Day 4 – Ua Pou Aranui Cruise 2010

Day 4: April 10 – Ua Pou: Hakahau and Hakahetau

Apart from two hours and 45 minutes on Fakarava we have finally completed three days at sea. Most of our family didn’t get sea-sick but for those who were feeling a bit shaky, we were pretty much over it after our first night’s sleep. The first day’s trip was the roughest seas so far and so that helped us all get our sea legs.

By 5:30 in the morning, we were pulling into the Ua Pou Harbour of Hakahau. It was a beautiful sight as we pulled into this fairly desolate island. The hills were covered in a low lying greenery. The mountain peaks were rounded on the sides of the harbour but directly in front of us in the centre, there were a dozen rock spires on the mountains in front of us. Many of these spires were covered in clouds as the clouds hung low and continually drifted past the tops of the mountain. It was an eerie but beautiful site.

In the protected harbour there were two sailboats anchored in the early morning as we pulled in to the cement dock to the side of the harbour to unload the precious cargo that the local residents were anxiously waiting for. The Aranui 3 dispatched two of their whaleboats to take ropes which helped secure the Aranui to the dock. Within a very short period of time the boat was ready to deliver its goods to the hundreds of residents who were anxiously waiting for items they had ordered.

Throughout the morning we saw at least 10 vehicles (mostly jeeps and 4×4’s) and dozens of containers hoisted off of the cargo ship with its massive cranes and depositing them on the shore. Over the course of a few hours pickup trucks, tractors and dump trucks came by to move the goods that were being left on the quay. One of the residents also notified us that the island’s supply of gasoline was quite low and so they were all waiting for the fuel that the Aranui always brought to their island.

We were free all morning to wander around the little village with its post office and bank to explore life on this little island. We decided that our family would rather do something a little different and so we asked the ladies selling handicrafts if there was anyone that could do a tour for us. We were told that there was only one person on the island of Ua Pou registered to take paying passengers and that was Isadore. I asked her how to get hold of him and then she pointed him out to me as he was just driving by in his king cab pickup truck (with long bench seats in the back).

I rushed over to speak to Isadore the island Taxi driver and asked him how much it would be to do a tour of the island to the beaches by Hohoi to search out some flowering stones. After agreeing upon a price, he said he would come back after going to the Aranui to pick something up. Well we waited half an hour and did not see him and got a little worried. Perhaps he had forgotten about me, my wife and our five children. We grew a bit tired of waiting around the handicraft centre and eventually told a person that knew Isadore that he would be able to find us walking the 5 minutes into town. After visiting the bank, we tried hitchhiking to Hohoi but were told that not many vehicles went that way and it was probably not a good idea (this was definitely true). So we wandered around the village before heading back to the area we were to meet him at near the port but saw no sign of him. We thought that perhaps he had met another higher fare paying passenger and decided to take them instead and so I went looking for a nearby Guesthouse to see if they knew of anyone that could take us around the island.

Just as I reach the Pension Pukuee high up on the hill above the harbour, up drove Isadore with his white Nissan truck and my family inside ready to go on our journey. When I told him we had given up on him I soon discovered the reason for his tardiness. He had gone to the Aranui that day to pick up a brand new vehicle. He had sat watching as one car after another was pulled out from the cargo area of the vessel before his finally was pulled out. He had wanted to take my family on a drive around the island in his brand new vehicle as it was all enclosed and would enable us to avoid breathing in the dust from the dirt roads of the island. Isadore drove us to his home where his new car was being carefully washed by his wife in preparation for his first drive in the vehicle. It proved to be very handy indeed as it was comfortable with three rows of seats and air conditioning. He also informed us that it was only the second automatic transmission vehicle on the island of Ua Pou, something that was very evident by the way he lurched to a screeching halt as he was getting used to driving the new vehicle. After about an hour-long drive he seemed to be starting to get the hang of it. It also took him a few minutes to figure out how to go in reverse with the automatic transmission vehicle, but he managed to get the hang of it.

The drive to Hohoi took about an hour from Hakahau. The dirt road was extremely rough with large loose rocks all over the road. It is a road that is best driven by someone who knows the area very well. Driving down the road I kept thinking that we were going to pop a tire. As we passed through some of the valleys we drove through stream beds that intercepted the road, we saw Isadore’s brother-in-law’s new mango plantation as well as banana stalks that lined the road. The road led us up through two mountain passes where we had panoramic views of the bays and spike topped mountains. It was an amazing view on this East side of the island. Ua Poe itself is very dry and dusty. Even the brown sandy beach by where we landed in Hakahau is more of a dirty sand that is powdery and sticks to you. Here on the east side of the island it seemed to be covered in a bit more vegetation and greenery, but definitely not lush tropical jungles.

The valley where Hohoi is located only has about 80 inhabitants (100 when the school children come home from Hakahau for the weekend). The valley we were going to see is to be the host city for the upcoming 2007 Marquesas Festival. I am not sure where the estimated 3000 guests will stay while here but we were assured plans are currently being made. Due to the festival, money has also come available to restore the nearby archaeological site of atohua (open air gathering place). We walked around the site where an archaeologist is assisting in the restoration efforts. They began work by clearing the ground of trees in November 2006 and hope to have a good portion completed prior to the December 2007 festival. Many local villagers were here assisting in clearing the land and pouring concrete stones that were to replace broken or missing ones that have been damage due to years of neglect and carelessness. The archaeologist told us of how over the years this location has been used by locals to gather but they have not been careful. Fires had been built around the sites which have cracked large rocks which formed many of the stone platforms at this site.

After a bit of a lesson on the use of these historical buildings we continued on our drive through Hohoi and to the nearby beach. We were told it is now almost impossible to find the ever popular flower stones that used to cover the beaches here, but our children wanted to have a try at finding some ourselves. The flower stones are unique to this area and are created when phonolite crystallizes in amber coloured flower shapes within the rocks. Our guide informed us that this smooth looking almost river rock stone does not originate from the beach but rather from the mountains. The rock breaks from the mountain and rolls through streams to the ocean when it rains. It was while we were beachcombing at this beach that I also discovered the secret to how these stones also get their round polished look.

As we walked up the beach, waves would come crashing on shore. The waves came into this bay directly from off shore where there is no reef to protect the harbour. As the waves would swell up to crash on shore, it would also roll these rocks onto the rocky beach. What was amazing however was that as the water retreated back into the ocean, it would drag the stones back with it creating an almost avalanche like sound of loose pebbles. These rocks would roll up and down the shoreline to create a tumbled rock look that was as good as any professionally tumbled rock I have ever seen. We collected a number of green, purple and other coloured rocks but unfortunately did not find any flower stones. After only about 30 minutes in search of the elusive flower stones we had to head back to Hakahau for our lunch. The children seemed to have slightly heavier waist pouches on the way back that were filled with the treasures they had found at this rocky beach.

We drove back with Isadore as he explained to us his many jobs and talents as a musician, farmer, business man and taxi driver. He was supposed to perform at the afternoon Marquesian dance presentation for all those who had been on the Aranui 3, but we arrived at the Pae Pae Tenei (traditional meeting platform) just as the dancers were wrapping up and the rest of our fellow passengers were taking a few pictures for lunch. As we pulled up to where the performance was held Isadore seemed to have a bit of a pale look on his face. His brand new vehicle was making a slight hissssssing sound from the back end. After a bit of further discovery we discovered that the hissing sound was coming from the rear passenger tire. It looked like a rock had rubbed up against the side of the tire and it was quickly going flat as we watched the car sink closer to the ground. Isadore motioned for us to go on to lunch while he repaired his vehicle promising us that he would have one of his music CD’s and a few flower stones ready for us when we returned back to Ua Poe before our return back to Papeete.

There are not many places to eat on Ua Poe but the Aranui 3 organized a local lunch for us that was very impressive. Chez Rosalie’s restaurant is apparently only open when the Aranui is in port and so we were treated to a feast of shrimp potatoe salad, octopus, cooked bananas, rice and bright yellow watermelon. It was a much needed feast after walking around in the hot 32 degree Celsius afternoon sun.

By the time lunch was over, we had little more time than to head back to the Aranui for our departure to the other side of the North end of the island of Ua Pou. The boat left the busy port of Hakahau with its 1500 residents for the town of Hakahetau with its 200 inhabitants. In this harbour there was no place to moor the large ship and so our family along with the other passengers boarded the ship’s whaling boats. These smaller boats hold about 30 people and can handle rougher waters. As we pulled up to the cement dock that jutted slightly out into the harbour we had a fun time dismounting with the ongoing waves that would lift and drop the boat in a very precarious way. Although it was the most rough dismount I have experienced, there were about five Aranui staff members to pull us out of the boat and help not only our children but us adults up to the top of the cement wharf.

As we arrived we walked up the little village road where we saw dogs, chickens and even a large pig tied to a tree in a resident’s yard. School was just getting out and so we also saw mothers picking up their children while other little 6 to 8 year old children just walked home. We followed a few of the children as they were going in the same direction as we were going. A 10 minute hike took us up the hill to a beautiful flat stone viewpoint that let us look over the pristine bay with its tall green mountains and hills on all sides. This side of the island was much more lush and green than the previous dry village we had seen. The flat stone lookout was covered in coconuts that were being dried in the sun for about two weeks in order to produce the highly sought after copra.

As we headed back to ship after only 2 hours on shore, we could see the local residents gathering the last of the goods that they had transported on our cargo ship. The cargo being transported to this side of the island was much smaller as the goods had to be transported by smaller boats and all items had to be moved by hand (rather than using the tall ship’s cranes). The last load of the day that I saw driving away was a pickup truck full of the highly prized toilet paper. I would estimate that at least 400 cases of toilet paper were in the back of the pickup truck, something I reminded them was obviously very important.

Shortly after arriving back on the boat, we attended our usual evening briefing for tomorrow so that we could prepare everything we needed. As usual the following 3 course meal was a marvelous feast that I am sure takes no notice of anyone’s waistline. The children were once again fed an hour earlier than the adults and it did not take any coaxing to get their sleepy heads to bed for the evening.

Written by Norm Schafer, Victoria BC

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