It is really warm and beautiful. We just can’t get over the amount of wonderful greenery in the mountains. The mountain peaks tower above dense rain forests of fluffy soft ferns and waterfalls drop into cool rivers and streams.
Today, we’re on a private 4×4 tour into the interior of the island with Louise and her husband Brian and about 8 other people. But first a little about Papeete.
Papeete, translated into English means “water from a basket”. It is the capital of French Polynesia located on the island of Tahiti, in the admin subdivision of the Windward Islands. It is the primary center of Tahitian and French Polynesian public and private governmental, commercial, industrial and financial services, the hub of French Polynesian tourism and a commonly used port of call for tourism. The area that now constitutes Papeete was first settled by the British missionary William Crook of the London Missionary Society in 1818. Papeete was made the capital in the late 1820’s and the town grew into a major regional shipping and transportation center. Papeete was retained as Tahiti’s capital after France took control of the Tahitian Islands and made them a protectorate in 1842. Tahiti is the largest of the 118 islands and atolls that comprise French Polynesia.
Herman Melville was imprisoned in Papeete in 1842; his experiences became the basis for the novel Omoo. Paul Gauguin journeyed to and toured Papeete in 1891 and except for a two year period in 1893-95 never returned to France. He is buried on the island of Hiva-Oa near French singer Jacques Brel. Another French artist, Henri Matisse, found new Tahitian colours for his work and before them William Hodges, the resident artist aboard Captain Cook’s first voyage created some amazing impressions for Europeans to view and thought the explorers had discovered the Garden of Eden. Other famous visitors include Robert-Louis Stevenson and Jack London. In 1960 Marlon Brando feel so deeply in love with the islands that he bought the island of Tetiaroa.
Half of Papeete was destroyed by a major fire in 1884, which then prohibited the use of native building materials. In 1906, a major cyclone caused extensive damage to the city and a French naval vessel was sunk in the harbour by 2 German men of war which bombarded Papeete.
Our group is halved and we’re off in 2-4 x 4’s. We head west then north along the coast road for about 16 km then head inland. It’s very easy to see why the signs say only 4 x 4 ‘s allowed. At one point about 5 kilometres in, it starts to rain. It is one torrential down pour, and sheets of rain fall sideways but the rain is warm. In the truck I’m sitting at the back door and I get really wet – but who cares! We continue higher inland and it gets a little cooler. At our first stop we see 4 waterfalls – just amazing. The clouds are low and the air is thick with the smell of rain. You can almost taste the rain drops coming off the trees surrounding the area. It’s difficult to tilt your head to see how much higher we’ll climb. The waterfalls are glorious, the crystal clear and clean water looks like it’s being forced out of a tap. It spurts out several feet before cascading to the bottom of the cliff. The floral arrangements of brightly coloured flowers surround the valley we’re in. Our guide, Patrick, is extremely knowledgeable and shows us Papaya, Mango, Pineapple, Passion Fruit and many different species of flowers. It’s time to get back in our trucks and head higher.
Our next stop is one of the island’s 4 the reservoirs (40 % of the island’s electricity comes from hydro generation with 60% diesel). The area is just amazing. It’s surrounded by a blanket of green with waterfalls cascading down the sheer cliffs. Our goal is to head to the top of the now dormant volcano. The reservoir at first looks just like a reservoir but Patrick takes a piece of baguette from the truck and tears off little pieces. Almost immediately the water starts to bubble and swirl. It’s then that we see huge eels come up and reach for the bread before taking it below the water to eat. The eels vary in length from 2-4 feet in length although there are larger ones as well. They are a light grey with dark strips. We’re all given an opportunity to feed these little suckers – I can’t believe they grow so long. Patrick advises us that these are actually small in comparison to one or two of the other reservoirs. Gosh, what are they feeding these things.
We continue to our next stop and it’s raining again. As we go up the 15% incline the road is being washed out by the rain. Thank goodness for the 4 x 4 and the careful skills of our guide and driver Patrick. When we get to the next stop it is just breathtaking – we really don’t think that pictures can do it justice. There are many different colours of green and it looks like a painted canvass. It’s beautiful. This is also an opportunity for us to swim in the river near one of the many waterfalls. The water is a little cool at first but just amazing once we get in. The rocks are a little difficult to manoeuvre but with careful footing (thank goodness we purchased swimming shoes before we left Toronto) we make it and jump in or at least walk in, the water drops to about 5 feet. It immediately drops another 10 feet, there’s a little undercurrent and our other driver and guide keeps a sharp eye in case anyone gets into trouble; he’s also our photographer, he’s asked to hold 8-9 cameras and just take photos of us in the water. What a lot of fun. When we get out we learn that our truck has a flat tire allowing us all some extra time to swim or get changed while it’s replaced.
On our way back down the mountain we drive over the road that been washed out – what a hoot driving over the river of water. Once we’re back on the main road leading back to the ship we’re able to stop and watch the surfers and the beautiful beaches that make Tahiti is so famous.
We met a lovely couple called Mel and Kelley from California on the 4 x 4 trip and we learn they have booked a private boat for snorkelling in Bora Bora. We didn’t have anything planned so we’ve arranged to meet and take the tour with them.
It was just a wonderful day in Tahiti. The scenery is beautiful and the people are very friendly. But the price of “stuff” is really expensive so I wonder how the islanders can afford to live here.