In general, Huahine has less tourism than French Polynesia’s other Society Islands- it’s nice to walk through a town not oriented toward the tourist trade, slide into the rhythm of life, and find ourselves wishing we had weeks, even months, to linger.
The day after we arrived, we heard about performances being held on the far side of town as part of a festival. But first- sustenance! We went with two other boats to have dinner at a roulotte near the wharf. These mobile restaurants- literally vans converted into kitchens, which set up folding tables adjacent- pop up in designated spots each evening and are common in French Polynesia, especially in the more populated Society Islands. They are usually the best bargains in town (average cost around $10/plate) and often have good local food- poisson cru from the Tahitians, chao mein from the Hakka Chinese, steak frites from the French.
We set off after dinner with directions from the roulotte proprietors for the dance arena. It turned out to be farther than we expected… with the added complication of a squall arriving, and rain dumping in buckets. A resident en route to the festivities took pity on us, and made two runs to shuttle our party of 12 from the roadside to the performance site.
What followed was three hours full of eerily beautiful changing, frenetic drumming and with dancing, then the wildest fastest hip shaking you’ve ever seen. How do they do it? And keep blissfully smiling the whole time, too?
The water is once again turquoise and clearer than any pool we’ve seen. The coral is different- we’re not informed enough to really know, but it doesn’t seem as healthy. We’ve learned that the rockier heads and duller colors don’t necessarily mean dead coral. Still, there are lots of broken and clearly dead pieces scattered on the bottom, and dramatically fewer fish- we found here is generally smaller.
On the other hand, what we did find was pretty cool. Like… NEMO! OK, not Nemo, but what a thrill to find a pair of clownfish in a large pinkish anemone. We saw one near the pass off Fare, and many more at the south end of the island.
Other critters were less cool, like this beautiful- but nasty- Crown of Thorns starfish. In the picture it looks more like one of those squishy balls, because I had just knocked it off the coral head it was busy eating. A single one starfish of these can destroy over 100 square feet of coral in a year. Their only natural predator is the conch, which is overfished as both a food source and a pretty shell for tourists. Natural balance is thrown off, and it’s devastating reefs!
We were tempted to whack this guy, but didn’t for some reason. We asked our friend Mike- a professor of marine biology- about the starfish the next day, curign our morning radio check-in with a few other boats. I’m glad we waited: Mike said that if we’d cut it up as we were tempted to do, we’d probably just be making 2 starfish out of one. Apparently, we get to crush the gonads (literally) on the next one. I’ll be looking.