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Saturday, August 8, 2015

Maupiti’s Stairway to Heaven



No sign.  An unimpressive start to one of thebest viewpoints ever!  Maupiti, French Polynesia.

“How did you know the stairs led to the lookout point?” Wayne asked me about my solo day ashore on Maupiti.  They led to Maupti’s high point, Mt. Teurufaatiu, 380 meters high.


I didn’t, was my answer.  There was no sign.  There was no specific trail head description in my guidebooks.  I simply played a hunch.


The stairs were unassuming, a plain block non-sequetor on a dirt hillside leading to… a water tank.  Glancing up, there was a trail, which was really more of an easy rock climb much of the way.  The rock faces were short clumps with good toe and hand holds, augmented with support ropes in spots where they were more of hindrance than a help.


Maupiti's ~1200 foot Mt. Teurufaatiu viewpoint, even more
vivid viewed through my Maui Jim sunglasses.
At the top there’s a series of flat rocks, comfortable enough for a leisurely lunch amidst the near 360 degree view if you don’t mind the spare local dog or three earnestly inviting themselves to share your lunch.


 And what a view!  








Maupiti's ~1200 foot Mt. Teurufaatiu viewpoint in panorama.
Maupiti's ~1200 foot Mt. Teurufaatiu viewpoint.
Lush jungle-green mountains.  A pristine clean town, picturesquely punctuated with a red-steeple church.  A veritable giant’s “thumbs up” basalt spire.  Waves crashing so violently upon the reef they churn white with spray traveling above their zenith as much as twelve feet.  Our narrow entry pass, a skinny path between the reefs, water roiling a mile out*.  Motus– sandy little palm-covered islets -- fringing the island.  And the water… aqua blue stretches dotted with brown coral heads, shallows casting a rosy-periwinkle hue and the sun-dappled deep midnight blue of the South Pacific ocean beyond.  A manta ray, its huge charcoal-gray profile clearly visible as it lazily lopes about the pale shallows.


*A local shopkeeper told us that day the winds and currents were so blustery even the local fisherman didn’t chance them.


Ridge view from the first part of our Maupiti bushwhacking.
Cruiser Oliver of Inspirity and his visiting friend Renee, met climbing up, mentioned rather than doubling back down the trail, were headed over a ridge line trail to the other side of the island.  They were good company and the little beach on the other side of the island looked inviting.  I asked if I could join them, and they agreed.


With so many guidebooks cautioning against non-guide-led tours, I was intrigued to hike with folks experienced with using GPS programs to trace a trail.  Oliver and Renee said they’d done well with that before and the guide who was with a group at the lookout point when we were told Oliver the ridge line trail wasn’t too bad.


Intrepid and burr-covered Renee early
into our bushwhacking on Maupiti.
We doubled back many times, with Renee checking trail coordinates on his smart phone and Oliver doing the same on his iPad.  We clambered over rocks, wove through trees and dense often brambly vines and bushes. Descending down humus-rich jungle hillsides, it was often difficult to see if our steps were on solid ground, loose rock or crumbling wood.  Often the difference between being on the trail and not being on the trail were negligible.  Simply put, trail or not, it was at least 85% bushwhacking.


After an hour of descent, all agreed we’d gone far enough it would be more difficult to turn back than to continue.  


Oliver approaches one of the few easily walkable parts
of Maupiti's "trail" -- near its end.
After nearly four hours decent, we headed to the little beach bar Oliver visited before for a well-earned beer and shared bite of poisson cru coco au lait.  My legs were wobbly.  That’s very, very rare.  I even got chafing day pack sores – a first for me on a trail.  “This trail is one you take only once,” Oliver concluded.  


We were grateful some locals gave us a ride back, directly to the dinghy dock.

“You were courageous, joining a couple Swiss guys you don’t know for that hike,” chided Oliver and Renee.  I explained that eventually all peaks lead to the bottom, Maupiti wasn’t that big so I knew we’d get there eventually.   Nor did they know that I’ve gotten myself into some jams before all on my own taking an alternate path back (Exumas hike).  And my “stranger danger” people-reading radar’s served me well over the years.


Late that night, I reached into my pack to check out the viewpoint photos from my Panasonic 60x digital camera.  The camera wasn’t there!   Mentally retracing my steps, I recalled last touching it at our late lunch beach bar stop.


Wayne and I rented some local once-speed beater-bikes for $10 apiece and rode to the beach bar, “Mimi’s.”  The owner promptly returned my camera.  Whew!  Even though the camera wasn’t that expensive,  I bought the camera at a reduced rate as a refurb, it would be difficult to replace en route.  Much as I love my Olympus water camera, its zoom is a mere 3x.  We were incredibly grateful!  We celebrated by sharing a beer Wayne bought, for which he tipped generously.


Waves as viewed from Mt. Teurufaatiu viewpoint
the day after we went through Maupiti's pass.
Before we left Maupiti I returned to the lookout with Wayne. That time we came right back down the way we came up.  While I now have a better idea of how to use GPS to track an unmarked trail, if I encounter a trail as that hard to follow as that one was, maybe it’s best left alone.


We are glad we stopped in Maupiti to give French Polynesia a final fond farewell before our long passage to American Samoa.  It’s an unhurried island, with few cars, locals who wave back with a smile, wayward cameras are returned and residents feel safe enough to leave their doors and windows open to the fresh ocean breezes.  And, it’s really, really beautiful.


Glutton for punishment, GWT returns to Maupiti's
Mt. Teurufaatiu viewpoint with Wayne.
Location Location

After our French Polynesian visa expired and we checked out in Bora Bora, we slipped off to Maupiti  (S16.26..838 W152.14.690) to get one last lovely island in and some R&R before our long passage to American Samoa, with a stop off in Suwarrow Cooks Island along the way, weather permitting.  Maupiti to Suwarrow is about 660 nautical miles (nm).  Suwarrow to Pago Pago American Samoa is about 450 nm.  Not counting the time we rest up in Suwarrow, perhaps up to a week, we anticipate the travel time will take us a little less than two weeks under passage.  There will be no wifi in Suwarrow as its only inhabitants are a park ranger or two monitoring the reefs there over cruising season.  We are hoping to reconnect to wifi and call home from American Samoa; our first reasonable opportunity to do so since Panama in March.