Day 50, Grand World Voyage 2020
Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020; Pape’ete, French Polynesia
Why does Tahiti sound so much more exotic than the Cook Islands, Vanuatu or even Fiji or Tonga? We probably can credit Paul Gauguin, the artist who took up residence in Tahiti and caused quite a stir back home with his paintings of the island and its residents.
Today we found the island lush with flowers and gardens as we traveled the west coast of the largest island in French Polynesia. Our half-day tour gave us stunning views of the steep mountains, with clouds and mist occasionally swirling around their peaks. On the other side we saw the beautiful lagoon, with waves breaking in the distance along the coral reef.
Even though they are 2,600 miles apart, Tahiti shares a volcanic background with Hawaii, and its landscape reminds me of Kauai. The mountains stretch to the water, with only narrow strips of flat ground between the two. The coral reef defines much of the western edge of the island, and even the captain had to pay close attention as he entered the harbor at Pape’ete, the largest city.
Our morning tour took us to the center of town and the natural spring pool amid the gardens of the Government Assembly complex. Then we took the highway past the airport and left the urban area to drive through smaller towns along the coast. The natural beauty is the focus of our tour.
Tropical flowers lined the path as we strolled through Vaipahi Gardens, skirting small ponds full of lily and lotus pads. The small shop offered a selection of colorful pareos (Tahitian sarongs) as well as jewelry and other local handicrafts.
The cave at Maraa Grotto is a popular swimming hole for locals, despite the barrier erected in recent years. Today the mist hovered just over the surface of the water. In Noa Noa, Gauguin wrote about swimming here. We weren’t dressed for a dip, but by later in the day when the temperature and humidity soared I would have been tempted.
European settlers and time have demolished most of the religious sites, called marae, of the native Polynesians. The Arahurahu Marae is a reconstruction, but gave us a good impression of the stone sites that served religious and social purposes. Once again, the area was lush with trees and flowers, and our guide warned us to avoid standing in the shade of the coconut trees. An unexpected falling coconut can be fatal.
By noon as our tour was ending the scattered rain showers moved in. We ducked back on board the ship, docked right at the center of town, for lunch before going back out to walk through town. Because it is Saturday, most of the shops closed at noon. In one of the few jewelry shops still open, we admired black pearls but weren’t seriously tempted.
Fruit and vegetable venders in the municipal market had shut down, so we settled into the shade of a restaurant patio for our local beer, in this case a Hinano. Each beer came with 30 minutes of WiFi, giving me a chance to upload pictures (which can take more than an hour on the ship’s WiFi).
Back on board we admired the sleek private yacht docked on our pier. It only took me a little research to learn that the 350-foot long IJE was just built for and delivered to Australian billionaire James Packer. Personally, I prefer the sailing yacht next to it. But I’m not complaining about our home on the Amsterdam.
During our sailaway at the Crow’s Nest I spied the familiar face of a good Amsterdam friend. Spencer joined us today as an assistant cruise director. I’ve sailed with him twice before on Grand Asia voyages and just missed him on the Voyage of the Vikings last summer, when he was the America’s Test Kitchen chef. That partnership has ended, but the Amsterdam was in need of two new assistant cruise directors at the last minute (rumors abound, but I’ll just say two left suddenly in Chile). Spencer took a break in his culinary studies to jump back aboard.
Amidst a big hug and excitement of seeing a familiar face, we never took a picture, but I’ll post one later.
It’s hard to believe that just three weeks ago we were in Antarctica. We have two more South Pacific ports – Rarotonga in the Cook Islands and Nuku Alofa in Tonga, before we continue on to New Zealand and Australia. This trip is passing quickly!