10 March, 2024

War Games in the Tuamotu Archipelago of French Polynesia...

Finally, half-way across the Pacific Ocean, and after another day and a half at sea, the NatGeo Orion arrives in the waters of French Polynesia, the one and only "overseas country" of France. We will be spending weeks here, visiting islands and atolls big and small. French Polynesia is the biggest country (in surface area) we will visit on this expedition, with a population of about 280,000 and its 121 islands (only half are inhabited) spread over 2000km of the South Pacific, have a land area of 3500 km2. The islands divide into five groups, two of which we will visit, the Tuamoto and the Society Islands archipelagoes. Two thirds of the population are pure Polynesian.

Before we disembark in French Polynesia for the first time, we clear immigration (the officials having been flown in from Tahiti) and meet biosecurity agents who will remain on board for the rest of our voyage. Their main purpose seems to be inspect us and our bags each time we go ashore anywhere to make sure we don't transfer any flora, fauna or food from the boat to any island or atoll. This is a cushy job, staying on the boat and enjoying its great food, and we imagine such assignments are highly prized amongst biosecurity staff! The main concern of the immigration team was that we had confirmed departure arrangements.

NOTE: Our visits to many of the various islands and atolls of French Polynesia are not covered in this blog strictly in the order we actually did them, because we did some back-and-forth sailing to match tides, weather and ship operations, but for simplicity in this French Polynesia phase of our trip, we will cover the Tuamotu archipelago visits first, then the Society Islands and finally Tahiti and Papeete.

The NatGeo Orion lies at anchor offshore from Anaa. [5276]

In the Tuamotu's, we visited the atoll of Anaa also known locally as Ara-ura and with a variety of other names through history, as each explorer tended to apply their own preferred name. Simply put, atolls are eroded away and flooded volcanoes so that only the crater rim is now above the water. Anaa is 40km long, 8km wide, and all that remains of the crater above water are a fringing reef enclosing a shallow lagoon, and 11 small, barren islands. There is no "gate" into the atoll, and anyway, the water is not deep enough for navigation by any substantial ships. At the beginning of the 1800's, control of the Anaa went to the Pomaré of Tahiti. Around 1850 Anaa was an active center of the nacre (mother of pearl) and copra (coconut meat oil), with a maximum population of 2,000, but the population now is about 500.

Bridge of the NatGeo Orion soon after anchoring off Anaa. [5259]

A neat little harbour allowed us a dry landing at Anaa. [5265]

Drums, strings and voices greeted as on our Zodiac arrival on Anaa. [5270]

Local handicrafts on sale. Everyone takes local currency (XPF), some will accept USD, and a few even credit cards. [5275]

We dry landed off Zodiacs onto Anaa and were treated by the welcoming locals to welcoming songs and a war game involving javelin throwing with the target being a coconut atop a tall pole. Both local men and women participated, and invited us to have a go. None of the visitors got near the coconut! The locals scored hits at about 1 in 20 throws. Three of us went birdwatching in the back of a pick-up truck, with Adam as naturalist, but with only modest success. Then a swim on the other side of the small island for some desperately needed cooling down in the fierce heat. The shallow water was uncomfortably warm, but standing around wet in a light breeze after exiting the water had a delightful cooling effect.

Expert javelin throwers take aim at the coconut. [5311]

A flurry of javelins, but few hit the mark. [5282]

Adam, wildlife expert, Fiona, our photography expert, and a local guide, all happy at the javelin throwing on Anaa. [5305]

Fiona launching her javelin. [5317]

Anaa locals watch the javelin throwing from a safe distance, in the shade of a tree. [5307]

Weaving demonstration in the shade of a community building. [5321]

This church building is the most substantial on Anaa, and survived a big storms in 1983. [5325]

Tinny anchored in the shallow and calm waters of the Anaa atoll. [5329]

A brown noddy, I think, over Anaa. [5336]

Anaa's public transport system carries some staff members back to the Zodiacs. [5350]

Anaa is a large shallow atoll. We just visited the north-east corner.

As this blog progresses, it can be seen that we visited many places in French Polynesia, mostly atolls, in the western Society Islands, and the eastern Tuomotus, but there are still plenty more.

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