Now it’s not that my backpacking days are well and truly over. They never really happened. I didn’t travel extensively when I was young – no family holidays abroad, no gap year of Inter-rail with my schoolmates. I did have the good fortune to travel in my twenties and thirties but it was mainly to western European destinations. When I did begin to venture further afield, to places like Kenya, Egypt and Japan I did so in comfort.
We have spent the day in Tahiti, which is about as far from home as it’s possible to get. And yet it’s been pretty effortless getting here and seeing this beautiful island. We left Los Angeles 13 days ago and today is only our third day in port. The rest of the time has been a leisurely 18 nautical miles per hour in a southerly direction on calm seas, the Pacific Ocean of course. As another day dawned fair we cruised into port in Papeete.
As I mentioned in a recent blog, I’m leaving you to the delights of Google if you want ‘Tahiti 101’. I’ll be succinct in scene setting; it’s the main island in one of the six archipelagos which constitute French Polynesia. The island is basically circular and we made a counterclockwise circle of some 118km, making frequent stops along the way. As we were sitting on the coastal facing side of the bus, most of the views were out to sea rather than of the hilly interior, which is now sparsely populated.
The impression is of a very lush, fertile landscape, occasional black sand beaches and a reef on the west coast creating sheltered lagoon conditions. Many of the photos in this section were taken from the moving bus and cropped but hopefully they give some indication of the coastline.
Within a short distance from the coast, literally crossing the road, the scenery changes to one of lush, thick verdant plant life. We first saw this at our first stop, the Maraa fern cave, an old lava tube filled with fresh water, some 80m from front to back. This was just a few steps from the coast road but enveloped in dense foliage.
Our next stop was Vaipahi water gardens, where we found some welcome shade from temperatures rising above 30degrees and enjoyed the beautiful and natural plant life.
We now had a 45 minute drive to get us to the east side of the island, a chance to take in some more of the scenery and some of the colourful churches in the island.
By now some refreshment was needed so it was a welcome stop at the Gaugin restaurant. The name is a reminder of the Impressionist’s links with the island but sadly the only one I could find anywhere. The stunning views and cold drink offered some consolation though.
The next stop was the Arahoho blowholes, lava tubes through which, under the right condition, water is forced in spouts. No more than air was in evidence today however, due to low sea swell. But we were excited to spot some humpback whales out to sea (too far to capture in photographs), visible by their spouts and occasional flip from the water. There were also lovely sea views and a peaceful mix of lapping waves and birdsong.
And so it was on to Venus point, a black sand beach popular with locals. There is a lighthouse, built in 1868 by Robert Louis Stevenson senior, father of the author, and monuments to Captain Cook and to Captain Bligh of ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ fame.
A final stop at a viewpoint afforded us stunning vistas over the bay towards Papeete and our ‘floating hotel’.
And so, with almost embarrassing ease, we were gently deposited back at our ship. A quick lunch stop and then back on shore to seek out the market; sadly – in an act of apparent commercial suicide in a poor country with the first cruise ship in many months in port – it was closed! No complaints. I’ve heard people complain their scallops aren’t cooked, that staff don’t know the exact exchange rate for the Tahitian franc and I think there are bigger problems we need to consider first!
So, a relaxing afternoon on board, a first class dinner and then time to choose from the various entertainments on board. And again, made easy by having the local dancers and musicians come aboard; we didn’t even have to leave the ship. Verging on embarrassing.
And after the show, seats on the balcony, drinks from room service and a view of downtown Papeete. It’s not a tough life at all, is it?