French Polynesia (11/13/98 to 11/28/98)
Author: Scott Roberts
Travelers: Scott & Cherie Roberts, Jeff and Katherine Cordick
What follows is a summary of our travel experiences to these incredible islands. I am going to use a diary format for this report. My underwater camera flooded on the 1st dive, so I have no underwater pictures. I do have plenty of pictures on land though. I hope it's informative. If you have any questions, give me an e-mail. The dives are highlighted in red if that is all your interested in. I have also detailed our exact sailing route m if you are planning a sailing vacation.
Day 1: We flew from Seattle to Oakland on Alaskan. Our Corsair flight from Oakland left at 9:30PM. The flight was part of package deal that we booked through Tahiti Legends. We paid $1496/ea for roundtrip air from Oakland to Papeete, Tahiti, high speed passenger ferry to Moorea, 5 nights at the Moorea Beachcomber Parkroyal, roundtrip air to Raiatea, 2 nights at the Tahiti Beachcomber Parkroyal, all transfers and baggage handling, and a 1 week extension on the return flight which we used to sail around the leeward Society Islands. The flight was OK. The food stunk, but who cares. We were on our way to 2 weeks in paradise, so it didn't bother us too much. The price was right.
We arrived at the airport at 4:30AM and were greeted with a flower lei by a Tahiti Tours representative. We then piled into a van and we were off to the ferry docks to catch our ferry to Moorea. We arrive about 2.5 hour before the ferry left so we had a little time to kill. We used the restrooms at the Royal Papeete hotel/bar across the street. They were very friendly. It looked like a cool bar, but all the lights were off. There were a few local boats docked near by as well as the big cruise ship (M/S Paul Gauguin). We then walked down the street to find a cash machine. There was one right down the road on the water. It accepted our Visa/debit card, and we had our first Polynesian money. 10,000 pacific francs (about $100). We passed an old Tahitian lady on the way who appeared to be a little crazy. She started yelling at us in French, so we just ignored her and kept going.
The ferry arrived, and a lot of locals piled off. We walked on board, and our bags were right behind us. We were a little concerned about are baggage which was loaded into a huge cage and was still on the dock when we loaded the ferry. It all turned out fine though. Polynesians seemed very friendly and honest. The ferry embarked and we were off to Moorea. The view of Tahiti was beautiful. The boat was fast, and the swells made the ride a bit bumpy, but it was fun riding on the top deck. Moorea was only 20 minutes away, and it was not disappointing when we arrived. We were blown away by the water, lush vegetation and mountains.
We were picked up by a Moorea Transport bus, and taken to the Beachcomber Parkroyal. The driver was very informative and we were able to see a good portion of the island since our hotel was on the opposite side of the island. He really pushed the tours (they get a commission if you book through them). The hotel was very nice , and so was the staff. The ladies said one of the guys at the watersports shack was mean, but Jeff and I thought he was very hospitable. We didn't touch our bags from the time we loaded them on bus to the time they were brought to our room. Another nice feature of these islands is the no tipping policy. It just isn't part of the French Polynesian culture.
It felt like mid afternoon, but it was only 9:30AM. Our rooms weren't ready yet, so we walked around for a while and hit the bar for some breakfast (bloody marys). At about 11AM our rooms were ready, and we went to check them out. They were adjoining rooms in the main building and had very nice views of the beach . Cherie and Katherine unpacked the bags while Jeff and I were off to the grocery store. We decided to stock up after seeing the prices in the bar and the wet bar in our room.
There was a small grocery store (le magasin) about a 5 minute walk down the street. Most things were written in French, but you could get by easily on English. You might run into a few problems though. It would be nice to know a little French. We thought we were getting some cheese, cheese spread, salami, crackers, pop, and beer. My 3 years of French in high school was a bit rusty. Instead of crackers and cheese spread, we got cookies and butter. I blame the cookies on Jeff. I'll take credit for the butter. We did get everything else right. We stocked our wet bar, packed a cooler full of beverages, and were off to the beach.
After about 30 minutes of lounging , Jeff and I decided to take one of the complementary outrigger canoes out to the motu just off shore from our hotel. It's a little bit of a paddle because the current rips through the channel, but it's wee worth it when you get there. It's a very small motu with a nice little sand beach to relax on. There is excellent snorkeling all around the motu. I would recommend entering the water on the side facing the outer reef, and swimming directly out to the reef. The current goes around each side of the motu, and it gets strong sometimes. As long as you dive off of the back you stay completely out of the current. If you feel like drifting, swim out to the side and ride the current back around to the front side of the motu. The water is 4-8' deep, and the hard coral and fish life is incredible. You can expect to see puffer fish (8-14"), trigger fish (6"-24"), butterfly fish, angel fish, eels, gobies, tangs, and black tipped reef sharks if your lucky. We had great visibility the 1st day, probably 80 ft. The current is going with you on the way back, so sit back and enjoy a brew while you drift back to your hotel.
That night we decided to go to dinner at Les Tipaniers which is a small restaurant, bar and hotel about 1 km down the road from the Beachcomber. The food was excellent. If you're looking for a book that has the ultimate information on hotels and dining on all of the French Polynesian islands, get Tahiti & French Polynesia Guide, by Jan Prince. It is the best I've seen. Get Lonely Planet Tahiti & French Polynesia (4th Ed), if you want more detailed information on things to do, and places to go. The Moon Handbooks: Tahiti - Including Easter Island and the Cooks (4th Ed.) is also updated. We used the out of date version on a limited basis on our trip. We found the combination of the three books to be perfect. The best book on diving is Diving in Tahiti, A Divers' Guide to French Polynesia.
The walk back to the hotel was interesting. It was pitch dark and there were land crabs all over the road. Definitely bring a flashlight.
Day 2: Today we decided to try to go to the 2 larger motus about twice as far away. The people at the water sports shack loaned us some rope, and we were able to rig up an anchor using a mesh snorkel bag and our SCUBA weights. The visibility wasn't as good today (30-40ft). The snorkeling was similar, and today we saw some large eels in addition to the usual fish.
We returned for lunch at the hotel. We had $14 club sandwiches which were OK. I suggest that you stay away from the hotel restaurant. There are much better meals for your money throughout the island. We hung out around the pool for a while, and then decided that we were going to rent a car for the evening. We were able to get a Fiat Uno for about $80 (24 hrs). We headed to the West side of the island to catch the sunset. We parked our car on a soccer field with a great view . It just so happens that we were right next to one of the larger maraes (ancient temples) on the island (Marae Tupuna ). The sunset was nice, and the marae was interesting.
It was dinner time so we were off to Alfredos at Cook's bay. The food was Italian/French. The servers all spoke English well. The food was OK and was reasonably priced. It wasn't as good as Les Tipaniers though. After dinner we walked across the street to the self proclaimed "Worlds Greatest Bar" for a nightcap. The bar is part of Club Bali Hai. It's an open air, thatched roof bar. It's located right on the edge of Cook's Bay with an incredible view. The drinks were typical, and the prices were average. We spent about 45 minutes stargazing while drinking wine and Chi Chi's on the dock. We were one of the few people there that night. For the most part, nightlife is pretty non-existent on Moorea.
Day 3: Skip the island tours and rent a car. Get a good map m. It's easy to find everything. We left the hotel at 9AM to go exploring in our Fiat Uno. Our first stop was Belvedere Lookout. It's the highest driveable point on the island. It's probably only a 8 minute ride up the switchbacks from sea level. Once there, you have an amazing view of the island. I think the pictures speak for themselves. There are several maraes that we stopped by on the way back down. We were pretty unimpressed with the maraes as a whole. However, it is somewhat interesting to read about the historical significance of these sites.
The next stop was the juice distillery . We took the back road to get there, and the scenery was beautiful. I'd recommend eating something before visiting. Samples of the 6-8 different kinds of liquor they make gets a little tough on an empty stomach. After about the 4th one, I began to have flash backs to my 21 run. It's pretty touristy. You can get the booze cheaper at the grocery store, but it was fun to sample all of the different things they made there. They also threw in a carton of Pina Coladas with our purchase. They have full court basketball at the factory. I tried to get a game going, but Polynesians are scared of American people who play basketball :-).
After our morning cocktails, we decided it would be a good idea to grab some food. We went to Patisserie Le Sylesie for some crepes and fruit juice. My crepe was great, but everybody else said they were disappointed in theirs. After brunch we stopped by the Hotel Sofitel. The grounds were nice (not as nice as our hotel), but it looked like a great place. The next stop was the COSTCO of Moorea, otherwise known as Toa Supermarche. We stocked up on some snack food that would last us through the week. Next we were off to the waterfalls in Afareaitu. We drove our car up a 4x4 road as far as it would go. We then hiked in about 20 minutes. The waterfall was dry because it hadn't been raining that much lately. I could see it being pretty neat if there was actually water coming down.
We continued our circle island tour. The scenery is incredible everywhere on the island. Huge rock formations covered with lush vegetation seem to rise up out of nowhere. Small cheery looking churches are located all over. Our next stop was Le Petite Village for some shopping. There are a whole bunch of little shops there where you can buy souvenirs and gifts. We then went back to the hotel for a swim, some beers, and some lounging.
For dinner we took the car back to Daniel's Pizza at kilometer 34. This guy converted his garage into a walk up pizza joint. He has a huge wood fired brick oven where he cooks great pizza that will cost between $11 and $13 each. It's thin crust pizza, and it's very very good. Definitely a must eat in Moorea. We brought it back to the hotel and ate it by the pool with our $0.60 Hinanos we picked up at the store. Hinano is the local beer, and it tastes like a cheap American beer. I'd pay twice as much for Heinekens. We had to try it though. We were the envy of the hotel. At least the envy of the people eating $15 pizzas and $5 beers in the restaurant next to the pool. After the pizza, beer, swimming, and relaxing we went back to the room for cocktails, cheese and baguettes.
Day 4: Today we paddled out to the motu again. This time we brought the ladies . We saw a shark, a huge trigger, and more of the usual assortment of fish. Jeff and I paddled from the motu over to a place where we always saw boats stopped. They anchored half way between the hotel and the motu (just on the reef side of the channel). We anchored near by and snorkeled over to the boats to check it out. It turns out that this is where they feed stingrays, and we were able to get a free show. There were about 7 stingrays swimming around in chest deep water eating the food provided by the guides. After spending the day at the motu, we paddled back to the hotel and hit the pool. We went back to Les Tipaniers for dinner, and hit the bar before dinner to catch some live Polynesian music . Dinner was very good again. I would recommend the mahi mahi in vanilla sauce. The bleu cheese salad was very good as well. The vanilla creme brule was an excellent choice for dessert. We took a taxi back to the hotel to avoid the land crabs.
Day 5: We went back to Les Tipaniers for breakfast . This time we took the canoes. The lagoon side restaurant is open in the day, and the main restaurant is open for dinner only. We ordered a couple of bowls of fruit, and ate them on the deck. The fruit was very good. We especially liked the lime/grapefruit hybrid. We paddled back to the hotel, hung out on the beach and the pool, and prepared for our first dive of the trip.
The Dive Operator:
We chose to dive with Bathy's Scuba Club just because they were located at our hotel. All of the dive shops seem to be about the same price $50-$60/dive. The boat was very roomy, fast, and well set up for diving. The people were very nice. The dive master spoke English very well, but the others weren't as fluent. The dive masters spent a lot of time trying to feed eels and lure them out of their holes. This got a little old after a while, so we just swam around checking stuff out while they messed with the eels. It was a very fun dive. The operation seemed very safety conscious. They had extra tanks set up next to a safety stop bar at 15 feet. Although they were very liberal on the air. I use air very quickly. To extend my bottom time, the dive master had me breath on her octopus for a while. That seemed kind of risky, but it didn't bother me much. My only complaint is the amount of feeding, but that seems to be the way they do things in Polynesia. I prefer a more natural diving experience.
Jeff, Cherie, and I loaded the boat with three other people. We went just outside the reef to Napoleon Plateau. We rolled off the boat into the water. That's when I noticed that my O ring on my camera failed. It must have slipped off as I was closing the housing. This is why I don't have any underwater pictures. Oh well... at least I have the memories, although that doesn't do you much good. After handing my camera back up to the boat captain, I took a look down to see how deep it was. To my surprise there were about 5 sharks directly below us. The dive master brought along food to attract fish, and the fish swarmed around the food. There were yellow snappers, butterfly fish, triggers, damsel fish, and tuna. The sharks didn't seem interested in the food. It was amazing how many sharks there were. Everywhere you looked there were 3 to 7 black tipped reef sharks anywhere from 2' to 7' long. We must have seen almost 300 sharks that dive. We didn't see any Napoleon fish that dive, but we did see 5 huge moray eels. The biggest ones were probably 10" thick. It was a very fun dive. The coral was uneventfull. It was all hard coral and was pretty bleached out. The fish life made up for the lack of coral though.
We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out by the pool, and on the decks of our rooms. We decided to go to Linerva-Le Bateau for dinner. They provide round trip transportation from your hotel for $4. The restaurant is actually an old boat that was converted into a restaurant. They have many seafood choices, and the atmosphere and food are great. It was a perfect way to close out our stay on Moorea.
Day 6: We were picked up at the hotel at around 7AM and transferred to the airport for our flight to Raiatea via Huahine. The airport is interesting. There is an atrium where the roosters and chickens hang out. There are roosters everywhere on Moorea. The views of Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea and Tahaa from the plane were spectacular. We were picked up at the Raiatea airport by Terry from VPM. VPM is the yacht charter company we used. We booked our charter through Nigel James Yacht Charters. If you use him, tell him that Scott from DiveAtlas.com referred you. He might give you a break, but at least he knows where the business is coming from. I cant say enough about these two outfits. Nigel was very helpful, and had the best prices by far. I actually never spoke with Nigel. All of our correspondence has been through e-mail. Terry from VPM was a huge help as well. Terry drove us to the boat , and Jeff and Katherine loaded all of our luggage while Terry drove us to town to buy provisions for our 8 days of sailing. He took us to a grocery store in downtown Uturoa , where he arranged with the store owner to drive us back to the boat when we were finished. We filled 2 grocery carts with $450 in food, and headed back to the boat. When we arrived, Terry was going over the boat and charts with Jeff and Katherine. He showed us how everything worked, took inventory, and we were on our way. If you're bareboat chartering, you should probably get one of these two books. Charlie's Charts of Polynesia : the South Pacific, east of 1650W. longitude: which gives you a general view of all the charts on the islands. Cruising Guide to Tahiti and the French Society Islands: which gives you more detailed information than the other book. I liked the 2nd one better.
There wasnt much wind, so we motored over to the East side of Tahaa for our 1st nights anchorage. We anchored just off of a small motu (Ile Mahaea). We did a little snorkeling which was pretty lame, and got ready for dinner. The anchorage was incredible. We were treated to a couple of rainbows , and an unbelievable sunset. We barbecued steaks that night, and grilled some green beans as well. The meal was accompanied by the usual baguettes and butter, and a bottle of wine. There wasnt much wind that night, so it was really hot in the cabin. We didnt get much sleep.
Day 7: We set sail for Huahine in the morning. I took 1 sea sickness pill. I was feeling a bit sea sick, so I took another pill, and slept most of the way to Huahine. The voyage took about 5 hours in very large swells. We sailed down to the south end of the island to our first anchorage at Avea bay. Many of the resorts and homes in Huahine had been damaged in the hurricanes of 1997. In particular, the very swank hotel, Hana Iti, had been completely destroyed and was no longer open. When we arrived at our anchorage, we jumped in for some snorkeling. There were many coral heads hosting the usual assortment of reef fish. We barbecued SNRs tuna that night, drank a little, and hung out on the boat.
Day 8: We motored over to Haamene Baychecking out the scenery along the way. Locals buzzed by in boats, and fishermen fished the shoreline. We anchored in front of the Bali Hai. We took the dingy in to shore to explore the town of Fare . This is the biggest town on the island. It is only 1 block long, and the tallest building was 3 stories high. We stopped by the Pacific Blue Adventure Scuba Diving to arrange a dive for the afternoon. The girl working there didnt speak any English, but we were able to schedule a dive for 2PM, and a pick up from our boat. We walked around town checking everything out, bought some ice cream cones from a roach coach, and headed back to the boat on the dingy.
(Dive 2) The dive boat arrived at 2PM to pick us up at our boat. A local Polynesian kid hitched a ride with the boat to go boogie boardingout on the reef. We picked him up on our way in. We dove Avapeitti pass this time. The currents were mild. We swam over to the edge of the pass. There we saw huge Tuna, gray sharks, and a school of about 10 Barracuda that were at least 6 long. We swam back along a reef wall that plummeted down into unknown depths. I liked the dive a lot. It was very eerie swimming along the edge of the pass. Huge fish would slowly come out of the murky waters to check you out, and then they would swim back into the pass and out of visibility. The visibility was probably 60. Other fish we saw were eels, porcupine puffers, emperor angel fish, huge triggers, etc. There were only 3 people and the dive master on this dive. They brought us back to the dock to wash off our equipment and pay for the dive, and then they brought us back out to the boat.
We decided that the current anchorage was a little rough so we moved 2 bays to the south to an Vaitu Baywith only one small home on the beach. It was hard to find a place to put the anchor because there was so much coral. The snorkeling looked great. We were a bit tired, and didnt venture into the water. We hung out on the boat and drank some concoction that I made (Banana juice, Pineapple juice, Coconut juice, Banana liquor, coconut liquor, and rum). We barbecued sausage and chicken that night, as schools of flying fish flew through the lagoon.
Day 9: We left Huahine for Tahaa at 7AM. The seas were much calmer today. I rode in the hammockup front for an hour or so. We stopped in Tapuamu bay in Tahaa to try to arrange another dive. It was Sunday though, and we were unable to contact the dive shops on Raiatea because the pay phone only accepted phone cards which we didnt have. I guess that was the largest town on Tahaa. It consisted of a gas station, and a ferry dock. We sailed on to Motu Tautau where we anchored for the evening. There was a group of about 4 motus, and you could see Bora Bora in the distance. It was another amazing anchorage. We were just off of a sand bar where we were able to snorkel with manta rays and stingrays. On the other side of the boat was all reef. It was about 35 deep, and would have been a fun place for a night dive if we had tanks. We took the dingy in to the motus where the mosquitoes were pretty bad. The water was incredibly clear. There were tons of fish, anemones, urchins, and SPS corals everywhere. It was excellent for snorkeling. While we were there, a motorized outrigger canoe brought in a bunch of tourists for snorkeling.
We cooked up some scrambled eggs with ham and cheese for dinner, and washed it down with wine and beer. That night the manta rays were jumping all around our boat. We couldnt see them, but you could here them leave the water, get some big hang time, and then splash back into the water. From the sounds of the splashes, they seemed huge. Later that night, we saw some locals snorkeling, dragging their boat behind them as they went. We werent sure if they were hunting or just checking things out.
Day 10: We left at 7AM for Bora Bora. Although you don't hear much about Tahaa when people speak of French Polynesia, we found that this island had some of the most amazing scenery of the bunch. It's hard to say that one island is more beautiful than the other. They are all amazing.
The seas were calm, and we were accompanied by flying fish as we neared the lagoon. It's easy to see why Bora Bora is so popular. The mountain is magnificent, and the view is always changing as you circle the island. We anchored off of Hotel Bora Bora .
(Dive 3) We scheduled a rendezvous dive for 2PM. Stephan from Bora Diving Center picked us up at the boat and took us out to do a drift dive. We picked up a couple of other divers at 2 different resorts before reaching the dive site. We dove just inside the reef at Toopua Iti reef. It was a unique dive that brought us through a valley of coral and sponges. After swimming through the valley we ended up in a sandy area where there were huge puffer fish milling around in the sand. We also saw a school of about 6 eagle rays. The dive ended along another reef where there where huge anemones, more fish and corals. We saw a lot of blue spotted groupers on this dive which was a first for us. Visibility was 100.
We made arrangements for Bloody Marys to pick us up at Hotel Bora Bora at 7:30PM. We took the dingy to Hotel Bora Bora before sunsetto explore the hotel and have some drinks . They give you free baguette toast and tropical salsa with your drinks, and its pretty good. When your paying $9.85 per drink its nice to get some free appetizers. The hotel was incredible. It turns out that the cheapest room was $410/night.
We were taken to Bloody Marysin a van. They have all of the uncooked entrees laid out on ice, and you choose what you want them to grill. The restaurant has a sand floor, and you sit on log stools . It was interesting and unique, but I found it to be way too tourist oriented. I would steer clear of this place if I could do it again. It was very expensive, and the food was just OK. It was very plain, although fresh. We had fun, and at least we can say weve been there.
We went back to our boat to find a large party boatnearby blaring Spanish house-like music. It was the 1st time we had another boat at one of our anchorages. They turned the music off at about 10PM and we slept quite well from then on.
Day 11: We woke up at 8AM and prepared for our 2nd dive with Bora Diving Center. (Dive 4) They picked us up at 9AM and we headed outside the reef to Tapu reef. It was much the same as our 1st dive in Moorea, but the sharks came closer to us this time (about 2 ft away). We also saw a huge Napoleon Wrasse. It was probably about 80 lbs. Stephan said that sometimes there are lemon sharks, but we didnt get to see any this time. It was a great dive. On our way back to our sail boat, we encountered a pod of spinner dolphins. Stephen told us that he has only seen dolphins inside the lagoon once before. We drove the boat around in circles and the dolphins played in our wake. They would ride the wave in front of the bow, and allow people to touch them. They were jumping out of the air and spinning. It was really cool.
Bora Diving Center was a great operation. The people were some of the most friendly we met, and the service was great.
After returning to the boat we started off around the island. We stopped at the dock for the Bora Bora Lagoon Resort to tie up and hit the grocery store. It was not a public dock, but the guy working there let us stay briefly. He was a bit nervous, however. His boss was supposed to be back soon and he would have been in trouble if he found out that he let us dock there. He even filled our water tanks. He was extremely nice. We gave him a baseball hat that I brought along as a gift for his generosity. The grocery store didn't have as much of a selection of fresh food as the one in Raiatea, and the prices were higher. I would suggest the same itinerary as us, but I would stop in Raiatea to re-stock the food supply before going to Bora Bora. We sailed around the entire island and anchored just off Motu Piti Aau. Once again, the sceneryalong the way was incredible. The water was amazingly blue, and the view was magnificent. The bottom was sandy with very little coral. After swimming around and lounging on the air mattresses, Jeff and I decided to explore the motu. We took the dingy in to shore where the water was about 95 degrees. We hiked across to the other side through the palm trees and leaf covered ground. Gilligan traps were everywhere. A 5 minute hike brought us to the other side of the motu. The beach was made up of broken pieces of dead coral. The beach extended as far as the eye could see. After the coral beach, it was one huge tide pool, the reef, and then a straight drop of who knows how many feet. Im sure this would have been an incredible dive, but the entry would have been very treacherous. The water was much cooler on this side of the motu. There was also a very nice view of Raiatea and Bora Bora. We regretted not bringing the camera along. We had teriyaki steak, prawn, beans, bread, and cheese for dinner.
Day 12: We awoke at 7AM and began our voyage back to Raiatea. Along the way we encountered a huge school of what looked like tuna. There must have been over 300 fish jumping all over the place. The birds were following the school looking for food. It was pretty much overcast the whole day, and the wind picked up so we were able to sail most of the way back. We got up to 8 knots. We stopped at the Hawaiki Nui Hotel to possibly book a night dive, but we were told we couldnt stay and that the dive shop was down the way a bit. We tried to book a night dive, but we were unsuccessful. It sounds like Tahaa and Raiaatea have some of the best diving in Polynesia, so we were a bit disappointed that we didn't get a chance to experience it. We motored back to Tahaa and anchored at Marina Iti. They provide buoys that are free of charge.
Jeff and I went snorkeling along the shore. The shore extended out 30 to 50 and then it dropped off to 100. It was quite different than our other snorkeling experiences on the trip. We saw a lion fish, and the wall was covered with fish and coral. There is a mild current that brings you further into the bay. This made the swim back to the boat a bit difficult. This would have been another great place for an easy dive if you had all your equipment. We drank a little, barbecued more steak and prawns, and went to bed.
Day 13: We began to pack and clean the boat. I dropped the grill of the barbecue in the water. It was 116ft deep, so I didnt feel like trying to go get it. We dinked around the bay for a while and headed back to the marina to return the boat. Terry greeted us at the marina. He asked how everything went. We told him all about it, and told him how I dumped the grill. He said no problem, and we got our full deposit back. He took us to town, because we had some time to kill. We ate lunch at Restaurant Michelle. We had fish burgers and milkshakes. It was all pretty good and reasonably priced. We strolled around Uturoa checking out the 2nd largest city in French Polynesia. It was tiny, maybe 10 square blocks at the most. Terry picked us up, and after lounging in the hot sun at the marina we went to the airport for our flight to Tahitim. The views from the plane were again magnificent. Jeff and Katherine sat across from policemen who were transporting prisoners to Tahiti.
We were picked up at the airport in Papeete and taken to our hotel. The hotel and lobbywere really nice, but our rooms seemed a bit dated and smelled a little smoky. Even so, it felt great to have air conditioning again. After unpacking, we began to prepare our turkey dinner . It was Thanksgiving you know. We had freeze dried mashed potatoes with country gravy and turkey courtesy of REI. It was actually pretty good. We heated the water up in the coffee pots, and mixed the mashed potatoes in the ice bucket. After dinner it was off to the Tiki bar for coconut drinks. There were more people at this bar than any other bar we had been to. Tahiti has some nightlife. If thats what your looking for, then this is your island.
Day 14: We were up at 7:30AM and caught Le truck($1.20 each way) into Papeete m for some site seeing. Papeete definitely has a big city feel to it. Traffic is very congested, and the whole city is a buzz with activity. The streets were very narrow and crowded. We perused several shops and art galleries looking for gifts and souvenirs. Many of the shops had Christmas stuff up which was kind of weird considering it was about 80 degrees and sunny outside.
We slowly made our way to the Papeete Public Marketwhich is very similar to Pike Place market in Seattle. On the ground floor, there are several stands where people are selling baskets, fruit, and fish. The array of colors is amazing. Upstairs there are several shops selling souvenirs. The souvenirs lacked artistic individuality, and for the most part, all of the shops had the same thing. Some of the items were interesting, and we were able to find a few things we liked.
Our next stop was lunch, and we decided to stop by Snack Gaby across the street from the market. They have Chinese food, and baguette sandwiches. The food was excellent, and it was only $4/ea for a ton of food. I had a chow mein baguette sandwich, fried rice, and a coke. This was probably the best lunch I had the entire trip. I would highly recommend this place. We strolled around the city some more, walked through Bouganville Park, bought some ice cream cones, and caught the Le Truck back to our hotel. We liked the city, and it was well worth exploring for a day, but we are glad we were able to spend the majority of our time on other islands. Tahiti is definitely not tropical paradise, but the other islands are. We spent the rest of the afternoon running up a hefty bar tab at the swim-up pool bar, and playing catch with limes in the rain. The pool was very cool. It had a sand bottom, and the edge was right on the lagoon. It seemed to blend right in with the surroundings.
For dinner, Jeff and Katherine took in the buffet and show at the hotel which they said was very good. Lots of great food, and good (but cheesy) entertainment. Cherie and I decided to try the Auberge Du Pacifique restaurant. It was very gourmet dining. The food was excellent. We took the waiters recommendations. Cherie had mahi mahi soufflé, and I had the venison. The dessert was pretty good, but not great. The price was reasonable for an elegant dinner. We decided to take a cab back, because it was a little farther than we expected. It took about an hour to walk there. We arrived back at the Tiki bar just in time to see our friends up on stage dancing Tahitian style . They were pulled up on stage, and were part of the last dance segment. We met up with them after the show, and we had one last drink at the bar.
Day 15: We woke at 3AM to be transported to the airport 3 hours early (Better safe than sorry I guess). We boarded the plane at 6AM. We were sad to leave, but ready to go home too. French Polynesia was incredible. Its the most spectacular place Ive ever been, with people as nice as the land they come from. It was a remarkable experience and one we will never forget. One day we hope to return. We could not have picked a better way to see the islands. Land and boat enabled us to see most of the leeward islands, but on our return trip we will be sure to spend more time on land, and we will try to bring our own Scuba tanks as well.