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Chartering in French Polynesia: Raiatea, Taha’a & Bora Bora

One of the major benefits of having a boat in a charter company (Dream Yacht Charters) is the ability to use any sister sailboat, in any of their bases around the world. We have been trying to maximize the use of those benefits and sail in places we wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford sailing in; so we decided to begin 2019 by taking a 7-day charter in gorgeous French Polynesia. Here is the latest entry to our ‘Chartering Tips’ series for those who are considering chartering out of any of the Raiatea charter bases and exploring Raiatea, Taha’a and Bora Bora.

Try to arrive at Papeete the day before your charter begins in case anything goes wrong with your flight.  All major charter bases (DYC, Mooring/Sunsail, Tradewinds) are located in Raiatea, which is a quick flight from Papeete (Tahiti). All international flights arrive at Papeete, so you will have to transfer to Raiatea via Air Tahiti (not to be confused with Air Tahiti Nui). We thought we were clever by booking a flight that arrived to Papeete early Saturday morning, then we would have just another short flight to Raiatea soon after, to arrive for our charter check-in that same afternoon. Unfortunately, however, our flight from San Francisco was delayed 12 hours (more on this below), which meant we missed our connection to Raiatea and had to improvise an overnight stay in Papeete, as we were re-booked to fly into Raiatea the next morning.  I wish we had planned to get to Tahiti the day before our charter to minimize the possibility of missing our connection and thus missing our charter check-in. We were told at the Papeete airport that delayed international flights is quite the norm, so next time we will definitely put more cushion into our plans.

Consider carefully the “benefits” of budget airlines. Our flight from San Francisco to Papeete was on French Bee, a newish budget airline. We booked the flight despite the horrible reviews (mostly about canceled flights), because the price was too good to pass on. Big mistake. While we were checking in Friday night for our overnight flight we were told that our flight was “canceled” because the pilot was sick. After our initial panic we were told that a new pilot would be available in the morning and thus the flight was just delayed about 12 hours. The flight ended up leaving San Francisco around 10 AM Saturday and arrived in Papeete after most connecting flights and ferries had departed for the day. Thus, the airport was filled with hundreds of passengers looking for last minute overnight accommodations. We got lucky and found an AirBnB across the street from the airport, thanks Gerard! So in this instance, at the end of the day, our budget airline “savings” ended up costing us more in hotels, Ubers, and unexpected meals.

Our flight was canceled and we’re all still smiling!

Air Tahiti saved the day. After arriving to Papetee in the late afternoon, well past our connecting flight, we went to the Air Tahiti counter not knowing when we would be able to finally make it to Raiatea and how much we would be charged for the itinerary change. Air Tahiti knew of our flight delay and already had a plan to get us to Raiatea on the first flight out the next morning, at no extra charge! This airline has a monopoly for inter-island flights but they are amazing. All flights left on time and the service was top notch. We love Air Tahiti!

The Dream Yacht Charter base is perfectly located close to the airport and the main grocery store. This seems like an extremely well-managed base. A taxi was waiting for us at the airport with a Dream Yacht Charter sign. Half of our crew was dropped off at a nearby grocery store to do provisioning, while the rest went to the base to start the check out process. We were a day behind due to the delays mentioned above but the base was ready for us and Oliver provided one of the most efficient and comprehensive charter checkouts and chart briefings we have experienced.

Provisioning in Raiatea. A large grocery store (Champion) is located 600 meters from the DYC base. You could technically pre-order all the heavy stuff (water, alcohol, etc) and then just walk to and from the store to complete your provisioning (or get a 1 min taxi for just a few USDs). Although the store is small, it has a large selection of standard western products. We had 3 vegetarians in the boat (including the two of us) and the store had plenty of veggie protein including some amazing marinated tofu. The produce section was relatively small, but they had pretty much everything else we wanted. Make sure you get all the alcohol that you think you will need for the trip because the costs in Bora Bora will be about twice the costs here. This applies to other foods as well. So avoid having to do a mid-charter provisioning in Bora Bora as it is quite expensive there.

Anchor north of the western channel before the passage to Bora Bora. About 1.3nm north of the western channel in Taha’a there is a wonderful anchorage in 10ft of sand. From the base, head towards the western channel, pass the channel on your left and continue north until you pass the last green marker. Then take a left and enter the shallows and anchor in about 10-15ft of sand. As always, keep someone on the bow to look out for coral heads.

View of Bora Bora from the anchorage in Taha’a

Be careful with the new Bora Bora anchorage restrictions. Starting in January of 2019, Bora Bora implemented new overnight anchoring restrictions, which limit anchoring to just a few spots in the lagoon. Fortunately, some of the best anchoring spots are included in the authorized areas so we didn’t feel “restricted”. Visit Noonsite for the best article with GPS coordinates for the various authorized anchoring zones in Bora Bora.

Our Favorite Anchorages in Bora Bora

Motu Toopua. After the passage from Taha’a, we took an immediate right after entering the lagoon and anchored in the authorized zone west of Toopua Motu. The official GPS coordinates for this zone have you anchor off the main channel in the northern section of the Motu before you get to the main bay. Yet, the chart from the DYC charter base marked the anchoring zone in the main bay. We ended up anchoring in between in about 20 ft over sand. The bay is notorious for being a playground for manta rays. Likewise, the local tour boats feed the stingrays on the northwest corner of the bay. We visited with our dinghy and were able to snorkel with dozens of rays and black tip reef sharks. There is also a great coral garden close to the reef. The reef is about 1nm from the bay; use care when taking the dinghy there as there are several coral heads just under the surface.

Motu Fareone (Taurere). We spent two nights on the bay of Motu Fareone. This is a massive bay with great holding in 15-25ft of sand. The bay is close to the famous coral garden behind Motu Piti U’u Uta, which can be accessible by dinghy if you have a decent outboard. Otherwise, take the boat to the anchorage behind the Motu (see below). The southern tip of Motu Fareone has a small resort that was closed when we were there (low season). A bit north of the resort is the art studio of the French artist Vitali. The studio includes a small gallery of his Polynesia-inspired works. It is definitely worth a visit. To get there simply ride the dinghy towards the southern point and look for the “Artist Studio” signs.

Motu Piti U’u Uta. This is not an overnight anchorage but it was our favorite day stop. The anchorage area is a small shallow space west of, and in between, the two Motus.  You can approach from the west and anchor soon after you enter the shallows. If the area is crowded (there is space for maybe 3-4 boats) there is more space a bit north of the Motu. From here, you can swim or take the dinghy to the west side of the Motu to snorkel in the famous coral gardens. So many fish!

Doing last minute emergency provisioning in Bora Bora. If you miscalculated your provisioning in Raiatea and need to reprovision in Bora Bora, the best and easiest way is to take a mooring ball in Mai Kai Marina. If it is not busy, they may let you stay a couple of hours for free and drop off your garbage. Then take a right at the front of the marina and walk 10 minutes to the Super U To’a Amok store. The store is small but it has pretty much anything that you would need in an emergency (ice, beer, rum, bread, cheese, and fresh baguettes!) We saw signs written in French about restrictions on times that you could/couldn’t buy beer, liquor, wine – check ahead lest you be unable to replenish your stash. If you get heavy things, there is a small semi-public dinghy dock behind the chandlery where you can get the dinghy to pick up your team.

Bloody Mary’s is totally worth it, but stay overnight in Mai Kai Marina. Bloody Mary’s is one of those places you just have to go to for dinner if you are in Bora Bora. There used to be several overnight mooring balls that were “free” if you eat at the restaurant. By the time we got there, we saw only one ball and after inspecting it my guess is that all other balls failed at some point and never got replaced. The mooring lines looked a bit sketchy and definitely not the type that let you sleep well at night. We considered whether we would take it or move to Mai Kai Marina and take a taxi instead, but hunger got the better of me and given that we had zero wind we decided to take the mooring instead. I would definitely not recommend this mooring in even light winds so the alternative is to take a mooring ball in Mai Kai Marina (very well maintained) and then call Bloody Mary’s as they will come to pick you up. Also, we read wonderful reviews of the Mai Kai Marina restaurant and I wish we had given it a try.

Traversing the Bora Bora Lagoon. Reaching the east side of the lagoon is easier than it looks and as beautiful as you think. If you have easterly winds, the sail on the east side near the overwater bungalows is one of the most beautiful sails you may ever do. Follow the channel markers on the north side of the lagoon to enter the shallows, keep the boat close to the overwater bungalows and don’t enter the deep section of the lagoon until you clear the last resort. There is a channel that takes you into the deep section sooner (Mahuao Faao) but it is more difficult to navigate and not as pretty.

Snorkeling in Tuiahora. There is a deep crevasse between two reefs just east of Fitiiu Point that often has manta rays and large sea life and worth the visit. To get there, anchor between the Meridiem and the St Regis resort and enter the deep section of the lagoon south of the reef.

Spend a few days visiting Taha’a. Bora Bora is indeed amazing but there are several stops in Taha’a worth doing: from drift snorkeling by the Le Taha’a resort, to eating at the unforgettable Le Ficus or visiting La Vallee de la Vanille (vanilla plantation). So we suggest leaving at least two nights available to explore Taha’a on your way back to Raiatea.

Eating at Taha’a – an amazing dining experience at Le Ficus. It is difficult to explain Le Ficus and its charm. Although it caters to charter guests getting ready to return to base on Fridays, it has more authentic charm than any place we visited in French Polynesia.  It is a small family operation with just a few tables around an open space for a fire show and underground cooking. We called early Thursday to try and make a reservation for a party of 6, they asked if we could attend Friday, we said we’re sorry, but we would be gone by then, they said “ok, 6 at 6:30 is good.” We had no idea that when we arrived we would have the whole place to ourselves, they had opened just for us. We were then peppered with amazing drinks, a wonderful Asian Polynesian buffet, and a fire show by the teenage cook who was one of owner’s nephews. We found out that Le Ficus is usually only open on Fridays so you should call ahead to see if you can make a reservation, as many charter guests stop there on their last night.

There is great snorkeling by the Motu Atger entrance. We spent the last night anchored on the north side of the Motu Atger entrance on the east side of Taha’a. We anchored just north of the private Motu in 20ft of sand. Then we took the dinghy towards the reef just north of the Motu and encountered the best snorkeling of the trip. There is a very strong rip current coming into the lagoon so you could technically get dropped off close to the reef and then simply let the current take you about 0.5nm back to the boat. This anchorage is just a 60 min motor sail from Raiatea and is essentially a perfect spot to spend your last night before coming back to the base.

Finish your charter with one night at a resort in Tahiti. We returned our boat Saturday morning and took the 11 am flight back to Papeete.  We were originally scheduled to leave at 1:30 PM but we got to the airport early and were able to get on the 11 AM flight at no charge. Our flight back to the U.S. did not leave until Sunday, so we spent the last afternoon and night enjoying the pool and amenities at the Manava Suite Resort Tahiti. After a week of “work” playing captain and first mate we definitely needed this last pampering without any responsibilities. Although there are endless options for overnight accommodations in Tahiti, we found this resort perfect for an overnight stay. It has a beautiful infinity pool with a swim up bar, beautiful rooms, and around $250 USD/night it is “affordable” for French Polynesia’s resort standards. Pro tip: the resort food is quite expensive but a 5 min walk north (left) of the resort you will find a series of food trucks and an amazing pizza place!

Standard disclaimer: We do not get payments, discounts, or any other type of financial incentives for mentioning any of the companies discussed in this post.

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