Not So Honeymoon Island
01.04.2013 - 06.04.2013 31 °C
The next morning I woke with the birds at 6am before napping for a few more hours before breakfast. The day passed much in the same way as the last - it was now Easter Monday and everything (not that there was much) was still closed so after a slow morning I went to the park with Julie. I took with me a snorkel and attempted to swim out to look at the fish. It wasn't difficult, just two meters into the shallow warm lagoon I saw more fish than ever before (and also some weird plant/snake). But I was a little scared on my own - although the lagoon was calm, I have a bit of an irrational fear of fish and corral (it looks like brains) so I waited for the Swiss to join me before, armed with flippers, trying again. And it was spectacular, my fear was replaced with amazement and I felt like I was swimming in my own private aquarium. After a few meters the plants disappeared to be replaced with huge corral boulders each home to hundreds and hundreds of colourful fish - at one point an entire school of yellow stripped ones swam purposefully, as if on a mission, directly in front of me. It was completely magical and I spent a long time swimming farther and farther out amongst the maze of corral. The lagoon was huge and relatively shallow - some of the corral almost broke the surface - but when it ended, after the braking waves, Frederik had told me the sea became extremely deep - the mountains of Tahiti and Mo'orea, separated by 21 kilometres of water, were over 2000m high and the stretch of ocean between the two islands was over 2500m deep at its deepest!
But I couldn't have been more pleased that I'd overcome my fear of fish - it was far more successful than my last attempt at snorkelling on Ko Phi Phi where I'd been too afraid of he 'guard fish' to venture out at all! - and I was looking forwards to going again the next day.
Back in the park it was full of heavy locals doing what Polynesians seemed to do best - eating. Sitting in large groups they had all brought vast picnics and seemed to be able to eat forever! I went back to the pension and ate a tin of tuna and some instant noodles before falling asleep on the couch - the sun had exhausted me and I was in bed by 10pm.
The following day, over breakfast, Fred, who'd lived in Tahiti for seventeen years (he'd done military service there and had never left) with his wife and children, regaled us with tales of tourists who'd got lost in the Tahitian mountains for days on end and those who'd ventured out past the coral reef that protected the lagoon into the deep waters - he seemed to find such mishaps hilarious and, although he was awfully nice, I began to wonder if such schadenfreude was indicative of island life having rendered him a little bit mad. That morning he'd seemingly hired a couple of locals to come and knock coconuts out of his tree and, as we scuttled around after breakfast, coconuts bounced to the ground around us.
After eating, joined by the Swiss couple, I rented a car. Patrik drove at first as in Polynesia they drive on the right which being Swiss (although having most recently driven a camper van around the left sides of Australia's roads) was much easier for him that for me. But we'd rented an automatic and after a while I drove without difficulty and was quite proud of myself that for the first time ever I'd a) driven on the right hand side and b) driven an automatic (which was admittedly much easier than a manual but difficult at first). The island was much bigger than we'd initially presumed. Fred spoke as if everything was relatively easy to get to but, being the owner of a car, a motorbike and several bikes, I began to wonder when the last time he'd ventured anywhere on foot actually was.
There was just one road around the island that ran next to the sea the whole way. I don't know if the road had a name or if it was just the road, but along the route were markers (point kilometre) indicating how far they were from Papeete. We were staying near PK 18, 18.6 kilometres from Papeete to the north. Just driving south along the road which ran along the shore was stunning - there are few beaches on Tahiti, just a few patches of sand, so most of the time the lagoon began just feet away from the road and was lined with palms, many of which looked ready to fall into the water. I was glad I wasn't driving at that point as just looking out to sea was incredible. We pulled up by Les Grottes - we were still speaking only in French and I couldn't remember what grotte was so I decided not to ask and just wait and see. We parked at the roadside and stepped down to the ocean. And there we watched several brightly coloured fish swimming in the water that we could see clearly from the little embankment. I couldn't have been more glad that we'd rented the car as the island was incroyable!
As it turns out, grotte means cave. Just across the road from the sea were two large caves with shallow pools of water inside where local children splashed around chasing fish and waterfalls dripping in front of the openings. All around were brightly coloured flowers and trees hung from the cliff edges. I spent most of the time walking around with my mouth open just utterly amazed by the vegetation and the ocean.
After the caves, we continued to Tahiti's largest beach (it wasn't that big) where (unprotected by the coral rim that circles much if the island) waves crashed onto a dark black sandy shoreline - the mountainous centre of Tahiti is essentially one large volcanic crater so much of the islands sand is black (although it was in stark contrast to where we'd snorkelled the previous day where it was whiter than white). We ate lunch watching surfers and body boarders before unsuccessfully attempting to body board ourselves (in a spot full of children who watched in amusement as we failed miserably).
Next we continued to les jardains d'eaux, which were essentially botanical gardens centred around a large waterfall. Having climbed to the top of the waterfall we sat (sweating profusely from the steep uphill slog combined with extreme humidity) and admired the view over the 'almost island'. Le presqu'ile is not quite a separate island - Tahiti is made up of two mountainous circular pieces of land connected by an area of low land - the 'main island' is Tahiti Nui (meaning Big Tahiti), and the smaller is Tahiti Iti (meaning small Tahiti).
Having driven to the almost island, some 60km from Papeete, we drove as far as the road could take us to Teahupo'o, a famous surf spot where the Billabong Pro Surf competition is held annually. We still however weren't quite at the surf spot - to get there it was necessary to take a boat out across the lagoon to the waves where huge, world class waves broke over a deathly coal reef.
That evening we ate at a roulette - essentially a food stall (which, although the name implies, does not move) where we ate tartiflette pizzas before chatting over drinks back at the pension.
The next morning, we (the Swiss couple and I) checked out. They were destined for Mo'orea, a neighbouring island, also part of the Society Island Archipelago, one of 5 archipelagos that make up French Polynesia, and I, not having realised how close by it was, for another guest house some 500m away. There wasn't enough room in the car for all our luggage so I set off first, alone, to look for the Taaroa Lodge. It was surprisingly difficult to find despite being only down the road but eventually I found it, down a small track at the waters edge. Ralph, the owner and former longboard champion of Polynesia and France, showed me to the dorm where I met Ciara from Texas. Having arrived the previous day and been completely alone, she was overjoyed to have some company so I took her back to Te Miti where Fred found my swift acquisition of a new friend hilarious.
The four of us, the Swiss couple, Ciara and I set off in the car for Papeete to visit the city. It wasn't much of a city (although it's apparently home to 75% of French Polynesia's population - a bit of a crazy thought given that the remaining 25% a spread over literally hundreds of other islands!).
According to the guide book I'd found at Pension Te Miti, there was a old four pages worth of sights in Papeete. Unfortunately, a previous reader had removed pages 85 through 88 meaning that we'd never know what most of them were. Still, we visited the cathedral, the market and the port before dropping les Suisses and their bags off at the ferry terminal.
Ciara and I returned to PK18 where we went snorkelling again. Later, whilst watching the sun set behind Mo'orea, Ciara spotted a fin in the water along with some splashing - we were looking at the dorsal and tail fins of a small shark hunting for fish in the very shallow warm waters just meters away from us! That evening, we sat drinking cheap Tahitian rum and eating instant noodles, celebrating my birthday the following day (for apparently in the UK it was already my birthday (and in Australasia my birthday was almost over)). We were joined later by two more new arrivals, Louise and Becca, also Londoners (although Becca was originally from Wales as well).
Whilst the host of Taaroa Lodge didn't possess quite the same personality as Fred, it was an idyllic with steps leading directly onto a small strip of sand and views out to Mo'orea. It was a beautiful place to wake up on my twenty seventh birthday.
Since realising that Tahiti was not a backpacker destination by any stretch of the imagination,I'd envisaged myself spending my twenty seventh birthday alone on a beach surrounded by honeymooners. Instead I spent it with three English speakers driving around the island and relaxing on a small beach before returning to the lodge where we made a communal dinner and drank more Tahitian rum. It was a lovely day, much better than I'd anticipated - I'd had visions of being alone surrounded by honeymooning couples - didn't feel particularly birthday-like (although Ciara was kind enough to lend me her laptop so I could read messages from home (wifi was practically none existent on the island and my phone had had no service since I'd landed there)) and I was looking forwards to properly celebrating my birthday with old friends once back home just a few weeks later.
The remained of my time on Tahiti was much less French, spent in the company of the anglophones with occasional visits from Ralph. Ciara and I snorkelled (sort of looking for sharks and sort of hoping we didnt meet any!) and kayaked across the lagoon. After listening to Fred's stories, I was kind of intrigued about the edge of the lagoon but afraid to go there. Whilst out on the kayaks (borrowed for free from Ralph) we saw some people at the outer edge standing in just waist deep water - so we paddled over to investigate. There, just before the breaking waves, the water was just inches deep (so fortunately there was little chance of us being dragged out) and we found a local family - the dad was spear fishing whilst the children played with boogie boards in the shallow surf.
I'd been pleasantly surprised how un-touristy Tahiti had actually been - as the most visited island of French Polynesia I'd expected it to be overrun with sun seekers (all disappointed by the lack of beaches) however, with the exception of the people I'd met at the two guest houses, I hadn't encountered another - just locals and a smattering of french expats enjoying the eater holidays. I couldn't believe how quickly a week on honeymoon island had passed (or why anyone would honeymoon in such a humid destination!). I'd enjoyed every minute there and, as Ralph drove me to the airport that evening for my flight to Hawaii, I doubted it was somewhere I'd have the chance to go again but I felt extremely lucky that that had been my life too, even for just a week.