Polynésie française | Pōrīnetia Farāni
Leaving New Zealand and its sheep behind (seriously, I thought it was a cliche but we saw hundreds upon hundreds on the fields alongside the roads we drove through) we continued our eastward journey across Oceania, courtesy of Air New Zealand. My inner geek had been looking forward to the on board safety video, even more after our recent tour of the Hobbiton movie set that Simon had so much enjoyed.
source: Air New Zealand channel, YouTube.
Ah, what fun, and just over five hours later we arrived in French Polynesia, that heavenly sprinkle of islands in the middle of the South Pacific.
A peculiar fact about this flight is that we took off from Auckland at 10am and, having crossed the International Date Line on the way, landed in Pape’ete at 4pm the day before, or in other words, while we had been thirteen hours ahead of London only a few hours before we were now ten hours behind. Talk about time travel (except of course not).
image by ABC and Marvel Entertainment.
We’d booked a lovely B&B, the owner of which picked us up from the airport. The best way to describe Martine, that’s her name, is: a French version of Nigella Lawson. She was (is) extraordinary, and quite possibly the most French person I have ever met, if there is such a thing. She was very hospitable and helpful during our short stay, we really liked her and her lovely Polynesian maid Marie, and the endless supply of fresh mangos from the several huge mango trees in the grounds.
It was the odd mix of French – we were technically in La Fronce – and Polynesian people and culture that first struck us about Pape’ete. That, and the cost of things. Always budget conscious, Simon promptly found out about eating at les roulottes – literally “food trucks” – that gather every evening on la Place Vaiete, by the harbour. A popular choice among fellow budget conscious visitors, it seemed, and certainly an experience I shall treasure.
Moving on, and as Pape’ete itself is not terribly interesting, we took the ferry to picture perfect Mo’orea, Tahiti’s close neighbour, for a few days of leisure by the sea. Other islands and atolls in French Polynesia are only accessible by plane, with the Marquesas, where Gauguin spent the last years of his life (and who wouldn’t), a whopping 1,400 km (870 miles) from Tahiti, and many more from anywhere else.
We (Simon) had done some careful research on the accommodation options in Mo’orea. The few eye-wateringly expensive resorts on the island were sadly to be avoided (this time) and some of the more economic ones weren’t so convenient or economic after all, so we plumped in the end for a merely eye-wincingly expensive resort, a short drive from the ferry terminal. In what has become our trademark style of arriving at upmarket hotels and resorts the world over, we got off the ferry and shunned the taxi rank in favour of lugging our battered backpacks and our sweaty selves onto the local bus, and turned up at the reception desk of the resort some twenty minutes later, not quite looking like their average guest. Even the woman that checked us in had that all familiar “are you quite sure you’re staying here?” look on her face that I find so amusing. The place itself was actually rather lovely despite catering mainly for hordes of honeymooners, old people, families with very young children, and Americans. Its infinity pool was apparently the best in Mo’orea (I would have loved to compare) but with so many guests coming and going at all times I did find the overall service on the impersonal side… My apologies, I forget we are backpacking.
With not a great deal of excitement in Mo’orea, we spent most of the time relaxing in the resort, plus the odd excursion to the handful of shops and restaurants nearby – where we not only had some lovely dinners but also learned about the mahu, a fascinating part of Polynesian culture. We also hired a car on one of the days to drive around part of this staggeringly beautiful island.
The resort offered a range of aquatic activities in its lagoon (things are going pretty well when you find yourself using the word lagoon in sentences). Despite my primal fear of dark deep waters and the things in them that can eat me alive, I decided to man up and join Simon for a spot of snorkelling. I had never snorkelled before, it was both terrifying and exhilarating. The reef surrounding the lagoon (ah) was full of – thankfully – little tropical fish and sea urchins. I had been assured, several times, that the local sharks were both also small and friendly, and I was very relieved not to see any, pointedly after Simon scratched his knee on the sharp coral and bled profusely all over the place (there is some discussion about how good the sense of smell in sharks really is, but when you are bleeding in the open ocean and cannot see what might be swimming at speed towards you, you just really want to get out of the water as fast as you can, trust me). Once the panic was over (Simon just needed a plaster) and I got the hang of it, it was very pleasant, bobbing along on the bottom of, yes, the beautiful briny sea… (had to get this in somehow, sorry). Hopefully we’ll get a chance to repeat the experience (minus the bleeding) while we are in South America – as that’s where we are heading eventually.
And so the days passed and it was time to return to Pape’ete, from where we were going to our next, very exciting destination. We hear some of the postcards we sent from the islands have already arrived, good old French postal service!
Martine had helped us book a tour of the interior of the island for our last day. Our tour guide, an impressively built Polynesian covered in tattoos, with reeds in his hair and wearing just a pareo the size of a tea towel, picked us up early in the morning and drove us and a lad from Toulouse on a soft top 4×4 along the coast and then up into the interior. It was an amazing drive through the rain forest and into Polynesia’s largest volcanic crater. Teiva, our guide, turned out to be a really cool guy and very knowledgeable, it was a great way of ending our stay.
We were sad to say goodbye to Martine and leave this beautiful bit of Heaven on Earth, but it was time to go, as practically the entire trip had been planned around our next and final stop in the Pacific before reaching South America: Easter Island.
Our LAN flight from Pape’ete to Mataveri airport departed at 1am and landed six hours later, in time to see the early morning sun shine on what has become the main highlight of our trip around the world so far. More of that on the next update!
All media in this blog © Xavier González | Simon Smith unless otherwise credited. All maps from Google Maps, also unless otherwise credited. Please note videos may play at low res depending on the settings on your device; you can easily solve that.