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R3 ~ Cruising in TAHITI

Third in a series of South Seas adventures

by Linda Coffman

Huahine ~ Raiatea

~ Cycling in Huahine ~

Huahine Guided Bicycle Tour

R3 is the first cruise ship to regularly include the island of Huahine on its itinerary and cruise passengers are welcomed as special visitors.  Although agricultural and primitive, Huahine is home to the long-time Hotel Bali Hai, as well as being a back-packers haven. 

Active cruisers on R3 looked forward to seeing Huahine from the perspective of bicycles.  Being a cycling enthusiast, this included Mel and about a dozen other passengers.  The group set off to see archeological sites and the island's lovely scenery and beaches on new 21-speed mountain bikes.  While they began touring at 8:30am, as the temperature rose the pace slowed accordingly.  Short rest stops included photo opportunities and explanations by the guide.  Their tour ended at the beach with swimming and refreshments.  Although no one needed it, a  "sag" van was available for cyclists unable to complete the ride.  Mel suggests signing up for the morning ride--the afternoon heat could make it difficult to keep up for the casual biking participant. 

Sightseeing, Snorkel & Beach Combination 

While Mel was off punishing himself with what I consider self-inflicted torture, I joined the equally ambitious combination tour.  Beginning with sightseeing on a comfortable bus, our tour wound through the town of Fare and to encounter surprises around every curve of the island.  Passing private gardens, each more beautiful than the last, we stopped at a vanilla plantation and learned the labor intensity of growing this crop.  From planting, hand pollination, and finally processing, it's easy to understand why even a small bottle fetches $5 in the Papeete market.  More plantations dot the winding road, but not the traditional "plantations" Americans are accustomed to envisioning.  Rather, these coconut, pineapple, and vanilla plantations are small plots of land--carefully cultivated and lovingly tended.  The nono plant and a variety of crotons are also grown and prized for their medicinal qualities.  One breathtaking view was on the  belvedere overlooking the R3, serene and peaceful at anchor.

Following a stop by a clear cool stream to feed blue-eyed freshwater eels, we skirted Maeva Lake where fisherman still tend 400-year old stone fish traps.  Then it was on to Pareo Beach for refreshments and swimming.  Our guide scurried up a coconut tree and dropped down fruit which was loaded along with us on an outrigger canoe.  We headed out the lagoon to snorkel in the swift current near the reef.  This is definitely the place to wear fins.  Even clutching a personal floatation device for safety (I'm a poor swimmer), I was intimidated by the depth of the water and strength of the current.  Thinking I was following the others, I was dismayed to raise my mask and discover I'd drifted in the opposite direction.  There weren't as many tropical fish to see but the sea cucumbers and colorful coral formations were mesmerizing.  Making my way to the canoe, I floated safely holding onto the anchor line and outrigger.

During our trip back to the tender dock, we were treated to bananas sweetened with shredded coconut and served on "platters" fashioned of leaves by our hosts.  All in all, it was a satisfying morning and one I wouldn't have missed.  Once again we concluded on island time--a four hour tour stretched into five and made me a bit late for the seaweed wrap I scheduled in the Steiner Spa onboard.  

Huahine Highlights & More

Comparing notes with Mel later, his afternoon "highlights" tour covered the same ground as my morning tour, without the beach and snorkel diversion.  Nearly a dozen tour offerings were available to R3 passengers on Huahine.  From a guided car ride, glass bottom boat tours, lagoon snorkeling, a private catamaran sail and 4X4 adventure, to an all-day Beach Feast, waverunner exploration, and shuttle into Fare, there was a lot more available to fill our single day in Huahine than we could squeeze in.

As the sun slipped into the sea, we set sail for Raiatea.

~ Raiatea--Inside the Crater ~

Raiatea by 4X4 & Canoe

Docking for the first time since Papeete--and being able to come and go at will for two days in the city of Ulturoa--was a treat.  Immediately off the pier, through a covered market where local crafters sell their wares, our 4X4's gathered to whisk us off to explore Raiatea's massive volcanic craters.  A brief shower cleared the air and our guide removed the vehicle's canvas covering.  While still overcast, it was a perfect morning to drive through dense foliage inside the craters and view the variety of plant life cultivated in the experimental agricultural station and plantations dotting the landscape.  

Less rugged than our previous 4X4 tour in Tahiti, we alternated standing and sitting and thoroughly enjoyed the scenery.  Ferocious mosquitoes swarmed about when we stopped along the streams--insect repellant is a must.  After numerous photo stops and a refreshment break including fruit and juice, we made our way down from the crater to Taputapuatea Marae, one of French Polynesia's most sacred sites.  This sanctuary with its volcanic stone base was a center for religious expression.  Located alongside the water, ceremonies were performed there for significant events in life including spells to guard fishermen taking to sea. 

Taking to the sea ourselves, we transferred from the 4X4s to covered canoes for transport up the Faaroa River and then along Raiatea's beautiful coastline to the dock in Ulturoa.  Raiatea has no beaches but there are beautiful beaches for swimming and snorkeling on the numerous motus.  Either the ship's tour, Sailing to Motu Mahaea, or a private tour arranged dockside would be a pleasant diversion.  Numerous tour operators were set up on the pier but their offerings were pricey.

Only four ship's tours were available in Raiatea and I heard some grousing by passengers that they felt there was more to do on Huahine (and why had we only spent one day there?).  The Island Myth & Legend Cruise, similar in flavor to the 4X4 tour, covered the land portion by Le Truck versus 4X4.  If you did one, you likely wouldn't want to do the other. 

We spent the afternoon wandering through town, checking the market and local stores.  Beyond the pier, this is the least touristy destination we encountered.

~ Sunset in Paradise ~

Sunset Catamaran Cruise

Sounding romantic and exotic, a sunset cruise aboard "Va'a Rahi" was every bit of that and more.  Living up to her billing as a luxurious catamaran, her name means literally "canoe big" and she is spacious and scrupulously maintained.  We scampered onto the forward netting to watch the colorful lagoon waters whiz by below as the crew raised the sails.  Rum punches and beer were available for purchase and the mood grew festive as we motored past picturesque motus, nearing Bora Bora.  In the growing twilight, our captain demanded silence and urged us to watch for the "green flash" only visible as the sun set.  Bathed in a golden glow, the only sounds were the waves against our hull and the whir of camera shutters as the sky blazed a fiery orange-red and the sun quickly dropped below the horizon, leaving behind a surreal mirage where the sea met the sky.  Speaking in whispers we returned to the dock,  captured by the spell of a perfect south sea sunset. 

"An Evening Under the Stars" 

R3 beckoned us--lights ablaze for a performance of local tamure by the Raiatea Nui Dancers.  Drums beat and dancers burst onto the stage in a tantalizing mixture of color and motion.  Captivating the standing-room only audience with a combination of joyous innocence and sexuality, their show was one of the highlights of our Tahiti cruise--a not to be missed performance!

A night on the town

The buzz filtering through the ship was that Raiatea offered nightlife in the form of a disco, Le Zenith.  This was definitely an aspect of island culture we couldn't pass up.  Although 11pm wasn't early to us, the night was young as we settled in.  Bar items--local beer, imported beer, soft drinks, and bottled water--were $5, making ordering and paying simple.  Music was either French or Tahitian and we filled the dance floor (particularly for American standards "YMCA" and "Stand By Me"--with vocals in French) and had a great time until after 1am.  Old fogies?  Us?  Okay... the "seniors in training" left just about the time crew members were arriving and we heard the next day that the action went on past 3am.   

Another end to another perfect day in Paradise.

Bon Voyage!  Linda

The articles in this series detail each of the islands (Tahiti, Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea, and Bora Bora) as well as the pleasures of life on board the R3.  Join us to feed sharks, swim with stingrays, trek by 4X4 and canoe, and circle Bora Bora on a waverunner!  

R3~4th in Series Cruising in Tahiti - Bora Bora & Beyond

Back to R3~1st in Series Cruising in Tahiti
              R3~2nd in Series Cruising in Tahiti

And finally... a special note of thanks to Brad Ball of Renaissance Cruises for making this dream of a lifetime come true.  Mauruuru roa!

Illustrations--Mel Coffman
Copyright 2000 by Linda Coffman