Monday, May 19, 2014

Thumbing through Tahiti – A Day of Island Explorations

I had been in Tahiti for over three weeks, without seeing anything of the island - the capital Pape’ete aside - when my friend Rachel from SV Namaste and I made plans to “hitchhike Tahiti”, one evening during happy hour. It would be a girls’ day out and it would happen on the national holiday of Thursday, May 8th. We figured that if the whole country had the day off (again!), we might as well join the ranks and forget about the usual household chores and boat errands and go on a little exploration ourselves. Since the buses don’t run on holidays and since we all had good experiences hitching rides in and around Pape’ete before, sticking our thumbs out would only enhance the sense of adventure.

Before we hit the main road, which runs in front of Marina Taina in Punaauia, Rachel and I had a look at the map, singling out which sites seemed interesting, and practicing their pronunciations. Our first stop was marae Arahurahu, reconstructed ruins of old stone platforms, at PK 22.5. The setting was pretty and peaceful, well taken care of, and informative with signs in French, Tahitian, and English (which had never been the case on the outer islands). There were even a few other tourists strolling around. Yes, this is Tahiti and tourism does exist here! Our driver-turned-guide Koko kept us company, since in all his years of living in Tahiti, had never set foot on this site. He was even nice enough to bring us to the next place of interest: the Mara’a caves and Paroa cliffs.

Right along the coastal road, at PK 28.5, people stop their cars to fill water bottles. Faucets spew incredibly clear and fresh water from the mountains and three caves are set back in the cliffs. The most impressive one, Grotte Mata Va’a goes pretty deep and sports a clear pool of water, while the green foliage droops and drips overhead. It was very inviting to go for a refreshing swim, but we didn’t think our future drivers would appreciate wet car seats, so we refrained. Grotte Teanateatea was less spectacular, but the different ponds with lotus flowers made up for it. The third cave stayed hidden.

An expat from France picked us up and dropped us off at km 39, where we expected to find marae Maha’iatea. Instead of more ruins, we found a hill covered with shrub, hiding the ancient rubble underneath. We contemplated a walk over a black sand beach to reach a popular surf spot, but time was starting to run out already, so we walked back to the main road instead, picked up lunch at a grocery store and stuck our thumbs out again.

A Tahitian father and son took us along and deposited us at the Vaipahi water garden at PK 49, between the Mataiea and Papeari districts. The site of these botanical gardens (not to be confused with the Paul Gauguin museum and gardens) is definitely worth a stop. Our friends Leo and Gesina from SV Seluna recommended this place to me and I am glad they did. It is organized very well (I am still impressed with the Tahitian tourist facilities) with labelled plants, a few ponds (better when the flowers are in bloom, however), a beautiful waterfall, charming and modern toilet facilities and a few hikes. Before we explored this area, Rachel and I crossed the road to have lunch in a park along the water. To our surprise, we found picnic benches and a great view over Tahiti Iti, the island-like peninsula SE of Tahiti Nui, Tahiti’s main part.

After finishing a whole baguette, a chunk of cheese and a packet of smoked salmon (with the help of a young stray dog), we set out into the hills, following one of the hiking trails. After climbing for about an hour, we took the “river path” back. As its name indicates, we followed a muddy trail along the river, crossing it several times and taking in the multiple waterfalls along the way. Once our shoes were cleaned off enough, we decided to head back to the marina. We didn’t think we had made it that far yet and it was “only” 3:30pm, but when realizing we had to travel over 40 km to get back home, we quickly used those thumbs again. 

A friendly young couple from Bora Bora and Tahiti picked us up and – after a brief stop at his grandparents’ house – drove us all the way to Marina Taina, where we arrived just after happy hour (5pm) started. That evening, Rachel and I didn’t mind repeating the adventure in a different direction the following week. Unfortunately, more explorations were not meant to be.

Information about marae Arahurahu in three languages

With Koko in front of the "first" marae (Photo by Rachel Bianco)

Lotus flower in a pond near the caves

Tahiti Iti seen from our picnic bench across the botanical gardens

River walk on the way back down

One of the waterfalls along the river walk

And a smaller one

The heart of Tahiti (Photo by Rachel Bianco)

One of the many river crossings along the hike (Photo by Rachel Bianco)

Time to get back home; the sunny skies turned grey (Photo by Rachel Bianco)


Anonymous said...

Aloha from Stuart FL ------
Can't believe you guys where here making ready for your voyages to the Bahamas and South. What islands / towns did you like best in the Bahamas and Caribbean ???
Tahiti flora and landscape look a lot like HI. Both are on about the same Latitudes and Longitude !!!! But I must say that from your descriptions, pictures and commentary on Tahiti, it seems much more 3rd world and ' less modern ' than I expected, especially in comparison to HI.! . Almost left here for a cruise a few months ago from Tahiti northward up to four of the Hawai'ian Islands.
When do you leave Tahiti for where ? The Cooks ?
Did you see the Big surf break there, Oooapula'a ???!
Bon Voyage e Aloha
PS Did you happen to hit the 'Legendary" Bar in Pape'ette, called Quinn's ???? Heard about it in HI !

Liesbet said...

We liked a lot in the Bahamas, which are still one of our favorite cruising grounds, especially Double Breasted Cays, some of the Exumas and the Acklins. In the Caribbean, we liked Barbuda, Carriacou and Grenada best - I have written quite a few articles about all these places.

We have a Hawaiian friend, who said exactly the same things about the Marquesas; very comparable to Hawaii and it is because of its modernity in combination with the Polynesian culture that I think Hawaii would be a great place to live.

We haven't seen much on Tahiti yet, but we hope to do so in a couple of months. You'll read about it on the blog in the future. We are actually in the States at the moment for health reasons. Once we leave Tahiti, we will head west towards Suwarrow and then Tonga and Fiji.

Are you ever going back to Hawaii? Why are you in Stuart now? Florida and Hawaii - must be starch contrast! :-)