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
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
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
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
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
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