19 March, 2024

Tahiti, Papeete and Fa'a'a...

Dawn in Papeete sees a local flight taking off from the airport at Fa'a'a. [6043]

Sun setting behind Mo'orea as seen from Papeete. [6068]

After we had been 24 days on-board, the National Geographic Orion sailed into Papeete on the island of Tahiti, and it was time for us to get off. The Orion has been, as we expected, a fabulous expedition ship. It was first built with that purpose in mind in 2003 in Germany. It's early history involved cruising Australian and Oceanic waters until its owners were absorbed by Lindblad Expeditions in 2014, and the ship became National Geographic Orion, with a more global focus. In 2013 it famously went 1500km out of its way to rescue a round-the-world yachtsman in Antactica's Commonwealth Bay. And in 2016 we were on the Orion on an expedition to Antactica, South Georgia and the Falkland Island. We had almost the same cabin this trip! What made it extra special for us is that some of the great hotel crew from that earlier trip are still on board. We are thinking of Melvin and Teddy With, maybe others we did not remember?

Dawn over Mo'orea as we sail into Papeete. [5151]

Tugboat accompanied NatGeo Orion into Papeete. [5154]

Skirting the reef around Tahiti as the NatGeo Orion makes its way into Papeete. [6008]

Ferry on the way to Mo'orea sailing into a rainstorm. [6037]

We have nothing but praise for everyone on the crew. The Philippino hotel team, led by Spanish Sonia, were exemplary, and talented too, as we learned from their show night on board. The Expedition Team were fabulous - expert, passionate, helpful. We are proud that the Leader, Karla, was not only a female but an Aussie, and we will miss (not) her early morning wake up calls. Karla was with us throughout every off-boat outing, yet still managed to get the planning of the forward program done (with her assistant Joe). When does she sleep? We were mesmerised by the cultural specialists Mahati and Jenny. All the naturalists really know their stuff and bubble with enthusiasm. Rachel, one of the underwater team, delighted us with video of her outings on the voyage. The photo specialist Fiona Wardle was a delight and so knowledgible. We had two National Geographic photographers with us, Susan Seubert and Jennifer Lopez (really!) - they were so different to each other, but both incredible assets to the expedition team. Thanks to National Geographic for providing these two.

Sonia and KC during the crew performance on the Orion. [4933]

Housekeeping supervisor Melvin leading Ottawan's 'Hands Up', a highlight of the crew's show night. [4885]

Thanks to Karla for personally helping us with our rather excessive luggage to the taxi rank near the port after we disembarked for the last time in Papeete. Then we were on our own! After Karla's hectic activities program, our plan was to relax in Papeete, and we stayed at the quite new and uber-comfortable Hilton Hotel on the coast and near the airport, even using the Spa for some treatments each.

The waterfront Hilton in Papeete, actually just inside the border to the suburb of Fa'a'a. [6012]

Can't complain about the view from our room in Papeete, with Mo'orea on the horizon. [6032]

Rainbow over the Hilton Hotel, prelude to a brief afternoon storm. [1087]

Tahiti is smack in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean - it is closer to Australia (5,700km) than South America (7,900km), and it is 4400km south of Hawaii. It is almost 16,000km from Paris! The Papeete urban area, including its crowded suburb Fa'a'a have a combined population of about 130,000 people. Tahiti, has 190,000 and all of French Polynesia 280,000. So this is the populous centre of French Polynesia, and Papeete is the first real city we have seen since leaving Sydney. The roads here were never meant for traffic. Whilst the Hilton is only 2km from town, it is in a really tough location for pedestrians, a problem for keen walkers like Mike. It's on the busy Aratia Nelson Mandela, the coast road which runs to the airport. To walk anywhere but west, you have to negotiate what must be Papeete's busiest roundabout/flyover, the intersection with Bd de la Reine Pomare IV which is in noisy, smelly gridlock every morning. Pedestrian routes around the roundabout are poorly marked (but drivers always stop to let you cross). The path beside the steep main road up to Fa'a'a is almost inaccessible, and once on it, it's really just a covered drain. One driver asked me if I was OK, walking in such a crazy place! The direct route into town has no footpath for maybe 250m, but once you negotiate this dangerous track, there is an excellent harbour-side pedestrian zone, frequented by walkers, joggers and loiterers, and well separated from the busy road.

Traffic - something we haven't seen for weeks! This roundabout in Papeete was a mess every morning. [6046]

The huge cemetery de L'Uranie climbs high into the hill behind Papeete in large terraces. [6048]

That said, the Hilton Hotel is an oasis from this chaos enjoying some bonus attractions like a large shallow pool, great for cooling off in (but not enough shade), a pontoon where tour boats can pick you up so you can avoid the roads, and a decent shopping centre including a food court and a Carrefours supermarket over the road directly accessible by footbridge.

Two men indulging the Polynesian passion for outrigger canoes. [6055]

Artwork in the Hilton Papeete highlights the Polynesian passion for outrigger canoes. [1081]

A Polynesian style sunset cruise boat on the way to pick up passengers is passed by an outrigger canoe with four-legged crew member. [6065]

Papeete has a lot of history associated with it, mostly famous visitors. Paul Gaugin was here for some years in the 1890's. Maybe more notable was the stopover by James Cook in HMS Endeavourto observe the Transit of Venus in 1769. Venus only crosses the sun less than once every century and its careful observation would precisely determine latitude (vital for navigation in the absence of accurate timepieces). Cook chose what is now known as Point Venus for the observation. It seems that while King George III supported the Transit observations, his secret mission for Cook was to find the Great South Land, Terra Australis Incognita afterwards, and to claim it for Britain.

One source says this is the only lighthouse in Tahiti, known as 'Teara o Tahiti', at Point Venus dating back to 1867. It is 25m tall. During WW2 it was disguised with cononut tree murals to fool a potential Japenese invasion. Still in operation, with its tower in need of TLC, it was electrified in 1973. [5203]

The black sand public beach at Point Venus is possibly the best in Papeete and is certainly popular with locals. [5209]

This magnificent building in Papeete houses the downtown market. [5214]

Only 20 years later, the crew of HMS Bounty, captained by William Bligh, mutinied after a layover in Matavai Bay, Papeete. They were here to collect breadfruit and transport it to the Carribean to feed plantation slaves. The mutineers, led by Fletcher Christian, were unhappy with strict ship discipline after five months being allowed to sample the unique pleasures of Tahiti. This saga was novelised in Mutiny on the Bounty by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall in the 1930's, the latter's house and garden being in Papeete and now preserved as a museum.

Affable guide at the James Norman Hall Museum. [5180]

Maybe this is the room where Hall wrote the Bounty trilogy? [5184]

Contemporary mural at the back of the James Norman Hall Museum in Tahiti. That's Hall, not Bligh or Christian. [5189]

Fresh from a downpour, one of three waterfalls, 'les trois cascades' at Fa'aruma'i out of Papeete. [5201]

Being more focused on R&R than sightseeing or other activities, in all, we didn't do much in Tahiti. When you look at the island map and see the road which skirts the western half, it's obvious that a circumnavigation in a rental car may have been worthwhile. In fact, someone we talked to had recommended it, but we saved this up for a possible (but unlikely?) future visit.

Tahiti has west and east mountains, and by stricking to the top left, we have hardly scratched its surface. Map credit: 'Maps on the Web'

It can be seen that we hardly ventured out of Papeete, leaving a lot of Tahiti to explore, maybe another time?

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