South Pacific Treasures - New Zealand and French Polynesia, April 2018

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April 21st 2018
Published: April 21st 2018
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South Pacific Treasures – New Zealand and French Polynesia

April 2018

Two days of endless ocean sailing – water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink – due east from Sydney has brought me to a new global destination. New Zealand is an island country in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. The country geographically comprises two main landmasses—the North Island, and the South Island—and around 600 smaller islands. The country is situated some 1,000 miles east of Australia across the Tasman Sea, and roughly 650 miles south of the Pacific island areas of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga. Because of its remoteness, it was one of the last lands on earth to be settled by humans. During its long period of isolation, New Zealand developed a distinct biodiversity of animal, fungal and plant life. The country's varied topography and its sharp mountain peaks such as the Southern Alps, owe much to the tectonic uplift of land and volcanic eruptions. New Zealand's capital city is Wellington, while its most populous city is Auckland.

The ship docked just after 9am and as I prepared to climb into the tender for the short trip over to the pier, I noticed the temperature difference – at least 15 degrees cooler than Sydney. The port is in a very historic spot – the Treaty of Waitangi is a treaty first signed on February 6, 1840 by representatives of the British Crown and Maori chiefs from the North Island. It’s a document of central importance to the history and political constitution of the state of New Zealand and has been highly significant in framing the political relations between New Zealand's government and the Maori population. Men fought and died on these hallowed grounds during the Northern Wars prior to this treaty and are buried in the vicinity.

The Bay of Islands is an area on the east coast of the Far North District of the North Island. It is one of the most popular fishing, sailing and tourist destinations in the country, and has been renowned internationally for its big-game fishing since American author Zane Grey publicized it in the 1930s. Bryan was our bus driver for the day and he began his spiel by letting us know that NZ has the greenest grass on the planet (and yes, much greener than Ireland, according to him). I generally take whatever a tour guide tells me with a grain of salt, until I prove that information as genuine or false but in Bryan’s case, he was 100% correct. I can state here and now this country DOES have grass so deeply emerald, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see painters out there creating these colorful pastures – it doesn’t look natural, it’s THAT green – score one for Bryan. The soft undulating hills gleam in the morning sunlight and its impossible to count the numerous shades of green. From the flat fields with grazing sheep galore, to the dense pine forests on the hilltops – it’s simply awesome. Photos could never do it justice.

After 30 minutes of driving thru this fabulous countryside, we arrive at New Zealand’s second oldest building, Te Waimate Mission, which preserves missionary, farming and architectural history, as well as stories of important early encounters between Maori and Europeans.

The once-extensive mission station was established by the London-based Church Missionary Society to instruct the Maori in European farming techniques, while promoting the Christian way of life. As well as preserving stories of great endeavor, conflict and perseverance, it is a notable early attempt to recreate an English pastoral landscape.

Built in 1832 under the direction of the Reverend Samuel Marsden and using local Maori labor, the Mission House was erected as a single-story dwelling of Georgian design. Through its appearance, and genteel features such as a dining room and parlor, the house promoted the idea of Pakeha 'civilization'. Subsequent additions were removed after Te Waimate was purchased by the New Zealand government in 1961.

Very well preserved and featuring period furniture, the house today is fascinating to visit; interpretive displays and artifacts relay a wealth of stories. Te Waimate’s role in fostering Maori-Pakeha relations is particularly significant. In February 1840, the Mission House hosted the second signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand’s founding document, after it was taken around the country for consideration by different Maori groups.

Another display commemorates the 1835 visit of Charles Darwin who waxed lyrical over Te Waimate’s "English farm house and its well-dressed fields, placed there as if by an enchanter’s wand".

Outside in the spacious grounds – perfect for a picnic – visitors follow an archaeological trail that conjures up life in the original mission village, and see New Zealand’s oldest English oak tree, nearly 230 years old. A lovely church and graveyard alongside, provide a moving reminder of all those who fell in the tumultuous Northern Wars. It’s also possible to view valuable relics of the Mission’s flour mill and the miller’s cottage. I had enough time to photograph this treasure from one end to the other before it was time to re-board the bus and head to the highlight of today’s sightseeing, the Glow Worm Caves.

Located right in the heart of the Waiomio Valley, the Kawiti Caves are home to thousands of luminous glow worms, breathtaking rock formations and lush green rainforest. Here I walked thru a cave system to explore the world famous milky way, a cavern filled with glow worms as far as the eye can see. I journeyed underground through networks of stalactites and stalagmites to hidden chambers like the Waiomio night sky, where the glow worms are so close I could almost touch them. Only electric lamps are carried into the cave system so as not to disturb the glow worms, and photography is strictly forbidden. The wooden-plank walkway is narrow with water running and dripping all around you, and when the lamps are extinguished, you are plunged into total darkness to really appreciate the brilliance of the glow worms. Talk about an interesting experience – that hardly scratches the surface as a description! I stopped by the cave office on the way out and talked the owner into emailing me some photos of this phenomenon.

A little bit of history:

The Kawiti caves (formerly Waiomio Caves) were discovered in the early 17th century by a Maori woman by the name of Roku. Hineamaru, a famous female chieftain of the Ngati hine tribe, arrived at Waiomio with her aged father, Torongare and her brothers. Exploring the valley, she discovered trodden Tawa berries which made her curious, as no member of her party had ever come this way previously. Later smelling smoke which seemed to come from a nearby hill, she went forward and found this coming from a cave. Deciding to venture further, she went approximately 60’ in from the entrance, where she came upon a woman sitting by a fire. Hineamaru learned that she was Roku, runaway wife of Haumoewarangi of the Tribe Ngatitu. Today, the Kawiti Caves are owned and operated by the Kawiti Family, direct descendants of Hineamaru.

The Glow worm and Limestone Cave Tours were first established in the 1950’s by Te Tawai Kawiti, Great grandson of the famous Maori Chief Kawiti. The cave system offered a unique insight into early Maori history and culture. Since then, Te Tawai’s descendants have followed in his footsteps, acting as living links to the past and making history come alive with their entertaining commentary and rich local knowledge. The Kawiti family have guided thousands of travelers through their caves, including our own American billionaire Bill Gates who visited with his family in 2007.

An overnight sailing of some 139 nautical miles brought me the next morning into Auckland, a city unlike any other. With incredible natural wonders on the doorstep of a world class city, it’s the perfect short break destination. Only a short 3-hour flight from Australia’s eastern coast, Auckland allows the opportunity to hike through a rainforest in the day and discover the best of vibrant nightlife that night. Only here is wandering through grape-vines and a colorful shopping precinct in the same afternoon possible. Only in Auckland can you kayak to a volcano in the morning and enjoy world class cuisine and five-star accommodation that night.

Imagine an urban environment where everyone lives within half an hour of beautiful beaches, hiking trails and a dozen enchanting islands. Add a sunny climate, a background rhythm of Polynesian culture and a passion for outstanding food, wine and shopping, and you’re beginning to get the picture of this fascinating North Island city. More than just a city, Auckland is a whole region full of things to see and do. Best of all with so many experiences close by, it’s easy to hop from one adventure to the next.

Auckland is the largest urban area in the country, with a population of just under 2 million warm bodies. A diverse and multicultural city, it’s home to the largest Polynesian population in the world. It’s #1 revenue generator is of course tourism, closely followed by export of dairy, meat and lumber products. The cruise ship port is located right in the heat of the CBD, just steps away from a McDonald’s and an ice cream parlor…. what more could any American tourist want, I ask ya?

Tour buses were parked at the end of the gangway, and it was here that I came face to face with the most fascinating sight yet: complete facial tattoos of a full blood Maori by the name of Mikey, who was to be my driver and guide for the day. He didn’t stand more than 5.5” tall but he exuded such supreme confidence with his wide stance, I just knew I was in the presence of a mighty Maori warrior. Then he opened his mouth and with his “hiya mate” greeting in a strong Kiwi accent, blew away my visions of grandeur….LOL. Now Mikey is a character for sure and a total hoot. His entire face from hairline to chin is covered with tribal tattoos, one half represents his father’s ancestry and the other, his mother’s. His lips are the only part of his face which are currently untouched by the needle, but in the near future he will undergo the painful process with the old “tapping” hand method, to have these decorated as well. In tribal tradition, only men have the full facial markings…. women only have the chin and lower lip tattooed. Mikey used to ride with a biker gang on his Harley (black leather gear and all) and this gang had a favorite hangout which is now a major tourist attraction: the historic village of Puhoi, a Maori word meaning “slow water”. Located on the banks of the Puhoi River, it was settled by Europeans on June 29, 1863 by a group of German-speaking migrants from Staab in Bohemia, under the leadership of Captain Martin Krippner. This has given it the appellation of "Bohemian Settlement". A total of three groups of migrants arrived between 1863 and 1866.

The village is so small if you blink twice you miss it, but it does have two very interesting buildings: The Slow Water Trading Post and the Puhoi House Hotel, now a pub, and well worth visiting. In spite of it being only 10:00am, the pub was serving tea time for the tour group, and not being someone who ever turns down fresh coffee, count me in. Along with the delicious coffee appeared a plate of goodies: scones with fresh clotted cream and strawberry jam (I just died and went to culinary heaven), tiny sausage-stuffed rolls, a big piece of German chocolate cake and some Scotch shortbread….who the hell cares what time it is with this being offered? After this marvelous mid-morning snack, I wandered over to explore the trading post with the obligatory black and white border collie sleeping on the porch. This tiny store was packed to the rafters with every type of knick-knack known to man…. I could spend hours poking around in there. But Mikey was calling everyone back to the bus, as we had an appointment at a nearby sheep station and he didn’t want us to miss the show starting at 11:30am.

Sheep farming played a huge part in the development of the New Zealand economy, and for 130 years was the most important agricultural industry. The image of New Zealand as a country full of sheep is well founded. In 1982 the country’s sheep population peaked at 70 million, and while it is lower today (only seven sheep per person, compared with 22 at its highest), New Zealand is still the world’s largest exporter of lambs. Sheep here are farmed for their meat and wool. Popular types of sheep include Merino, originally from Spain producing fine wool; Corriedale, a cross between the Merino and some English breeds; New Zealand Romney, one of the most populous breeds and Drysdale, which produce hairy coarse wool, often used in carpet weaving.

Around 220,000 tons of wool is shorn from New Zealand sheep each year. Shearers often work in gangs and travel from farm to farm, earning approximately $2 per sheep, with the top shearers making more than $100,000 annually. Some of these are illiterate – not a bad salary for someone who can’t read or write! Improvements in technology have made the shearing process safer and faster, but it is still hard physical work. Shearing competitions are held regularly to find the fastest, and Kiwi shearers are often the international champions.

For the next 2 hours I had one of the best times ever…. watching John, a master shearer, take the wool from a lamb in less than 45 seconds, which had never been sheared before. I expected a wrestling match with an animal in total terror, what I saw was a docile, half asleep sheep perfectly happy to have a complete body haircut. Apparently when a sheep is placed on its back, balancing on it’s butt against the shearer’s legs, it goes into a type of trance with no trace of any fight left in its body until finally released, shorn and naked, to return to the sheep pen. John had his two sheep dogs in attendance and what those dogs can do when it comes to controlling a rattled flock, has to be seen to be believed. One dog is totally silent, stalking and running around the animals to keep them as close to John as possible. The other has a loud bark which enables lost sheep to be found and rounded up, when lost in the bush. He controls both with various whistles and they instantly react to his every command.

While he demonstrated his incredible ability with the lamb, he gave us the history of sheep shearing from inception to present day. The skill was taught from a young age and thru experience working on farms across the country, back in the old days. Now anyone looking to acquire this as a trade, can attend a 3-day intensive course to learn the basics and then take about a year to become proficient with a comb and blade. The very best with this skillset can shear more than 800 animals in an 8-hour working day, only stopping for a couple of water breaks morning and afternoon, and an hour for lunch. Of course, there will be times when a shearer cuts a sheep but rarely is this a problem and is almost never fatal. The natural lanolin in the wool is both an antiseptic and an antibacterial oil which helps heal any wound in record time. It also is responsible for shearers’ having the softest hands in creation! Gotta love that lanolin.

Before climbing back on the bus for the hour’s drive back to the ship, Mikey finished the day’s activities with a rendition of his tribe’s war song and a demonstration of a typical war dance, complete with devilish face at the conclusion and yes, even sticking his tongue out….my recommendation for this country? Plan a date soon and get your ass to Auckland – this place rocks!

Now we begin the run to French Polynesia – first, four “at sea” days which includes crossing the International Date Line and celebrating April 16th twice. Imagine, living thru two Mondays in one week – how cool is that? The ship has a myriad of onboard activities to keep the guests occupied and hopefully happy – I’m armed with my Kindle and loaded with books I’ve been dying to read. The Celebrity Solstice is the first ship in the Solstice class, first built in 2008 and refurbished in 2016. It carries a total of 2,850 passengers along with 1,250 crew members, and the onboard currency is US dollars. There is much to like and enjoy here but I do have a few negatives on my list. A crew change took place in mid-April and not necessarily for the better, especially in the restaurant areas. Many of the waiters are poorly (if ever) trained and appear clueless as to how service is always conducted from a passenger’s right side. Reaching across a guest to deliver meals or pickup dirty dishes is a definite no-no. When tables are reset for incoming diners, half the condiments, silverware and glasses are usually missing, and attempting to get their attention is sometimes “an impossible dream”. The main dining room is simply not well run at all. And don’t get me started on the procedure used to ferry passengers ashore when tenders are necessary in some ports of call. I couldn’t even call it organized chaos – it wasn’t. It’s simply a totally chaotic zoo and ends up with many onboard missing their scheduled shore excursions, due to the inept way this entire process is handled. The nightly entertainment sometimes leaves much to be desired when single comedian, vocalist or magician acts are on the menu – I generally give those a miss and wait for the Celebrity ensemble cast performances which are more entertaining. And the one show the ensemble cast does extremely well – “Euphoria” – is Las Vegas worthy – see my pictures to get an idea of just how different it is. I do like the small movie theater which has newer releases playing daily and also hosts lectures and travel documentaries. The ship-wide satellite Wifi is excellent with a strong signal, even in cabins at bow and stern. What impressed me the most about this specific ship is the fact they have a dialysis unit on board. Yes, you’re required to pay for the treatments yourself (insurance doesn’t cover shipboard procedures), but it gives those passengers dependent upon this vital medical service, the opportunity to cruise the world’s oceans.

Early in the morning just after sunrise, smudges on the horizon indicate we are approaching the fabled South Pacific paradise region of the Society Islands, made famous by numerous movies and the dream vacation or honeymoon for millions. Tahiti - visions of Fletcher Christian and Captain Bligh sailing on the Bounty, swaying palm trees, endless sun-bleached beaches and turquoise waters…. Tahiti - the largest of the 118 islands and atolls that comprise an archipelago, stretching over 1,200 miles and includes the islands of Bora Bora, Raiatea and Moorea, with an approximate population of 127,000 people, about 83%!o(MISSING)f whom are of Polynesian ancestry. The legendary name 'Tahiti' not only identifies this island, but also the group of islands that make up French Polynesia. It’s composed of two volcanic mountain ranges.

A little bit of history:

The generally accepted theory states that Polynesians first settled in the South Pacific around 4,000 years ago. Using wooden double-hulled sailing canoes lashed together with natural fibers and applying their knowledge of the wind, currents and stars, the first intrepid navigators sailed eastward, settling the central island groups of the Cook Islands and French Polynesia between 500 BC and 500 AD.

Other great expeditions undertaken around 1000 AD, established the Polynesian triangle consisting of Hawaii (to the north), Easter Island (to the east), Tahiti and her islands (to the west) and New Zealand (to the south-west.) The various languages derived from the ma'ohi that are spoken in these islands, testify to the common origin of their peoples.

In the 16th century, Magellan reached the Tuamotu Islands and the Marquesas, however, the name of Englishman Samuel Wallis is the one most often associated with the European discovery of Tahiti in 1767. The following year, the French navigator Antoine de Bougainville named it 'New Cythera' and then a year later, it was the English Captain James Cook's turn to land and take possession of the Society Islands. At that time, Tahiti and her islands were divided into several chiefdoms and kingdoms.

Papeete is the largest city in, and capital of, French Polynesia on the island of Tahiti. One thing to realize, Papeete is NOT a tropical paradise. It is a typical government center and industrial port with small doses of French and Polynesian charm. It does have shopping, eating, and drinking, but very little sightseeing for a capital city, and even fewer top-class hotels. Residents speak French and Tahitian, although English is spoken by many in the tourist trade. On the positive side, people-watching is superb. It is definitely a walking-around city. It's really too small to bother with any other form of transport, unless you are going out to the fringes, or would simply like to experience the famous Le Truck for fun (HOHO bus, anywhere in the city center for about 100 CFP). Bring a water bottle as it is quite hot and humid.

Don't bother with taxis - they're extremely expensive and very hard to find after 6pm, apart from two taxi stands along the waterfront. Meters are unheard of, so confirm the fare (in French, if possible) before getting into a taxi, and don't be afraid to protest or refuse if you think the fare too high. As a general rule, you should never have to pay more than 1500 CFP for a journey from one side of the city center to the other. Many drivers distribute calling cards when you disembark at the port. If you'll be relying on taxi transport for whatever reason during your stay, it's worth becoming a repeat customer with a driver you trust and who will give you a good deal. Le Truck will take you to other parts of the island and around town quite cheaply. And for the dedicated shoppers reading this, black pearls abound. There is just about every kind of store here, including some (particularly near the Marché) who have no problem selling you imitation balls of black glass or fiberglass, at market prices. Be sure to look for a certificate of authenticity on the wall of the shop and trust your guidebook for recommendations.

I had a tour booked to explore as much of the island as possible, and as soon as we docked and were cleared for disembarkation, I was off and running. Lots to see and only one day to do it in. Walking from the ship to the tour bus, the humidity blanketed me as if in a sauna. It wasn’t that hot – maybe 75f at the most - but this wet stuff makes it seem so much worse. I noticed a buildup of very dark clouds on the horizon, which promised rain in the immediate future. A 45-minute drive thru lush green foliage and paralleling the ocean, we first stopped at Vaipahi Gardens which are situated along Tahiti's southern coast in Mataiea, a veritable verdant paradise. Here are more than 75 plant species from all over the world (marked with signs and information in English and French), exotic flowers, a lily pond and streams that wind through the area. I was impressed with how well-maintained this natural attraction is and being me, I loved the entrance fee (free). It gives a feeling of such tranquility, with easy-to-traverse trails, small waterfalls and the vibrant flora throughout.

Another long drive brought me to Point Venus at the northernmost tip of Tahiti. So called because Capt. James Cook observed the transit of the planet Venus in 1769 at this very spot. The low, sandy peninsula is covered with ironwood trees, and is a little more than a mile from the main road. Captains Wallis, Cook, and Bligh landed here after anchoring their ships offshore, behind the reef in Matavai Bay. Cook made his observations of the transit of Venus across the sun in 1769 from a point between the black-sand beach and the meandering river that cuts the peninsula in two. The beach and the parklike setting around the tall white lighthouse, which was completed in 1868 (notwithstanding the 1867 date over the door), are popular for picnics. There is a snack bar, a souvenir and handicrafts shop, and toilets available for the plague of locusts (aka tourists) which descend of this highlighted location on a daily basis. Just as I was returning to the bus, those dark clouds delivered on their promise of rain, and it was a wet, humid drive back to the ship. The rain eased by the time I was back in Papeete, and I decided to grab a late lunch in the Ocean View Café up on the 14th deck, before planning my afternoon activities, here in paradise.

As our next port of call is so close, we didn’t sail from Papeete until midnight, giving everyone on board the opportunity to visit the various food trucks which park at the port entrance. A wide variety of ethnic food is available from these trucks at very low prices. They set up shop here every time a ship is in port from 6pm to 11pm, and the food is delicious. It made such a pleasant change from the repetitive choices on the ship’s menus.

Just northwest of Tahiti lies another island that’s also part of French Polynesia, and despite how utterly stunning it is, chances are the majority of travelers have never heard of it. Surrounded by a bright blue lagoon, the volcanically-formed island of Moorea was once rated as the third-best island in the world by Conde Nast Traveler’s Choice Awards. Getting to this hidden paradise is a process, if not arriving via cruise ship. Travelers use a high-speed ferry to reach Moorea, which sits just 12 miles away but trust me, the island is worth the schlep from Papeete. Light blue waters shine brightly against the island’s emerald green cliffs standing boldly above the gorgeous lagoon. Every single photo of this place looks as though it’s undergone heavy photoshopping, but I’m here to tell ya’all, the island’s spectacular beauty is only better in real life!

Snorkeling enthusiasts will waste no time hitting the Lagoonarium de Moorea, a protected part of the water where you can view one of the most vibrant coral reefs – it’s on par with Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Swim among sharks, rays and more fish species than ever imagined. While some visitors choose to reside at the island’s incredibly luxurious resorts, others cozy up at more affordable hotels and pensions (guesthouses), where warm waters and brilliant sunsets are available without breaking the bank. For those looking for more action, hike the island’s lush hills, hop on a whale or dolphin, watch or take to the water by kayak. But if I were voting how to spend time here, it would be simply sitting on Moorea’s white sand beaches, swimming in its crystal-clear waters and taking in its epic sunsets. And then probably consider taking up residence and staying forever.

Knowing that Moorea would have much in common with Tahiti when it comes to landscapes and beaches, I opted to disembark later the next morning after the initial rush, and just walk around and explore alone, armed with my camera and a local tourist map. The blinding sunlight, heat and humidity hit me as soon as I stepped down into the tender for the 15-minute ride to the port. Visually, the first glance of the island is stunning – soaring jagged-teeth mountains racing across the horizon, the peaks blanketed with mist clouds resembling exquisite Belgian lace, waves breaking on the reef about a mile out, and expensive yachts bobbing on the gentle ocean swell. Thatched huts dot the shoreline, with endless palm trees swaying gently in the breeze, casting narrow shadows on the shallow turquoise water….in a word: breathtaking.

My final stop in this paradise region is Bora Bora…..considered the Jewel of the South Seas and undoubtedly the most celebrated island in the South Pacific - Bora Bora is French Polynesia's leading lady. Her beauty is unrivaled and her fame unwavering. She is one of the few places on earth that everyone hopes to witness, at least once in their lifetime—and once you see it, you are forever enamored. More than just a romantic ideal, Bora Bora is a romantic reality. It comes as no surprise that the island is an internationally acclaimed honeymoon destination.

Bora Bora may feel worlds away, but this South Seas splendor is well within reach. Where is it exactly? The island lies just northwest of Tahiti, less than an hour away by plane or an overnight cruise from Papeete. The inevitable love affair with this island begins right at touchdown or docking at the pier. The initial view from the plane window or gangway is a moment you will not soon forget. Have your camera in hand as you begin your descent and prepare for the moment when iconic Mount Otemanu comes into view. From that point on, each visual experience will only continue to blow your mind.

Bora Bora has become synonymous with overwater bungalows. Many of these lavish floating villas have glass floors that supply a window to the lagoon life below. This locale is unique in the fact that most resort hotels are built on their own tiny island or motu, and visits elsewhere must be arranged by boat transfer. No problem however, you will hardly need to leave your bungalow let alone the resort. From lounging on your own private deck and receiving room service via outrigger canoe, to indulging in a rejuvenating spa treatment, you will pass the time in quiet seclusion and opulent luxury.

The wonderful thing about Bora Bora is that you can be as active or inactive as you desire. Should you decide to venture away from a resort, you can visit the main village of Vaitape and shop at the local boutiques or dine at one of Bora Bora's restaurants, especially the famous Bloody Mary’s. Think about exploring Mount Pahia and Mount Otemanu on a guided hike or Jeep Safari tour. Since water is a way of life on the island, popular lagoon excursions include snorkeling, diving, cruising, fishing, paddle boarding, kitesurfing, Jet Skiing, and of course shark and ray feeding. Consider taking your experience to new heights by parasailing, skydiving, or touring the island by helicopter. Once seen, Bora Bora is never forgotten. From arrival day until the moment of departure, you will be in awe of how her soaring mountain peaks, turquoise lagoon and luxuriant overwater bungalows somehow look even more spectacular than your photographs.

My tour today is a 4x4 jeep safari organized by Vavae Adventures, one of the larger tour groups in Bora Bora. It’s a 3-hour, $99 drive around the big island, with frequent photo stops at fabulous locations, offering sweeping views of the famous lagoon and waves breaking out on the distant reefs. I was one of eight passengers in a typical open-sided safari style jeep and was lucky enough to snag the end seat by the back gate, giving me plenty of opportunity to shoot this marvelous island. Our driver and guide Maron, is a local, born and raised in Bora Bora, and of course he also plays the ukulele with which he serenaded us at every stop. In the next few hours, he drove us along the two-lane highway circumnavigating the island. On three occasions, he drove off-road up the worst roads known to mankind, to bring us to mountain-top perches with views to simply die for. This place cannot be appreciated by any photo – you simply have GOT to be here and see it for yourself.

The thick, dark clouds blotted out the sun on occasion, giving blessed relief from that blazing orb but nothing could cut the humidity – I was soaked down to my undies and dripping wet. I doubt it was much more than mid 80’s in actual mercury readings, but the humidity had to be close to 95%. Thankfully with the open-sided vehicle and Maron driving fast enough, the cooling breeze made the trip bearable. It was certainly cooler and less humid than Moorea and Tahiti had been.

I was back onboard by lunchtime and after gulping down about a gallon of iced tea to offset the gallon of sweat I had left back in the jeep, I took a cold shower and collapsed into a comfy chair down in the Ensemble Lounge to get this completed and ready to publish. This is has been a fabulous experience in French Polynesia…. the beauty of these islands is beyond compare…the colors here are so vivid, so vibrant and so brilliant, you would swear they were straight from a paint palette. It’s everything I wanted, expected and so much more.

And so my latest sojourn comes to a close…. bidding adieu to French Polynesia the long transpacific voyage begins…. this ends as it began: water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink. Stayed tuned for the next adventure!

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