R3 ~ Cruising in TAHITI
Second in a series of
South Seas adventures
by Linda Coffman
Papeete, Tahiti ~ Moorea
Tahiti by 4X4 ~
Only a two-hour time difference from Los
Angeles, Tahiti is light-years away. Our first order of business
after check-in, a light dinner on the R3, and unpacking was to stretch our legs and
At night, Papeete appears charming and
exotic. Ambling down Boulevard Pomare we admired stylish French clothing
designs in boutique windows but found little activity. The center
of the action was immediately to the left of the R3's gangway--les
roulouttes, the mobile restaurants that set up in the waterfront parking
lot after dark. It's the least expensive place to eat in Papeete and the
smells were inviting to say the least.
Tourism is beginning to flourish in the islands
of Tahiti and, according to Yves Valen, Press Attache to the Minister of
Tahiti Tourisme, the government is making a concerted effort to improve the
infrastructure to offer visitors the best experience possible. Three
cruise ships now call Tahiti home and many others make intermediary South
Pacific itinerary stops in the islands. Tourism is a growth industry and
saw great strides toward completion of the new port facility in Papeete in
just nine days. With a few exceptions, the guides on our tours spoke
very good English and went out of their way to answer questions and provide us
with information about their culture and homeland.
Tahiti 4X4 Safari
Our first tour took us to the "wilds"
of Tahiti. The 4X4 vehicles are similar to Range Rovers with two bench
seats in the back--each seating six to eight passengers, four to a side facing
each other. Leaving Papeete behind we were soon climbing a rugged road
up the mountainous central portion of the island, following a stream
through lush valleys punctuated with dozens of waterfalls. Our convoy of
4X4s made a number of stops to examine a variety of plant species and learn
their uses. Many non-native plants, such as fruit trees, were introduced
to Tahiti by Europeans. While some of these are useful, others tend to
take over without careful pruning. Of all the flora, taro, hibiscus, and
nono (a medicinal plant) seem the most useful, providing Tahitians with
everything from food and medicine to leaves that can be used as cooking
utensils and picnic plates.
Tahiti by 4X4 ~
Stopping to swim in the waterfall-fed stream was
a refreshing break. It was also exciting with the strong current and
slippery rocks. Water shoes are a definite necessity if you plan on
taking a cool dip. We made our way up impossible looking inclines to
reach the Relais de la Maroto mountain restaurant for a delicious and
leisurely lunch. Our host proudly invited us to view his wine cellar
with over 6,000 bottles of wine--quite unusual to find in the mountainous
interior of Tahiti but, after all, this is French Polynesia.
The last stop before heading back to civilization
was a sacred marae temple. Our guide explained that this temple was from
the 14th or 15th century but some date back as early at the 8th century.
Maraes were generally rectangular with a base of stone. Unfortunately,
many of these temples were dismantled when missionaries arrived--their stones
were sometimes used as the foundations of churches. Many Tahitian
traditions were lost when temple prayer was halted; however their oral history
was passed along through dance and song.
Did I mention this tour was
"rugged"? We were dismayed to learn that our trip back was
along the exact route we'd already passed. Our six hour tour stretched
into about seven and a half and grew increasingly uncomfortable as we bounced
over the bone-crushing trail back to the capital.
First, take along bottled water--it's hot. Then try
to put together a congenial group for your 4X4--you'll be spending the
day together in close proximity. If you plan on swimming, wear your suit
(there are no changing rooms along the trail, but there are trees). Even
if you aren't swimming, bring along a beach towel to sit on--the benches are
plastic and it's just more comfortable to sit on terry cloth. Finally,
don't forget your insect repellant and sun screen. I found the perfect
product before leaving home--waterproof Deep Woods OFF with 19% DEET and SPF
15 sunscreen, a two-in-one cream that was a life saver.
Black Sand Beach
Tahiti Circle Island
All I wanted to do during our second day docked
in Papeete was soak in the Thalassotherapy pool and then wander around
downtown and explore the Municipal Market. Mel chose an afternoon shore
excursion--the Tahiti Circle
Island tour. In a comfortable air-conditioned bus, he set off for Point
Venus, the spot where Captain Cook first landed, and then on to the impressive
Arahoho Blowhole, black sand beaches, across a narrow isthmus to the smaller
Tahiti Iti where Fort Taravao stands guard, then to the lovely gardens
of Vaipahi and the cascading waterfall, and finally Maraa Grotto, caverns
overhung with cool ferns.
Mel observed that the "back side" of
the island was a huge contrast to both the city and the the island's
interior--the less populous coastal areas are prettier and the view across to
"little" Tahiti Iti proved its beauty exceeds that of the larger
Tahiti Nui. Tahiti is not the site of the fabulous beaches pictured in
tourism brochures--instead, most beaches are black sand. Unusual and
lovely in their own way, they aren't as spectacular as the white sand beaches
and the water appears murky, although it really isn't. All in all, Mel
had an enjoyable tour but felt it could be done easily with a rental car and
guidebook for those passengers wishing to strike out on their
Another tour offered covers Polynesian Heritage,
including the Paul Gauguin Museum, the Marae of Atahurahu, and the Museum of
Tahiti and Her Islands. Some people who took this tour expressed
disappointment that the "works" of Gauguin are reproductions,
although this is noted in the shore excursion description. Finally, an
hour long helicopter tour is available, as well as Grands Ballet de Tahiti, an
evening show of authentic dances and songs.
Would we do these tours over again? Knowing
what I know now, I'd have skipped the 4X4 and taken either the Circle Island
tour or rented a car. From word of mouth and photos displayed
onboard, the Grands Ballet was colorful and entertaining, but no more so than
shows presented onboard R3 during our time in Raiatea and Bora Bora.
After browsing the shops and marketplace ashore, I returned to R3 and made my
purchases there from a local Tahitian Mama who was on board to display and
sell traditional handicrafts. Her pareus (sarongs) were more colorful and the
prices were very reasonable.
Each evening local fishermen tie up along the
pier to the right of R3. We enjoyed talking to them and Mel inquired
about going fishing. What would be the charge? Nothing... he could
come along for free and "help" fish. What a shame we didn't
have the time for him to join them. They were fun-loving and friendly,
sharing their exploits and sending us along our way with a bag of beignets,
sweet French donuts, for breakfast as we set sail for Moorea.
Moorea ~ only twelve miles west of Tahiti
Tender service began early for passengers
scheduled on shore excursions. We chose to explore the lagoon that
encircles Moorea on the Snorkel & Ray Feeding tour. Motorized
outrigger canoes were awaiting us at the dock and we set off through the
clearest water I've ever seen. From sheer crystal green to deepest
azure, the range of color is breathtaking. Lagoon waves sparkle in the
sunlight and bright coral and tropical fish are visible from the
Once anchored near the coral reef, our guides
began feeding the gentle stingrays gathering at our feet. Tame creatures,
if somewhat shy, they allowed us to pet them and rubbed against our legs like
cats. Leaving the rays behind we stopped next at a small motu (or
island) and snorkeled among incredibly beautiful coral and brightly colored
fish. Like our earlier stop to swim with the stingrays, the underwater
current was strong. We walked along the beach toward the reef before
entering the water and let the current carry us back toward the canoes and
refreshing juices and fruits set up by the guides.
Moorea -- Private Motu ~
A word of caution... avoid touching the
coral. Reef shoes are an absolute necessity to protect your feet--coral
is sharp and cuts can easily become infected. I can attest to how
painful such a cut can be, managing to slice my finger and scrape my knee
while swimming. At both locations we were advised not to wear fins.
Even poor swimmers had no trouble floating in the lagoons due to the high salt
content of the water.
Moorea ranked high among our fellow passengers'
choice of "favorite island" and with good cause. It's
absolutely beautiful and there were a wide range of activities to choose from
to occupy our two days there. Mel finished off the first day with his
maiden helicopter ride--an exhilarating experience and source of wondrous
views of the entire island and lagoon. Not being that brave, I
chose to poke around through the dockside stalls and spent the
better part of the afternoon with Gudrun Beuscher, a local artist and jewelry
maker. It was interesting to contrast her life growing up in Germany
with her current lifestyle in Moorea. Without exception, the crafters
and artisans in Moorea were friendly as well as extremely talented--this was
the island with the nicest pareus, mother of pearl jewelry, and watercolors in
Tahiti. Gudrun confided that residents are pleased with the upswing in
tourism and also their government's responsible position on resort
expansion. Only church towers can be taller than coconut trees.
Outrigger Canoe -- Moorea ~
As luck would have it, those participants in the
Dolphin Watching Expedition came up short in regard to seeing dolphins.
When the pontoon boats returned from the Motu Beach Picnic excursion, it was
pretty obvious the picnickers had a terrific time and they actually saw
dolphins while they swam and snorkeled. Afternoon snorkelers on the
Snorkel & Ray Feeding didn't encounter any stingrays. It all goes to
show, Tahiti's marine life wasn't on "schedule" and often, neither were we.
Famous Overwater Bunglaows
Moorea~another perfect day
Our first day in Moorea ended with the R3 sailing
from Cook's Bay. Unable to remain comfortably at anchor due to night winds from the
mountains, we sailed peacefully around the island and returned in the morning.
Circle Island & Tiki Village
Moorea's mountains served as the backdrop for the
movie "South Pacific" and are far more impressive up close than on the silver
screen. Our bus tour included stops at Polynesia's oldest church, scenic
overlooking Cook's Bay and Opunohu Bay, and the ever-present mountains.
Moorea islanders traditionally made their homes in the mountains and descended to the beaches only for fishing. Our guide gave a broad
overview of the island's history and insight into current lifestyles--Mooreans
hold fast to cherished traditions.
Tiki Village Pearl Farm ~
The Tiki Village may (or may not) have been a
"slice of island life" but it was certainly fun in a camp sort of
way. Visitors are shown a miniature pearl farm (reached by canoe) and
given the opportunity to purchase black pearl jewelry on the spot.
Resident artisans create crafts which are also available to purchase.
But the real highlight of the Tiki Village is the show--a pareus
demonstration, dancing, singing, and finally audience participation.
GREAT fun and full of vitality.
Tiki Village ~
By this time in our excursion-taking we were
beginning to notice a trend... nearly all tours were longer than the scheduled
duration. They all began on time, but seldom ended when we expected them
to. Add delay-causing dawdlers to "island" time and, for those
who'd also booked an afternoon tour, it was difficult to relax by the time a
morning tour was supposed to end. We made it back to the pier in time
for Mel's afternoon 4X4 tour, but without time to return to the ship for
lunch. The Moorea by 4X4 tour was one of the most scenic and made stops
at a pineapple plantation and the agricultural college where exquisite
tropical plants are cultivated.
Additional tours included Magnificent Moorea (a
fully narrated bus tour), a Catamaran Sail, Waverunner ride across the lagoon,
and Parasailing. There was adventure and romance for every comfort level
and we'd have enjoyed a longer visit on this magical island... but we were off