The entrance to Maupiti, even less than a mile away, appears to be awash in white water. We’ve just sailed from Bora Bora, 25 fast downwind miles in 20 knots of wind. Each mile closer brought our nerves up another hitch and by the time we were peering into the skinny pass with our binoculars our hearts were pounding and palms damp. “Let’s go.” Michael says and we furl in the genoa and power forward towards the entrance to Maupiti’s calm turquoise lagoon. With the thought that this is a no-fail situation – either we make it though or we’re dashed to bits upon the reef – we are suddenly calm. We’ll make it. We have to.
Most boats skip right by little Maupiti on their way to Suwarrow or Rarotonga or Palmerston having had their fill of French Polynesia by the time they clear out at Bora Bora. But our Lonely Planet South Pacific has this to say about this piece of paradise: Bora Bora’s discreet little sister, Maupiti, is one of the most ravishing islands in French Polynesia and is already being talked of as a rising star of the region. Yet it still remains a hideaway where insiders come to revel in an unblemished tropical playground and to drop out of sight…. Maupiti offers complete relaxation – there’s only one road, and virtually no cars, just bicycles…Nirvana found? You be the judge.
We just had to see this place for ourselves.
However, our favorite travel guide also features a warning about the only entry into Maupiti’s lagoon: “Yachties, beware, as this pass is exposed to big swells and strong currents.”
When your Lonely Planet give you warnings on navigational hazards, it’s best to take heed.
Our Charlie’s Charts of Polynesia concurred, with Charlie’s typical warnings of the number of boats that have come to grief here in the last 50 years. It’s true, Maupiti’s pass is tricky: it’s winding and narrow (less than 100 feet wide in some spots) with swift outgoing current, and standing whitewater, given certain conditions.
Thankfully, the day we arrived at Maupiti’s pass we had nearly ideal conditions: very low swell from the south, moderate wind from the NE and it was midday so we could see underwater obstructions more clearly. As Michael steered toward the pass he kept his eyes on the water in front of us, which was calm, and the range markers ahead. Keeping them perfectly aligned we entered the deep dead center of the pass through the shallow reefs on either side of us which were covered in whitewater from the breaking swell. I was below with my eyes on our nav computer, yelling up encouraging words to him (“We’re right on track! Excellent!”). The kids were in the forecabin keeping quiet as they know by now to stay out of our way when there is sweat beading on our brows. Even below, I could hear the huge breakers on the reef to either side of us but was too nervous to look out the porthole above the computer. I asked Michael later how big the white water was and he said he had no idea, he was only looking straight ahead, eyes on the guiding markers only.
There is a dogleg turn in the pass and you line up another set of range markers, then continue on down the channel keeping red markers to port, green to starboard (as the rest of the world does it apparently). Before we knew it, the lagoon opened up and we were in brilliant calm aqua water with the island-mountain of Maupiti towering to the sky in the middle. We motored for another mile, keeping in the deep turquoise channel, then dropped our hook in the sand under 15’ of water amongst a handful of other sailboats. A light breeze ruffled the water and we just stood gazing around at one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever seen. We were floating between the small village tucked up against the side of the green mountain and the brilliant white sands of Motu Tuanai, striking hues of turquoise varying with the water depths around us. Nirvana. Found.