted, and it is used as a plaster for fractures, sprains, and rheumatism. Natives cooked the breadfruit and the mash served as the main food in the diet. It was also fermented to eat on long voyages.

We took a dozen stops to learn about several other trees, fruit, or flowers. There were so many remedies: the juice from one type of seed took away the redness your eyes develop from being in the salt water. An infusion from a flower will heal sunburn. The natives are still using these natural medicines. We stopped at a tiny home where a woman was selling vanilla beans. Vanilla is an orchid which grows from trees on Huahine. I bought some vanilla beans to try in my baking back home.

We went to a beautiful, isolated beach. It reminded me of Castaway with Tom Hanks. I could easily imagine the Swiss Family Robinson as I stood here, seeing nothing but the vast Pacific Ocean and a deserted island. When the islands were formed by volcanoes millions of years ago, the lands created were barren. Floating seeds from coconuts and other plants formed the vegetation covering the islands today.

We drove to Fare, the main village, and passed the Maitai Lapita Village, now a resort; 4,000 years ago, ancestors to the Polynesian people sailed here. Huahine is noted for the beauty of its forests, and the most beautiful lagoons and white sand beaches in the world. Now that I have come this far across the world, I am excited to see much more. This is just the beginning of an experience in paradise.

(posted January 26, 2016)