French Polynesian islands
French Polynesia is located in the South Pacific Ocean and is made up of one hundred and thirty islands. These islands are spread out roughly around the size of Europe. French Polynesia is made up five main archipelagos: the Marquesas, the Tuamotu, the Gambier, the Austral and the Society Islands.
Of these, the Society Islands are perhaps the most tourist oriented. This archipelago is made up of well-known destination spots including Tahiti, Moorea, Raietea, Tahaa, Huahine, Maupiti and Bora Bora. Here you also can find the most well-known hotels and resorts. Nevertheless, it is still possible to enjoy many local specialties outside of the tourist attractions.
The formation of French Polynesia is the result of volcanic activity. The highest point of Bora Bora is just over 700 meters, the mountain descends slowly, and the atoll begins to rise to create a roughly circular shape. Many islands have thus formed along the coral reef that surrounds Bora Bora. Most of these are inhabited and one of them is the airport. Most of the hotels are also located on the outer islands, so they have a beautiful view of the large mountain rising up from the turquoise waters surrounding this center island.
The lagoon between the main island and the coral reef is very wide, much wider than the other surrounding islands. Due to the varying depths, it is colored with many shades of blues. The water is crystal clear, with plenty of fish, sharks, rays, turtles, and water birds. Ciguatera poisoning is also not common here, so the locals eat fish caught in the lagoon. Our favorite was the delicious trevally.
We arrived in Nuku Hiva, French Polynesia in March 2022. In May, we left the Marquesas Islands for the Tuamotus Islands, though we only visited one atoll, Rangiroa. There are beautiful coral reefs here as well. A long time ago, when Domi and I were in French Polynesia without the kids, we also didn’t make it to the Tuamotus Islands. So, we would like to go back to explore more of this area. From Rangiora we sailed to Tahiti, then Moorea, Raietea and Tahaa. We finally arrived in Bora Bora in June.
We got to know the island and its surroundings quite well. As time went by, we made more and more acquaintances among the islanders for example Hermann the local spear fishermen. We also made “land” and boat friends, with parents and children from the harbor area and the school community.
Our boat was often stayed in front of the Bora Bora Yacht Club, especially on weekdays when the children went to school. The school bus would pick them up in front of the restaurant and bring them back there. A few years ago, the buoys in front of the restaurant were part of the Yacht Club, but now it is just called the Yacht Club and is run as a restaurant, the buoys are independent of it. This place is 50 years old and is practically built for sailors, you can moor a boat at the pier that is built into the terrace of the restaurant. You can also access the street through the restaurant. From the front of the restaurant, it’s only a half-hour walk to Vaitape, which is the island’s central settlement.
Vaitape is served by fast ferries from the airport and ferries from Tahiti and other islands. Here you will find the town hall, police station, pharmacy, market, and a huge community square. The kindergarten, primary school and health center are on the outskirts of the town.
The people here are for the most part very kind and friendly. We received several gifts of fruit from the restaurant staff, who we met and talked to regularly.
Life on the island
A neighbor’s mother, with whom we used to wait for the school bus in the morning, called me after our second meeting to see her house. She proudly showed me around her home. It was interesting to see how much they live “outside” and not inside the house. The kitchen is usually next to the house, like a covered patio. This is where they keep the big household appliances like washing machine, fridge, freezer, but also the other kitchen appliances like microwave etc. are all here. Inside the house, the rooms are just beds, some kind of cupboard or rack for clothes maybe. The walls are bare, no pictures, no books, no ornaments, no shelves to keep them on. It is clear that they spend most of their lives not in the house, but out in nature. The gardens are beautifully kept, and the many variegated flowers, tropical plants and the blue lagoon in the background adorn the surroundings.
This house was a little different from what we usually saw from the street: it had glass in the windows, not just wooden boards on the window openings that are raised when light or air is wanted to be let in. Nice stone tiles covered the floors, and there was a huge bathroom with a shower, sink, and toilet in the house too, not just in a separate building next to the house.
Once Domi knocked on the door of a nearby house and saw that there were banana bushes in the garden. He asked if they would sell him a bunch. That’s how we got a permanent source of fruit in Bora Bora. From then on, we regularly went to the garden to buy fruit.
As time went by and a different fruit ripened, we got to know more and more fruits: star apples, pakai (ice cream beans), we couldn’t even remember the names of them all as there were so many.
Some of them include: papaya, pomelo (grapefruit), breadfruit, avocado, and once we even received a gift of cassava root. We bought the tastiest mangoes from them, which we used to make mango jams with Tahaa vanilla, local lime, and a little ginger for Domi’s birthday and later for Christmas.
Here, classes started in mid-August and the children joined two weeks later, with Boróka in Honu (turtle) and Katalin in A’ine? (Easterly wind).
The children go to school at a different rhythm here than they do at home, with several longer breaks in the middle of the year, but also with longer school hours. The school grounds are located at the foot of the mountain, at the end of a dead-end street, in a very friendly and beautiful setting. The staff was also extremely helpful and kind.
The girls found it unusual at first to see so many children and so much noise, but of course it was nice to be with their peers, even if they didn’t understand everything they were being told. They get tired from all the foreign words and new things by the afternoon, so during this time we temporarily stopped the Hungarian lessons. Of course, there were also parts of the lessons that they enjoyed: for example, when they were taught the local Tahitian (“tájsan”) language, Polynesian dances, or sang local songs… They also made new friends at school.
It wasn’t possible to teach them the basics of French separately at school, but they did pick up somethings. Sometimes on the boat they speak French to each other while playing. Even now, when they have internet, they practice with Duolingo. The school director has been very kind and helpful from the beginning, arranging for the children to take the school bus. Without the bus, it would have been much more difficult and tiring to get to school. After the boat trip to the shore, it was at least another half an hour’s walk, as the school was quite some distance from the anchorages. There are no pavements on the roadsides and there is heavy traffic in the mornings, so it is not the safest option to walk along the roadside in the ditch, especially if it is raining.
To Be Continued
Living in this wonder for half a year was an amazing experience: the kids going to school, Domi working remotely, going to the store by boat while counting the rays along the way! We are very grateful for being able to immerse ourselves in the local rhythm of life, to discover the hidden corners of the island, and to be in this beautiful environment day after day. More details about the time we spent here to be continued in the next part.