Pearls. Just the name evokes a feeling of creaminess and perfection in a timeless classic. Once was a time where a good set of pearls would get you through the day from casual to dress, looking elegant all the while, glowing with opulence. They were as valuable as an apartment on 5th Avenue at one time, but today almost anyone can have a pearl necklace.
With only 6000 residents on Huahine, there is not much tourism on the island referred to as the Garden of Eden. It is lush and the inner island is not populated, showing a dense tree cover full of fruit trees and palm trees. Locals can build a home anywhere from the road up the hills, but most stay near the road. We saw many people taking care of the island from tree clean up to garbage pickup. The locals take pride in their island and everyone pitches in to help. Because it is not very developed it is a great place to relax and enjoy a very pretty island.
There is plenty of food on the islands and anyone can take the food off the trees at any time. The fruit trees were brought to the island by Europeans and have done very well here. The Papaya is one of the more popular trees as they grow very quickly and produce fruit in 6-9 months.
We took an island tour to learn more about Huahine and our guide, Roman, was very interesting. He came here as part of the French military and never left. He married into a local family and his Mother in Law is a local healer. He was able to explain how she uses many of the island plants to cure various illnesses, including one he had that the Dr.’s back home were unable to cure. What a great resource to have medicinal plants all around you and to know what they do. He has learned a lot from her and I hope he carries on her tradition.
Roman also took us to a place where we could see some vanilla plants and buy some. It was really in a home of one of the islanders. The kids were around playing, they had vanilla beans out drying and a few items set up in a room just for tourists to buy. It was interesting. They also had a chicken who was leashed. First one we had seen that was not out roaming around.
There are really 2 islands-Huahine Nui, is the larger island and includes the village of Fare, and has a grocery and a gas station and Huahine Iti –the smaller island and has the best beaches. Both islands are joined by a sandbar at low tide and there is a bridge to drive over. Huahine was one of the first islands to be colonized by the ancient Polynesians, with records dating back to the 9th century AD. One of the older things on the islands are shallow water fish traps called V traps. The fish drifting in the current go into a long stone guide and end up in a deep pool. The locals then go to the pool and pluck out what the need. Very ingenious!
We also saw many Marae’s which are holy places. Huahine has the largest concentration in all of French Polynesia with over 30 of them found in one area. It looks a bit unassuming at first with a bunch of flat rocks laid out in rows. Big rocks are for chiefs and the smaller stones are for people who have died. Only one Marae remains that was used for human sacrifices. It is a large, stacked rectangular area of stones and very quiet and you do not want to walk on them. A bit creepy.
Next we went to pearl farm in the middle of the lagoon called the Huahine Nui Pearls & Pottery. We took a boat ride to the hut and hoped to see a pearl farming demonstration, but they really took you out to the hut just to buy. They also have this beautiful blue pottery made from clay deep in the lagoon giving it a unique color and it is only found here. We did not buy anything but it made me appreciate my pearl necklace at home.
The village of Faie is home to the sacred eels, eels with blue eyes that live in a small stream and no one knows why they have blue eyes. It is believed they hold the spirits of the dead islanders and they are sacred to the islanders and you cannot eat them. Roman brought a can of fish to feed them and the second he had that can open they were coming from all directions right up to him. Too much like snakes for me!! We did not get near them and Roman enjoyed feeding them for us. He was a very good tour guide and we enjoyed our island tour with him very much.
After the tour was over, we decided to find a little shack down the road. We had heard the night before that there was a place near where we docked that sold flavored brandies. Distillerie Huahine Passion is run by a guy who does not really speak English at all but makes a various collections of liqueurs and brandies. And he does know how to pour! Any flavor you want to try he just fills up a shot glass. The worst one for me was the ginger flavored one. Ugh! After tasting far too many, we bought the caramel flavored one, and left as many before us, very happy.