A Final Few Days in Tahiti
An insistant long lost friend invites us to their home.
May 5, 2007 Return Home
Came home a few days early. A long but fulfilling journey to the many corners of French Polynesia.
A Final Few Days in Tahiti
An insistant long lost friend invites us to their home.
May 5, 2007 Return Home
Came home a few days early. A long but fulfilling journey to the many corners of French Polynesia.
Part 7: April 21 – 30, 2007 – Rangiroa and Tikehau
10 Days in the Tuamotu Islands
April 20 – 27, 2007: Rangiroa: Tuamotu Islands
The friendly town of Tiputa
April 27 – 30, 2007: Takarava, Tuamotu Islands
Relaxing in the Pearl Beach Resort Overwater Bungalows
Part 6: April 14 – 20, 2007 – The Aranui 3
Voyage on the Aranui 3 to the Marquesas – Week 2
Day 8: April 14 – Hiva Oa: Puamau and Hanaiapa
Our arrival in Hiva Oa was as beautiful as ever. Although the mountains were not towering over us in this little harbour, there was one unique feature in the pointed rock that jutted out of the water about one third of the distance across the entrance to the harbour. This pillar stood alone in the water behind where the Aranui was anchored by the time we woke up in the morning.
The true adventure however started when it came time for us to disembark the whaleboats when we arrived on shore. It was perhaps the most trecharous landing so far as the boat bounced against the concrete landing amid 4 foot ocean swells. Old and young disembarked from the boat with the skilled help of the sailors that were in charge of assuring we made it on land safely. It was especially exciting for us as parents to see the boat drifting up and down as one sailor on the boat passed our youngest children to another on land. But we were also rather distracted with making sure all of our other children were safe as they made their way to the disembarking gate on the boat. Our older children enjoyed the challenge of stepping off the boat at the right second to safety on shore.
Where we landed there was an extremely narrow and steep road that mounted slightly before leveling off towards the village and along the waterfront. Those who chose to do so were able to walk 40 minutes to an archaeological site just outside of the village. With our children however, we chose the easy alternative by taking the 4×4 jeeps that were provided along the paved streets to the Iipona archaeological site. This site is said to be one of the best precontact Marquesian historical sites with the largest Tiki at over 6 feet tall.
It was overcast as we drove the six kilometres to the site, a break from the brief drizzle that rained down on the whaleboat before us. Armed with a plastic bag holding our camera equipment we were fortunately the first vehicle to arrive at the site. As we arrived the first of the hikers who had a head start were not far behind. I jumped out of the vehicle to grab a few photos before the rest of the 120 passengers arrived. I only had about one minutes before my few moments of photo taking were limited to shots of individual artifacts and tikis due to the flood of passengers which were arriving on the site from the Aranui.
The boat passengers where shortly divided into three groups in order to accommodate for a 30 minute lecture on the history of this archaeological site. Due to past experience, I opted to listen to the historical presentation given by the French historian Didier who has been with the Aranui for many years. My experience has shown that the other lecturers are not that well versed on the depth of knowledge that Didier had to share and so my family listened to the condensed 10 minute version given by Vai in English while I had the opportunity to have a detailed and intellectual account in French.
This site was created by a Marquesian tribe called the Nike who were constanly at war with the neighbouring tribes (wars consisted of the death of two or three warriors before being brought to a close until the next one). These people were very powerful and always successful in their wars. After they captured and ate a neighbouring chief following one battle, multiple neighbouring tribes chased them away and the prominent people left on canoes for other islands.
The uniqe thing about this site was the relatively large Tiki statues that we saw here. The largest one in the Marquesas islands was located here and is over 6 feet tall. It was amazing to see the amount of work that these people put into carving the stones that represented and immortalized their ancestors.
As we were finishing up, it began to pour down with rain. At first a warning shower which quickly cleared up and then a 10 minute downpour. The man selling his carvings at this site quickly packed up his things and headed for home while the rest of us without raincoats ran for a small overhanging shelter that was part of the entrance sign. By the time we reached this place however we were all very soaked as the tree we were initially standing under did not offer any refuge from the rains.
After waiting a few minutes the rains calmed down enough for us to slide the children into the second row seats of one of the pickup truck taxi’s. We however hopped into the back of the truck for a rather wet ride to the location of Tohua Pehe Kua, the valley’s last chief and queen’s gravesite. There wasn’t too much exciting going on at this location which was also conveniently a Pension’s back yard. They also sold honey, fruits and other products for the many tourists crammed under a small little shelter. My kids were more interested in the four week old piglet that was tied to a post in the back yard than anything else. The little tiny pig although on someone’s dinner menu of the future, was more of an attraction to play with for my children (especially my 4 year old son).
After a short stop we were all rather anxious to be getting back to the boat and into some warm dry clothes. Although it does not seem to get cold in the Marquesas, I was beginning to feel on the verge with my wet clothes. About a kilometre from where the whaleboats were picking us up, my two oldest children wanted to get out of the truck with some of the other passengers and hike back on foot. It was a nice flat trip for them most of the way and was a great chance to stretch out the legs before the rough boat ride back to the Aranui. My 11 year old son was all for running the all the way back while my 12 year old daughter just walked with some young 8 year old girls and their parents.
Our second stop for the day was in a sleepy little town called Hanaiapa. This was probably the first village I saw that did not have the main centre of town along the seashore. The only people I saw along the shore as we arrived was a young family who were having a picknic together with their three children along the edge of the ocean and a group of three boys who were jumping into the waves with their short surf boards. I guess even here in the Marquesas surfing is as much a sport as anywhere else. Although the waves in this semi-sheltered bay were not gigantic, they gave a good 10 second ride to the young surfers who would ride them as far as they could. It entertained them for hours.
The road to this little village was a small dirt road, the first dirt road from a pier that I had seen. Trees lined the road with yellow flowers that were falling off and spread out all over the ground. The road turned abruptly inland about three quarters of a kilometer from the pier when we reached a stream that emptied into the ocean. The stream was lined with a beautiful rock wall and nearby there were some polynesian canoes sitting up on land.
As we turned up the path you could hear the sound of the stream as it flowed alongside the dirt path which soon turned into a paved road as we neared the town. It is here where I saw a Marquesian man riding his horse back home near the end of the day. The occassional homes were to the side of the road as we approached the tiny village. Flowering shrubs and plants dotted the sides of the road with Hibiscus and other flowers. At least a kilometre inland we found what seemed to be the centre of town. Homes were a little closer together here and to the side of the road looked like a small community building where people had set up to display their handicrafts. This building and the small little church that you could hardly see from the main road were the only indication that there was even a town here. Otherwise it would have just looked like a countryside road.
Some intricately drawn tapa paintings were found here along with a brisk business of selling coconuts with a convenient straw stuck into it. I saw even local Marquesians shelling out the 150 CPF for a drink from a coconut and then they would break their “glass” and eat the fresh coconut itself. It was a small and relaxing little town. Not much happening and it seemed as if not even a single shipment from the Aranui was destined for this little town as nobody was waiting for their cargo at the pier.
Day 9: April 15 – Tahuata: Hapatoni (Archaeology)
This morning we arose early for church services in the small town of Hapatoni on Tahuata. This little town only three years ago was opened up to the rest of the island when it received access via a small road. As a result the first cars in this village only appeared around that time. It is a very much traditional island that has kept its friendly traditions and old way of life.
My 8 year old son Dailin, this morning was rather sick and throwing up from midnight until we left and so we left him behind with my wife who was taking care of him (he had food poisoning from something he ate on the boat the day before). As my four children and I arrived on shore, we were greeted by three warm and friendly ladies who sang out to us in Marquesian a song of greeting and presented each of us with a crown of woven greenery as they placed them on our heads. Each of the children were happy to receive one except for my four year old who didn’t recognize these strangers. He embarassingly threw his on the ground while Alyssa scooped it up and held onto it until he warmed up a bit and placed it on his head for a photo.
When we asked the local residents of the village what churches held services in the town, there was only one. For a town of 100 people everyone wanting to go to church went to the stone Catholic Church. One gentleman I spoke to said, oh yes there are Protestants here too but they go to the Catholic church, there is no other choice. Our church was not present in this village and so we followed the steady stream of visitors that had come with us on the first whaleboat to the little church in the village. There were two rock walls that contained a path which lead to a field in front of the church. When we arrived all the local villagers waited outside as a father and his boys beat a drum outside by the bell calling all who wanted to worship to the church. After a short break they would beat their drum again until one final time when the church bell was rung by pulling the rope and the drums beat along with the bell. When the bell was rung all the parishoners sitting outside came in to join all of the visitors who were already seated. A mat was placed in front of the front pew and all of the local village children seated themselves here.
The harmony of the songs that were sung and the energy with which they were sung was breathtaking. Each person seemed to sing as if from their heart and even the children belted out the songs with all of their might. The music in that church was harmonious and heartfelt.
After the church services we wandered back to the boat where we spent the rest of the day relaxing. I stayed behind to take care of my son who shortly thereafter was well again (food poinsoning only lasts 12 hours). Orin and Eli wanted to stay out of the sun and so they stayed with me. It wasn’t until about 11:45 AM (45 minutes after the last boat to shore) that I realized Alyssa and Jaeden had been so busy reading or daydreaming that they too missed the day on land with their mom. So we all ate onboard and had an extremely relaxing day.
We were a bit sad to have missed the meal in the village and the friendly Marquesians who hosted a dance performance. The people here were so friendly and hospitable. Their smiles were warm and one could tell they were genuinely happy to have visitors on their island. We were told that this little community will not accept any small amount of money from the Aranui 3 company to provide the greetings and local fruits that they generously offer. They want to provide this from their hearts and in gratitude for the souveniers passengers buy from their local artisans. Although the Aranui only stopped here three times last year, it is now on the itinerary for the entire year in 2007. A great choice.
Day 10: April 16 – Ua Huka: Vaipaee, Hokatu and Hane (4×4 Jeep & Horseback Riding)
Our entire day in Ua Huka was spent on shore with the Aranui 3 dropping us off in Vaipaee and picking us up in Hane’s Bay. It was a long yet different experience on this horse filled barren island.
The excitement of the day started very early in the morning. We headed off around 4 or 5 am from where we had been anchored and left for Vaipaee. What is most interesting about Vaipaee is that there are sheer cliffs on both sides of the bay, not much wider that the length of the Aranui from bow to stern. We arrived around 6 AM and it was at this time in the morning that the crew of the boat did what I would imagine to be their most challenging manouver. As they approach this harbour, they drop their anchor facing directly into the narrow harbour. They then proceed to spin the boat 180 degrees in the narrow channel so that the front and rear of the boat are within what seems like 150 feet of the two rock walls while at the 90 degree mark. They continue to spin the boat and dispatch two whaleboats to pull a rope to the shores on either side. The boats then tie up the Aranui to the sides of the canyon so as to keep it stable and prevent it from turning any further. With the anchor down in the back and the two ropes acting as guywires the boat is firmly in position to unload and load its cargo (as well as passengers). In this type of position however nobody except the cargo barges would be able to get into or out of the harbour. I saw a sailboat floating further inland of the shore and there was no way for this boat to exit the harbour even if it wanted too.
I could have been fooled into being told that I was in some Mexican Village when I saw the landscape and topography of this small island. There are only about 600 people on this entire island, much less than the number of horses which graze wild everywhere you look. As with many other islands in the Marquesas, horses are still used quite regularly but they are starting to be replaced with the ever popular pickup trucks that are being brought to the islands. After all they can carry a lot more cargo at a time. It is in this same manner that modern conveniences are starting to replace traditional ways in these islands. It is hard to believe that the first vehicles didn’t arrive until the early 1970’s and the first electrical power didn’t arrive until the late 1980’s along with its numerous conveniences.
At the quay people were busting about preparing to drop off or pick up shipments with the Aranui in town. Some locals were also making a brisk business of selling food to other locals that perhaps did not eat breakfast or had not brought a lunch with them. It looked like this was the place to be this morning. Apart from the 2 people on our boat who were visiting this island on horseback, everyone else piled into the numerous flower decorated pickup trucks that lined the quay to Vaipaee. These trucks whisked us off to the main town hall where a group of “Mama’s” from the village prepared a short two song music and dance presentation for us. Our driver was the town’s gendarme (policeman), one of only two on this island of 580 people. Outside the town hall we saw one of only two dance performances so far during our trip, presented by adults. Most of the rest have all been performed by young children. In this town however, they didn’t have a holiday from school with the Aranui in town like other villages.
Following the performance we received a tour of the local museum where original and recreated pieces of old life, carvings and architecture are on display. They displayed everything from hand carved Marquesian stilts to a miniature homestead, fishing hooks, tikis and shells. Considering the small size of the museum it was amazing to see how many artifacts they crammed into this tiny space. It was by far the most comprehensive and best museum I have seen in the Marquesas.
After a bit of time for buying the usual handicrafts from the village handicraft centre, we headed off for our next stop at the Marquesas’ only botanical gardens or rather arboretum (as everything relates to different types of trees). This arboretum has trees from around the world that all grow well in the Marquesas. On display is everything from roseapples, pamplemousse, starfruit and bamboo to mangos, lemons and banyan trees. It was a relaxing walk but there were tons of mosquitos to keep us moving from shade tree to shade tree in the hot sun of the day. The high deet content of the bug spray helped a little bit but these mosquitos must have been desperate for some fresh blood as they still managed to leave their mark.
The next part of the trip was my favorite of the day. Our family drove in the back of the same pickup truck through Hane to the town of Hokatu. The stretch of coastline between the island’s airport and Hokatu was the most breathtaking. To the one side were steep mountainous terrain that rose high into the hills above us and dotted with horses. To the other side of the main road that zigzagged along (which in parts was one lane) were sheer drop off cliffs that overlooked the deep blue waters in the rough rocky shores below. Waves crashing up against the shoreline and the beautiful cliffs made for an excellent viewpoint as we paused for a moment looking down. Jaeden and Alyssa were happy to be riding in the back of the pickup truck as they wound around this stretch of road that wound around harbours and little villages. From their vantage point they could see unobstructed views of the scenery, and travel in the same manner as half of the local population. The roads are small and weave around thus not allowing for great speeds to be achieved while driving. I asked our policeman driver how his job on the island was, and he told me it is a very tranquil and quiet island.
We drove through Hane and on to Hokatau. We were told that the Aranui 3 does this every second trip to give both communities and equal opportunity to sell their handicrafts. Hokatau would complain that when passengers when there second, they had already purchased the handicrafts they wanted and not buy more. As a result each village takes its turn at being the second one visited. In my opinion however Hokatau’s handicraft centre was the most comprehensive and well stocked that I have seen since arriving in the Marquesas. Where Hane had a few items, Hokatau had shelves filled with wood carvings of all types. Both detailed and basic carvings were found here of manta rays, drums, masks, tikis, hair piks, bowls and platters. It was by far the best selection of wooden handicrafts that I had seen. Even after dozens of handicrafts were purchased by the over 100 people from our ship, it hardly made a dent in the heavily stocked shelves.
While we were selecting a drum to purchase, we asked a local boy on the other side of an open window if he could play a bit for us so that we could listen to the sound of the instrument. He directed us to an old man peeking through the next window over. From the other side of the window this old man played a little bit on the two drums for us to compare the deep tapping sounds. The young boy then told us that the older man was the artist that had actually carved the drums that were for sale. It was interesting to see the people that were gathered round the handicraft centre to see what would be purchased from the local townspeople.
For lunch we headed back to Hane where we ate at Chez Celine Fournier. Once again the feast was diverse and based on local foods of the area including rice, raw fish, curried goat and ground oven cooked bananas and pork.
From here our group split up into two. Those of us who wanted to take a 40 minute (each way) hike into the mountains to a viewpoint headed off inland while everyone else headed back by foot to the village. My wife took the older two children Alyssa and Jaeden on the hike while I took Dailin and Orin on the fifteen minute walk back to shore. They were a bit too exhausted from the sun to be wanting to spend much more time walking. Eli had stayed on the boat with the person that handles children’s activities as the day was a bit too long on shore and we didn’t want him to be attacked by the Mosquitos we were avoiding at the gardens. Dailin who didn’t bring any swim clothes headed back to the boat while Orin and I had a quick 30 minute swim in the small rolling waves of the bay. It was a thick black sand beach which on shore was so thick that your feet would sink into the wet sand. In the water some debris and pebbles would wash up and down with the waves but were not bothersome at all. It was a refreshing end to the day.
Getting onto the boat hear was the most adventurous yet. It was a wet landing and when cargo was brought on and off the whaleboats men were wading into the water grabbing their goods and walking out of the water amid the waves that were rolling in. When it came time to get on the boat, the sailors would pick up the children and put them in the boat because the boats had simply landed on the beach. There was no dock in this little town and so even the elderly people in our group had to be carried onto the boat. It was quite a sight to see some of the crew trying to hold the boat while others were attempting to load the boat with passengers. Those holding the boat were trying to make sure the boat was not beached while at the same time trying to make sure that it was not too far from shore.
Everyone was onboard by 4:30 in the evening, ready for a boat ride past “Bird Islands”. They are two little island motus that are not far from shore where the airport is located. In twenty minutes we were passing by this island that had litterally thousands and thousands of birds. For the small size of the island it was almost deafening to hear the birds on this flat treeless island flying around in swarms. From quite a distance we could hear the birds but it was hard to see them until we approached very close to the island. It was if they all rose up off the island as we sailed past and it was amazing that these thousands of birds in such a small area could fly around and not crash into each other. There were so many that it looked like a swarm of bats darting around in all directions. I along with each of my children and the other passengers absolutely enjoyed this short diversional activity.
Day 11: April 17 – Nuku Hiva: Hatiheu (archaeology, traditional Marquesian dancing and petroglyphs)
We returned back again to the island of Nuku Hiva but this time to a town along the northern coast. Hatiheu was once again a small town but on the Marquesian island with the most infrastructure. This was also the first and only town we encountered that had a dirt road throughout the town. Most villages until now at least had a paved section through the downtown area, but in Hatiheu time seemed to stand still, at least a little bit longer.
Our four year old Eli, asked me once again if he could stay on the the boat while the rest of us went on our shore excursion. He was getting a bit tired of trotting off in the sun and wanted the predictable routine that was offered by the kindhearted Mila who handled the kids activities on the boat. Given that we were going into the mountain and that the risk of Nono’s and Mosquito’s is high on Nuku Hiva we decided it would be best for him to stay on the boat as much as we wanted him to join us. As a result after our usual buffet breakfast we said goodbye and parted on one of the last whaleboats that took us to shore.
My wife Kirsten, Alyssa, Jaeden, Dailin and Orin joined me for our day in Hatiheu. We hopped into and in the back of one of the pickup trucks that shuttled passengers around. My wife jumped out in the village with Alyssa and Jaeden who wanted to have a look at souvenirs that were being sold by vendors at the side of the road. I however continued on with the younger two to the tohua (ancient Marquesian gathering place) where we were to learn about the ancient uses of this site.
Just outside this historical site we saw two men working amid their coconut trees, husking and peeling coconut from their shells. While one man collected coconuts from the fallen trees, the other sat next to a pile of coconuts. With one swipe of his machete he grabbed a coconut from the pile and within seconds had it husked and the interior of the coconut in large chunks on the ground. From where he sat he would throw the coconut shell twenty feet into a fire that was burning in front of him. The entire fire consisted of burnt or half burnt coconut shells. These men were in the process of making copra. From here they would lay the coconut in the sun for two weeks in its final preparation to be exported and turned into oils. People from these islands go through the hard labour still of shelling coconuts for copra. Although they made it look easy, it is still very labour intensive compared to collecting noni fruit and placing them in a barrel for export as a medicinal cure-all.
After waiting at this archaeological site called Hikokua for about half an hour for everyone to arrive on foot (including the rest of my family), the first part of our afternoon entertainment and education got underway. Three local men came and presented the “pig dance” which consists of a dance that immitates the ever so popular pigs of the island that are well respected. This dance included jumping around hunched over while making deep hoarse noises that sounded much like that of a pig. I’ve been told that after singing like that for twenty minutes, one’s voice is gone for the rest of the day. Our children enjoyed watching this spectacle that was located in the same place where similar performances were conducted in years gone by. The performance was conducted in this gathering place that was flanked by raised stone platforms on three sides, areas where spectators in the past would also watch from. To one side was a rock where solo ceremonial dances where performed while at the far end we had a view of the spike like mountains that greeted us as we entered into the harbour. It was a beautiful sunny place to spend an hour learning about Marquesian culture and history.
We continued up into the mountains to the second and third adjoining sites of Kamuihei and Tahakia. Although these site were not totally cleared from trees as the first site, it was a more authentic recreation of the shady meeting places and performance areas of the traditional Marquesian settlements. Whereas the first site was cleared and restored by local villagers, these sites was restored nine years ago under the supervision of Archaeologist Pierre Ottino whom we had also met restoring a site on Ua Pou the week before. What was so impressive about these sites were the sheer magnitude of their sizes and numbers of areas. Also impressive was the massive 600 year old pandanas tree that seemed to hover over the entire area with its massive multi rooted trunk and stretched out canopy. I have truely never seen anything like it. It was great to know that this site was restored in 1998 in preparation for the Marquesian festival that brings together people from all around these islands. A great excuse to pull together the ancient history of the area with the present.
After viewing the big pits in this area that had once contained taboo objects and bones, we caught a ride down the mountain to the town spokesman or mayor’s restaurant called “Chez Yvonne”. This lady is a traditional woman who directs the town well. She works to mantain the culture and history of the area including the opposition of constructing a road to the nearby bay and settlement of Anaho. The meal too was very traditional. It all started with the unveiling of the three pigs and breadfruit that had been cooking since 3 AM in the Marquesian underground oven. We were then treated to a 4 course feast for lunch that started with a seafood platter, lobsters, the pig and then a tapioca coconut desert. By the time we were all done we couldn’t eat another bite and were thoroughly impressed by this remarkable lunch.
The final part of our afternoon we opted to skip the 40 minute hike to the Anaho saddle viewpoint. We decided that we would just have a swim in the waves of this bay’s black sand beach that were big enough to make a parent nervous and at the same time strike excitement into the hearts of our children. Smaller two foot waves would break followed by a series of three to five foot crushers. While Alyssa, Jaeden and Dailin enjoyed being pounded by the larger waves a little further out where it was usually waist to shoulder deep, Orin and another girl his age from France who he met on the boat played closer to shore where the waves swirled around them and would have swept them away had I not been there to lift them over the waves and hold them by me. This is probably the most fun our children have had in the water since arriving in French Polynesia.
Although the Marquesas islands are not known for their beaches like the crystal blue waters and white beaches of other French Polynesian islands, the few beaches that are here can be exciting if you avoid the strong currents and know where to swim. What makes these beaches perhaps more rough is the fact that the Marquesas islands are not surrounded by reefs like the other islands and so they are open to the elements of the waves of the Pacific Ocean. As time went on however we could see that the kids probably would never want to leave this slightly dangerous beach so we packed up with the promise that we would do some more swimming in the Aranui’s onboard swimming pool. Although not as exciting it did work and get the kids out of the sun for that afternoon.
Day 12: April 18 – Nuku Hiva and Ua Pou Islands: Taiohae and Hakahau
We returned to two main islands and two main cities that we had already seen before. Our cargo ship, the Aranui 3, returns to the bigger islands where it offloads most of its cargo so that it can collect the large shipping containers that they left behind when we first arrived to those cities. With the cargo ship now mostly empty with the exception of the fruits, copra and noni we were bringing back to Papeete, the ship likes to pick up the containers it will need for the next boatload of items it will bring back to the islands in another few weeks. The Aranui makes 13 trips per year to the Marquesas and they need most every bit of space in its cargo area to transport the goods to the islands.
We first stopped in Taiohae on Nuku Hiva for a short two hour stay. Although a short stop we had enough time to take our oldest four children on shore where a le truc schoolbus shuttled us into town where I headed to an internet cafe (to update my photos and blog). This was not entirely exciting for our children so when I was done 45 minutes later we walked around the waterfront of the village before stopping for an icecream treat at a little corner-store. Taiohae is the most developed city in the Marquesas and was a bustling town by Marquesian standards. Although there will not be any traffic congestion in the near future and horses are still used as a mode of transportation, it is nonetheless a busy little town which had at least a dozen or more sailboats in its harbour. For yaughtees coming accross the Pacific Ocean from the Galapagos and Mexico, it is the first port of entry in a month long voyage across the ocean, a place where people tend to spend a bit of time celebrating being back on land again.
We set off around 9:45 in the morning to spend the afternoon on board and arrived around 1:00 PM in the first town we visited of Hakahau in Ua Pou. No sooner had we arrived on the island did Isadore, our taxi driver from eight days earlier, have someone search us out in the dining room. He had come to deliver the promised flower stones our children had so desperately searched for on the beach but not found. He also delivered two cd’s of his music. One CD’s was of him and his two brothers while the other was of him and his two teenage children. It was a pleasant surprise to see him on the boat again delivering the promised items he had offered before. Within no time however this sole taxi driver of the island was off again driving passengers from our ship around the island.
In this little town we took all five of our children on shore to get any last minute souvenirs and presents. We returned to a small little souvenir stand that was above the beach and on the other side of a paved road (behind the beachfront thatched roof souvenir shops). My wife had picked up some reasonally priced souvenirs the week before and so she was happy to return again. Here we found perhaps the most affordable carved necklaces on the islands and even our 4 year old Eli, was happy to finally get a souvenir bone necklace of his own. The lady at the stand was also happy to resize his necklace to fit.
While the children went beachcombing I headed off to the bank to withdraw some money that we would be needing while on the Tuamotu islands. While Rangiroa would have a bank machine, the next island of Tikehau would not and so I needed to get enough cash due to the daily and weekly withdrawal limits on my bank card. The bank was not far away however and so I still had some time to play with my children at the beach and watch my son work on his drawing. He had once again seen the elderly gentleman from France working on drawing a scene of the thatched roof vendor’s area and sat down beside him to work on drawing the same thing. By the time the rest of our family was ready to go Jaeden stayed to work on his picture along this master artist.
By 3:45 PM our ship was leaving the Marquesas islands for the last time. From beside the swimming pool of the Aranui 3 we looked out at the mountain peaks to say goodbye to these awe inspiring islands. Each little corner of its culture and history had taught us about one of the most remote and unique places in the world. It has been a true delight for us to explore these islands together as a family on a cargo cruise vessel. A delightful experience not one of us will forget. With another two days before we arrive in our last stop of Rangiroa of the Tuamotu islands, we will have a bit of time to take it all in before starting the final leg of our French Polynesian adventure, that of the Tuamotu islands.
Day 13: April 19 – At Sea
You may think that a day at sea may be a bit boring but it was a well needed break from being on the go every day. While the shore excursions were interesting and educational, after 9 straight days of being on the go, I was ready for a bit of a break. Even with the small “break” from being on shore there was plenty to do. The children as always wanted to make sure to spend some time in the swimming pool. As we were at sea, the pool was back to sloshing around like a bowl of jello. It was exciting for the kids to get in the freshwater and be jostled around in the pool to cool off.
The kids’ activity co-ordinator Mila, had plenty planned for our children as well. As we were to leave the ship a day early, this was going to be our last full day on the ship. Traditionally on the Aranui, passengers can invite the crew to eat with them in the dining room during the last two days. We decided to invite the four people that served our children in the dining room as well as Mila, to the early kids lunch. Our children all wanted to say goodbye to their newly made friends on the ship along with the other four little French girls they had met on the ship. Upon hearing about this, the other two sets of parents asked to join in. Due to the number of extra people however the cook refused to make that many extra meals one hour earlier than normal. He was not as impressed with the idea as the rest of us. We were all a bit dissappointed but when pushing a little further, Mila, after a request from our family, was able to convince the Staff chef, to make the meal for us.
At this point the meal was just for our family and the staff because the food was all traditional Marquesian or Tahitian food. It included the standard foods such as raw fish cooked in lime juice, cooked bananas, breadfruit and fried fish. Upon my request we also ate the meal in the traditional way… with our fingers. This however took a bit of reminding amongst the staff as some of them too, are much in the habit of using utensils. It was the first Tahitian meal where we were able to eat with our hands and I wasn’t going to turn that opportunity down. Too many times a Tahitian meal includes at least one non-Tahitian component which is excuse enough to use utensils when eating.
As we all got together to eat, the staff members had all placed a wrapped package on the plate of each member of our family. The children were as excited as always to open it up. Inside they each discovered some little treasure to remember our vacation on the Aranui. Each child along with my wife and I, were each presented with an Aranui t-shirt except for Eli who received a pair of shoes that had red and green lights in them that lit up when he walked. Eli was especially excited to try out his new shoes and seemed to zip around non-stop during the rest of the meal. We were a bit surprised at all of this hoopla for our family and asked if it was normal procedure on the ship and we were informed that it only happens “rarely”, perhaps as rare as a family of 7 getting onto the Aranui (in the staff’s memory we were the first family on the ship with more than three children).
After enjoying our meal I spent much of the afternoon lazing around the outside deck in the sun for the first time (I had no energy to do the packing that needed to be done) while our children finished putting together the Marquesas journals. From the first day on the boat, Mila had each of the children adding things to their journals almost on a daily basis. Inside were the words to the songs they had danced to at the polynesian night, simple translated words in Tahitian, Marquesian, French and English as well as their own personal thoughts on the trip so far.
At 4 PM in the evening the man responsible for all of the cargo on the ship held a question and answer session in the lobbly. It was interesting to hear about this man’s 25 years of experience on the Aranui 1, 2 and 3. He talked about while there was over 2000 tons of cargo that we brought over to the Marquesas islands, less than 300 tons were being brought back in the form of copra and other fruits. This was quite evident as we plowed the open waters to the Marquesas Islands. Where water had once constantly sloshed up against the porthole window at the beginning of our voyage, our porthole was now a couple of feet above the waterline. We also learned that the ship had transported 22 vehicles on this trip and the most unique piece of cargo so far had been a helicopter. Finally about 8 cows and a horse were transported during the voyage from one of the Marquesian islands to another.
Our evening dinner was elaborate as ever. A delicious salad appetizer, followed by a beautiful fish dinner and a diet defying chocolate mousse desert. With two amazing deserts per day I was ready for a different diet (with both one regular chef and a pastery chef on board it illustrates the Aranui’s focus not only on the meals but also on the deserts). We said goodbye to new friends at this last dinner with a promise that we would say our last farewells at our beachside picnic on Rangiroa the following day.
Day 14: April 20 – Rangiroa: Tuamotu Islands
When we had asked Silvie, one of the guides, what time we had to disembark on this our last stop we were told 8:30 AM. This didn’t sit too well for us as it is not an easy thing to pack up for 7 people in three cabins and get a good night sleep at the same time. When we quietly complained to another staff member about having to have our bags packed by 8 AM and be off the boat a half hour later, we were told that other arrangements could be made. So we contacted the other guide Vai who was more than happy to accommodate our request for a 10:30 AM departure. This was all of the extra time we needed and sure made the day much more enjoyable after a good night sleep. Although Silvie was not impressed with our alternate arrangements, she bit her tongue and allowed us to follow the schedule we had made for ourselves.
Because the last barge had departed two hours earlier to take passengers to shore, they floated one again for us and all of our baggage as we said goodbye to the crew members that would not be on shore. Once on shore we had a place to store our bags while we enjoyed a bit of time swimming in Rangiroa’s lagoon and saying farewell to our fellow passengers. The on-shore picnic was great food from the ship and all of the regular ship staff including the servers and bartenders were there to do their job (although the servers had a bit more of a relaxing time since it was a buffet style paper-plate meal).
It was sad to say goodbye to everyone as our Pension came by to pick us up. I was almost sure our ride would leave without us as it took at least 15 minutes to round up the children and say bye to everyone. But they did wait. As we filled up the car with our luggage, our hostess Vai, asked another vehicle that had just arrived if they would take some of our family members in their van and to where we were going. She said, he’s my uncle so its not a problem. It saved us a lot of waiting because there was no way we were going to fit into the 5 passenger vehicle with our family of 7, all of our luggage and the driver. We waved goodbye to all of our friends and were off for another adventure in Rangiroa. We were leaving the Aranui one day early and sad to leave but excited for more experiences to come.
Part 5: April 7 – 13, 2007 – Voyage on the Aranui 3 to the Marquesas – Week 1
Day 1: April 7 – Depart Papeete
We had to wake up very early in the morning from Bora Bora (4:30 AM) in order to get to Papeete in time for the start of our trip to the Marquesas. Because we were to board the ship between 7:30 and 10 AM we scheduled ourselves to leave on the first 50 minute flight from Bora Bora at 7 AM. Since the airport in Bora Bora is on an island this meant the shuttle boat was to leave at 5:45 in the morning from the main town. Although the 20 minute shuttle didn’t really leave until 6 AM we had plenty of time to check in for our flight and purchase a few postcards at the airport gift shop.
We were met upon our arrival in Papeete by a friend who was kind enough to drive us to the bank and then to the Aranui 3 port. The Aranui 3 is a half cargo and half cruise ship that makes a number of 15 day voyages annually to deliver goods and bring passengers to the Marquesas Islands. The original Aranui that serviced the Marquesas Islands is almost 40 years old and has since been renamed. It doesn’t however handle long trips as it now only services areas around Papeete. The Aranui 2 was sold to a company in Africa where it is still in use today.
The Aranui 3 follows it predecessors in servicing the Marquesas Islands with the goods they need. The front half of the Aranui 3 can hold up to 4000 tons of cargo and is complete with two large cranes that can together load and unload up to 70 tons at a time. The main purpose of the ship is to transport cargo to the Marquesas Islands. Although it does tranport copra, noni and other goods back to Tahiti, for the most part, the ship simply carries 3000 tons of sea water back which simply helps balance the ship for the return voyage.
When we arrived at the cruise terminal it was amazing to see the cargo ship in action as it prepared itself for its voyage to the Marquesas Islands. Cargo was busily being loaded and prepared for the voyage with the use of the two large cranes on the front deck. Passengers loaded their bags onto a conveyor belt in the rear of the ship that wisked belongings up to an attendant on the main deck of the ship who then transported them to the rooms. On the cruise section of the vessel it can accommodate up to 180 passengers although on our particular voyage there is only about 110 cruise passengers due to us travelling in low season. Both the front half of the ship and the back half of the ship were both working simultaneously to prepare for the launch of the trip. Everyone seemed to be working smoothly to achieve their respective tasks essential for the voyage.
After checking on the boat we had a bit of time before a 10 AM welcome cocktail in the bar on one of the top decks of the ship. Our children were happy to sit down with some fresh Tahitian made Mango, Banana, Pineapple or Grapefruit Juice while other passengers enjoyed a Rum Punch. It was also at this time that we really started to enjoy the air conditioned boat. For so many weeks we have not been around air conditioning in the 28 to 34 degree celcius weather. It was the first time we were able to sit down and enjoy a nice cool place that was not in a vehicle or the reception room of a business office.
Our children were also anxious to walk around the ship and explore every room. The Aranui 3 is a freighter with cruise passengers and so it is not as large as other cruise vessels. It did not take long to explor the ship and see the facilities it offered.
Since our family has 5 children and 2 adults we had to take up three cabins on the ship. Most cabins only accommodate 2 people with a few that accomodate 3. The standard rooms consist of two single beds while the rooms that fit an additional person have a bunk that pulls down. As a result we were fortunate enough to get three cabins beside each other on the lower passenger deck.
Our cabins were located on the lower B deck of the ship. The only thing on this level apart from cabins is the exercise room and laundry room. It is also the deck that is just slightly above the waterline and so one can hear the splashing of water up against the side of the ship constantly. As the ship pulled out of Papeete it was impossible for our young 4 year old to take a much needed nap because he was too excited to see the water splashing up against the porthole window and to see the waves outside. For hours it looked like we were sitting inside of a washing machine looking out at the water from outside splashing up against the window. The children were absolutely mesmorized by the rolling waves that splashed up against the side of the ship and our window.
On the next A deck above are located more standard cabins along with the children’s video room / play room. Because of the configuration of the cabins on the ship, everyone is fortunate enough to get an ocean view room. The bottom two levels are portholes while the limited number of suites have larger windows or balconies.
The next deck of the ship houses the reception area, infirmary (doctor’s office) and Marquesian Library. The library at the front desk has a collection of books specific to the Marquesas Islands and people’s experiences to this part of the world. Books on Paul Gaugin, Herman Melville and others are standard.
Finally the next two decks are for the Restaurant and then the Lounge, Library and Swimming Pool. The swimming pool is a popular place for our children as they like to splash around in the fresh water. Within only a few hours of us lifting anchor the kids were determined to make the swimming pool their first stop. The swimming pool is very cleverly designed. It has tall sides to contain the splashing water as the ship rolls from side to side, forward and backwards. To one end of the pool there is an area within the pool that when the ship is still, is not more than a few puddles of water. But when the ship is moving around, this area transforms the entire pool into a wave pool as. The water sloshes out of the pool into this wading area and then tumbles back like a waterfall into the swimming pool as the water slides back. It is a constant motion while the ship is cruising along and extremely exciting for the children.
Our first day was fairly simple with a lunch that seemed more like a full on dinner, an orientation session and then another big meal for dinner. By the evening we were extremely exhaused and our children were begging to get some sleep. With the rolling action of the ship our 6 year old Orin fell asleep at the dinner table and our 8 year old Dailin decided that he would skip Dinner and head straight to bed. He wasn’t feeling too good. The rest of the kids along with Mom and Dad were quick to follow them for an early night sleep.
Day 2: April 8 – Fakarava, Tuamotu Islands
We arrived around 6:30 in the morning on the Aranui 3 to the atoll of Fakarava. We entered the Tuamotu Island’s second largest atoll through the largest 1 mile wide pass in the South Pacific. To our left we could see a thin continuous strip of land that went on for over 40 kilometers while on the other side we could see occassional patches of rock and a sparse unconnected ring of vegetation that completed the circular shape of the atoll.
Just prior to entering this Tuamotu island the seas began to be somewhat calmer and not as rough as we had experienced while in the open seas. The motion of the boat swayed less as I lay in bed waiting for our first stop in the Tuamotu Islands.
Being that it was Sunday, and particularly that it was Easter Sunday, we had decided that we would attend church services during our slightly less than 3 hour stop in Fakarava. The children all got dressed as we anticipated the events of the day. It didn’t take them long to eat their fresh fruit breakfast as they anxiously awaited our departure.
The Aranui had anchored about 800 feet from shore and so we were going to need to take a boat to get to land. One of the two large cranes that sit attop the cargo deck of the Aranui hoisted our bulky metal barge over the edge and gently dropped the massive vessel into the water adjacent to the ship. They placed this shuttle boat next to the metal steps that descended down along the side of the vessel around water level.
The sky was overcast with clouds and at times it looked like it may rain. But it didn’t rain and we were glad for that because the boat was open and did not have any shelter above it.
When it was time for us to disembark and before I know what was happening the crew members took our four and six year old children in their arms and descended down the steep curved steps that lead to the mini barge below. We followed quickly behind them. By the time he was halfway down the stair and my four year old saw that he was not in his mom or dad’s arms he started to cry with the fear of his life in his eyes. Under no circumstances did he want this gentle looking Polynesian man bringing him down to the boat alone. He was sure to make quite a fuss even after we all sat down on the boat together treating us as his parents as if we had deserted him.
The flat deck boat skimmed accross the water to a boat launch that was on shore. Two workers lowered the front end of the vessel with comealongs so that it created a ramp each of the 80 passengers could use to walk off the boat and onto the shore without even getting their feet wet. I felt spoiled coming on shore in such a rig and to be greeting by a half dozen trucks that seemed to be there to greet the biggest invasion of tourists they had seen in two weeks. As we disembarked we could hear the Tahitian drums nearby beating out their welcoming music.
We were however on our way to church and had been told that church services on the island started at 8 AM. One of the Aranui workers pointed out the small Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints chapel only a one minute walk from where we landed and so we quickly walked on since it was now a few minutes past eight. Fortunately it was still overcast and early in the morning. This meant that the sun did not beat down hard on us nor was the heat of the day unbearable on this flat island.
The island of Fakarava only has about 700 inhabitants that are spread out along the rim of the atoll. The little meeting house we found only a few houses down the main street was a picture perfect chapel that looked like an old schoolhouse. Upon entering the front gate we were greeted by the 4 or 5 people that were present. The podium was decorated with a band of fresh flowers with a tropical plant in the front. I was a bit surprised to see so few people wandering around and asked at what time the services started. I was informed that they started between 8:00 and 8:30. What I have come to understand as “Tahitian Time”.
Our five young children in their khaki pants, dress sandals and white shirts sat quietly in the portable plastic white deck chairs as we waited for the church service to start. In the next 20 minutes we didn’t see many more people but by 8:30 in the morning there were about 22 others gathered together in this now overflowing chapel. I had been told that other in the congregation were gone for the holidays to Papeete and so it was anyone’s guess how many people would be present.
The church service was a simple one with familiar hymns. Although the opening hymn was sung in both Tahitian and French, the rest of the songs were sung entirely in French. The final of the three sermons just glossed over me. Ninety percent of the sermon was in the Tahitian language with the occassional few sentences in French. My son next to me kept asking me to translate what I could, only to be dissappointed that even I did not understand what was being said. I myself was getting a fresh taste for what each of my children were going through as they struggled to get a grip on and a basic knowledge of the language. I felt a bit of a feeling of helplessness as I struggled to understand what was being said to everyone around me. The words we were all hearing were the same but each one of us undersood something different if anything at all.
Following the service we were bid farewell to the smiling faces with a handshake or kiss on each cheek as we left this small little meeting house. Many people thanked us for coming by and we left as quietly and quickly as we had come.
I continued to walk down the street about 5 minutes to where we had been told another Catholic church was. As I approached the church I could hear the energetic closing hymn of their service being belted out in a perfect almost gospel like harmony. Within a few minutes the song was wrapping up and people came pouring out of the building in their white clothes and with the ladies wearing their various styles of hats.
Bicycles lined the stone wall along the street side of the church and cars were parked all around on the side of the road. As people started to go their separate ways, some drove away in the backs of pickup trucks, some rode away on bicycles and many walked away on foot. Easter was obviously a very busy day of worship for this island church that was also across the street from the ocean.
I walked with my oldest son who was by now the only one of my children still with me. The rest of them had all headed back to where we had arrived on the island to listen to and watch the Tahitian songs and dance that were heard in the distance. By this time the sun had come out and was beating full force down on us and so as we walked we attempted to stay in the shade of the occassional trees as much as possible.
My son and I had decided that we wanted to see how wide this little atoll island really was so we found a small dirt road that lead inland. It only took us 3 to 4 minutes to discover the outside edge of the reef as we came over a small crest of a hill in the road where we peered out into the open ocean with its waves crashing onto the shores of the reef that was only 20 feet from shore. The choppy waves that rolled on shore on this side of the island were a sharp contrast to the peaceful waters that lay calm within the lagoon of the circular atoll.
While the inner waterline of the atoll mostly was home to rocky ledges and beaches, this outer edge of the atoll was mostly made up of large pieces of coral, rock and the occassional shell. My son waded out into the water and I had to quickly call him in before he reached the knee deep water that quickly led to the coral reef only a short distance out. He wasn’t too impressed but I have had bad experiences with friends being dragged along sharp coral after being hit by waves, not to mention we were warned against going into the waters on this side of the island during our orientation meeting the evening before.
As we walked back to where we would catch the boat back to our ship we noticed a dirt road that went along the back side of the island and a shorter inland road that paralelled both this road and the paved one that we had come in on. We opted to walk the centre road that lead back to where we had come from which was lined with small humble homes that were very basic but many of which were tastefully decorated with natural polynesian flowers and shrubs.
It was not hard to find our way back, not because there were not many roads, but also because of the Tahitian drums that we could hear again beating in the distance. As we approached the quay area we saw a number of young 8 to 14 year old Tahitian dancers that were all dressed up and had just wrapped up their performance. The local band however were still going strong, not on their drums but rather all strumming on their guitars and other string instruments as they sang. It was truely an enchanting rhythmic music of perfect harmony.
It finally came time for us to leave. As we put our life vests on we sat down for fifteen minutes waiting for our boat. As we did this a game of petanque (boules) was just getting underway behind us on the roughest surface of driveway-like gravel I had ever seen. Three local Tahitian men with their metal balls in one hand and cigarettes in the other were throwing the balls into the air to see who could get it closest to the cochon (big marble sized ball) about 30 feet away. They seemed to lance their balls with the greatest of ease and were enjoying their Sunday in the hot sun. It was entertaining to watch them interact with each other as they played on the most unpredictable of gravel surfaces with an amusing look on their faces. I’m sure a professional French player would have been appaled by the conditions of the natural court they were playing in but they didn’t seem to mind one bit.
As our deadline passed to leave we boarded our boat that would shuttle us back to the cruise / cargo ship. Once again the boat workers carried the little children up the stairs as we walked into the blast of cool air conditioned air that came from the front entrance of the vessel. We were all glad to get out of the hot sun of the day that had greeted us in Fakarava but sad to see this island for such a short amount of time.
As we lifted anchor and set off to exit the atoll island of the day, clouds gathered around the ship and we left in pouring rain without having even got wet during our stay. It was the perfect day and the perfect time to get off and walk around the main town of Fakarava, we only wished we could have stayed a little bit longer.
Day 3: April 9 – At Sea
Today was a day of relaxation and preparation. I had a great deal of time to type experiences from my small cabin with the waves crashing outside my window. The purr of the engine, splashing of the waves outside my porthole along with the rocking motion of the boat almost put me to sleep a number of times but I did manage to stay awake.
I did complete a token amount of exercise in the morning but not nearly enough to compensate for the three large meals I ate during the day. The food on the Aranui is absolutely incredible. Although there is a set menu, the staff have been extremely accommodating to alergy requests that we made prior to the trip for our youngest boy. They also have been great at preparing special meals that don’t contain certain foods we requested not to have for the rest of our family.
My only complaint with the food is that there is way too much. Breakfast is buffet style with fruit, pancakes, breads and cereal. The lunch and dinner always consist of a salad or other appetizer followed by a main course and then a much too tempting desert. My hope is that I don’t have to roll myself off of the ship when it is time to leave.
On our boat there are a total of 9 children, just over half of which are our children. According to one crew member we are the largest family they have see aboard the vessel. Two other French families (including the onboard Doctor) have two young 3 and 8 year old girls. The children seem to really be enjoying the onboard activities organized by the designated kids activity director. An early lunch (11 AM) and dinner (6:30 PM) has also been organized for the children so that they don’t have to wait until 7:30 PM to eat like the rest of the adults.
Being that it was Easter Monday, the children were able to color Easter eggs and to judge the adults Easter egg coloring contest. They also were kept busy playing games, swimming in the pool and watching an after dinner video. There seems to be plenty to keep the children busy and they are always excited to have something different to do.
Our first big orientation session was also held today to review the entire Marquesas portion of our itinerary. We were also advised to ignore the other itineraries that are frequently distributed as the exact itineraries change based on what cargo is being shipped along with the tide schedules. In Hiva Oa we have a long stop as we have to enter and exit the pass at high tide. During low tide the ship is only about 80 centimetres from the floor of the ocean where it anchors as it waits for a safe time to leave.
All excursions are included with the Cruise passage of the Aranui. With the exception of some optional scuba diving trips, museum admissions and horseback riding, the guided hikes, on land traditional meals and 4×4 excursions are all included. We are anxious to be heading for shore tomorrow early in the morning to catch our first glimpse of the Marquesas Islands.
Day 4: April 10 – Ua Pou: Hakahau and Hakahetau
Apart from two hours and 45 minutes on Fakarava we have finally completed three days at sea. Most of our family didn’t get sea-sick but for those who were feeling a bit shakey, we were pretty much over it after our first night’s sleep. The first day’s trip was the roughest seas so far and so that helped us all get our sea legs.
By 5:30 in the morning, we were pulling into the Ua Pou Harbour of Hakahau. It was a beautiful sight as we pulled into this fairly desolate island. The hills were covered in a low lying greenery. The mountain peaks were rounded on the sides of the harbour but directly in front of us in the centre, there were a dozen rock spires on the mountains in front of us. Many of these spires were covered in clouds as the clouds hung low and continually drifted past the tops of the mountain. It was an eerie but beautiful site.
In the protected harbour there were two sailboats anchored in the early morning as we pulled in to the cement dock to the side of the harbour to unload the precious cargo that the local residents were anxiously waiting for. The Aranui 3 dispatched two of their whaleboats to take ropes which helped secure the Aranui to the dock. Within a very short period of time the boat was ready to deliver its goods to the hundreds of residents who were anxiously waiting for items they had ordered.
Throughout the morning we saw at least 10 vehicles (mostly jeeps and 4×4’s) and dozens of containers hoisted off of the cargo ship with its massive cranes and depositing them on the shore. Over the course of a few hours pickup trucks, tractors and dump trucks came by to move the goods that were being left on the quay. One of the residents also notified us that the island’s supply of gasoline was quite low and so they were all waiting for the fuel that the Aranui always brought to their island.
We were free all morning to wander around the little village with its post office and bank to explore life on this little island. We decided that our family would rather do something a little different and so we asked the ladies selling handicrafts if there was anyone that could do a tour for us. We were told that there was only one person on the island of Ua Pou registered to take paying passengers and that was Isadore. I asked her how to get hold of him and then she pointed him out to me as he was just driving by in his king cab pickup truck (with long bench seats in the back).
I rushed over to speak to Isadore the island Taxi driver and asked him how much it would be to do a tour of the island to the beaches by Hohoi to search out some flowering stones. After agreeing upon a price, he said he would come back after going to the Aranui to pick something up. Well we waited half an hour and did not see him and got a little worried. Perhaps he had forgotten about me, my wife and our five children. We grew a bit tired of waiting around the handicraft centre and eventually told a person that knew Isadore that he would be able to find us walking the 5 minutes into town. After visiting the bank, we tried hitchhiking to Hohoi but were told that not many vehicles went that way and it was probably not a good idea (this was definately true). So we wandered around the village before heading back to the area we were to meet him at near the port but saw no sign of him. We thought that perhaps he had met another higher fare paying passenger and decided to take them instead and so I went looking for a nearby Guesthouse to see if they knew of anyone that could take us around the island.
Just as I reach the Pension Pukuee high up on the hill above the harbour, up drove Isadore with his white Nissan truck and my family inside ready to go on our journey. When I told him we had given up on him I soon discovered the reason for his tardiness. He had gone to the Aranui that day to pick up a brand new vehicle. He had sat watching as one car after another was pulled out from the cargo area of the vessel before his finally was pulled out. He had wanted to take my family on a drive around the island in his brand new vehicle as it was all enclosed and would enable us to avoid breathing in the dust from the dirt roads of the island. Isadore drove us to his home where his new car was being carefully washed by his wife in preparation for his first drive in the vehicle. It proved to be very handy indeed as it was comfortable with three rows of seats and air conditioning. He also informed us that it was only the second automatic transmission vehicle on the island of Ua Pou, something that was very evident by the way he lurched to a screeching halt as he was getting used to driving the new vehicle. After about an hour-long drive he seemed to be starting to get the hang of it. It also took him a few minutes to figure out thow to go in reverse with the automatic transmission vehicle, but he managed to get the hang of it.
The drive to Hohoi took about an hour from Hakahau. The dirt road was extremely rough with large loose rocks all over the road. It is a road that is best driven by someone who knows the area very well. Driving down the road I kept thinking that we were going to pop a tire. As we passed through some of the valleys we drove through stream beds that intercepted the road, we saw Isadore’s brother-in-law’s new mango plantation as well as banana stalks that lined the road. The road led us up through two mountain passes where we had panoramic views of the bays and spike topped mountains. It was an amazing view on this East side of the island. Ua Poe itself is very dry and dusty. Even the brown sandy beach by where we landed in Hakahau is more of a dirty sand that is powdery and sticks to you. Here on the east side of the island it seemed to be covered in a bit more vegetation and greenery, but definately not lush tropical jungles.
The valley where Hohoi is located only has about 80 inhabitants (100 when the school children come home from Hakahau for the weekend). The valley we were going to see is to be the host city for the upcoming 2007 Marquesas Festival. I am not sure where the estimated 3000 guests will stay while here but we were assured plans are currently being made. Due to the festival, money has also come available to restore the nearby archaeological site of a tohua (open air gathering place). We walked around the site where an archaeologist is assisting in the restoration efforts. They began work by clearing the ground of trees in November 2006 and hope to have a good portion completed prior to the December 2007 festival. Many local villagers were here assisting in clearing the land and pouring concrete stones that were to replace broken or missing ones that have been dammage due to years of neglect and carelessness. The archaeologist told us of how over the years this location has been used by locals to gather but they have not been careful. Fires had been built around the sites which have cracked large rocks which formed many of the stone platforms at this site.
After a bit of a lesson on the use of these historical buildings we continued on our drive through Hohoi and to the nearby beach. We were told it is now almost impossible to find the ever popular flower stones that used to cover the beaches here, but our children wanted to have a try at finding some ourselves. The flower stones are unique to this area and are created when phonolite crystalizes in amber coloured flower shapes within the rocks. Our guide informed us that this smooth looking almost river rock stone does not originate from the beach but rather from the mountains. The rock breaks from the mountain and rolls through streams to the ocean when it rains. It was while we were beachcombing at this beach that I also discovered the secret to how these stones also get their round polished look.
As we walked up the beach, waves would come crashing on shore. The waves came into this bay directly from off shore where there is no reef to protect the harbour. As the waves would swell up to crash on shore, it would also roll these rocks onto the rocky beach. What was amazing however was that as the water retreated back into the ocean, it would drag the stones back with it creating an almost avalanche like sound of loose pebbles. These rocks would roll up and down the shoreline to create a tumbled rock look that was as good as any professionally tumbled rock I have ever seen. We collected a number of green, purple and other coloured rocks but unfortunately did not find any flower stones. After only about 30 minutes in search of the elusive flower stones we had to head back to Hakahau for our lunch. The children seemed to have slightly heavier waist pouches on the way back that were filled with the treasures they had found at this rocky beach.
We drove back with Isadore as he explained to us his many jobs and talents as a musician, farmer, business man and taxi driver. He was supposed to perform at the afternoon Marquesian dance presentation for all those who had been on the Aranui 3, but we arrived at the Pae Pae Tenei (traditional meeting platform) just as the dancers were wrapping up and the rest of our fellow passengers were taking a few pictures for lunch. As we pulled up to where the performance was held Isadore seemed to have a bit of a pale look on his face. His brand new vehicle was making a slight hissssssing sound from the back end. After a bit of further discovery we discovered that the hissing sound was coming from the rear passenger tire. It looked like a rock had rubbed up against the side of the tire and it was quickly going flat as we watched the car sink closer to the ground. Isadore motioned for us to go on to lunch while he repaired his vehicle promising us that he would have one of his music CD’s and a few flower stones ready for us when we returned back to Ua Poe before our return back to Papeete.
There are not many places to eat on Ua Poe but the Aranui 3 organized a local lunch for us that was very impressive. Chez Rosalie’s restaurant is apparently only open when the Aranui is in port and so we were treated to a feast of shrimp potatoe salad, octopus, cooked bananas, rice and bright yellow watermelon. It was a much needed feast after walking around in the hot 32 degree celcius afternoon sun.
By the time lunch was over, we had little more time than to head back to the Aranui for our departure to the other side of the North end of the island of Ua Pou. The boat left the busy port of Hakahau with its 1500 residents for the town of Hakahetau with its 200 inhabitants. In this harbour there was no place to moore the large ship and so our family along with the other passengers boarded the ship’s whaling boats. These smaller boats hold about 30 people and can handle rougher waters. As we pulled up to the cement dock that jutted slightly out into the harbour we had a fun time dismounting with the ongoing waves that would lift and drop the boat in a very precarious way. Although it was the most rough dismount I have experienced, there were about five Aranui staff members to pull us out of the boat and help not only our children but us adults up to the top of the cement wharf.
As we arrived we walked up the little village road where we saw dogs, chickens and even a large pig tied to a tree in a resident’s yard. School was just getting out and so we also saw mothers picking up their children while other little 6 to 8 year old children just walked home. We followed a few of the children as they were going in the same direction as we were going. A 10 minute hike took us up the hill to a beautiful flat stone viewpoint that let us look over the pristine bay with its tall green mountains and hills on all sides. This side of the island was much more lush and green than the previous dry village we had seen. The flat stone lookout was covered in coconuts that were being dried in the sun for about two weeks in order to produce the highly sought after copra.
As we headed back to ship after only 2 hours on shore, we could see the local residents gathering the last of the goods that they had transported on our cargo ship. The cargo being transported to this side of the island was much smaller as the goods had to be transported by smaller boats and all items had to be moved by hand (rather than using the tall ship’s cranes). The last load of the day that I saw driving away was a pickup truck full of the highly prized toilet paper. I would estimate that at least 400 cases of toilet paper were in the back of the pickup truck, something I reminded them was obviously very important.
Shortly after arriving back on the boat, we attended our usual evening briefing for tomorrow so that we could prepare everything we needed. As usual the following 3 course meal was a marvelous feast that I am sure takes no notice of anyone’s waistline. The children were once again fed an hour earlier than the adults and it did not take any coaxing to get their sleepy heads to bed for the evening.
Day 5: April 11 – Nuku Hiva: Taiohae and Taipivai
Our first of three trips to Nuku Hiva Nuku Hiva was a busy one that took us on an excursion that lasted the entire day and had us visit two different sides of the island. We started the day in in the main centre of Taiohae followed by our departure from the small town of Taipivai.
A school bus shuttled us the two kilometres from the freighter terminal where we were docked in Taiohae bay to the downtown area where people were once again set up to sell their handicrafts. Residents from all around the island were gathered in a community building to showcase hundreds of original handicrafted items. Everything from carved wooden tikis to intricate polished stone pieces were on display. I opted to spend my free hour walking down the beautifully kept waterfront collecting video and still photo memories of this mountainous harbour. The mountains once again were covered in greenery with the mountains rising to 864 metres. At the entrance to the harbour were two large stone sentinals that seemed to almost guard the peaceful harbour that was filled about a dozen sailboats, three cargo vessels and a millionnair’s yaught (complete with a helicopter and helicopter pad).
I even had a few minutes to stop by a small computer store where I was able to get onto a computer to upload my latest blog. I have to say that the internet connection was the good old fashioned dial up service. It was slow but nonetheless I was able to do all the updating I needed to do in 15 minutes for the minimum 250 CPF ($3 CAD) charge. It is great to find a computer store to gain internet access as it allowed me to plug in my memory stick to the computer and paste in my blog without spending a few hours on the computer. The most common locations for internet connections in the Marquesas Islands are at post offices but unfortunately their standard computers don’t allow for any plug in devices.
At 9:30 AM my family left with the rest of the group from our cruise ship for a day long excursion. We all walked over to a parking lot that had about 25 four wheel drive vehicles, a 20 passenger minibus and about 4 local horses. Although we left the horses behind, they were a common sight throughout the day. We saw horses tied up almost everywhere on the island. In the town, by the churches and up on hilltops way up in the mountains. To this day many Marquesians still use horses as a means of transportation. It seemed like horses were about as common here as scooters were in Papeete.
Our first stop was the beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral of the Marquesas Islands. Although the two old castle like turretts of the original building with its gate-like entrance are still intact, a beautiful new building was made in the 1970’s. The new cathedral is also on this tohua site using stone from the Marquesas’ six inhabited islands. The cathedral contains stone and wood carvings that mix the Marquesian like culture with the Christian stories and traditions. Etched in stone are carvings of the Virgin Mary while wooden door posts contain life size carvings of apostles that have the appearance of the local Marquesian people. The recent clergy that helped create this newer cathedral enlisted the support of the local Marquesian christians and tried to encourage the use of skills and ideas that had for over 100 years been prohibited by the church. Inside the cathedral Aranui staff presented an hour long lecture to passengers on the Christian history within the Marquesas Islands. Presentations were made in English, French and German to accommodate for the needs of all passengers on the boat.
The largest part of the day was spent on the drive North and then East into the mountains and back down again to the neighbouring town of Taipivai. The drive up the steep mountain has in recent years been paved and so the trip was rather easy with no dust to contend with in the back of open jeeps and trucks. The road twisted and turned along the road that crawled up the mountain to the top ridge of Mount Muake. With one stop first at a viewpoint we continued on to a higher viewpoint that overlooked not only the harbour with all of its boats, but also the mountains towering up on three sides. The colours of the mountain ridges with their wave like vertical surfaces was indeed a breathtaking location to spend two hours for lunch and visiting others. There was a large shelter with picnic tables and flush toilets to make the stop much more managable for our group of about 120 people.
My son’s highlight was to watch one of our fellow passengers from France who is a professional artist, draw pictures from our surroundings. We looked through his book of designs that he started while in Tahiti and the Marquesas and it inspired my son who has been diligently sketching outlines of mountains and scenes of our trip. His pictures of the harbours we visited in the past few days along with old churches from the towns were beautifully illustrated as he sketches on site and adds the colours when he has time in the evening.
Our descent down the mountain took us to the sleepy little town of Taipivai that hugged a little harbour about 25 kilometers from Taiohae. Near this town we took a 20 minute hike up an unmarked road and trail to the Paeke Archaeological site. The trail led up a clear path through coconut and mango trees to a me’ae (Marquesian Sacred Site) where two stone platforms were visible with tall stone tiki’s up to 5 feet tall. The tiki’s were carved to represent specific ancestors of the people and form part of the wall supporting the rock ceremonial platforms. Although the tiki’s are starting to fade from the stone due to the wear of rain and sun, the two platforms remain intact.
At the end of our tiring day we were all anxious to return to our boat. It was a good thing that my youngest two children aged 4 and 6 stayed on the boat while it cruised to Taipivai without us as they would not have lasted in the hot sun of the day. My 8 year old even headed back early rather than complete the hike at the end.
As we all boarded onto the barge that would take us back to the Aranui some large waves came rumbling through this otherwise protected Fjord like harbour. The waves were enough to soat the few passengers that were seated in the back of the boat furthest from the shore where passengers were still trying to get onto the boat. As these waves came crashing in they pushed us so high up onto the black sand beach that our barge was stuck. Thanks to the quick thinking of the crew they asked the local man on shore who hopped into his tractor that was parked on the beach and he gently pushed us off the beach and back into the water.
Throughout the day each passenger was dressed in long-sleeve shirts, pants and plenty of deet insect repellent to keep of the pesky nono’s. If bitten they leave an itch that is not easily forgotten. Although it was a long day in warmer than normal clothes that took us from one harbour to another on Nuku Hiva it was an experience I would not have missed for anything. It was a day where we learned a great deal of the history of these remote islands and gained a greater understanding into their culture and way of life.
Day 6: April 12 – Tahuata and Hiva Oa Islands: Vaitahu and Atuona Townships
We were fortunate enough to visit two islands today. The first being the village of Vaitahu on the island of Tahuata and the second being the town of Atuona on Hiva Oa. Vaitahu is a small little village nestled in a small valley between towering mountains on all sides. The steep mountains raise up on all sides with the somewhat sheltered harbour on the other.
We entered this island using the large metal barge boat and it was a rough landing. Although the harbour is sheltered the waves do come in and create 3 foot swells on shore. Where we landed there was a cement landing constructed with steps up to the platform. As we dismounted from the boat, the swells occassionally rocked the boat up and down. When this happened the crew members directed us to wait a moment until the barge was safely positioned by the steps at a proper height. Each time we dismounted there was also two to three crew members there to help us all the way up to the top of the platform.
After we disembarked and were walking down the short road to town someone pointed out to me a brand new pickup truck that was being prepared for offloading at the dock. They had loaded the truck onto a barge with the ship’s crane, motored the barge up to the dock with the top end on the cement and the back end with the motor pushing the barge constantly into the dock. This was to keep things stable as they proceeded to drive the truck off the barge, first the front end and after about 30 seconds of the truck balancing both on the boat and on land with the barge bouncing up and down, they drove the back end off the boat and safely onto land. It was quite a precarious procedure and I’m sure stressfull enough for those involved.
We took our time walking into the village where the local artisans had set up their tables to sell their various handicrafts to the people on the Aranui 3. They showed off their carved masks, spears, tikis and jewelery along with stone tikis, sculptures and poi pounders. Carved jewelery was also a popular item being offered. It is heartening to see the hard work that goes in to each and every handicraft item that is displayed on their tables. To know that many of these people make a lot of their extra income off of the items they sell and that many of them only sell these items when the Aranui ship comes into their port is amazing.
We didn’t have much more time in this village and so we went walking a little further to the beautiful Catholic Church on the island. As we rounded the corner that brought us through a field to the church I saw one of the men from our group whom we had seen two days previous, sketching and he was busy with his Marquesas drawing book creating a new piece of artwork. My 11 year old son Jaeden, who had brought his sketch pad with him on this occassion, proceeded to pull out his pad and drawing pencils and proceeded to draw the same object this 75 year old artist was working on. This artist who has completed many expositions of his own had a look at my son’s sketches and then watched him at work. Occasionally he would give my son a few pointers and watch him in action and in silence. Although he spoke very little English, he tried his best to be a mentor to my son who had this great desire to develop his talent for art. It was one of his best afternoons to sit with a professional and to create art with his assistance.
As I left the two of them alone to have a look at the beautiful Marquesian carvings and stained glass window in the nearby church, the school next door let their children out for a short recess. All of these young and curious six to nine year olds came out of school to see what was going on in the world around them. Some of them started running around in the field while a group of them started to gather around my son and this older artist. They marvelled at the work that they were creating and had a look at the recent pictures that this man had in his book which were all created in the French Polynesian Islands. They were all in awe with the pictures and hung around for some time watching them at work. After a little while the gathering crowd got so large that the two artists had to pack up and find some other things to do with the remaining few minutes on the island. My son had no problem running up to the local children and playing soccar with them while the elderly gentleman slowly wandered back towards the Aranui 3.
Our second stop for the day was in the city of Atuona on the nearby island of Hiva Oa. This larger town heavily influenced by Europeans is one of the main centres of the Southern portion of the Marquesas. The port was located a few kilometers away from the town and so we spent most of the rest of the day being shuttled around in the local community school busses. Our first stop was at a Chineese / Marquesan food restaurant called Hoa Nui. Although this restaurant is only open by reservation (with bookings made a day in advance) they put on an enormous buffet lunch feast for the Aranui 3 as they usually do. To date they offered the widest selection of food we have seen at a single meal.
Our next few stops for the day were up the mountainside to the cemetary where Belgian singer Jacques Brel and French painter Paul Gauguin were buried. These two men are perhaps the most touted residents who have ever lived on the island. Perhaps due to the fact that they both spent their last years on the island, they have been immortalized on this island.
Our final stop was to the Atuona Cultural Centre which houses both the Jacques Brel Memorial and the Paul Gauguin Museum. Being that I am not familiar with Jacques Brel I decided to take in twenty minutes at the Paul Gauguin Museum which houses a collection of “imposter” paintings. Due to the fact that the facilities in this tropical city is not condusive to the preservation of works of art, all of the paintings and most artifacts are simply copies of the works that Paul Gauguin himself created. The museum aslo provides a good history of his life along with excerpts from letters that he wrote to his family back in Europe. A replica of Mr. Gauguin’s “House of Pleasures” is also on display in a separate building on the site. This final stop to me was interesting from a historical perspective but unless you are a Paul Gauguin fan, his life and lifestyle in the last years of his life while on this island until 1903 were not really of interest to me.
Day 7: April 13 – Fatu Hiva: Omoa and Hanavave (most isolated village)
Fatu Hiva was a definate pearl of the Marquesas Islands. This island was indeed a special place as we visited its two villages that only have a population of about 250 people each. Because Fatu Hiva does not even have an airport, it was the most remote and adventurous island on our itinerary.
I landed in the town of Omoa where my son and I were amongst the first group of people on shore. We had decided that we were going to take the 17 kilometre hike from Omoa to Hanavave and so the 20 of us hikers needed to have a head start on our visit to the island.
The town of Omoa is very traditional and similar to what the old Marquesan islands would have been like in the past. Although there are now 4 wheel drives and tractors, much everything else about the town is the same. Villagers welcomed us with open arms as they showed us their handicrafts that were for sale. They also held demonstrations on how they created tapa cloth by pounding various types of bark for 3 hours to mold it into items that they would traditionally need. A demonstration was also made on how to make scented flower bunches for brides using a variety of flowers, herbs, pineapple chunks and sandlewood powder. They would then roll these into a hair bun on the ladies heads.
We also had the opportunity to visit a local museum that housed artifacts from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Carved padles, trading items, bowls and photos were all on display to show ancient carvings and history of the Marquesas Islands.
The next part of the day was the most rigourous part of the Aranui 3’s itinerary. It included our 4 hour hike into the mountains from one village to the next. Now this may not seem like much of a big deal but considering that there were only 3 vehicles on this road throughout the entire day (including one guided trip of boaters and the people bringing our top of the mountain picnic) it was as remote as we could have made ourselves.
The weather for the hike was perfect. It was overcast for most of the two hour ascent up the mountainside and trees alongside the road provided a great deal of shade. Although it sprinkled with rain on two occassions, it quickly passed leaving us refreshingly damp and cool in the hot air of the day. Occassionally a breeze would blow through the mountain valley trail and my son and I would greatfully stand there with our arms outstretched to enjoy the coolness of the wind.
As we mounted the mountain we curved and twisted up the mountain along a rich red soil road that was fairly wide in many places. The road headed along the ocean at first but quickly moved inland for half of the hike. Mountains towered over us at first but as we climbed up these towering mountains turned into level views high above enormous valleys of lush green vegetation. At times we looked over the edge of the path to see sheer mountain cliffs that would only take one step to send someone tumbling a kilometre or two down to the bottom of the valley.
It was a bit bizzare to see the power lines that were along the path. The trail consistently crossed with a three wire power lines that ran across this little island. Every time we thought that we had reached the top of the mountain, there was again a bit of a climb. The mountain was a bit deceiving as it gradually mounted corner after corner for two full hours.
After a nice refreshing lunch that was brought to the top of the mountain for us (and a refill of our bottled water). My son Jaeden and I started the two hour descent down the mountain. This at first was quite a nice leisurely stroll as we only gradually descended. The sun was out a little bit more but still shade was most common. On a sunny day this part of the hike would be extremely hot as the shrubs on this second mountain were virtually non-existent and as a result there was almost no shade at all.
Thirty minutes into the descent we arrived as some steeper areas and took a ten minute shortcut that had us almost sliding down an extremely old 4×4 trail that may have only been possible to descend. Finally after half of our descent was complete we arrived at a viewpoint that hovered over Virgins Bay below. From here we had a panoramic view of the hills behind us, of the basalt rock pillars in front of us and the crown like peaks of the mountains that encirled us on all sides. We were extremely high up in the mountains and had one of the best views of the area. It was truely a rewarding hike for this view alone. It looked like a viewpoint or some other construction was going on at this location as a large area had been flattened out and a dump truck and crane were working here to smoothen the road. This heavy equipment looked so much out of place on this tiny little island. But as we continued to descend we could see why the road was being widened and flattened. It was this part of the descent that was perhaps the most tricky and scary as loose rocks and uneven boulders created a bumpy road surface. The road in this last descent was also the steepest we had seen and we even slipped in the loose rock a few times but fortunately did not get hurt. One older person in our group at this point caught a ride down the mountain on a local person’s motorbike as it skidded down the mountain with its breaks on much of the time.
The final 20 minutes of our walk descended into the valley of Hanavave below. A fresh water stream could be heard alongside the dirt road we were walking on as Palm, noni and banana trees towered all around us. This valley was an oasis on what otherwise seemed to be a barren mountaintop on this last half of the trail. As we descended into the village that follows the last 1.5 kilometres of a river, we saw a horse tied up in a field. This horse was obviously someone’s main source of transportation in this tiny town. We crossed a bridge which then led us to the paved road that wanders the rest of the way into town and to the seashore. Along the road people were selling more handicrafts to those few of us who had decided to make the trek accross the mountains. It was disheartening to walk by with only a tired glance at the hard work of their artwork. We were however extremely exhausted after 5 hours away from our group on the ship and anxious to see all the others who had taken the boat to this new little port town.
As I arrived into this little town of Hanavave I saw what it truely must have been like in the Marquesas even 50 years ago. The townspeople were on holidays at the arrival of the Aranui and put on a dance and musical performance for us at the site of their downtown basketball court that overlooked the water. Everyone in town was there selling crafts, dancing, handing out drinking coconuts and smiling. This little town on Virgins Bay was not only friendly but the breathtaking view of the towering pinnacles and mountains around it made it an unforgettable place. Most of the passengers on the ship wanted to just stay but once again this was not possible as we did have to move on.
This may also have been the sentiment of the youth that I saw on the small boat that took us back to the Aranui. He was decked out in a flower lei and all of the young children of the village were descreetly saying goodbye to him. He too was leaving his village where he probably had grown up and was heading back to Papeete. Children from these islands go to Atuona at the age of 9 or 10 years old and around 15 or 16 years of age they leave the Marquesas Islands (as do all children of French Polynesia) to finish their high school in Papeete. It was sad to leave and we said goodbye to this little corner of paradise with its famously beautiful sunset on the horizon.
Part 4: March 22 – April 6, 2007 – Two Weeks in Bora Bora, Ra’iatea, Taha’a and Maupiti
24 March 2007 – Flight to Bora Bora
Well the time had come for our family to leave Tahiti for Bora Bora. We had attempted to make the voyage with a friend who’s company runs a cargo ship but because we were travelling during the school holidays, the 12 spots available to passengers were all taken up. We were going to have to make the trip by airplane.
Fortunately we had obtained a family discount card with Air Tahiti when we first arrived and so we were able to get a 50% price reduction for the adults and our 12 year old daughter. All 4 of our children 11 and under received a generous 65% discount on their flights. This sure made a big difference as we purchased our families’ seven roundtrip airline tickets.
We arrived at the airport only one hour before our flight was to depart, about the same time that Air Tahiti was to start selling their standby tickets to those that had not checked in. We rushed off to the check in counter to give them our bags. Because we had arrived in French Polynesia more than 10 days earlier we were only allotted a 10kg (22 pound) limit per passenger instead fo teh international passenger limit which is double that. As a result we had to leave three bags behind with our host family, mostly which consisted of heavy books that we had brought.
Fortunately we mostly had shorts and t-shirts for the hot weather and we left behind all of our heavier clothes. We were slightly overweight with one or two pieces of luggage but the check-in agent didn’t make a big deal about it, perhaps due to the fact that we were seven people.
By the time we boarded our flight, most of the rest of the passengers had already found their seats. When the Air Tahiti staff however, saw us struggling behind with our children, they did usher us to the front of the line of passengers lined up on the tarmac to mount the steep steps at the rear of the aircraft.
Inside the plane there were still pelnty of seats. One aisle led down the centre of the plane with two seats on either side. We almost took up two full rows with our family.
I was fortunate enough to be located on the left hand side of the aircraft. This side of the plane on the trip to Bora Bora provided me with the best views of the islands while the other side of the plane mostly saw open water. We had not realized until after purchaseing our airline tickets that this flight to Bora Bora made a stop in Moorea. It is only a 10 minute flight to Moorea with a 20 minute layover to load and unload passengers. It was a excellent opportunity to see the island up close and to take photos from above as we landed and departed again.
The next 20 minutes of our flight gave us simple views of the clouds and ocean. The best views came as we started to descend to land in Bora Bora. The aircraft lowered as we flew over the island of Ra’iatea and Taha’a with Huahine off in the distance. I managed to get some beautiful pictures of the northern Taha’a motu’s which are the most beautiful corner of these two islands. Even from the air one could see the different colours of the ocean. The dark blues turning into a light pale blue colour as the shallow waters approached the reef and motu islands.
We next started to descend towards the airport of Bora Bora which itself is located on a remote motu of its own on the northern tip of this island group. As we came down I could see the adventure that awaited us. The colours fo the white sandy beaches and the pale blue waters were absolutely incredible. It was obvious to see why so many people refer to Bora Bora as an island paradise.
Upon landing the colours only became clearer and more dreamy. We landed on the motu where we were informed that we would then need to take a 20 minute boat shuttle to get to the main town of Vaitape.
We gathered our bags which did take about 20 minutes before bringing our belongings to the boat. I did not realize it but the porters here at the airport are Air Tahiti staff who did not expect payment for the service as we at first attempted to balance our family of seven’s belongings on the only rusty airport cart in sight. It was so rusty the wheels barely turned and I was surprised that it didn’t fall apart.
The porter grabbed our belongings without asking us and placed everything onto a large trolly cart which he then placed on the cargo side of the shuttle boat. The lagoon water at the airport is as dreamy light blue as any other motu island in Bora Bora. It was a bright sunny day and the perfect weather for taking a few pictures of the blue lagoon and white sandy beaches.
Our arrival on Bora Bora truely exceeded my expectations. My only suggestion however to those wanting to keep the dreaminess in mind is to stay in one of the hotels or pensions (guest houses) on the outer motus as the waters around the main island don’t generally keep the same beautiful blue colour.
Bora Bora Hosts
Our host family on Bora Bora are the most kind people. They don’t have expectations of us and give us the freedom to do as we wish. Considering we came as the last of a three week school holiday was wrapping up, we never expected the comings and goings of the houshold that we actually saw. Our host family of Gloria and Denis are parents to eight children. Their children have kids and grandkids of their own, many of which came to where we too were staying.
It has been great fun for our kids to have some other children to have some other children their age to play with for so many days in a row. They miss their friends and cousins from back at home and do tire somewhat of only having sibblings or parents to play with.
Although the other children do not speak English they have somehow managed to communicate with each other on a very basic level. At times they come to me for help on how to say something in French that they are desperate to say but otherwise they manage very well on their own. I think this is the best way for children to learn another language. To be placed among other children where they have a desire to learn to communicate.
Our host accommodation consists of a Pension under construction. Is is well underway but still very basic in process. The four rooms being built have the concrete walls poured, a roof over the top and is wired for electricity. The one room we are sleeping in has a tiled floor but all else remains to be completed. The washroom, mini kitchen, windows and beds are yet to be completed. We are however greatful for a place to stay and don’t mind sharing a washroom in the main house. We have been after all, looking to experience life in French Polynesia as the locals experience it.
The day we arrived our hosts had purchased two fresh Tuna fish from a friend that were bigger and triple the weight of my 4 year old son. They sliced up the fish and placed it in the freezer in meal size portions with the exception of a bit that we were eating that first evening. I did not realize how much of a staple tuna fish and rice are in Polynesia. After a week at least 50% of the meals they cooked were rice with the meat from this same tuna fish they cut up on our first day. Tuna is wonderful but after a few days we decided on a bit of variety by making Mexican Burritos for our guests. A meal which they were happy to add a lot of rice to.
Bora Bora – Circle Island
On our second day in Bora Bora our host family was kind enough to lend us their truck to drive around the island. It was a great opportunity to drive clockwise around the main island from the main port city of Vaitape to see the island from shore. It is an entirely different picture to drive around the island and to see the motus and reef off in the distance. Although this view is not as beautiful as the view of the island from the far motu edge of the water where blue water surrounds you on all sides.
In any case Bora Bora is a beautiful island. We only had about 1.5 hours to see the island as it was getting late and we were informed that the lights on the truck did not work. As a result our drive was more-or-less nonstop with only the occassional photo stop.
The beatutiful island of Bora Bora is dotted with lush green vegetation and enourmous pinnacles of mountains on the one side with the mirky waters of the lagoon on the other. For the most part the waters around the main centre part of the island were a dark colour while they changed to a variety of light and dark blue colours closer to the motu’s that circle the main island.
As we drove around the island we got a good feel for the local life and culture of the island. The road circles around the island with an overland road in the centre. The road was full of an enourmous number of potholes that make for an exciting drive as we tried to avoid as many of them as possible. In the areas where there were entirely too many to avoid, we did our best to avoid the biggest ones. Although there are no potholes big enough to swallow a car, I was quite surprised by the run down nature of the road, something the locals themselves are not happy to put up with.
My son was excited to see on the far North-east side of the island, two enourmous rocks rising in the centre of the island with what looked like a large cave in between. His first reaction was to ask if we could go hiking up the mountain. Although time did not permit this, he was sure to take a picture so that he could later sketch it into his travel sketch pad.
As we continued to circle the island, it was obvious that the hotels of the island which have sprouted up over the past twenty or so years, have made sure to build on the best beaches or have simply created some of the best beaches on the island.
The Intercontinental Hotel looks out over the lagoon by the beautiful Matira Point. This point hosts a number of Pension hotels to the one side (along with a public beach complete with showers and a shaded thatched roof shelter). The beach on this side while beautiful, does have very large rough coarse sand and a shallow lagoon that will let you walk out a long distance without going too deep if the extremely strong current doesn’t push you too far out to another beach). The opposite side of this point that hosts the Intercontinental Hotel contains a beautiful resort with silky soft white sand, much different than the sand only 500 feet away on the other side of the penninsula. This sand is obviously well manucured and taken care of (if not simply imported from the centre of the lagoon).
The oldest accommodation on the island that is about 39 years old, Hotel Bora Bora, commands a beautiful view of one of the best stretches of beach on the main island of Bora Bora. To one side of the point on which this resort lies is a white sand beach, while on the other side is a deep coral reef lagoon on which were built the first overwater bungalows in French Polynesia. What makes this location unique is that because of its age, it has managed to have the waters of its own coral reef protected from fishing, something that leaves its reef overflowing with colorful fish of all sizes. To the other side of the point at this hotel is a nice soft white sand beach, perfect for a relaxing day in and along the water.
All around the island are the remains of World War II cannons that were left behind when the United States left the island they had once protected. These cannons are generally only seen with a short or long hike from the road with the exception of but one or two that can be seen from the road (if you know where to look). As we rounded the last part of the island towards the town of Vaitape we could see a large ship’s anchor and a rusted out cannon in the front yard of one of the local residents. It stands as a monutment to the long history of the ships and wars that have in some way affected the island in the past.
We have seen areas of Bora Bora that are well cared for while others are run down with garbage littering the beach (beaches not used by tourists). It was sad to walk by a run down home North of Vaitape where we could smell and see the soap suds that were coming from the shower of the house that were directed into the drainage that led to the ocean. This may indicate why the area around the main island (and away from the larger hotels) may be brown rather than blue.
The trip around Bora Bora opened our eyes to its history and to the growth of its tourism industry. It also showed us the beauty of the island which in many ways is coming apart in areas where it is not being properly cared for. With all the good and bad I would hope that the locals gain the support and determination to preserve this corner of paradise that is truely incredible to see… only for the time being I would reccommend you spend the bulk of your time in one of the hotels out on the outlying motus for a true look of what this island was probably like 20 or more years ago.
28 March 2007 – The Maupiti Express from Bora Bora to Ra’iatea
The Maupiti Express was definately an unforgettable experience. Our family woke up early in the morning to catch the 7 AM ferry that leaves Bora Bora from downtown Vaitape for stops on the islands of Taha’a and Ra’iatea. The trip to Ra’iatea takes just under two hours. The Maupiti Express also provides boat transportation to the island of Maupiti on alternate days of the week.
We were advised to be early for the boat to ensure that we would have a place to sit down. When we arrived half an hour in advance, we were all surprised that there were only 30 people on the 120 passenger boat. we quickly chose some seats and sat down. Most of us sat in the midship section while my daughter wanted a seat at the front of the boat. The boat is fairly small for an ocean-going vessel. I have experienced in the past that the centre of a vessel is the most stable and so that is where I placed myself in case of rough seas.
As the departing time approached more and more people arrived until there were no more seats left. A young lady arrived late with her 2 children and so my wife had our kids move around and my son left to share a seat with my daughter at the front of the boat. No sooner had we done so than the lady with her children invited those she was travelling with (3 ladies and 6 children) to sit with us. Where we had once had four chairs facing another four chairs for 6 of our family members, we were now down to about 3 shared seats for 5 of us. We didn’t mind this however as it was a nice cozy boat and we were only going to be on the boat for 2 hours.
Finally around 8 minutes past 7 AM we were underway with about 150 people on the boat. We only hoped that there were enough life jackets on board for everyone. The ride was fairly smooth to start as the hessel headed to the pass that would lead us out of the lagoon and into the open ocean. Each of the Society Islands are surrounded by a coral reef that protects the island from the larger ocean waves as they first break over the reef before becoming smaller and reaching land.
It wasn’t until this trip that I truely appreciated how the reef protects each of the islands. No sooner had we exited the Bora Bora reef than we were able to experience the fun waves that rocked the ship up and down. The children especially seemed to be enjoying the waves as they sat at the front of the ship which bounced up and down even more that those of us located at the centre of the ship. It didn’t take us long however to realize what the voyage was really going to be like. It all started with the pale faced six year old girl in front of me. She started to perspire and for a short while I thought that perhaps she had a fever or a flu. I made sue to distance myself just in case so I would not catch whatever sickness she may have had.
Then everything started to fall apart. First of all this little girl sitting on her mother’s lap started to throw up. She was obviously sea-sick and not with a case of the flu. After a minute or two one of the two ship workers rushed over to provide the mother with a small green bucket. Then the little girl’s three year old borther started to vomit. At this point we moved over a little bit more and gave this lady all but two of our seats which five of my family now squished into. We wanted to give these young kids as much space as they needed and to provide as much distance between their disease that we prayed would not spread to us.
It was around the time of the throwing up of their third child that we all moved to a more ventilated area of the ship to have our own space next to the steward who proceeded to run around the ship handing out little green and blue buckets. The steward quickly opened the door at the front and back of the ship to provide everyone with more fresh air. The 4 fans on the ship only circulated the stench that was starting to waft through the air and was starting to make a few more stomachs weak.
The steward was also obviously very used to his job. it was like he could tell from the look on each passenger’s face when they were ready to loose their breakfast. He would rund down the one centre aisle of the vessel with a bucket in one hand and bracing himself by firmly placing his other hand on the ceiling of the vessel. My three oldest children who by this point were now at the front of the vessel (the most bouncy section). seemed to be doing ok and gave me the thumbs up signal. My eight year old son Dailin was located next to the front door and he had his head firmly placed in front so the fresh air was blowing into his face.
It was about an hour and ten minutes into the trip when my four year old Eli, who was on my lap, said the five words I was most dreading. “I feel like throwing up.” I quickly reached for one of the buckets that were in front of me searching for the cleanest one I could find. The buckets had all been used at one point or another and had been quickly rinsed out by the steward in order to get them back into circulation around the boat. I was not a moment too soon as he threw up the very second I placed the bucket below him. After he had finished he somberly laid down on my lap a bit exhaused from this exciting ride.
It was at this point I thought I was in the clear. We were only 10 minutes from the reef that would once again shelter us from the large waves we were currently being tossed in like a milkshake. Then my precious four year old said, “I have to go to the bathroom.” I tried to ignore his pleading at first, pretending I did not hear him. He persisted however a few more times with his assertation that he needed to go to the washroom before I understood the gravity of the situation. He had to go and could not wait another minute.
I held my breath and stumbled into the ladies washroom which was the only one vacant. My son was not about to wait. while he did his business I calmly and patiently held my nose next to the small vent that was head high in the door of the single toilet washroom. Being enclosed in this small little space was beginning to make me feel sick.
After a few minutes and as quick as possible, I exited the washroom with my son in tow anxious to sit down in the open. Even with 1/3 of the people on the ship throwing up or having had already thrown up by now, it was nice to be in the fresh air room again. It was at this point of exiting the washroom however, that I felt the sickest I had felt on the trip. And it was at this point that I fel that my stomach of iron was about to give in. I was only five minutes from calm waters and although this gave me the will to hold everything in, I was not sure what lay in store for me. I kept saying to myself that I only needed to hold on for another five minutes, only four more minutes, only three more minutes… and then we arrived within the lagoon, safe at last. We greatfully headed into the shelter of the reef near the island of Taha’a. The reef around Taha’a actually sicrles both this island and that of Ra’iatea. We were home free, at least for the outward journey.
About three minutes into the lagoon of Tahaa my four oldest children and wife went out to the front outside section of the boat where they could get some fresh air. No sooner had they done so and they were calling me to the front of the boat. I wasn’t sure what they were so anxious about and so I grabbed my camera bag in one hand along with my sleeping four year old in the other to join them in the front of the ship.
Their excitement was due to the ten dolphins that had been swimming in front of the boat and were now swimming alongside. They mostly swam below the surface only to barely skim the surface of the water. As you can imagine my children were all excited to see these dolphins following the boat and they were dissappointed to see them dissappear as we approached the dock in Tahaa.
We continued the 20 minutes past Taha’a to the island of Ra’iatea where we were to spend the next few days.
I had decided 3 things of discovery on this trip to the neighbouring island. 1) Travelling by boat (especially a small boat) is not for the weak stomach – maybe even skip breakfast. 2) The front of the boat which bounced up and down to a greater degree was a better place to sit as the side to side wave movement was less obvious. We all determined that on the return trip we would sit at the front of the boat in the two seats that faced the front open door which blasted in fresh air. 3) I discovered why a oneway Maupiti Express ticket was 3000 CFP ($40 CAD) while a roundtrip ticket was only 4000 CFP ($53). After taking the trip oneway in such a fashion, one would be unlikely to make the trip again unless they had already made the mistake to have previously purchased a roundtrip ticket.
In the end we all survived and enjoyed the last home-stretch ride within the security of the lagoon back to Ra’iatea.
Ra’iatea and Taha’a
My two night and three day trip from Bora Bora to Raiatea was a nice change to a quieter pace of life. Raiatea is a much larger island than Bora Bora but its population is only about 3500 compared to Bora Bora’s 5800. Raiatea also has 170 square kilometres while Bora Bora has 47 square kilometres in land mass.
The island of Ra’iatea and Taha’a are both circled by the same coral reef that forms an hour glass shape around these two islands. The largest island of Ra’iatea hosts what I would consider the most beautiful city in the Society Islands, that of Uturoa. The city has a wooden boardwalk that wrap around the harbour, complete with a dock that can accommodate not only the small but also the large ships that visit this island.
Upon arrival I made sure to rent a car, for this is the only way one can really visit this island. Everything from Pensions, Hotels and the main city require a car in order to get around and I was glad that I rented one from the start. The only problem with this small little island is that there is not a large selection of cars to choose from. The largest car seats only 5 people and so we would have to squish our family of 7 into a small car. With the price of car rentals in the Tahitian Islands starting at $100-175 CAD per day including the required insurance, this was acceptable enough to us). After checking into our pension, we wasted no time in starting our drive around the island, after all we would only have two days on this island.
We started by heading south along the east cost. Many of the sites on the tourist map are not indicated with road signs so it is important to pay close attention to the mileage markers on the side of the road and to use your best guess as to where to find each site. The drive along this coastline showed a brown water lagoon almost half way out to the reef. This included the entire section of Faaroa Bay.
The coastline is beautiful with lush green vegitation but it was apparent that a great deal of construction was digging away along the coastline. Large sections of rich red earth now lay exposed along this stretch of coastline. Perhaps the brown lagoon was due to the heavy rains that hit the island as we arrived but perhaps it is also due to the enourmous amount of development that is also taking place here.
Tractors dot the coastline as people from Papeete and other islands search for a more affordable place to build and live. With the quiet and seeminly peaceful lifestyle on this island it is no wonder that people want to come from busier cities and islands to build their homes here.
We took the inland road from Faaroa bay to Faatemu Bay which mounted slightly to provide for great views of pineapple plantations and ocean views. We then circled what was the most interesting part of the drive when we followed the coastline first east around Mount Oropiro and then back north past a few points of interest.
We first reached a turnoff that took us to one of the many Vanilla farms in this region. At this vanilla farm we enjoyed the beautiful lillypad filled pond by their small store and learned about the long and patient process of farming vanilla beans which are pollinated by hand due to a lack of bee’s that can do it naturally as in other parts of the world. We also made sure to buy some Vanilla beans from this silver medal Vanilla award winner for the year 2006.
Our next stop near Opoa was the site of a collection of sacred marae sites that have been preserved along this coastline. At the entrance to this site there are also a collection of informative illustrated pannels that teach about the significance and uses of the Marae’s as well as other historical information such as the trees and canoes of the past in this region. Each of the three marae’s in this area have their own history and use and provided each of our children with an informative break from our drive around the island. As we rounded back to Faaroa Bay we once again drove along the inland road of pineapple fields so that we could experience the drive along the west coast of the island.
The west coast of the island of Ra’iatea contains not much more that small towns and their convenience stores. It was a relaxing view of the island which contrasted the construction of the east side of the island. Along this side were a cluster of amazing motus not far off in the lagoon. There were the occasional shallow beaches here as well although none that are mentioned on any tourist map. It was along this stretch of inland road that I got a true feeling for the slower pace of life on this island and for the peacefullness of the people. Residents waved as we drove by and had a amicable atmosphere about them that made this truely feel like a friendly island.
We completed our drive about four hours after starting it by rounding the North side of the island and driving through the town of Uturoa, just in time to stop by one of the many Roulottes that dot the parkinglots of town at night for a quick bite to eat.
Pension Tepua – Gendarmes Hangout
It seemed like our Pension/Hotel was the local hangout for the local division of police. Whe we arrived a police van was parked outside and three Gendarmes were watching the sports channel. They appeared to be on a lunch break taking time out to keep up on the world of sports.
As we drove around the island we were stopped by the police who said hello and that they had seen us earlier in the day. They were the same police officers that we had seen earlier in the day.
For the next few days we saw the Gendarmes at the pension day and night and I began to wonder if they were supposed to be working or if they just had their residences at the Pension. In any case seeing and getting to know the Gendarmes did come in handy.
The pension itself was clean and comfortable. It is located on the water with its own dock complete with picnic table and shelter on the end. It catered to just about everyone and everyone with its dorm style hostel section with shared kitchen and private bungalows (which were actually 4 units with lofts in one continuous building). The pension itself was a bit crammed with its walkways and beautiful gardens but it was sufficient space for our family of 5 children. The favorite part for our children was the rare (for pensions) but small fresh water swimming pool.
The Missing Wallet
The morning of our second day on Ra’iatea we headed out to the grocery store to buy a few things for lunch and to get some information from the local tourist information centre. As we left however my wife was not able to find her pouch that contained her purse. Thinking it was somewhere with our belongings we headed out with my wallet to purchase what we needed. During this morning we experienced the two extremes of hospitality that we never could have anticipated.
Our first stop was at the tourist information centre which was a bit hard to find. It was tucked away in the fancy building on the wharfside in front of where the large cruise ships park. It is obvious that this is the main place that the big ships come to but it was not obvious (nor were there any signs) directing those that were coming from the downtown area for information.
We approached the tourist centre to get information on the selection of tours of the lagoon and to the neighbouring island of Taha’a. Upon asking for information on the tours that the local companies provided I was directed to look at a tourist brochure which listed all of the tour providers that existed in each of the Society Islands of Tahiti. When I asked about the tours they provided the unhelpful worker told me that I needed to decide what I wanted to do first and then call each of the tour companies for information.
I have to admit I did get a bit flustered at this point thinking perhaps it was my lack of the French language that was to my disadvantage. There were a number of other booths in this centre but none of them were open as there were no cruise ships docked on this particular day. When I asked about another informational sign I saw about river cruises (on Tahiti’s only navigable river) I was again told to decide what I wanted to do and then call around.
I left outside as flustered as ever. My wife still inside without me knowing it. When I saw my wife again she explained to me that she had had a very similar experience with the reception of the sole worker at the tourist office. I was extremely surprised that such a person could actually manage to maintain a job at such a critical ambassadorial location as a tourist office.
Due to my surprise I have to admit I did return to the tourist office to be the pestering visitor that I can be when someone is rude to me. I went back and asked if they were paid by the city or by the state (it was the city) and told them that the information provided me was not helpful enough. After asking more questions (which was like pulling teeth) I finally was shown a list of three standard lagoon tours and what each of the tours included. This was of great help, but I was again told to call around for avalibility which I later did do at an expense of about 15 dollars in phone calls.
Well this was the only case of unhelpfullness I experienced on the island because the next experience blew me away. As we headed off to the grocery store to cool down in its beautiful air conditioned freezer section, my wife was approached by the gentleman that had served us pizza’s the day before at the outdoor roulotte (van converted into a pizza restaurant). Apparently my wife had left her wallet pouch at the table outside their stand the night before and he wanted to inform her that he had turned it in to the police station that morning.
She was extremely amazed by his honesty and kindness and after finishing our shopping, our next stop was at the police station. After my wife identified herself and was presented with the purse she had lost, she was instructed to go through the contents to ensure nothing was missing. To her amazement nothing had been touched and her purse and waist pouch were completely intact. Nothing was missing.
We headed back to where we were staying and again when we arrived, the owner of the hotel told us that the police had told him about our pouch having been turened in (this was the local hangout for the local police – Gendarmes of the island). Once again we were amazed how quickly we could be identified and notified in such a small town island of an object that we had lost.
In Search of a Swimming Hole
Our second day in Ra’iatea was a hot one. The sun was shining and it did not take us long to jump into the swimming pool at our pension to cool off in the water. It was great to have a place to cool off as the water at this location was not that clear or good for swimming in.
As the day rolled on however our 5 children were anxious for a place to get away to and to see a bit more of the island. For this reason we decided to go to the 3 waterfalls not too far away, to swim in the pools below the falls. It did not take us long however to discover that nothing on this island is marked. We drove up and down the road a few times in search of the elusive waterfalls. Even when asking someone nearby, they did not seem to know where the falls were.
I finally threw out my tourist map and pulled out my Lonely Planet guide book. From the rough map on it I decided to take the exit at the Kaoha Nui Ranch which lead us down a dirt road to where the falls were. About two kilometers down this road we saw three young boys on the side of the path eating passionfruit on a grassy hill. When we stopped to ask them about how to get to the waterfalls they advised us that it may not be the best destination without a guide and with 5 young children.
After talking with them a little bit longer they provided our children with a couple of handfulls of passionfruit before giving us some directions to another little swimming hole about 2 km further on down the road. While we talked with them we noticed a large number of mosquitos that joined us in the car and decided to just continue to drive down the road to the falls. W e were able to see the falls from the end of this dirt road at a distance. Given that it would be easy to find the falls but may be difficult to make our way back to the car (and to avoid the mosquitos) we drove back to the main road and followed the directions to the swimming hole that the locals use.
This was the best advise we could have followed. Only a short distance down the road after marker 7 we turned right on the first road after a small bridge. Only 200 feet down this little road we saw an Avacado tree (beside a Pamplemousse / grapefruit tree) with a few swings hanging below it. Playing on the swings were some local children and their dad. When we asked these people where the swimming hole was they directed us to park our car here in the field to the side of the road and had one of their boys lead us down the trail to the swimming hole. The trail was simple, well used and easy to follow but it was a nice touch for this young 10 year old boy to lead us to one of his favorite swimming spots by his back yard.
For the next two hours our children each had the time of their life as we jumped from 8 foot banks into the crisp cool fresh water. There were 3 rocky streams that lead into a deep pool of water. There were places to sit in the flow of the stream, explore the waters up and downstream as well as to just sit down in the water and cool off.
About an hour after we arrived, 3 older men showed up and were absolutely astonished to see 5 white kids and their parents swimming in the local swimming hole. They had just rowed their outrigger canoe from about 2 km north on the ocean to the inlet of this river. They parked their canoe and walked down the path to stop for a refreshing swim. It was at this point that we saw them do what I had not thought possible. The deepest part of the pool was only about 10 feet deep but after they dove from the 10 foot tall tree-roots we had jumped from they showed us the vantage point from which the locals jumped from.
One of the three men proceeded to climb a tree on the opposite side of the river. It rose straight up with a natural ladder that connected between the two main trunks of the tree. About 20 feet up a broken branch jutted out (from which my 11 year old son took a plunge) but this local resident did not stop there. He proceeded to climb up to the lowest branch of the tree that was about 60 feet from the ground and climed 20 feet out along the branch before jumping into the water. I was sure he was going to hit the bottom of the pool. He probably did, but not hard enough to do any dammage because he came back up out of the water as he had before.
I was told the local children as little as 8 years old, jump from this tree branch and dive in head first into the pool of water. They are used to the pools of water here and know them well. A bit too scary for my adventuresome spirit.
After some time our children were not anxious to leave this new-found swimming hole. They would have stayed hours if permitted to do so. This little spot could easily take up an afternoon (as long as you stay in the water away from the mosquitos that are around). Upon leaving we thanked the little family that lived by where our car was parked and headed on back to our Pension.
As we headed back towards town we saw a fruitstand at the side of the road between the 4 and 5 km roadside markers. We turned back to pick up some fruit from the local lady that sold produce here. There were dozens of types of fruit in this fruitstand and lots of it. As we selected different pieces of fruit that were sold by the pound we were a bit surprised. She looked kindly at each of our 5 children and as we selected a pineapple, papaya and bunch of bannanas she told us the bag of produce would only be 300 francs (three dollars). This seemed a bit strange as we had paid much more at the local stores for produce than this.
As we talked to this lady she told us that every piece of the produce came from her garden only a short distance down the street. The pineapple, bananas, mangos, pappaya, limes and oranges. As we were about to leave she proceeded to hand over to our children bags of fruit that we had not asked for but as a gift to us. Our children (and especially 6 year old) was excited to get his own pineapple, bag of limes, pineapple and more. By the time we left the fruit stand we ended up having at least 4 times as much fruit as we had paid for (and even what we paid for did not reflect the true value of the produce). The kindness of the owner and her apparent love for our children was very obvious as we drove away at 5 pm as she closed up her fruit stand. It was obvious that she too had enjoyed our visit as she waved to us goodbye and our children shouted out Merci through the windows of our car.
The island of Ra’iatea was truely an unforgettable experience of people that welcomed visitors and especially our children that we had brought with us. The interaction we had with each person on the island truely gave us a feeling of the close community and friendship that the people on this island obviously share.
Taha’a Island Tour
Visiting Taha’a is not an easy endeavor. There is no airport on this island that is located next to Ra’iatea and the shuttle boats to this tiny island will only drop you off on the small remote landings. The only true way to visit the island itself is to rent a vehicle or bicycle (if you are energetic) and the only way to see the most beautiful part of the island is to travel by boat.
For these reasons our family decided to visit Taha’a by taking a tour that combined both a land and sea component. Most tours pick up passengers from Ra’iatea because there are many more tourists there than on Taha’a itself. There are two main types of tours to Taha’a. Both tours circle around the lagoon and make a stop at a pearl farm to explain the process of making pearls. They also both stop at a Vanilla Farm or similar location to explain to visitors the importance and process of producing Vanilla on this island known as the Vanilla Island. Taha’a is the largest producer of French Vanilla and it is still one of their main exports. The only difference with the two tours is that after a traditional lunch on a deserted motu, you can just hang out to snorkel or swim or you can take a boat back to the main island and take a 4×4 trip around the island to explore the interior of the island.
Probably the most interesting part of both tours is the visit they make to a Coral Garden on the North Western side of the island. Both tours make a stop here which was the highlight of our trip. Our boat stopped on the edge of an island that only had a narrow channel between it and a neighbouring island that was home to Polynesia’s Relais and Chateau Pearl Beach resort. We were instructed by our captain to put on our water socks as the coral in this area was frequent and sharp. Were we ever glad that we had brought them along because they were essential.
We hopped off the edge of our boat which was anchored about 40 feet from shore into water that was about 2 feet deep on a soft white sand beach. Palm trees hung over the edge of the island as if on some sort of South Pacific movie set. The colours of the sand and trees made me feel like I was in some sort of magical paradise… which I was. It was exactly like one of those dreamy screen savers that I had on my computer which I had thought was some fake computer generated image. I never knew such a picture could actually be real… but it was.
Our captain led us to shore as we grabbed our snorkelling gear, cameras and children. We were all loaded up and ready to have a great time in the water. For about 8 minutes we skirted around the edge of the island along a coral path that paralleled the island next to us. It was in this narrow channel that we were going to spend the next hour. Two people in our group unfortunately did not know to bring their water socks and tried traversing the trail in bare feet. I’m sure there was no way they could have made it with their feet intact as even along the trail there were areas where the trail itself was made of small pieces of loose coral. It looked like a bit of a painful experience for them but they were determined to make it into where we were going to get into the water.
Halfway to our destination our guide had us leave our camera and other belongings that we would not immediately need, hanging on a tree by the water’s edge. It wasn’t too clear to me why we were placing everything here but it became more clear as time went on. Our guide did not communicate very well what was going on each step of our trip and so we just brought everything we thought we would need, even things we did not need at all.
Well the time finally came for us to get into the water and so armed with our snorkels and masks my wife and five children all hopped into the water with me. The three two older children started out with the child size snorkel and masks (nobody has child size equipment on the islands so bring your own) while my wife and I attempted to use the adult sizes we had brought from Canada. Unfortunately we did not test out the masks we had purchased prior to coming to French Polynesia. The problem we kept having was that the seals on the mask didn’t do their job and so water would come trickling or pouring in. As a scuba diver I managed to get by as I continually clearing my mask as I had been trained to do, but as for my wife, she had to make frequent stops to readjust and clean out her mask. The salt water would occassionally come in and sting my eyes too, and when this happened, it was not possible to continue on without making a stop to clear my eyes as well.
Our family had also purchased the special snorkels that seal out water even when you go under water. The problem we had with these is that without our knowledge, our 4 year old who was helping us pack, removed the small plastic seals that keep the water out of the snorkel. This meant that the two child snorkels had to be replaced as soon a we arrived in the South Pacific with the cheap old fashioned kind that are much harder for children to use as they do have to learn how to clear them out by blowing out the water.
We all managed however with the help of one other lady in our tour group who helped carry our 4 year old around in the water. As we surveyed the colourful coral below us we kept an eye on our other children who floated around in the water. I had to keep my 6 year old in my arms the entire time as we discovered the reason for leaving our belongings on shore close to the boat. In this narrow straight, the current was very strong and each person had to make a constant effort to stay in the same place and even moreso of an effort to go against the current. After fighting the current for a little while we all realized that this was not the point of what we were doing. Our guide (who explained nothing to us) started to float with the current along with his bucket of fish pieces.
Our guide spread out fish pieces all around us and as he did so, we saw swarms of fish around us coming for their afternoon lunch. The fish gobbled up the food and were of all sizes and colours. Some fish were bright orange, yellow and blue, while others were striped, rainbow colours or in a variety of skinny, fat and spiny shapes. On one occassion we came to an area where there was a patch of stringy gelly like fingers that waved around in the current. It was in this patch that my four year old yelled out “Nemo” as he saw the same fish and habitat of one of his favorite Disney movies. Here he was in what looked exactly like the home of Nemo, complete with the bright orange fish that had a white stripe along the side.
My children and I floated around in the water and as I was getting out they spotted a 6 foot long eel that had a massive head. Our guide tried to draw out the eel from his home with a piece of fish and even had a tug of war with him but the eel was too big and won the battle for the fish.
What made this area so amazing was not just the fish and sealife but also the amazing sizes and colours of the coral. There was sharp spiky finger coral, brain shaped coral and chunky coral. The formations and sizes of the coral were absolutely amazing. With rich white, yellow, blue colours that only added to the view under the water. It was at this time that I had wished I had bought an underwater camera to take on the trip. The life under the water in French Polynesia is as diverse if not more diverse as the live above the water on these beautiful islands.
Sadly enought it came time for us to get out of the water and return to the boat which by now was not very far away. It was amazing how quickly an hour had passed by as we floated along in the water. I could have spent the entire day here, if not longer. I was jealous of the people who were staying in the hotel next to this beautiful coral garden, not because of their overwater bungalows, but because of the underwater garden only steps away from the remote motu islet they were staying on.
We all sadly waved goodbye to this island paradise in the late morning as we continued our boat ride around the rest of the island of Taha’a back to the East cost where we started. The most beautiful stretch of water in Taha’a is in the North. Up in this area the water is a much different colour than around any other part of the island or even Ra’iatea. The water here is a pale blue colour with whisps of dark blue that fade in and out to give a bit of variety to the expanses of turquoise waters. The water here was so clear and shallow that we could see the white sandy ocean floor with its ripples of white below the surface. The water itself was rather calm and the slight ripples on the surface cast shadows of colour and hues accross the ocean as we clipped along the surface. If I were to return, I would spend the entire day along the northern coastline.
Remote Motu Lunch
Around 1:30 PM we completed our circlular trip around the island and stopped at a deserted motu islet out on the edge of the reef. After hopping off the boat again onto the sandy shore, we walked over to the shady thatched roof area where our lunch was waiting for us. We served ourselves up some of the local foods that included fish, rice, taro and breadfruit and sat down on the benches at the tables provided. We filled up on this local food as we sat on the point of the island with water on three sides. Being that the sun was too hot we stayed in the shade most of the time. There was also a plastic table and chairs in the sandy water nearby but being that it was in the heat of the sun I decided that I would retreat to the shade.
4X4 Taha’a Tour – Visit to “Mama”
Around 2:30 PM we boarded the boat and headed back to the main island. This was the beginning of our land tour that was to take us through the centre of the island with a few stops along the way. Not long after starting our 4×4 adventure we turned off the paved road that circles the island onto a dirt road into the interior of the island. About 10 minutes into our climb up the mountain we arrived at a spot where a slow trickle of water was coming down the road and where a slick of mud and potholes lay in front of us. As we tried slipping our way through this part of the road for about 5 minutes our driver finally gave up. We were not going to be able to take the interior road due to the road condition.
We backed down the mountain about a kilometer in the slippery narrow path which would have given my mother a heartattack I’m sure. But as we sat in the back of the jeep we just sat back and enjoyed the ride back down the island. Our driver finally found a narrow spot along the cliff wall of the road to turn around and we were able to enjoy the rest of the descent moving in a forward facing direction.
It was too bad the interior road was impassible as the rest of the tour just took us along the paved outer roads of the island that we could have visited had we just rented our own car. Apart from the random stops that our guide made to point out the different types of trees, animals and flowers along the way, the rest of the trip was fairly boring. The highlight of the land portion of the trip came however when we made a stop that we had requested earlier to purchase some vanilla. We had asked our guide to take us to a vanilla farm where we could buy some vanilla at a good price. Instead he took us to Mama. Mama lived on the North of the island of Taha’a and looked like she was in her late 80’s. She wore a beautiful green and white floral print dress with a fresh flower over her right ear (which means she is single). She had a smile on her face the entire time we were at her little store that was on the side of the road only a short distance away from a Catholic church of the town.
Our guide told us that he wanted to take us to the real “Mama” and that is what she was called. In her store were hundreds of shell necklaces lined on tables for sale. As we entered we were each given a red and orange hibiscus flower lei. The warmest greeting we could have received. We looked around her little shop and did not see any vanilla. We looked at all the handicrafts that she had made mostly out of shells. As we questioned her about the vanilla our guide had to do a bit of translating. I think she only spoke Tahitian with a limited amount of French if at all. After his prompting she went to the corner of one table and pulled out some vanilla from a small white plastic bag. Out of the bag she pulled little batches of vanilla that were each tied together with a little twist tie. She told us that the little packets of vanilla were 1000 CPF ($13) each. We bought two little packets of vanilla beans (10 beans in a packet) and then the children started looking at the necklaces. They all tried one on and liked them but in the end we only selected one necklace from our 4 children who had tried them on. As we paid for the one necklace Mama insisted that we keep one of the other ones. At this point my wife bought a third neck from the kind lady and she proceeded to give each of my children a little package of vanilla beans (5 more in total).
Mama was a kind hearted Tahitian woman that has not lost touch with the traditional kindness of the Polynesian ways. It seems that this would have been similar to how everyone must have been in old Tahiti. It was wonderful to meet Mama and a definate highlight to our land roving 4×4 adventure on the paved roads of Taha’a. She was sure to stand outside the litte store in the front of her home to wave goodbye to all of us as we left with a warm smile that we won’t forget.
We continued to wind our way around the island on our way back to where we started, passing by churches and small little villages along the coast. Near the end of our drive we took one of the many shortcuts on the island that mount the small mountain passes to the next village. Here we passed by the turtle sanctuary that takes care of injured turtles before arriving at the location where the boat would take us back to Ra’iatea. The journey of the day was a full one yet it was not too much for the children. With a combination of travel on land and on the water, it was a perfect combination of activities for our family. Not too much time in the sun and plenty of time to see the island inside and out.
The boat took us back to the main harbour in Ra’iatea where we only had an hour to wait for the Maupiti Express boat that would take us to Bora Bora. Fortunately for us the seas were calm and the boat was almost empty and so we had a nice leisurely (and seasick free) voyage back in the evening to Bora Bora.
Taha’a is a beautiful island, but, more beautiful yet are the coral reefs that
surround it. Our family took a weekend trip to Raiatea (Ray-ah-Tay-ah). While there a guide took us on a day trip to the island called Taha’a. After learning about how pearls are formed, we went to the other side of the island and went snorkeling. I saw coral of blue, brown, orange, yellow, pink, purple, red and green. There were sea anemones, sea urchins and hermit crabs. The sky was blue and the ocean bluer than you could ever imagine without having been there yourself. Not only is the coral colorful but the fish as well. I even saw eels bigger than I have ever seen. Thanks to a local guidebook I was able to identify the sealife.
Not only did I like the snorkeling, but the people as well. After snorkeling we went on a tour of the island. My Mom and Dad wanted to buy some vanilla beans, so they asked the person driving the Jeep to stop somewhere where they could buy some. He did. When we went into the little shop, we were greeted with flower leis that they had made. Mom bought two packets of vanilla and the old lady in the shop added one more. We then bought a handmade necklace and the lady added two more necklaces. We tried to pay for them but only succeeded in buying them for half price as well as adding four more packets of vanilla. The island, fish, coral reefs, and people realy made Taha’a the beautiful place it was.
Part 3: March 8 – 21, 2007 – Two Weeks on the Island of Tahiti
First Week in Tahiti – March 8 – 14, 2007
Well the first week in Tahiti has come and gone in a flash. It has been full of excitement and adventure as expected, sometimes a bit too much. We have slept on cold tile floors, snorkelled, met past friends, swam by an enormous waterfall, visited the Hospital’s emergency room and walked around the capital city of Papeete… but first things first.
A Quick Flight
The flight over to Papeete from Rarotonga was less than 2 hours. The difficult part about the flight was not the short duration but rather the late hour of the flight. We left just after 10 PM to arrive in Papeete around midnight. By the time we disembarked from the airplane 4 of our 5 children had already fallen asleep and we had to wake most of them off as it was too much of a challenge to carry them and our carry-on baggage. Although our 3 year old remained asleep while we disembarked, he soon woke up as we waited to pass through customs.
Given that there were 7 of us it seemed to take much longer than usual. The next customs officer over must have processed 15 other people in the time that it took for us to pass on to pick up our baggage. By the time we were finished just before 1 AM, all of our luggage was waiting for us and we quickly exited the airport only to be greeted by what was to be our host family for the next two weeks. They were sure to greet us with a traditional kiss on each cheek and draped a beautiful smelling Ai (same as the Hawaiian Flower Lei) around our necks. Apart from our cranky little 3 year old, each of us were delighted to wear the sweet scented flowers around our necks for the late night drive to our host family. Although we were all very tired by this time, they had prepared a late night meal for us that we were happy to eat before crashing for the night, half of us sleeping in the living room and the other half of us in one of their children’s bedrooms.
Tahiti Nui and Tahiti Iti
The main island in French Polynesia is the island of Tahiti with the largest capital city of Papeete. Tahiti is made up of two conjoined round islands. The larger island is called Tahiti Nui which has a road that circles around the entire edge, while the smaller circular island that is conneced by a narrow strip of land is called Tahiti Iti. Tahiti Iti has a road that connects to Tahiti Nui but the road only circles around the top half of the island where the two islands connect.
Trip to Tautira
Our first adventure on Tahiti happened on the day we arrived. We didn’t do anything but rest and get ourselves situated in the morning and afternoon. Our host family had to leave at 5 AM after only 3 hours sleep to go to school. Apparently after 6 am the traffic into Papeete is at a standstill until about 9 am due to commuter congestion. They were off to their last day of school before their 3 week Summer Holiday. It is so hot in the month of March that there is a three week school holiday for the children who would otherwise have a hard time concentrating on their studies.
In the afternoon we packed up some day packs for our adventure to Tautira. Our host family does volunteer work with a youth group and they were heading off for a 24 hour getaway to Tautira. Tautira is the furthest Southeastern town in Tahiti Iti, tucked away among farmlands and plantatioins. Although we were supposed to meet our bus at 6:00 PM it never really arrived until just before 7:30 PM. The school busses in Tahiti are all operated by the various municipalities. I was told that island time was not always at the time specified, especially if it was a “municipally provided bus”.
The bus was one of the famous “Le Trucs” that have been popular over the years in this part of the world. This particular version was rather long and had 2 wooden bench seats that ran the length of the sides of the bus with a third bench seat that ran from the front to the back of the centre of the bus. The bus driver is conveniently in a separate cab in the front of the bus while individuals board the bus from stairs the mount from the rear passenger side of the bus.
The ride was extremely bumpy and uncomfortable on the wooden seats but this was soon forgotten as we sat in the back during the one and a half hour ride singing song after song and playing game after game. The young people, mostly from a church group, were friendly to each of our anxious five children as they taught them a number of songs to help them learn French and Tahitian words. By the time we arrived at our destination shortly after 9 PM, two of our children were asleep with the others quite desperate to be sleeping as well. The only problem is that we had packed the dinner to eat upon arrival, so they were more hungry than they were tired.
The city hall of Tuatira was the host to our group of 16 to 18 year olds. Although it is not a normal location for a group of young people to stay, it was perhaps an exception during renovations that were going on. Our night was to be spent on a tile floor some of us even had a blanket. We had brought a foamy that was big enough for two while two of our children squeezed onto an inflatable mattress that was loaned to us at the last minute. My two oldest boys and I slept directly on the tile floor with a small sheet underneath us. We had packed light and were not sure what to expect and so we ended up sharing our three towels that we had brought for blankets to cover us. We had conveniently forgotten five small blankets at the door of our host family’s house before we left, only to realize it while setting up our beds for the night.
The night-time temperature had dropped a few degrees to about 27 degrees celcius, still hot for us Canadians coming from 5 degree weather. Fortunately we were provided with the only room that had air conditioning. It was about 10 feet by 10 feet and was the perfect size for a family of tired wanderers that had only just arrived at 2 AM that same morning.
I do have to admit that I did wake up many times in the night to adjust positions on the tile floor. When I woke up the first time around 1 AM I was quite dissappointed that it was not later. I tossed and turned but it did not seem to make the tile any more comfortable. Finally around 5 AM I repositioned the two slumberers on the foam mattress (including my wife) so that I could sqeeze out a comfy corner in the fetal position. I was not going to be picky as it seemed a bit of a better alternative to the tile floor. Besides, when I went outside to stretch I noticed others sleeping on their packs without a blanket on the warm tile floor.
Shortly after my attempt to carve out a comfy corner to sleep on my wife, who had not entirely slept soundly, decided that she would call it a night and join the others who were starting to wake up for the day. This was the moment I had been dreaming of and without complaint stretched out to catch what seemed like a two hour morning siesta. I slept like a log for those two heavenly hours, and they went by in a flash, even without a blanket.
The Day in the Sleepy Town of Tautira – Pareos, Canoeing and Snorkelling
Tautira, being on the edge of a dead end highway wrapping half way around Tahiti Iti, may not be entirely considered a sleepy town. But it was after all, the first day of a three week school holiday and therefore there was not much traffic at all on the road.
Tautira is a beautiful town that is wrapped in Green vegetation. The land is fairly flat along the coastline and is perfect for growing the Tahitian flowers, fruits and vegetables that we saw in the fields along the road. Shortly after a deep fried bread and chocolate filled (fried) bread breakfast, I was invited by someone to go on a short “promenade” down the road and through the city. The friendly gentleman to take me around was someone I had only just introduced myself to 15 minutes earlier. He was the person who worked at the city hall we were staying in and was there to monitor things and to make sure everything was kept in order.
I jumped at the chance to tour the town with a local person so I hopped on the bus with just him and the bus driver to be toured along the coastline and down the road about 10 kilometres. We had driven to our destination so late the previous night that I did not have a chance to see any of the beautiful sights along the way. I now had the chance to see the lush green mountains soaring on the one side with the black sand beaches and ocean on the other. It was my first daytime look at the Tahitian coastline.
After a quick stop at my guide’s house to pick up his lunch, we continued back to the city hall where we were staying. My five children by this time had finished breakfast and were helping the other youth in making some Pareo’s for elderly people in an old folks home. The group was planning on visiting a senior’s home the following month to sing, dance and present them with some Tahitian Pareo’s. A Pareo is a simple sheet of fabric that ladies wear. It is used to wrap around them and in many cases is used as very casual wear, especially cool and ideal for the hot climate.
Each of my children were busy tie-dying rings, stripes and other designs of various colours into the white fabric cloth that they cut from one long sheet. They had about four to five different colours that they were using as they dipped the white fabric in buckets and carefully wrung out the dye. After colouring the fabric, they carefully unfolded the cloth that had been strategically folded to produce a variety of amazing designs. The sheets of fabric were then left out to dry in the hot sun with four stones holding them down on each corner and to prevent them from blowing away. A few of my adventurous children designers, followed the locals and gathered some large leaves which they placed on the fabric while it was drying in the hot sun. This was done to leave leaf imprints in the dye’s of the Pareo.
While the Pareo’s were left to dry the rest of the afternoon was spend exploring the water of the coastline. I took my oldest son Jaeden out with four others in a Tahitian canoe. Strapped to the side of the canoe was the traditional pontoon that keeps the canoe from tipping in what can be very rough seas. I soon learned of the strength that is required of the polynesians who traversed the waters by canoe. Being the third paddler, I followed the direction of the lead paddler at the front of the boat. Each of us alternated the side we were paddling on and as the person directing the paddling behind me made a deep “Hup” sound we all simultaneously swapped the sides we were paddling on. Polynesians can go for 5 hours or more without stopping using this alternating paddling method. Perhaps this is not new to those who row for sport, but it was a bit unique for someone who had come from a small Northern Canadian town and had thought that canoes were for two people that balanced all on their own.
After about 15 minutes and paddling 4 kilometres I was starting to feel a little exhausted and hot in the 30+ degree sun. After making a comment on my fatigue, we all jumped overboard in a beautiful harbour that we had paddled over to. It was a refreshing swim as we cooled off in the water that lay between the sandy shore and the outer reef that protected us from the open ocean.
The rest of the day was spent playing games and snorkelling in the amazing waters in front of Tautira’s city hall. Here the snorkelling was amazing. I could see why on a few occassions throughout the day, that some of the locals were stringing out their fish nets, circling the fish with their snorkels and masks and then slowly rounding up the fish that they wanted to eat for the day. They were rounding up what looked like sardine sized fish and I was told that the fish are very delicious and are eaten whole. I opted to simply look at the fish and as I swam in the current that slowly moved me along I experienced an amazing aquatic treat that I had not expected. Clams were wedged in the purple/blue, white and yellow coral that was growing in this area. Egg sized colourful almost invisible black fish with two blue flourescent spots on their sides were hiding amongst the coral. Yellow striped and flourescent orange, blue and purple fish lazily swam around the coral rocks that covered the ocean floor. It was an entirely different experience to the snorkelling that I had just experienced a week earlier in the Cook Islands.
By the time 5 PM rolled around I was ready to head to our host family’s home for a soft bed and a comfy night’s sleep. Our children and I had truely had our first fun filled adventure on the island of Tahiti and we were ready for more.
Papeete is the busiest town of French Polynesia and it is amazing to see almost every modern French convenience available so far away from France. Everything about the city seems to be much the same as if you were in France except for the fact that you are on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. All of the same major department and grocery stores seem to be here offering the conveniences of the Western world with a slight twist, prices seem to be a bit higher. We have been warned not to expect the same services throughout all of French Polynesia. While services are available, Papeete seems to be the exception with lots more competetive pricing to keep things high yet reasonable.
Fortunately I was escourted into the city of Papeete for my first time into the city. The drive from a suburb east of Papeete was reasonable in the late morning with only one bit of traffic congestion as we approached the traffic circle that lay along the main road along the harbour of Papeete (in front of the busy cruise ship terminal). From here we were directed to some parking in front of the cruise ships which was conveniently enough located so that we could walk into the downtown area. There is no charge for parking at the places I saw in Papeete including this one… but you do have to be a good driver to squeeze into the European sized parking spots that sometimes don’t leave more than a foot or two on either side of your vehicle after you have parallel parked. I almost had to have some of my other family members jump out of the car to make sure that I could squeeze between a parked car and a cement wall to exit a parking lot.
The tourist office of Tahiti is conveniently located on the harbour of Downtown Papeete in front of where many Cruise lines park their boats. We made this our first stop in Papeete to gather some information that we needed for the rest of our voyage. We were able to gather information on the island of Tahiti as well as on transportation and accommodation throughout French Polynesia including the Tuamotu and Marquesas Islands. The information centre also had some fresh fruits of the island conveniently set out on a table for us to taste. They probably did not expect an army of snack happy children to come rolling into their front doors. The small wooden bowls of Pineapple, Pamplemousse (a type of sweet grapefruit), bannanas and watermelon quickly dissappeared as each of my five children and their parents had a sample or two of each local fruit.
We then walked through the popular Papeete market which on the Monday we visited was not too busy but had a good variety of fruits, vegetables, souvenirs and flowers. I was told that 5 AM Sunday morning is the best time to visit the market as it is loaded with vendors and buyers from all over the island of Tahiti. The streets are blocked off as local farmers and artisans sell their wares on the streets and in the covered two storey market square.
Air Tahiti Family Discounts
Air Tahiti’s office was probably not the best choice of a place to visit on the first day of the three week school holiday. It was packed with people looking for information on travelling to visit friends and family throughout the islands. We had gone just to obtain a family discount travel pass. This entitled us as parents to qualify for up to 35% off selected flights and for our children to receive up to 65% off of the standard flight prices. Discounts vary and depend on the flight. Although it is hard to determine which flights qulaify for the various discounts, the ticketing agent was extremely helpful considering the long lineups of locals.
Discount cards can be obtained for Families, Students and Seniors but must be obtained in Tahiti. It is required to have original birth certificates (preferrably translated into French) that include the parent’s names on them along with photo id for the parents. In our case they did hesitantly accept each of our passports as photo ID (since our Canadian Passports were translated into French unlike our birth certificates). We also had to go across the street as one parent needed to have an official photo ID taken to be placed onto the card. Fortunately they gave us 4 photos. We needed to have two cards with one photo each, made up because only 4 other family member names would fit on the standard Family ID card. They just stapled this second ID card to the first with our two other children’s names on it.
Banking and Cell Phones
As long as everything goes as planned you should not have any problems with banking in Tahiti… that is… if everything goes as planned. I made sure to notify my credit card’s that I was travelling to the Cook Islands and Tahiti for a specified period of time. I did however forget to notify my Bank who issued my debit card of the fact. Due to the fact that I had used it in the Cook Islands only a few days previously, I assume that is why it was flagged as suspicious. By the time I tried using it only a few days later in Tahiti, it did not work. I tried going to three different banks but the machine kept informing me that it could not process my request. My biggest problem is that my bank card only has a toll free phone number listed on it. A toll free number that does not work from Tahiti. I went online and my President’s Choice banking online did not even list their local number for me to call. I have had to email someone back at home to attempt to get a local phone number to call for assistance in getting my bank card to work again. It has now been a week since I have been able to use my bank card.
Fortunately credit cards are accepted widely in Papeete and at grocery stores otherwise I may be tempted to spend $3.50 per minute to call home on my cell phone. The only call I have received so far has been a wrong number, argh! My call display does not work when receiving calls from back at home so its kind of a gamble if I pick up the phone. Text messaging does however work quite well and at 40 cents per message emailed to me, it is not a bad way to stay in touch (free if the message comes from another phone registered with my phone company). The only problem I have had is that my cell phone cannot reply to the text messages. I hope to have that one figured out soon if it is even possible.
In any case I just purchased a 44,000 CFP ($60 Canadian) SIM card for my phone and can now receive unlimited calls for free (6 months) and can buy recharge calls to make outbound calls for 71 CFP per minute. It is a much less expensive option than using my Canadian Cell phone. Fortunately I have a cell phone that is not locked by my Canadian cell phone company!
Waterfall Swimming and the Blowhole
Our five children came with us on a short drive to Faarumai Waterfalls on the North East cost of Tahiti Nui along with another French speaking family with 4 children and one of their friends. As is common in Tahiti some of the children rode in the back of the two pickup trucks with an adult. It was a short and bumpy dirt road drive off of the main road that goes around the circle island highway.
There are actually three waterfalls in this one little area. One of the waterfalls can be seen from the road for a few seconds of the drive while another is only a 3 minute hike from the dirt parking lot. The closest waterfall was massive with a drop of a couple hundred feet. It was quite awesome to see the water towering almost over our heads. It was close and went almost to the top of the sheer mountain cliff directly in front of us. Unfortunately the area has been roped off around the falls due to “falling rocks”. Perhaps it is a good idea but the children had been anxious to swim under the pool below the falls.
It didn’t take long for them however to run downstream and find a pool of water with a strong current to spend the next hour. They were not interested in hiking another 20 to 25 minutes to see the other two waterfalls. They wanted to get into the water. Well the children had a great time (after swatting all of the flys which did not bite) floating downstream and stumbling over the rocks. Except for a few minor cuts and scrapes the kids had a fun time. They managed to communicate a little bit with gestures and the occassional word that I helped them translate. It was an enjoyable afternoon in a bit of a different environment. A site well worth visiting.
Across the highway from the road that led to the waterfall, we found the Arahoho Blowhole. There was a short path with a cement retaining wall along the highway that lead to an outlook. From the outlook we could hear a whoosh sound on the other side of the narrow highway. From the hole, only 2 feet from the traffic driving by, was a whole in the ground. It lead to the ocean on our side of the road which would create quite a sound as the waves came in. Also in front of us was a fairly large blow hole that would spout up water as the waves came in. Although the waves were not massive on the day we visited they were a good size and left for a bit of excitement by the children. A fine way to finish off the day.
Taco Dinner Interrupted by a Trip to the Hospital
In appreciation for the generous hospitality of our host family we decided to treat them to a Canadian Mexican Taco Salad Dinner. It was a bit new to them but they seemed to enjoy it… that is when we finally got around to eating. Just before we were about to start our meal my 6 year old, “Orin” was swinging on a hammock with his brother and sister when he fell off onto the tile floor and got a three inch gash on his head. It wasn’t a pleasant sight and had me very worried. We quickly added a compress to the wound and after a few minutes of grabbing things we needed (including our travel insurance papers) we rushed down the mountain from where we were staying to the “Pompiers” (firemen) that were at the base of the mountain in Mahina (I was later told to dial 18 in case of emergency while in French Polynesia to reach the Pompiers). I was left with my son to the Pompiers who disinfected and re-dressed the wound before taking us in their ambulance with the blue lights flashing. It was a fast 20 minute drive to the Papeete Emergency room.
As I checked into the emergency room it was very similar to those at home. I had to give all the details to them on name, dates of birth, etc. They quickly gave me a piece of paper to write down all the details as it was hard to hear each other through the plexiglass (not to mention they were probably having a hard time understanding my French). Fortunately the lady hosting us arrived shortly thereafter to fill in all the blanks as far as what happened and their address. In my haste to go I did not have time to grab some of that essential information or my pocket Franklin Translator that has been so helpful in the past. I was surprised that nobody seemed to speak any English except for the doctor who spoke a little bit to my son after the ordeal was over.
After waiting outside (much cooler than the lobby) for about two hours we were finally called up and directed to proceed into the emergency room. We were immediately escourted into a small room where Orin was immediately placed into a bed where he remained for the next 30 minutes. They started working on him as soon as we entered by cutting off the bandages that the Pompiers had dressed on his wound. They then gave him a small mask which they hooked up to some laughing gas to take the edge off while they operated. Orin was extremely uncomfortable when they injected the freezing into his wound but he bore it well with the help of some deep breaths from the gas mask. Within a few minutes he was not able to feel a thing and so they were able to clean his wound, look it over and stitch it up.
He was not happy to hear that for the next 8 days until the stiches were to be removed, that he would not be able to go into the water at the beach or swimming in the pool. But as the following week has passed by he has managed fairly well considering the water is the main attraction… that is when he is not tempting himself by “wading” in the water with his feet… or accidentally getting splashed by the occasional wave on shore. Keeping him out of the water is almost like trying to keep a fish out of water.
Second Week in Tahiti – March 15 – 21, 2007
The second week has taken us around the Island of Tahiti Nui to museums, swimming in caves and to the Market. It has been a great deal of fun with kids and the Tahitian’s love for children is really becoming more and more evident.
Our family paid a visit to the lavish Intercontinental Hotel not far from the Papeete Airport. Being the largest hotel in French Polynesia with over 250 rooms it was an amazing sight to see. The popular Tahitian bungalows dotted the lagoon in front of the hotel while the main rooms of the hotel overlooked the three swimming pools, one of which seems to drop off into the ocean. Two swimming areas comes complete with its own bridge and sandy island. Probably the most interesting was the salt water Lagoonarium that houses a variety of fish and majestic Mantarays. Guests can snorkel around to look at the sealife in this gigantic private lagoon with its own prefabricated white sand beach (a rare site on the island of Tahiti which is basically all made up of black sand beaches). I have been told that this hotel hosts the best Tahitian dancing show twice weekly which includes traditional dancing. The outdoor stage faces the dining area with some of the dancing being performed in the shallow edge of the hotel’s large swimming pool.
Tahiti Museum and Her Islands
We made a visit to Tahiti’s main museum filled with interesting artifacts and historical photographs. The museum contains a wide variety of information that is available in Tahitian, French and English. It presents the geology of the islands, ancient artifacts from archaeological digs, displays of ancient homes and full body tattooing, details on human sacrifices, wars and weapons and documentation on European settlers and missionaries. It is a great place for older children that are interested in artifacts and history. For families travelling to Tahiti it is great to note that children are admitted free of charge while adults pay 600 PF (Polynesian Francs – approx. $8 Canadian). The museum also contained a less interesting but noteworthy 1937 art show black and white photos from a 28 year old French photographer (complete with a 10 minute ancient film of the event).
Our host family greeted us at the beginning of our second week in Tahiti with a Traditional Buffet of the islands harvest. We were treated to standard and cooked orange bananas, shaved coconut and coconut milk, pineapple, taro, breadfruit and Marquesian Pamplemousse. It was a refreshing cold meal of local foods served at the end of a hot day. We polished off every bit of the meal, with the kids preferring the sweeter more traditional items. Fortunately our youngest boy, a three year old, who has alergies to Coconut had fallen asleep on the way home. We were able to eat the complete meal without worrying about him coming in contact with the foods he is alergic to.
Boat to Moorea
There are about four or five boats that take both people and their cars from Papeete, Tahiti to the island of Moorea. Two of the boats take about 30 minutes while the rest take about an hour. We opted to take the quick 30 minute Moorea Express Catamaran. It was a good, comfortable, bumpy choice. We pulled out at the same time as another larger ferry but arrived half an hour before they did.
As we approached the island of Moorea we could see its tall green mountains spiking up out of the ocean. The island has some of the sheerest cliffs I have seen so far. The island has a bit of a rim around the edge but then the centre mountains rise up to an awe inspiring height. The island was beautiful to see as we approached, and as we did so, my wife informed me that she wanted to change all of the plans we had made thus far for the rest of our Tahiti Adventure. She told me that she now wanted to visit the Marqueses Islands by boat on the Aranui 3. It is something that we had talked about but decided against doing with all of the children.
The Aranui 3 is a half cargo ship, half cruise ship. It travels from Papeete to the Marqueses and back in two weeks visiting a number of the islands. They transport goods around the island and cruise passengers around as well to see the lesser visited corners of the most remote Polynesian Islands. I should have known that taking the boat to Moorea would have done this. The island was such a beautiful sight and it was the best and most natural way to go to the island.
Twenty years ago my wife sailed with 6 of her 7 siblings and parents through French Polynesia stopping in the Tuamotu and Marqueses Islands. She now wanted to go back and visit them in the same way she did as a girl. So it looks like we have to rearrange our plans and set up a brand new travel itinerary. That’s ok, we were only about to finalize our flights the day we went to Moorea anyways.
After disembarking from the boat we were fortunate enough to be met by some busses that transport people around the island. For only 300 CFP ($4 CAD) per adult and 100 CFP ($1.30 CAD) per child we were able to take the 20 kilometre bus ride to our hotel. The bus circles the island and stops along the way at homes and hotels. It is the most affordable way to get around the island although I have not yet figured out if there is an actual schedule (apart from just leaving whenever a boat comes by the ferry terminal). When I had called the Hotel earlier in the day they told me they could arrange transfers for 40,000 CFP per person ($55 CAD). We were travelling light for this 3 day trip and so that was not necessary.
The road around the island of Moorea is amazing. It loops around the beautiful blue lagoon coastline. The island of Moorea is shaped like a heart with three bumps on the top instead of two. At one stop the bus made. I was only 2 feet from the water looking at crystal clear water through a few branches of a tree. The water was clear and the sand was white (unlike the black sand of the main island of Tahiti). Perhaps the most amazing part of the drive was as we skirted the cost of Cook’s Bay and Opunohu Bay (the two bays at the top of the island). These bays were as blue as one could imagine in paradise with towering mountains and spikes along the coastline. Something that can only be best described by a photo.
Topics to Come:
Botanical Gardens & Paul Gaugin Museum
Roulotte (Van Restaurants) Smorgasboard
Intercontinental Beachcomber Resort Moorea
Friendly Pizzeria on Moorea
Children with Alergies in French Polynesia
Jaeden – 11 years old
One misty day while looking for some tourist attractions in Tahiti we ended up some where out of the city.
While trying to retrace our route to the main road over looking the ocean we stumbled upon an old park with very few people in it. The park seamed to be used mostly by the locals and very out of the way of things.
We thought it would be a nice place to stop fore lunch and to stretch out our legs.
We all unloaded out of the big red truck we had borrowed from some friends we where staying with and started walking down some of the trails. Just then the rain started to drip off the big canvas leafs overhead so we tried to speed up our pace.
After walking for a little while we discovered an old cave with lush green moss growing all around it. We where all eager to get a closer look at the old cave but it was roped off so we started down the trail looking for another cave. As we looked at the caves we saw one with a small clear waterfall flowing into it. It was small and was also roped of but after we walking for one or two minutes we finally got to a cave that was not roped of. It was a huge cave with a pool of water in it. The pool of water was about 100 feet long and 80 to 90 feet wide I don’t know how deep it was no one has been to the bottom yet but my best guess would be 200 or 300 feet deep at least.
After sizing up the caves we ran back to the truck to grab the boogie boards then ran back to the cave to start swimming. When I got in the cool water of the cave I started to swim. The water was dark and at first and there was a little mist so I could not tell where the end was but after I after I got closer I started to see it. About half way to the end of the cave when I was stopping for breath I looked up and what I saw was breathtaking almost 100 feet in the air the roof of the cave was a huge dome soaring above me the huge rock dome was probably carved out by thousands of years of water running over it. It was amazing.
Soon I was swimming again and when I got to the end of the cave I had one more rest to look around. It was kind of spooky with the mist as I could not see where I had come from. The water was all black around me and all I could hear was the drip, drip, drip of ancient rock. I quickly swam to the other end of the cave without looking back. It was the best of the caves I have seen and I was glad we found it.
Part 2: Feb 22 – March 7, 2007 – Two Weeks in the Cook Islands – Rarotonga and Aitutaki
First Day in the Cook Islands
We arrived early at the Edgewater Resort, only about a 10 minute drive from the airport. It is conveniently located on the ocean and we later discovered it is the largest hotel on the island. We were warmly greeted by the hotel staff and Uncle Joe, a former Cook Island police officer took our bags on his large golf cart to our room before coming back to pick our family up. Along the way to our room, he gave us the tour of the resort complete with lots of helpful tips and information. We then checked into villa number 5 which was conveniently located at the newest end of the resort. It is a self contained 3 bedroom house perfect for accommodating our family of 7. We were also advised that we were only the second people to check into this brand new section of the resort. This became obvious as we discovered the installation instructions in the dishwasher and Styrofoam packaging inside the microwave. Nothing like the new-house feel. Because we were early enough, Uncle Joe encouraged us to take advantage of the Buffet Continental Breakfast that is included in the room rates. We had worked up an appetite and so it didn’t take much to convince us to have a fresh “Island” breakfast.
Breakfast came complete with toast, papaya juice (called Pawpaw juice), cereals and the greatest fresh island fruit bar. The fruit bar included fresh island fruits such as papaya, banana, coconut, guava, apples and watermelon. A great breakfast deal we discovered after seeing how much fruit costs at the local grocery store. Starting out the hot sunny day with a full stomach was the perfect way to begin our holiday. The rest of the day was spent wading in the lagoon water in front of the hotel and hanging out in the swimming pool which was much cooler than the hot air.
Although we did take a nap as the hottest time of the day came baring down on us we did make the most of our day. Our favorite part of the day was when we had the opportunity to ride the bus into the main town of Avarua to get some much needed groceries. I had gone down the street earlier to the local 6-11 store and paid $4 for a one litre bottle of spring water. When we arrived at one of the three main grocery stores on the island we didn’t notice the prices being much better. A block of butter was $5 and 4 litres of water was still $5. We would have bought some fish or chicken but they had all run out. I guess it’s the luck of the draw and it looks like our food budget won’t stretch as far as we had anticipated.
We stood out a bit in the small grocery store as our 5 children helped fill up our two shopping carts with the supplies we would need for the next few days. We had no choice but to get what we needed, so $250 later we walked out of the store with backpacks and arms loaded. After getting directions to the closest bus stop we headed out, 7 backs and 14 arms loaded with backpacks and bags.
As we sat at the bus-stop we quickly discovered that it may be a long ride home on the bus. The 10 minute bus-ride counter-clockwise around the island does not operate after 4:30 pm. This meant that the 7 pm bus that was to leave in 20 minutes would take the clockwise route around the island and take 50 minutes instead. To our surprise however a skinny 60 year old man driving by popped his head out the window and asked where we were going. When we explained our hotel destination to him he quickly turned his red truck around and offered us ride. He told us he felt for the kids and didn’t want them to have to wait or take the long ride to our hotel. As we started to load our belongings in the back of his truck he asked that we quickly get in as he did not want to upset his local friends by taking away fare paying passengers from the local bus company. No matter the result, it was a much appreciated gesture that we will long remember past the memory of a 50 minute bus ride I am sure.
As we spoke to our host we quickly discovered that he knew lots of people on the island. Every local person we passed he honked to and waved, calling many of them by name. He had a wonderful sense of humor and asked us to wait in his truck for a few minutes while he ran into a local corner store that was extremely small but where he said, “most of the locals shop”. He said the prices there are better than in the bigger supermarkets. We decided that we would follow the locals’ suggestion (this was the second local that had recommended this place to us) and shop there the next time.
After our conversation on the way to our hotel we discovered that this man was a popular island entertainer. He invited us to come and see his weekly performance at his home called the “Piri show”. It wasn’t until later that we discovered through reading our Lonely Planet guidebook that Piri Puruto III is perhaps the “longest running showman on the island”. He explained to us that his show includes starting fires by rubbing sticks together, climbing a coconut tree and husking coconuts (and on Sundays a delicious umukai feast cooked in an underground oven.
When we arrived home we were happy to have a quick meal and head off for a well needed rest. Exhausted from the heat of the day, some of our kids fell asleep before dinner was even ready.
Fun in the Water – Pools and Oceans
I’m sitting poolside at the Edgewater resort’s outdoor bar/patio. After searching for a variety of options on how to get online in the Cook Islands I was pleased to find that they had a WiFi hotspot for my laptop here at the hotel. Not a big deal you may think but it is one of only 7 locations on the island provided by Telecom Cook Islands. Otherwise most internet access is the turtle slow dial-up access I have grown accustomed to forget. The hotel does have a location for dial-up access for $7.50 NZD per half hour but I’m told it is slow and does not always work. So I get spoiled with some wirless access for my laptop which isn’t as fast as what I am used to but much better than the alternative.
Well you may wonder why I even need to go online if I am on holidays but I am in fact on a working holiday, and blogging about it.
Our family spent our first full day on the Cook Islands just relaxing at the Edgewater resort which is a fabulous hotel located on the ocean. The entire island of Rarotonga is circled by a reef that protects its shores from the open waves of the ocean. Waves come and crash on the reef about 300 feet from the shorline of our hotel. The rythmic sound of the waves is enough to relax anyone.
After a hearty breakfast, the morning was spent snorkeling in the lagoon between the soft white sandy beach and the outer edge of the reef. At 10 AM every day the resort organizes a daily “fish feeding” activity which is no more than bringing a loaf of white bread to feed to the fish. This almost tames the fish into being used to come close to shore to have a mid morning snack. The fish of all shapes and sizes then attach and splash towards the food to get a bite to eat. After feeding the fish we put our snorkelling gear on and went to look at the fish from a different perspective. There were hundreds of fish, yellow, white, bright blue, rainbow coloured and my 10 year old son Jaeden even spotted an eel as it peered out from under a large rock only 20 feet from shore. It kept popping its head out from under the rock, just like we had seen on the IMAX movies. It was an exciting morning of sealife and snorkeling.
After getting a bit exhausted and burned in the water we headed for the coconut palms that line the edge of the beach. My oldest two boys found some brown coconut’s in the husk that they thought they would attempt to extract (from the husk). Not an easy feat even if you have seen a professional do it at one of those Polynesian performances. My oldest son who had brought his pen knife along with him was persistent. First he whittled away at the husk and started to pull wedges off of it. Finally after about 2 hours he was successful in his attempt and pulled the hard coconut out. A wack with a rock later he was drinking coconut juice and eating the fresh coconut meat from inside.
The Saturday Island Market
Every Saturday in the Cook Islands there is a morning market on the edge of Avarua. The first bus of the day did not pick us up until 8:40 AM from the hotel. I had forgotten our camera back in our hotel room so while my family boarded the bus I dashed off in the heat to see if I would be fast enough to get it in time. The bus driver seeing my wife alone with our 5 kids was compassionate enough to take her time and drove as slowly as possible so that I was able to catch up to the bus. Needless to say I received quite the applause when I boarded the bus by all of the other tourists who were onboard. The bus driver told me I have a nice family that wanted to make sure I came along. When I jokingly told her my wife probably just wanted my help with the kids she informed me in traditional Cook Island humor, “No, she just wanted your money.”
In order to get the freshest fish at the market you have to be early. We were planning on buying some fish to cook but didn’t arrive early enough to obtain any. We did however arrive in time to see a variety of tents with adults and children alike selling their wares. Vendors of all ages were selling fresh papaya (paw paw), starfruit, watermelon, mangos, coconuts, giant boiled chestnuts, sweet sop, fresh herbs, taro, breadfruit and a variety of bananas from their gardens. Carvers were also showing their wares including carved shells and wood. Locals were also showing off their beautiful hand made pareus, black pearls and flower headresses & leis. Local island music was also in the air to add to the atmosphere along with live performers dancing on stage and musicians selling their cd’s. The island market is a definate must do for anyone visiting Rarotonga.
A Religious Island and the New Zealand Influence
Cook Islanders are well known for being very religious. Most travel books also recommend attending religious services on the islands to get a proper impression of the people and their culture. In many churches ladies come dressed in white and are sure to wear a hat. As I watched churchgoers heading to their worship services I noticed them arriving in cars and on motor scooters. Even after driving up on their scooters, ladies were sure to have a hat tucked away and put it on for the service.
Attending church services is also a great way to get to know the local people. They are warm, welcoming and extremely hospitable. After church we were fortunate enough to have a friendly couple come by our hotel on their scooter to drop off some fresh fruit from their garden. It was refreshing to have some fresh starfruit and passionfruit picked from the garden on a hot summer day. A second person stopped by the next day and dropped off some deliciously sweet green oranges that they had seen growing at the side of the road. Within the next week we were the greatfull recipients of fruit from at least 3 other people we had met. One does not have to go far to notice the friendly nature of the island people. It seems to flow freely from their nature.
New Zealand and the Cook Islands are closely associated with one another. In the past 10 years the population of the Cook Islands have dropped by more than half. Young people tend to move to Australia or New Zealand to search for greener pastures and a stable lifestyle. A large number of the Cook Island residents I have spoken to have lived elsewhere and returned back to the island to live. For many residents, living in the islands is a lifestyle choice as opposed to a way to make some money. Wages can be fairly low while expenses remain quite high. When comparing the cost of food to that of Canada I have found that the prices generally are double to triple in price. Most goods are also imported from New Zealand which freight costs can add substantially to the grocery bill.
Snorkelling, Shells and Hermit Crabs
We have sought out the perfect beaches to explore and snorkel in. It seems like the entire coastline of the Cook Islands is nothing but the perfect white sand beaches that you see in travel books. Very little of the coastline does not have a beach. It stretches for miles and miles and I would not be surprised if you couldn’t almost walk the entire coastline. A beautiful spot we stopped at for snorkelling in the afternoon was Muri Beach along the southern coast of Rarotonga. There are four little islands off in the lagoon, isolated with their own palm tree oasis. From shore you can take lagoon cruises or simply rent a windsurfer, sailboat or kayak. We chose to just snorkel out to a large islet in the distance called Koromiri. It was no deeper than waist deep on the entire 1 km walk out to the island. My 6 year old son, Orin even walked all the way out to the island with a little bit of help from me. The water is turquoise blue and the white sand makes it a dreamy, idellic experience.
I walked over to Koromiri with my digital camera in hand. I was sure to keep my shirt on and lots of sunscreen since the early morning sun was already getting hot. As four of my children arrived on the islet the only people we saw were 2 people who had also kayaked to the island and a dog. I don’t really know where the dog came from as there was no owner in sight. The islet seemed fairly empty as it was a 9 AM mid week morning. We explored the white sand shoreline along with a rocky outcropping on the West side. It wasn’t until we went inland to where it seemed that a company had set up a covered eating area and some outhouses that we had a bit of a surprise.
I walked past a pile shells sitting on the ground that it looked like someone had collected. It was far enough on shore that it seemed that some shell collector had placed them there. I never really thought much about it until my children who were a little bit behind me came up to collect the shells. As they were about to do so they noticed that the shells were moving. The entire cluster of shells were growing legs and walking away in all different directions. Some shells were quite large while others were very small. Spiral shells, round shells and others were all starting to move. Some even started to climb up a nearby tree. Hermit crabs were using the shells as their homes and were moving around to where they wanted to go. When we went back to another beach between Black Rock and the airport later on in the week we noticed that at least 50% of the shells my children were trying to collect were already inhabited. They had to be careful to make sure that the shells were all empty. Even at that, of all the shells they collected we discovered one was occupied and my son, a few hours later upon discovering this, was sure to go back to the beach and place the crab into the water.
The beaches of the Cook Islands are truely breathtaking. No matter where you go you cannot help but see turquoise blue water and white sand beaches. For the best snorkelling we have had to search out lagoons that have rocks in them because it is around the jagged rocks and coral that the fish congregate. I have noticed that on the sandy bottoms of the lagoons very few fish are found as they are exposed to the open elements with no place to hide.
The waters are a rich blue turquoise colour because of how clean and shallow the water is. Apart from a few places I have seen in the Galapagos Islands I have not seen this colour of water in many places. It is such a deep vibrant colour that reflects off of the water whenever it is at least a little bit sunny. On rainy afternoons it is not very noticable but when the sun comes out the colours of the shallow lagoons are obvious. The island of Rarotonga is encompassed entirely by a coral reef that is anywhere from 50 feet to 1000 feet from shore. It makes the shoreline into an almost continuous lagoon of blue water and white sand that wraps around the island. It also makes it so that there are dozens of places safe for children to swim without having waves crash on them. The waves actually crash as they hit the coral reef in the distance and so there are not more than minimal laps of water hitting the shoreline. Adults and children alike will enjoy the shores of the Cook Islands.
Cook Island Travel Tips:
Aitutaki and Tom’s Cottage
When the people from the main Cook Island of Rarotonga found out that I was going to Aitutaki, they kept telling me that “It is even more beautiful than here”. I had a hard time believing them as Rarotonga itself is a jewel of an island. It is like trying to tell someone looking at a priceless gemstone that there is one even more beautiful. Then I took the 50 minute flight to Aitutaki and had the shock of my life.
As our Air Raro flight was landing I caught a glimpse of what kind of treat we were in for over the next three days as we stayed on this remote island lagoon. The dozen or so Islets that dotted the perimeter of the lagoon were covered in green vegetation, palm trees, bright white sand beaches and the clearest turquoise and blue huges of water I have ever seen. Even from the sky it was a breathtaking sight to look down on. I can see why even the Cook Islanders refer to it as the priceless possesion that it is.
As my family got off the airplane in Aitutaki we were anxious to go and explore the island. The only problem was that we arrived around 4 PM and so we did not have enough time to do anything but settle in. Prior to going to Aitutaki we had decided to stay at one of the most affordable places we could find on the island. We booked accommodations in Tom’s Cottage which was the first tourist accommodation on the island according to the owner (Papa Tom as they call him). Papa Tom himself came to the airport to pick us up. He greeted us with a warm smile and proceeded to assist us with bringing our luggage to his van that would transport us to the two cottages we had booked on his property. His kindness and simple nature made me, my wife and five children feel like family as soon as we met him.
After collecting our bags we were anxious to move on and settle in. As I sat down and reached for my seatbelt he advised me that “there would be no need for that here”. Although I firmly believe in wearing a seatbelt under all circumstances I soon discovered the reason for his comment. Aitutaki is a small island only about 14 km from one end to the other of this fish hook shaped main island. The roads are narrow and speeds rarely top 40 km per hour. The drive was a slow and relaxing one as we made our way to Tom’s Cottage.
Tom’s cottage consists two main areas. There are two small self contained cottages that include a very simple mini-kitchen, bathroom and sleeping area. One cottage is located about 60 feet from the ocean. In the Canadian winter (Cook Island summer from November to March) the trees between the cottage and ocean are left to grow as this protects the cottages from the monsoon season. During one particular 1 hour long windy rainstorm we discovered the wisdom in allowing the trees to block the winds from blowing throught the house. During the Aitutaki winter these trees are trimmed down to allow for a nice ocean view from the cottage decks.
The second section of this accommodation is the old house of Papa Tom’s family. He grew up with about 10 siblings and so his father built the family house that now makes up the oldest part of this property. The family house has about 10 rooms coming off of a main hallway and large livingroom/eating area. This area almost reminds me of a very rustic and basic youth hostel with shared washrooms, a television and eating area. The rooms are extremely clean yet basic in a way that takes you back to the old life on Aitutaki.
I highly reccommend the cottages as a rustic and basic type of accommodation. Although it is not for everyone, it is one of the best values for an oceanfront property that you will likely see anywere on Aitutaki. There may be some plans to modernize and rebuild the main house area which would modernize the property but also inevitably add to the cost of this budget rated accommodation. Just keep in mind that as with anywhere else in the tropics, clean up after eating or you will find that the small tropical ants will do the clean-up for you.
The beach in this location is not as nice as other areas of the coastline. We found the water to have a bit of a seaweed type of slime in it. Although it did not stop the children from playing in the water it did not leave the water too clear. The coral here is also very sharp. It did not take long for two of our youngest children to get a scrape on the knee and foot even though we tried our best to ensure that they kept their rubber water socks on at all times.
After walking across the street to the little “Cash and Carry” convenience store, we purchased a few grocery items that we needed to make our very basic meal. Many of the items were sold out and so we walked three minutes down the street to pick up a few other essentials we had been searching for. Following our meal, we started planning the excursions we were going to take over the next few days and called the local boat tour companies and adventure operator on the island. We were told that as long as people in Aitutaki answered the phone their office was open. Even though we were calling between 5 to 7 pm the local tour operators were obviously in business and ready to take bookings.
Aitutaki Lagoon Cruise – A Must Do Experience
Our first and foremost main objective was to book a Lagoon Cruise. There are many operators to choose from. The main thing to consider when selecting a cruise company is do you want to travel on a small boat (8 people) or a large boat (30 people) lots of open space. Keep in mind that the smaller boats can travel to different more remote islets that involve travelling through extremely shallow water less than 4 feet deep. Although we did not know it at the time we had booked ourselves onto one of the smaller boats. After having my own experience on a lagoon cruise I highly reccommend a smaller boat but not necessarily the one that we were on.
We selected Teking a local lagoon cruise operator but found that the degrading humor and sarchasm was a bit wearing on the patience after the first of only a six hour tour. Perhaps this is why there was space on the tour only one day in advance whereas the other small boat cruise operator Kia Orana Cruises or “Captain Fantastic” was booked many days in advance. Others I spoke to had rave reviews of this alternative and slightly less expensive option.
In any case we were in Aitutaki to see the Lagoons and even though the boat almost didn’t operate that day due to the torrential downpour and rain in the morning, we did leave much to our delight. The day was perfect for ourselves and our children. It started our overcast for the first three hours and then cleared up to a bright sunny day near the end of the lagoon tour.
We started our tour by visiting the Australian sponsored marine centre that works at rebuilding the aquatic life of the islands. We were able to see clams being introduced into the local waters to help them regain their numbers as well as seeing sea turtles that were about up to two years old. The local workers even allowed the children to hold the turtles and explained the importance of these animals to the local aquatic environment of the islands.
Following this visit we set off on our boating adventure into the famous Aitutaki Lagoon. We were quickly wisked off to a location where we were able to stop to snorkel in the turquoise coloured lagoon waters. It was within seconds of jumping into the water that we were surrounded by hundreds of tropical fish of all sizes and shapes. This snorkelling location was by far the best for viewing the fish life, a few clams and various types of coral that were growing in the lagoon. It was at this location that we also fed the fish some bread and where my 6 year old son was able to feed them out of his hand (only to have one of the fish think his white finger was fish food – he made a quick exit following that experience… but it did not stop him for long).
Our second stop was to go to a clam sanctuary where Clams have be re-introduced to a protected area of the lagoon. Massive clams the size of two basketballs were not uncommon in this area. Some of the clams were so old that coral formations were growing completely around them. It was amazing to see the efforts in bringing the clam population back up to more healthy numbers in this area where they have died off because of human interaction.
Our first islet stop was that of honeymoon island. This island was a magical walk along a long sandbar of white sand that barely surfaced the blue waters of the lagoon. We were dropped off to walk along a long stretch of remote white sand with no vegetation, crossed two shallow channels of water to where our boat picked us up on the far end of the islet. The sand was dreamy white with hundreds of shells. My children had a hard time understanding that we had not much more time than to walk to the other end of this breathtaking islet back to our boat before being wisked off to another neighbouring islet for lunch. We did however let them take their time before moving them along to the boat.
The next islet was just a minute away by boat and within shallow walking distance. Here we enjoyed a wonderful island lunch with fresh fruits of the island as well as delicious barbequed fish. All of this was served on palm frond woven plates that only added to the charm of the experience. It was hard to get my children focusing on eating their lunch however as there were over a hundred hermit crabs carrying their shell homes of all sizes around the area we were eating at. Some of the crabs were so large that it seemed they could fit no more than a crab-leg inside of their shell. Perhaps it was time for them to upgrade to a larger home.
Our next destination was to push our boat off of the sandbar and into the water for a boat-ride to the other side of the lagoon. During this 20 minute ride we whisked past coral rocks that were barely below the surface of the water. Our captain obviously knew how to navigate the waters well as he zipped within 10 feet of these corals at over 50 kilometres per hour. As we crossed this long stretch of the lagoon we noticed how the water changed from light blue to turquoise to dark blue, all within a matter of minutes. The water at its different depths eminated an amazing variety of rich colours that cannot compare to the bottom of any swimming pool imitation.
Our last stop was at one foot island. This is the famous island that tourists bring their passports to in order to have them stamped at the little post office on the island with its signature “footprint” Aitutaki stamp. The postoffice is on one side of the shaded building while a bar is located on the other half of the counter, separated only by a small rack of postcards.
One foot island is indeed a breathtaking beach with the signature blue waters and white beaches lined with coconut trees. It looks out onto “Survivor Island” where recent reality TV shows have been filmed. The kids once again could hardly be encouraged to get out of the water to have their passport stamped. They were having too much fun splashing in the cool water during the heat of the day.
By 3 PM it was unfortunately time to go home and so we headed off to look at one more island before boating back home for the evening. With what started out as a morning of a torrential downpour, we were glad we stuck to our plans and headed off for the Awe inspiring lagoon of Aitutaki.
Aitutaki Discovery Safari Tours
After taking a 4 Wheel Drive tour on the island of Rarotonga (on which I thouroughly enjoyed myself but would not repeat a second time) I hesitantly embarked on a 4 Wheel Drive, “Aitutaki Discovery Safari Tour” with my family. This was the best decision we made. The Discovery Safari Tour took us through the religion, history, archaeology, native plants and mountain peaks of Aitutaki. It was not only the walk into the historic coral built Cook Island church built over 140 years ago, but also the amazing knowledgeable guide that took us from the coastal uninhabited Southern tip of the island to the three mountain peaks with breathtaking views.
This modified 4×4 touring jeep had bench seats in the back for us to hang on to as we drove on grass roads and through dense jungle where no other person would even know that a road existed. During may parts of the tour we drove directly into what looked like the ridge of a “five-foot tall grass covered mountain” or impassible jungle of branches and trees. But on the other side there was always a road that led us on to the next part of our tour.
Every question regarding the history of the island, the dances of the people, the herbal properties of the plants and the native animals of the island were answered on this tour. Our guide was one of the survival guide/naturalists that assisted the Survivor movie crew as they prepared for and filmed the first Cook Island Aitutaki reality TV series.
My children enjoyed the unreheared parts of the tour where we took a side tour to stop the vehicle beside a Starfruit tree so that each of our children could pluck off some starfruit to snack on in the back of the jeep. They also enjoyed the fresh coconuts, watermelon, papaya and passion fruit that we ate as we took in the sights from the top of Aitutaki’s mountain peak. Looking at the lagoon from both sides of the mountain was amazing.
Before we even knew it three hours had passed and we were back at our cabin to enjoy the rest of the day on the beach.
Aitutaki is such an awe inspiring sight and experience that I cannot recommend that anyone visit the Cook Islands without at least experiencing the life on this island for a few days. Aitutaki is a must-see island, no matter the sacrifice involved in getting there.
I am travelling with my wife Kirsten and five children Alyssa (12), Jaeden (10), Dailin (8), Orin (6) and Eli (3) for a two and a half month adventure to the South Pacific. The first two weeks will be in the Cook Islands (Rarotonga 11 days and then to Aitutaki where we will stay in the islands’ most affordable shack for 3 days).
We will then head off for Tahiti for two months. While in Tahiti we will be staying with two families (of friends). Another friend also has a husband who works on the cargo ships which distributes goods throughout the Society Islands so we will have some real adventurous sea sick stories to tell. The first 2 weeks in Tahiti will probably be on the island of Tahiti, followed by the overnight Cargo ship to Bora Bora where we will stay with another family for 3-4 weeks. From this point we will take some 1 to 3 day trips to nearby islands.
We then plan to venture out to one or more remote Tuamotu Islands (including Rarotonga, a 30 km wide donut shaped island) where we will be cut off from cell phone coverage. Although we are not sure if our budget will allow for it, the Marquesas Islands may be a faint possibility.
Internet access is a bit touch and go on Bora Bora. Not too bad in Tahiti and the Cook Islands so we plan to login once or more per week. We will be updating this online travel blog throughout the trip so people can see what adventures we have experienced or are about to experience. One of our family’s goals are to learn and live from the local Tahitians and to learn French in the process.
We will be leaving on February 21st and returning on May 9th… that is if everything goes as planned. There are a lot of gaps in our plans to account for following the adventure to where it wants to take us. Not to worry, we are prepared… we think.
Part 1: Feb 21, 2007 – Flying with 5 Kids
Flying to the South Pacific
Well February 21st, departure day could not have come soon enough (although I wouldn’t have minded another week to get ready for leaving work for two and a half months). In any case I jumped on the plane with my wife and 5 kids anyways. I couldn’t let them have all the fun without me. Leaving Victoria around noon we were all refreshed and anxious to get going. Only 30 minutes to Vancouver and quick walk through US customs and we were boarding our just under 3 hour flight to Los Angeles.
It was in LA that we got a little restless waiting for our twelve and a half hour trip to Rarotonga (Cook Islands). The five hour layover was a bit long. There were no play areas for the kids and so we kept them entertained with the carry on items we had kept with us. After 5 hours of cards, Lego and scaring fellow passengers with Chinese yo-yo’s we were definitely ready for our late night flight to the South Pacific. The timing was perfect. We kept the kids up late and so by the time our 10pm flight rolled around they were ready for a good night sleep. The two youngest couldn’t even wait the 45 minutes before a hot dinner was served. They were sleeping shortly after takeoff.
The flight was extremely comfortable, especially considering it was only about 20% full. That meant there were some three center seat beds for each member of our family. The nine hours to our first stop in Papeete, Tahiti went by quickly as all the kids slept soundly (and so did I after the in-flight movie).
Our Air New Zealand flight was not reconfigured with the personal in-flight entertainment systems. I think they currently do this for the long range flights directly to New Zealand. As we were preparing to land in Papeete we caught a glimpse of a beautiful above-the-clouds sunrise. The gradually lit up as we landed on our first South Pacific island. Each of our kids were excited to land in French Polynesia but knew that they would have to wait another two weeks before having the opportunity to live there for two months.
Flying through Papeete to Rarotonga
Immediately after exiting the plane and proceeding to customs, we were greeted by two Tahitian girls that handed each passenger a beautifully scented flower with a warm smile. Music was also being played by three musicians as we patiently waited to pass through. After an hour long layover in a special holding area at the airport for transit passengers (complete with a nice sized kids play area) we boarded our flight for Rarotonga with more passengers who joined us. This flight was just under two hours in length and so we landed 23 hours after leaving home.
Our greeting through customs in the Cook Islands was a warm one. Similar to our Tahitian greeting, music was playing and we quickly relaxed into the slower paced mood of the Cook Islands. As we waited for our luggage we watched a police dog walk onto the baggage belt and sniffing and walking over all of our luggage to ensure that no contraband materials were being brought into the islands.
Anyone going to the Cook Islands should make sure to bring some New Zealand dollars with them (either that or some cash to exchange at the airport). There are no ATM’s at the airport or within walking distance. Fortunately I had some Canadian Dollars to exchange otherwise we would have been hiking the 10 km to our hotel. Perhaps I should have pre-booked our hotel transfers too. In any case, with a little bit of local cash on hand we quickly discovered that it was far less expensive for our family of 7 to crowed into a mini-van taxi than to take the multi-stop shuttle bus.