French Polynesia

13th April – To Tahiti

And it was goodbye to New Zealand. We were very sorry to be leaving. We’ve had a marvellous time, the sights have been stupendous, the people friendly and the whole place just pleasant to be in.

However, Tahiti beckoned. The flight was uneventful (except, crossing the international Date Line, Pat got her a lunch the day before Colin did). At Papeete airport we were greeted, at the door of the terminus, by a three-piece ukelele band! Customs could wait. Our hotel (Le Meridien, now a Sofitel) turned out to be fabulous. After two huge cocktails at the beach bar we’ve just dined right by the seashore and are now on our balcony listening to the rollers breaking against the reef.

13th April again – Tahiti

Our first full day in Tahiti, and we decided to spend most of it having a good look round the capital, Papeete. We had already discounted using the local bus service as all the advice was that it was slow, hot and unreliable. We’d missed the hotel’s morning shuttle in, so we decided to take a taxi and catch the shuttle back.

Our first call was Papeete market. This is a covered market, with two stories holding a huge number and variety of stalls.

After a good look round the market we followed the tourist office’s recommended short walk around some more of the town, including the small cathedral and the government buildings. How refreshing to find government buildings that are not only without any security guards but even invite visitors to stroll around the gardens.

For lunch, everyone, including the Rough Guide, had told us to be sure to use the small mobile food stalls along the water front. However, the whole harbour area is being rebuilt and there’s not a vendor to be found. We ended up in a bar for beers and a sandwich.

Then it was back to the market to buy a few things, and finally over the road to catch the shuttle back to our hotel. We took the opportunity to pick the driver’s brain about car hire for the following day. Pat then headed for the sea and a dip, while Colin headed to a beachside chair to watch the sunset – and a paddle boarder!

14th April – Tahiti II

Our last full day in Tahiti. Our car hire with Tahiti Auto Center had been organised for us by the hotel and, by Tahitian standards, was surprisingly cheap. At 9:00am prompt our lift to the car hire garage was ready, and a little later we were on the road in our Honda i10 – with air conditioning on full blast! The temperature has been a consistent 30C, but we’re not yet quite used to it.

First stop was Grotte de Mara’a, followed by a longer stop at Jardin de Vaipahi gardens. Both places featured long waterfalls down vertical cliffs and masses of tropical plants. We saw both rubber and mango trees as well as a huge array of brightly coloured tropical flowers. Just driving along the road we saw hundreds of coconut palms and banana trees. Roadside stalls offered bananas of every size and colour (pink bananas anyone?) as well as pineapples and various fruits we didn’t recognise.

Then it was on down to Tahiti Iti (the smaller part of Tahiti’s figure of eight) and Teahupoo Beach. The waves were not the gigantic ones you see in the competitions later in the year, but still impressive. Surfers get towed out to the breakers by speedboats. Colin managed to photograph one.

Then back to the isthmus for lunch. By then it was well after 2pm, but there was still plenty of time to complete the circuit of Tahiti Nui, the larger part. The scenery here was very different – steeply sloping mountains as usual but with greater variety in trees and vegetation. We stopped at the Three Cascades of Fa’aruma’i. The bridge on the approach path was supposed to be closed but people seemed to be crossing anyway so – when in Rome – it was spectacular.

Then a leisurely drive round the top of the island, and an even more leisurely crawl through rush-hour Papeete back to the hotel. Tomorrow we fly to Raiatea. Blog posting could turn intermittent!

15th April – To Raiatea

Our flight to Raiatea wasn’t until late afternoon, so we organised a late check-out at the hotel and spent the morning catching up on various things like repacking, buying flip-flops, sitting by the lagoon, and taking a few photographs.

Our minibus to the airport arrived promptly, and check-in was admirably free of formality. Our aircraft was larger than we’d expected, a twin-prop, and the flight took around 40 minutes. And there we were – in Raiatea. We were met at the airport by our resort’s minibus, and our driver, Ravi, entertained us with a little local description during the 40 minute drive down to our resort on the south-east coast. In one section she had to try to steer clear of the crabs scuttling across the road – there were dozens of them!

Darkness fell as we arrived but we saw enough to make us sure that we had arrived in paradise. Our beach bungalow at the Opoa Beach Hotel was absolutely perfect and Colin was sure that he could take just the photos he was after. But that would have to wait until morning, as it was dark by now.

Dinner was excellent, Pat wore her best pareu and in her hair one of the hundred red hibiscus flowers that had been scattered around the bungalow. All the staff were equally as friendly as Ravi and spoke good English. We concluded we were going to like it here!

16th April – Raiatea

We woke at 6.30 to glorious sunshine. Pat had a dip in the pool before breakfast, following which Colin took the photograph he’d been after since last July – Pat on our bungalow’s balcony. Surfing, of course!

Then over to the dining room and flip-flops off at the door: “We are shoe-free here”. Breakfast is fruit, yogurt and coconut cake plus croissants, cheese and cold meat.

We’d planned a lazy day, possibly trying out a bit of snorkelling but mostly reading or doing nothing much. Ensconsed in our own private chairs on the beach outside our bungalow we watched the wind getting up, the storm front moving in and the occasional crab walking along the path in front of us. As the rain started we retreated to the recliners and hammock on the porch; as the rain really got going we moved indoors. It didn’t last too long but it set the pattern for the day – sunshine and showers. Our reading and lazing about was interrupted only by meals.

17th April – Raiatea II

Up early in preparation for our boat trip to Taha’a. What a glorious trip it was!

There were 9 passengers in all, 7 of them French, in an open boat with a canopy for shade. We followed the Raiatea coastline, admiring the mountains and the occasional small village at the water’s edge. Our first stop was to see a pearl farm (they specialise in black pearls in these parts). Quite interesting, but we still can’t tell a good pearl from a rubbish one! This was followed by a coffee stop in the capital while the boat refuelled.

Then it was across the lagoon to Taha’a which is so small that its biggest village has 100 people and there are few roads. We docked at a vanilla plantation and that really was interesting. The lovely people welcomed us with cold juice, bananas and slices of fresh coconut. With the scent of vanilla all around, they showed us how vanilla is cultivated and prepared.

Their other product is a nut oil said to be beneficial for all skin ailments and we watched the whole family getting stuck into the production, including two little boys bashing the nuts with rocks to crack them. Their big brother had the hammer.

Next stop on our odyssey was a motu for a picnic lunch. Motus are tiny islands beside, or close to, a coral reef, formed from broken coral and sand, and which have trees growing on them. For the picnic we had visions of a rug on the beach but we should have known better. We had a table and chairs under a thatched palm leaf roof and the “picnic” was a buffet of hot food. But before we ate we were treated to our first bit of snorkelling among the fish cages.

Pat had a go and managed not too badly but was very glad she hadn’t tried it for the first time in Kaikuro, swimming with dolphins in the sea. She’d have drowned for sure! This was calm shallow water, even if one cage did have young reef sharks in it.

The final stop was the highlight. We waded ashore onto another, very small motu and walked around it to the far side. It was full of burrows looking for all the world like rabbit burrows but it seems they are made by crabs. Back into the water and we were immediately surrounded by stripey little Nemos, a whole school of them, seemingly curious and having the odd nibble. This was the beginning of the coral garden. What a place! It was teeming with fish of all colours and sizes and, of course, coral formations. We had been well warned not to step on the coral. We’d also been shown all the creatures that can sting, bite and poison. The advice, in effect, was not to touch or step on anything at all. This was not always easy when the patches of coral were close together and near the surface and there was a bit of a current too. But what a marvellous adventure it was.

Before returning to Raiatea we were taken close (-ish) up to a couple of surfing breaks between the two islands. They were quite a sight.

Then it was back through the lagoon to home, showers and dinner.

18th April – Raiatea III

Today we thought we’d take a look at the rest of Raiatea. We asked our host, Eric, to hire us a car for the day, and at 8:30 prompt there it was – a little Fiat Panda outside our door. Eric’s only word of advice was, “Don’t park under any coconut trees.”

Our intention was to cover every inch of road: not a difficult task when there is one road making a circuit of the coast and one other short one up the middle.

We started off by heading south so that we could catch the little road going over the middle of the island. This gave us some superb views of the volcanic mountains that form most of the island. Mt. Tefatoaiti itself had some low cloud on top. It reaches an altitude of over 3,300 ft where the island is 5 miles wide!

These volcanic islands are lumpy, bumpy places. There are craters and sub-craters and bits that have been affected by lava flows from subsequent eruptions and by earthquakes. The result is a great jumble of peaks and ridges with vertical cliffs here and there, all completely covered with lush vegetation.

As in Tahiti, the people live on the flat bits, which are mostly on the shore. We thought the houses here were of a rather higher standard; we didn’t see the rusting corrugated iron fences and roofs of Tahiti and everything appeared to have been painted quite recently. Our only lengthy stop was in the capital, Uturoa, the second biggest town in the Society Islands after Pape’ete. It must have, oh, hundreds of people living in it. In the main square there’s a notice board with a plan of the town and in the sandy ground under it was a handsome rooster strutting his stuff. These roosters are everywhere, usually with two or three hens and the occasional chick. You can hear crowing wherever you go.

The town offered a market, a couple of French supermarkets and a handful of boutiques and shops-that-sell-everything. We bought bread, cheese and beer for a picnic later. It was tricky to find a place to eat a picnic because Raiatea has almost no beaches. Where the road runs alongside the lagoon, the water’s edge is dirty with flotsam and there’s nowhere to sit. We managed to find somewhere in the end and, after carefully backing up the car to avoid falling coconuts, enjoyed our lunch.

All around the coast we enjoyed superb views both inland and offshore. We were particularly entranced by the smallest motu we’ve ever seen.

The Polynesians believe that Raiaitea is the source of the population of all the other islands and of the New Zealand Maoris. There is a ruined morea, or temple, here that is revered across Polynesia, so we had to visit that. Then it was back to our resort for a cooling swim and a bit of snorkel practice in the pool.

19th April – Raiatea IV

After two active days we thought that today we’d go for something a little less strenuous – like kayaking! There were single and double kayaks available – we thought the latter would be easier and more manageable.

Our plan was to paddle across the lagoon to a small motu a little offshore, but the wind and current were against us and we gave up a little over half-way there. Still, we had given some amusement to a couple of our fellow guests who had watched our erratic progress from the dock. Thereafter we chilled out on the veranda of our bungalow. We’re trying to tire of the view before we leave in a couple of days. We haven’t succeeded so far.

20th April – Raiatea V

We’ve been wondering why the water level in the lagoons remains pretty much constant, and the answer turns out to be that Tahiti is an amphidromic point – it has no tidal flow. Every day’s a school day!

Today we thought we’d have another go at visiting the motu, this time in a power boat. We were dropped off at 12 and waded onto the motu with our picnic cooler. Two plastic chairs were also provided and much appreciated when we saw the number of ants around!

We had thought of snorkelling. This close to the reef there’s plenty of coral and so lots of fish and other creatures. However, the overnight storm had left the sea quite rough and currents were running in every direction even in the lagoon, so we contented ourselves with wading and admiring what we could see. The motu, even more than the main island, was covered with hermit crabs of every size. They are very busy little creatures, scurrying about all the time, though who knows what they’re about. We had to be very careful not to step on them.

Exploring the motu, we found that someone had created a clearing in the centre where the remains of cooking fires where people evidently caught and ate crabs (big ones of course, not the hermits). We could get across to the opposite shore and explore the rock pools. Otherwise the growth was pretty dense. The motu is made up of a collection of dead bits of coral and other flotsam that collects, so it’s all a bit mucky underfoot. We enjoyed our picnic with a view back across the lagoon and paddled about until the boat returned at 2.

On the way back our driver spotted a sting ray and turned the boat for us to get a good look. They really are huge.

Then back to the hammock and the books until dinner.

21st April – To Maupiti

Our last day in Raiatea. We packed after breakfast and moved to another bungalow until it was time for our transfer to the airport at 1:00. The beach bungalows are in great demand and someone new would be moving into ours later in the day. The poolside bungalow we were borrowing didn’t catch the breeze and so wasn’t nearly as comfortable as “ours”. We managed to put up with lounging on its porch!

After lunch we were taken to the airport where we checked in with a minimum of formality and no security check. The flight to Maupiti took all of 20 minutes in a surprising new and comfortable plane. If we’d thought Raiatea airport was simple, this one was astonishing. There’s a sort of roof and there might have been a counter somewhere. That’s it. There’s a little wharf where the open boats wait to carry people to their accommodation. Our host, Camille, soon had us aboard, fresh flower leis round our necks, and off across the lagoon to our motu and the Pension Le Kuriri.

This came as a bit of a shock after Raiatea. We expected ‘simple’ but hadn’t really appreciated that this would involve an open-air bathroom or a shared sitting-cum-dining room with only one solid(ish) wall and a floor made up of lumps of dead coral from the beach. The wiring arrangements in our hut would have given an inspector nightmares. Our hut was amongst the trees and after yesterday’s storm it was a bit muddy outside and damp within.

We had a stroll along the beach which was chock-a-block with shells, going as far as the pass, the one place a boat can get through the reef. The sea looked quite fierce there.

Camille and his wife Anne-Marie were charming and our fellow guests were pleasant and friendly. Dinner was a fish first course followed by a fish main course. Let’s just say Colin enjoyed the pud!

We were given a torch to find our way back to the hut where we dived under the mosquito net as quickly as possible.

22nd April – Maupiti

After our open-air breakfast we strolled with another couple from the resort along the beach in the opposite direction from yesterday, eventually coming to a wide stretch of sand where the water is deep enough for proper swimming. Here you can see the main island in the background.

Later Pat made a collection of the best shells and bits of coral from the beach. The collection will have to be whittled down before we go for its weight alone.

Most of the day was spent lolling about in the shade wherever we could find it and working on our anti-mosquito strategy. They are everywhere (especially in our cabin) and they are vicious.

23rd April – Maupiti II

A red hot day.

This morning Camille took us across to the main island where we hired bicycles to make a circuit. There wasn’t a lot to see, the usual houses hidden among the trees and flowering shrubs, several churches, two schools and a fire station. At the top end, however, there was a nice beach. It was all very picturesque. There was one point where the road went over a steep hill and we had to push the bikes. There were great views from up there, both of the mountain and the rest of our road

and of the lagoon.

We’ve never seen so many shades of blue.

We found the beach-side restaurant for lunch and Colin enjoyed his steak frites! Our table was shared with some local lads high on beer and ganja, one of whom regaled us with his theory that Maupiti is the origin not only of all human life but of the universe and everything in it. Well, we think that’s what he was saying.

We stopped at a couple of artisan shops and bought some odds and ends, then met Camille at the appointed time for our lift back. A cooling dip was called for.

A fellow guest had climbed the mountain on the island and managed to get himself lost. Camille had to alert the search and rescue people but he did eventually turn up, 11/2 hours late.

24th April – Maupiti III

The day dawned hot again, so we decided to spend it chilling out in the shady roofed platform overlooking the lagoon. – not least because Colin turned out to have been a bit sunburnt through his shirt! We were joined for some time by two small girls, aged 7 and 9 as they told us carefully in their best English. Their grandfather was doing some work on one of the buildings and they were left to amuse themselves. Not only did they speak a little of three languages (English, the French they are educated in and their own Polynesian), but they also knew exactly how to use Pat’s tablet. In no time they were watching a Disney clip on You-Tube!

Pat had her first taste of coconut water drunk through a straw from a hole in the top of a green coconut. She then did some snorkelling in the lagoon (there was a thin strip of brown coral to walk over first) and discovered that it was full of tiny fish of all colours. It was just like a giant aquarium.

That was not all that the lagoon contained, however. On a couple of occasions Colin saw small schools of tiny fish jumping together out of the water, and Camille explained later that they were probaby being chased by a small reef shark (harmless to humans).

The day had been growing increasingly windy so Camille closed one folding screen around the dining”room” before dinner. This is the first time we’ve had anything but the one fixed wall. When dinner was served, Colin was suddenly presented with a huge steak. Anne Marie had picked up that he wasn’t that keen on fish, and decided to give him a treat.

For the first time since we left Tahiti the night sky was clear, so we were able to get a good view of the stars.

25th April – Maupiti IV

We spent most of the morning on Camille’s boat, looking for manta rays. We only found one, but in the process came across several sting rays and several eagle rays. The latter had an amazing turn of speed, so we glimpsed then rather than watched them. Pat did a bit of snorkling from the boat, but a leaky mask soon drove her back.

The afternoon produced some heavy rain, so we kept under cover, read and wrote the blog.

26th April – To Tahiti

Our flight to Tahiti wasn’t until mid afternoon, so we had a wander along the beach to the end of the island in the morning, then chilled out until lunchtime. Pat realised too late that she had neglected to put on sunscreen. One hour in tropical sun meant one very sunburned chest.

The resort has a little tractor and trailer to transfer luggage from the bungalows to the quay. During the transfer the chain came off the tractor. Marie Anne was at a loss as to how to fix it, but Colin’s motorcycle chain knowledge came to the fore, and everyone was relieved not to have to carry the cases along the rough path.

The airport gradually filled up with people returning to Papeete from weekend visits to their families and with school children returning to the islands’ high school in Raiatea, the flight’s intermediate stop. The place was teeming with small children, many in pants, t-shirt and bare feet in spite of the rough coral pebble floor. Not many were flying, it just seemed to be a Sunday outing to see the plane off.

The flight was fine, and it was nice to be back nat Le Meridien in the land of few mosquitoes – and air conditioning! We had dinner in the posh on-site restaurant, sitting at the next table to a couple that had been wed there that day – covered in leis and garlands.

27th April – Tahiti

After checking out and leaving our baggage in store, we lolled and read in steamer chairs overlooking the lagoon until early afternoon, idly watching the bathers and kayakers. The water emptied out around 12 and suddenly there was a loud splash and we saw a reef shark chasing the little fish close in to the shore.

At 2pm we took the hotel’s shuttle into Papeete for a couple of hours. Colin, having had no lunch, couldn’t resist a local chicken-frites baguette – well he does like to support local customs. (We feel this is a dish that would transfer well to the North East!) Pat used up most of the remaining francs on souvenirs and presents.

We watched the sun set over Moorea, then had a last dinner at the hotel. We made use of its transit lounge to shower prior to being picked up for our late evening flight to LA.

28th April – To Santa Monica

With the change in time zones it was late morning when we landed in LA. We took a Supershuttle to the Viceroy Hotel in Santa Monica, and spent the afternoon wandering along Santa Monica beach to the pier.

Colin had his first ever chilli dog, then we watched skateboarders trying, and failing, impossible feats for a film crew. What a nice, friendly place Santa Monica is. Confirmed when we had dinner at Rusty’s on the pier – salad for Pat, clam chowder for Colin and white zinfandel for both of us.

29th April – Santa Monica and Home

The last day of our holiday! We decided to walk into town for breakfast, and Pat found just the place by the simple expedient of asking a local. Then we had a good wander through the large farmers’ market, occupying a couple of blocks, before making our way back to the hotel via the pier and beach, cameras in hand.

There was time to chill out over drinks by the hotel’s two pools until our SuperShuttle arrived to take us to the airport. The flight was uneventful, as was the connecting flight to Newcastle. A taxi-ride later and we were home.

A few days later

Having recovered from the jet-lag, we’ve been reflecting on our holiday, and how it matched, indeed generally exceeded, our expectations. High points? Learning about New Zealand’s history and ecology for Pat, chilling out at the Opoa Beach Hotel on Raiatea for Colin, and getting up close and personal with the dolphins at Kaikoura for both of us. Low point? Probably the 100+ bites we each picked up from Maupiti’s mosquitoes!