(6 -7th Feb.)

After the disappointment of missing out on Nuku Hiva everyone on board was looking forward to setting foot on Terra Firma and much of the talk was concerned with what people were going to do when/if we docked.

For once we didn’t arrive at breakfast time, this was a full day of cruising with the excitement of a sunset arrival. We passed its smaller sister island Moorea, just a few miles from the port and capital Papeete of Tahiti, a name that in my youth conjured up visions of the exotic. At first sight, Moorea looked spectacular, with sharp mountains thrusting up from sea level to dizzying heights, Tahiti in comparison certainly has the higher topography but certainly, its sister steals the show for wow factor. We eased into a very convenient berth close to the city and opposite a very classy, ultra-modern ship the Wind Spirit. It had three automatic sails and beautiful lines, I take my hat off to whoever designed this beauty.

By the time we had completed mooring and I guess the necessary paperwork, most of the passengers like us had taken an early evening meal and were eager to sample the delights of those alluring twinkling lights, visible from our perch high up through the restaurant windows. We joined a long line, down the gangway, along the quay and into the busy traffic of Papeete. It was sweltering hot.

Along with others we soon discovered Macdonald’s but were disappointed that the expected free WiFi didn’t exist here (memo to Ronald), it is the first duty of all hardened cruisers’ to seek out free WiFi whenever in port and this fast food chain is usually reliable. Sue and I set off to immerse ourselves in the Tahitian nightlife, but though the traffic was as good as a Saturday night on Oxford Street, the shops were shut, though the bars and restaurants were open. We did discover the pretty yellow Catholic Cathedral and on entering were pleased to discover that it wasn’t dripping with gold leaf but quite plain and simple. There were a few ‘down and outs’ fast asleep on the pews and with 25% unemployment on this island we were to discover many others asleep in doorways.

The Columbus had disgorged enough of its human content to swamp the local inhabitants in the bars and we joined them in a bar across a busy road from the berth of the Wind Spirit, lit up like a fairy castle. We took the opportunity of the WiFi and Sue chatted to Sarah and Charlotte on messenger. It was here that we had our first introduction to how expensive Tahiti is, three drinks cost $25. That appears to be the problem, they only attract 200 000 visitors a year compared to the Cook Islands’ 1 million, which apparently is much cheaper to visit.

The following day we had opted for an organised trip, fortunately, it took place in the morning during the coolest part of the day. Our West Coast Tour took us around the half of the island that attracted the least amount of annual rainfall at 1500cm, the other half gets deluged with 8m (yes, that was 8m!) and accounts for why that coast is riddled with ravines and does not possess any coral reefs as the surrounding sea is diluted with fresh water runoff from the mountains. Coral hates fresh water.

There is really only one proper road on the island and this follows the coast, the others branch like spokes on a wheel into the rugged interior. Ninety per cent live along this coast road, with most being close to Papeete. We went west with the first stop being at some caverns, once volcanic tunnels and now filled with water. Very pretty and lush, and refreshingly cool to stand in. Our next port of call was a very pretty and watery tropical garden. The many plants here attained a giant size and were festooned with equally large and colourful blooms.

We had a brief photo stop on one of the coral lagoons that appeared to be popular with surfers. I would have loved to have cooled off with a swim but that is the drawback of an organised tour, the time isn’t just yours. Our final stop before returning to Columbus was at one of the better preserved Marae. These are ancient ceremonial platforms that fell into disuse when Christianity arrived. They were also the location of cannibalistic practises. It was close to this location that the French painter Paul Gaugin lived. Though his house has long since disappeared, during his stays on the island not only did he paint over 70 canvasses, he spread his genes around quite liberally and many of the locals can trace their roots back to him.

Arriving back at the ship we had a late lunch and again ventured out into the city. It was very hot so the side of the street in shade was favoured. The local market was interesting, and as you would expect, full of fellow cruisers, some engaged in purchasing souvenirs of their visit to this Polynesian island. We finished off our afternoon with a walk through the gardens alongside the harbour. I ventured briefly into the water on a very small sand and rocky beach to cool off my feet.

We were keen to be back on board by 5pm to catch a show by a Tahitian dance troupe and what a show it turned out to be. Colourful, expressive, seductive, high energy and brilliant. If they had done two shows I would have watched them both. If they were reasonably priced I would have had a private performance, but then again this is Tahiti and nothing comes cheap.

We sailed at 8pm for our next destination, Bora Bora.

What do I think of Tahiti? They say it is paradise, but to achieve that accolade it is my opinion that the locals will have to drive on the opposite side of the road and speak English. It would help if it was 5 degrees cooler and it rained (a lot) less. Then perhaps it could be paradise, but it is my experience that there are a lot of contenders for that title. The people are friendly (very little crime), and the women can’t half shake their hips, making those grass skirts dance in such a seductive way. I think I know what Sue may be getting for next year’s Christmas present.

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