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Published: December 28th 2020
This was our second attempt at visiting this place, having been completely washed out on our first visit, to take in reputedly the world's most beautiful island. The island has at its centre an extinct volcano that rises to two volcanic peaks Mount Pahia and Mount Otemanu. The highest point is 727 metres (2385 feet). It is surrounded by a fringing reef of coral with many motus (a reef inlet formed by broken coral and sand surrounding an atoll - in other words a very small island) housing an array of luxury resort hotels and an airport.
The island was among the smaller ones we have visited (30.55 square kilometres) and takes less than a couple of hours to go all the way around - with stops. The coast road is, for the most part flat or flattish with gradients only at a couple of peninsular cut-through roads. On our arrival at 9.00 am we decided to take a group taxi around the island for $30 apiece with a guide called Pascal - a local guy who was born in Paris where he spent his early years. M & D sat at the front of the vehicle so had excellent
views of the island. The fist stop after leaving Vaitape, which is the major settlement located at the western end of the main island, was at Faanui, a small settlement with a smart protestant church and a good view, cloud covered of course, of Mount Otemanu. We continued clockwise to our next stop at Marae Fare Opu which was pleasant enough but not on the same scale as the Ra'iatea marae. We were stopped for 15 minutes for the insertion of a water main across the unmade main road, (time doesn't matter in these parts) before continuing on our way around the largely rural island with a few small villages. Along the whole route we had excellent views of Marlon Brando's pad (now owned by his wife), the lagoon and the motus housing the posh hotels.
About three quarters of the way around, we reached the village of Matira which, is where the remainder of the luxury resort hotels are located (those not on the motus) - for the singular reason that the lagoon is sufficiently deep here to facilitate excellent swimming. We stopped at and were shown the only public beach on the island of which more later.
Our final stop was at Bloody Mary's which, we understand from those intrepid folk who went round the island in the rain on our last visit, was then closed. An Ozzie, known as Baron George, opened this bar/restaurant in 1979. It was constructed of jungle timber and bamboo to re-create the charm and romance of the island that James A Michener portrayed in his book 'Tales of the South Pacific'. When you enter the restaurant it is like walking in to a Holywood movie set. There is also an extremely rude handle on the flush in the gents toilets. Needless to say, it was impossible for the guys to get in to the gents as all the women on our and other taxi tours were all in there taking photographs. We took the usual photo's at the stopover. We finally returned to Vaitape about 11.30 am after the various stops and decided to go and book a lagoon trip for the afternoon.
This started at $70 for a 4 hour trip on M's first asking but eventually came down to $60 (each of course) subsequently. D could not lower this price and, in fact, was told the trip
would be $60 for a 3 hour trip around a single motu - starting at 1.30 pm, or as soon as they could get 6 persons. At about 12.50 M went to finalize the negotiations during the middle of our picnic lunch to be told the lady had left for the day. She hadn't; we found her, but she told M they were not running the trip in the afternoon as we were their only customers. Anywhere else in the would run a small boat for $120 for three hours, but not in French Polynesia.
Not to be thwarted, we finished our picnic lunch and found a place to rent bicycles at about 2 pm. We figured we had plenty of time for a nice ride given we weren't leaving until 7 pm - but we didn't. The lady told us she was closing for the day at 4 pm. Also, Mr Europcar was also closing at 4 pm. Still, we took the bikes for 2 hours for $12 each and cycled back to the public beach. It was even better than we remembered from the morning - in fact the best beach in Polynesia - and fairly uncrowded.
The sand was clean, the sea was clean, the weather completely cleared - even from the mountain top - and it was hot. We chatted to a couple from LA who were on a second cruise ship from whom we learned that they also had to get their rental car back for 4 pm! We swam for 45 glorious minutes and then started our half hour ride back to Vaitape, stopping off at Bloody Mary's on the way where M did her videoing to complement the mornings more tasteful photos - attached. You will notice that with typical artistic flair and licence M has added M & D to the 'Wall of Fame' which is a list of famous people who have visited the establishment - but you will only see this pic on the blog; it's not for real!
We returned the bikes with a couple of minutes to spare giving D time to photo the cycling prowess of M. We decided to have a last beer - another Polynesian bargain at $5 for half a pint (just under a fiver a pint) - before returning to the MSVG. This last purchase did have the saving grace of
us spending (as opposed to wasting) our remaining Pacific Francs as well as enjoying a nice cold beer.
We should add that on both visits we thoroughly enjoyed French Polynesia. We cannot say for sure that we feel the same about the locals; some were very friendly but and equal number were indifferent or churlish. We can say for sure that it is far too expensive for an independent re-visit.
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